Why Kansas needs curves

Brain Dropping #78

         Meandering.   I was driving Chester Arthur Road in Fairfield, Vermont out to the Flack Family Farm, taking delight in the sweeping curves of the back road and the anticipation of the vistas toward Mt. Mansfield coming suddenly into view. As I topped a ridge an idea popped into my head.  Are we biologically connected to meandering?  Our origins in the savannah of East Africa would have imprinted us with the organic loop-de-loop of a varied and changing landscape.  Considering that there are no mechanically straight lines in nature, it would seem that things that are curvilinear and loopy speak powerfully to an evolutionary part of our sensory nature.  Temple Grandin, the extraordinary Doctor of Animal Science, revolutionized the slaughter of cattle by curving the chutes leading to the abattoir, thus calming the animals.  So, does a pathway of curves as we meander our way through life, calm the human spirit?
       Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, considered the fathers of landscape architecture, took this biological factor into account in designing Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Central Park in Manhattan.  As a kid in Brooklyn, I vividly remember the entrance to Prospect Park at Grand Army Plaza – a long twisting pathway through a large meadow.  The far view was blocked by a man made hill so that anticipation as to what lay beyond built as I approached – heightening my senses.  In Central Park, one of the most beautiful features of this oasis in the midst of the tumult of the “Big Apple”, is a man made multi-leveled labyrinth of twisted pathways bordered by dense plantings called “The Ramble.”  As a budding young artist I spent a good deal of time drawing in both parks, and at the same time learning about trees.  Central Park and Prospect Park are both arboretums with a great variety of labeled trees.
        In my speculations I was drawn to some wonderfully inventive ideas which perhaps would make a PHD thesis in geo-sociology or satiric grist for a stand-up comedian.  Vermont is famous for its undulating landscape with dipping secluded valleys and spectacular views of the Green Mountains and often, far away in a blue haze, the Adirondacks across Lake Champlain in New York State. The landscape changes dramatically with each turn in the road.  Vermont is also famous for the fierce independence of its people, their inventiveness and creativity in thinking outside the box.  Kansas is famous for flat cornfields stretching to the horizon.  Highways in Kansas run as straight as an architect’s T-Square across the landscape with nary a twist or turn – going from point A to B with few landmarks – a featureless landscape mesmerizing long-distance truckers. Kansas is also famous for its conservatism, conformity and cultural myopia – a linear view of the world. (See Thomas Frank’s “What’s The Matter With Kansas”)  The political situation in Kansas as embodied by its Tea Party Governor Sam Brownback is as bleak as the landscape is flat, with brutal funding cuts for schools, social services and healthcare.


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