The next morning, awaking in our antiques-filled hotel room, I realized that I’d also failed to bring decent shoes. Even though I own cowboy boots and well-worn (yes, really!) hiking boots, I had left them at home, thinking that I’d be fine on my long trek through the prairie in jeweled flip-flops.
“Oh my God!” David said. “It’s almost like you’re not from Kansas. I would expect this from somebody from” — he paused, trying to think of an appropriately remote place — “San Diego or something.”
In the end, I ended up hastily purchasing a pair of ugly secondhand nurse shoes from a consignment shop on our way out of town.
I was glad to have the shoes when we were standing in the middle of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve a couple of hours later, and park guide Jeff Rundell warned us to watch out for “buffalo chips” and massasauga rattlesnakes.
“If anybody gets bit, we have a nurse here,” David said loudly to our tour group, razzing me about my shoes.
“I’m not a nurse. I’m a journalist,” I squeaked, a claim the group probably doubted later when I asked Rundell, “Are bison the same as buffalo?” and everybody dissolved into titters. (The answer is that true buffalo live in Africa and Asia; buffalo is a colloquial term for North American bison.)
The park was created in 1996 to preserve nearly 11,000 acres of the remaining tallgrass prairie ecosystem in North America, which once stretched from Canada to Texas but is now scarce. The National Park Service owns about 34acres of the preserve, the Nature Conservancy the rest.
We tramped around in the bluestem and switchgrass for a while, keeping an eye out for snakes and admiring the butterfly milkweed and other wildflowers, the wide horizon and the far-off bison, a small herd that now numbers about 16. The place had a serene, understated beauty about it, quiet but for the meadowlark calls and other bird songs I recalled from summers I’d spent on a ranch.
“You can definitely find solitude out here, if you’re looking for it,” Rundell observed.
In the afternoon, we headed to the pasture, near a tiny town called Bazaar, where the concert shell had been set up for the event.
We could have taken a wagon ride or a wildflower walk before the music began, but it was so hot, we opted for a barbecued beef sandwich and beers in the shade of one of the tents overlooking the venue.