above the Smoky Hill River

The sweat trickles down my face
as I stand here on this ridge above the Kansas prairie.
Behind me lies mile upon mile of farmland,
row after row of crops grown where the land is flat.
But here, on the breaks above the Smoky Hill River,
where the land is too steep and the soil too rocky for the plow,
the land looks much as it all must have
before the heavy hand of man left its mark.

I am here in search of snakes;
here, where the flat limestone rocks of the Greenhorn formation
provide cover for these secretive animals.
Here where finding literally hundreds of snakes
in only a few hours of a spring morning is common.
Colorful milksnakes, ringnecks, garters, and kings;
Drab lined snakes, quick racers, and aggressive bullsnakes -
these are my quarry, but not the only reason I'm here.

For when I look at the land
I can see more than just habitat for snakes.
I can feel the weight of this land's history
in the rocks, the grass, the wind, and the sky.
Here the rocks are replete with fossils of clams long extinct.
The grasses have seen the buffalo and seen them lost.
The wind has heard the song of the Comanche and Arapaho.
And this sky looked down as Earp faced Thompson in Ellsworth.

This land, I think, has seen it all.
Eons ago, it lay under the silt of an inland sea.
Then came the mountains, the grass, and the buffalo.
Man but a latecomer, with his sometimes colorful history.
Cattle drives, buffalo hunts, and war.
Here, on this hill, I can see it all written,
in the land, the grass, and the immense blue sky,
the saga of the sweeping changes of this land through the ages.