Disclaimer: This blog and its authors neither have nor claim any sort of formal association with PrairyErth, its author, or its publishers. We seek to try to write in its spirit, and no more (or less).
In his magisterial book about Chase County and the Flint Hills of Kansas, PrairyErth, William Least Heat-Moon has a chapter titled “Until Black Hole XTK Yields Its Light,” which he describes as a kind of place-holder for all those things that could have fit into such a book as this one but never quite found an appropriate place within the “gestalt” for the book he ended up writing, or perhaps as a space for an updating of what is in his book at some future point in time. He concludes that chapter this way:
When I’m writing and come across something I don’t know the answer to, I pencil in XTK: Unknown To Come (XTC makes ignorance sound like ecstasy). This chapter is a big XTK. But, so that I don’t cheat you of the outcome, or at least of its raw material, I include as best I can now a Tristramian answer on the next page [which is completely black]. Have a go at it yourself. Perhaps, I having failed, you are to be its author[.] (599)
When I petitioned and received approval from my department to pilot PrairyErth for Butler Community College’s Accelerated Learning Program in English, I took my inspiration from this chapter of the book for writing assignments, and have tried to design them so their writing will in some sense work toward completing and updating Heat-Moon’s book. The primary purpose of this blog is thus to highlight the best of my students’ work, self-selected by them for inclusion in one of the various categories you see across the header.
This blog also has other, long-term goals.
First of all, it is my hope that this class, if it goes well, will begin the work of encouraging students, my colleagues throughout the college, and the administration to establish firmer academic and vocational connections with the Flint Hills region. Despite the facts that our main campus is about half an hour from Chase County’s county seat in Cottonwood Falls, and that we even have branch campuses in Council Grove and Marion, two towns in the Flint Hills just outside Chase County, our college offers no courses whose content is some aspect of Flint Hills life and culture. While my college is good at preparing students for life just about wherever they choose to live, I believe we can and should try to inculcate in them an understanding of, and perhaps even an appreciation for, life in this region of the country.
My other goal is one of those things that is hard to measure in any sort of quantitative sense but is worth attempting to accomplish for all that. Many of my students seem not to have a strong sense of place. They live here and have lived elsewhere, but they don’t seem to be from a place–that is, a location that orients their living and thinking, as Heat-Moon puts it in a slightly different context, via “some old compass in the blood” (14). My hope is that, as they engage with Heat-Moon’s “deep map” of Chase County by reading and writing about it, they will either begin to feel a deeper intellectual and emotional connection to this place than is afforded by whizzing through its southeast corner on the Kansas Turnpike on the way to Kansas City, or they’ll find themselves thinking more about a place from their past that matters to them more than they had realized before. In these days of the encroachment of virtual spaces into the space which our bodies occupy, I’ve come to believe that a strong sense of place, of being from somewhere, is of vital importance to identity and psychic stability.
It is easy to say and hope for such things before the semester has begun; I feel, while writing this, as though I am anticipating my departure on a long-awaited journey and yet I’m not quite sure of the itinerary or whether I’ve packed adequately. There is only one way to know.