While I was camped at Kanopolis State Park in Kansas I took a self-guided driving tour of the region with a brochure provided by the Army Corp of Engineers. The brochure provided information about important historical points of interest in the region and the first point was close to my campsite.
One of the first locations in the brochure was an old cemetery. When I arrived at the location, I found the sign marking the location of the cemetery, but all I saw was one solitary monument surrounded by a fence in the middle of a field. Because it was posted as private property with no trespassing allowed, I was unable to get up close to the stone. It seemed so bleak to me, but the location was being protected, and I was able to have a few minutes of quiet to pay my regards to the man who had worked and settled this land. I have no idea if the monument marked his grave or if it was placed to commemorate the entire family who had worked this property.
The self-guided tour continued in this manner. I would drive on to the next location and find a sign marking the location of a post office, or a barn, or a ranch, or an old house but there would be nothing remaining at the location. The brochure provided old pictures of many of these sites from bygone days, but the structures were no longer standing in the present day. Not even ruins, simply gone. It left me thinking of the impermanence of the things we build and our short life spans. I thought of the petroglyphs that the ancients left all over this continent that remain to remind us of their presence in the history of our land, but many more modern structures are long gone. The people lived, and worked, and survived as best they could – and then they’re gone.
And yet, if I had stories of family members who once settled this area, that brochure and the self-guided tour would have meant a great deal to me. And I found myself turning to thoughts of the written records that we are keeping and realizing that they’re not so different from the petroglyphs that the ancients left. The structures no longer stand, but the stories remain.