I have fallen in love with one of the most beautiful places in Kansas. I’d heard of its beauty, its mystery blossoming behind a rusted gate and stone walls, a slice of Eden nestled in Belle Plaine. But, I’d failed to visit even though the wonderful Robin Macy, an original Dixie Chick, has created the Treehouse Concert Series and I’ve had more than a few opportunities to attend a show. The last Sunday in June I finally experienced Bartlett Arboretum.
It could have been the performance of John Fulbright, the Grammy nominated Oklahoman who sang of toys, paper dolls and the walls of Jericho that sent me to swoon. It was a hot July afternoon, the sun peeking through the tall trees at the crowd gathered in the clearing decorated with bright-colored lawn chairs and blankets. People were unpacking picnic baskets, pouring white wine, slicing blocks of cheese, and hand-shoveling through ice to find the coldest beer in the bottom of coolers. Red, white and blue bunting hung above the stage and the smell of smoked meats drifted on the wind while a little boy in a straw fedora stood awestruck at the front of the stage. The venue was perfect, the music soul-searching and foot-tapping, and the company familiar and easy. After the concert, we tailgated in the shaded parking outside the arboretum and finished the last of the cold beers. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any more Americana, the farmers were cutting the last of their winter wheat, racing the setting sun, as we drove home on a two-lane highway. Seriously, I am not making this up.
So, I began to think I was spellbound by my initial visit, that maybe my infatuation was a result of Mr. Fulbright or the heat and humidity or just the afternoon as a whole, and I should return to the arboretum as quickly as possible. The very next Sunday, we packed red seedless grapes, Ritz crackers, assorted cheese, a few bottles of beer, and returned to Belle Plaine, but this time we arrived an hour before Darol Anger and the Furies so we could walk the grounds. I wish I could describe the beauty of this arboretum, how even in the July heat the trees and flora bloom with an astute hardiness, a Kansas hardiness, that I swear is slightly softened by the serenade of afternoon concerts and campfire lullabies. The Bartlett Arboretum has character, immense character, much like its energetic steward and her soil sisters.
I wish I could do a better job of describing the arboretum. I tried to recreate the experience, only to type and delete and type and delete sentence after sentence. If you have the opportunity to visit or attend a concert, I urge you to go and go early. Pack a picnic, throw in a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, grab the lawn chairs or an old quilt and experience The Bartlett Arboretum. I plan to visit this gem in the heartland as often as possible. Maybe I’ll see you there.