Thursday, July 21, 2011

W-b-N American History, Part B

May 24, later
Yesterday, I visited the Eisenhower museum in Abilene, Kansas, which was interesting but a bit disappointing after the marvelous displays at the Truman Library, and especially the World War I Museum.  As I wandered through the Eisenhower museum, I realized that Truman and Eisenhower were presidents during the time of my life when I felt probably the happiest, safest and most patriotic – high school and college.  Kennedy replaced Eisenhower, and his presidency promised continued social progress and peace.  Then he was assassinated; the war in Vietnam accelerated; the powers of reaction tried to block social progress; and the American cultural ethos and social contract deteriorated.  We have still not recovered from that disastrous sequence of events, and I am now an old lady.  Whoever and whatever was responsible for Kennedy’s assassination set this nation into a downward cycle.  (I’ll admit, I believe a conspiracy was involved, probably among politically powerful reactionaries.)
Later, I just managed to get to this KOA campground in WaKeeney, KS before the deluge started.  The sky was already gray; tornado warnings were in effect for the county south of here; and the wind across I-70 was pushing the RV around, when I saw a sign for the campground.  I got off the interstate and managed to hook up before the rain started pelting the roof and windows, and thunder rumbled and droned like a kettle drum with bass accompaniment.  Now, the wind is bending the nearby trees and rocking my rig as if it were a light ship in heavy seas.
Driving during most of the day was pretty pleasant; the sky was overcast, but there was only slight wind and almost no rain.  The rolling hills were mostly green-gray prairie grass dotted with cows and scrub pine.  Cottonwoods and beeches clustered in the hollows or along stream beds.  On the stretch of interstate between Salina and Hays, I saw two huge wind farms; each must have had close to a hundred windmills, their blades circling slowly and gracefully like a ballerina troupe performing a huge, solemn pavanne.  My heart rose in my chest as I passed by fields and fields of these steady, patient, productive giants, thinking that we, as a nation, may finally be approaching some semblance of sense about energy production and usage.
As we neared Hays, there were no more windmills. Rather, tank-sized, mechanical oil-locusts dotted the fields, bobbing their heads up and down in a rhythm similar to that danced by the windmills.  In Hays, I visited the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, which included some very fine fossils collected from the Cretaceous chalk beds of Kansas, largely the result of the efforts of one man, George Sternberg, an amateur fossil collector.  The highlight is the fossil of a fish-within-a-fish.  A very large fish had eaten a smaller fish (the "smaller" one about six feet long) whose bones were preserved in the visceral cavity of the larger fish, but the latter then died, its prey still within it, and the skeletons of both were preserved in the bottom mud of the large inland sea that covered the central part of what is now North America during the Cretaceous Period.  Did the predator swallow more than his gastrointestinal tract could handle?  Did the sharp fins of the prey pierce the predator’s gut or a large blood vessel, consigning them both to a muddy entombment for the later amazement of human posterity?  Could this be a parable for our times (with its big-fish-eat-all economic ethic)?

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