Why did they leave Paradise?

I grew up in the middle of Kansas. It is often said that Kansas is flat as a pancake. Not so!

Western Kansas is flat as a pancake. That has been proven by a scientific survey, at least according to a TV show about food facts. In that survey they compared the surfaces of Kansas and those of pancakes; and their conclusion, Kansas is flatter than a pancake.

Where I grew up in the middle of Kansas, we had some rolling hills, not many, but they were there. You could still see for miles on end. My wife used to tease me about this when we visited my folks. She would say what good does it to do to have a huge picture window when all you can see is “nothing.”

Just a few miles west of where I grew up is Coronado Heights, where Coronado himself gave up his search for the gold and returned to Mexico. I could see Coronado Heights from my home, so you see the idea that there is nothing to see out the picture window is just not true. Most of the area surrounding Coronado Heights is rolling prairies where some of my ancestors settled. As the rivers meandered through them changing course over time, many canyons developed. Not as deep and gorgeous as the Grand Canyon out west, but take it from experience, you could get very lost in those canyons if you were not careful. I know, because I have done so.

Just a little farther east you have the flint hills. Now those are true hills, beautiful in their own right, but not as the hills back east, where my ancestors lived.

My wife grew up in southeast Kansas. Mining country, strip-mining that is, but again, not like the hills back east. More like flat to slightly hilly. To be fair, there are plenty of hills following the routes of the rivers, but my take on southeast Kansas is that it is still relatively flat. A large portion of the hills in that area is man-made, left over from the strip mining activity. When they are raw, they are ugly. Left alone, over the years, nature has a way of retaking the land and healing it. Then you have beautiful lakes (where the mining pits were) with tree-covered hills lining them created from the remains dug out of the pits. As college students, we used to go swimming in the “strip pits.” Some are gorgeous and some very secluded. Now many of them were converted into a state park.

Over the years my wife and I have lived in Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, and Illinois.

Kansas and Illinois have large sections of “flat,” but also have quite a bit of “hills” to offset the plains. There are some rather unique places hidden away in both states that defy the word “flat,” like waterfalls etc., but you have to search for them, which we loved to do. One of my grown daughters used to comment that the only hills in Illinois are the hills created by the interstate when they made overpasses over other roads. That idea may be a little extreme, but Illinois does have some flat areas to rival Kansas.

Missouri has the “Ozark Mountains,” which are true mountains, worn down over time. Very rugged, rocky, and amazingly beautiful. My wife and I loved roaming around in the Ozarks.

Colorado is a state of contrasts. You have the flat desserts on the eastern side, the gorgeous “Rockies” in the middle, and the plateaus and mesas on the western side. We lived in Colorado for six months and my job took us all over Colorado. Even when I was off duty, we traveled as far as possible up in the mountains and along the eastern edge of the mountains from north to south. We loved that area. So much to see, and beautiful, but for me living in a suburb on the eastern sided of Denver, there was something that was just not right in my opinion. I had a hard time figuring out what it was until we moved back to Missouri. Then I knew. Everything on the eastern side of Denver was dessert and all the “greenery” in the highway medians and the city parkways etc. was totally artificial, highly manicured, and maintained by irrigation. In Missouri, all the undergrowth and brush along the sides of the roads, as well as the large variety of trees and vines is what I was missing. I’ll take the ruggedness of Missouri  any day over the artificialness of Colorado.

So back to my title, “Why did they leave Paradise?”

My wife and I had the opportunity to travel back east when we took our daughter to western New York for college. On one of our trips, we scheduled extra time to research out where my ancestors lived, which was at Catawba, West Virginia. We also spend some time researching the area where her ancestors lived, which was just north of Butler, Pennsylvania. In both cases, we fell in love with the areas. As we traveled the areas, and in both cases walked the actual land where they lived, we both came away with a sense of awe about the majesty of the land they lived on. It was my wife who made the statement “Why did they leave Paradise?”

Now I know that there were many factors that caused them to leave. Economic factors for one. The promise of good productive land for another, since the more people that were populating the area, meant there was less land for a family to call their own. And of course there were those who felt that if you could see the smoke from your neighbors chimney, then it was time to move on as the neighbors were much to close. Probably the biggest motivation to move west was the homestead act that allowed many to actually own land out west, and the lure of striking out on your own and making a “new” life for you and your family. There is no way for me to ever know the reasons that finally sent our ancestors west, but I am sure that on their journey westward, there were probably many times  that they asked themselves the question “Why did we leave Paradise?”

Looking today at the Facebook postings showing all the snow in the yards of my West Virginia cousins really did remind me of the “Paradise” my ancestors had back in West Virginia. So I would move there in a heartbeat—no not really, as I have come to like the Paradise I live in. However, I still can dream of the Paradise that my ancestors left. For those who still live in Paradise, enjoy what you have. It is gorgeous.