Living the Cowboy Way in Kansas
Prairie burns and the country life
The pasture below is black as the night above, but through a smoky pall, I see horizons gone red. Flaming lines drape the Flint Hills like hell's own party lights. The Flying W Ranch, 65 miles northeast of Wichita, is burning prairie tonight in an ancient practice that rejuvenates the grass and heads off unmanageable summer fires. I'm equally daunted and invigorated, standing in the smoldering heart of an ever-widening circle of fire.
But even as dying flames light her face, 7-year-old Josie Hoy turns to me and says, "I just got a new toy raccoon. See?" In the ranching world she was born into, hundreds of burning acres aren't even worth a conversation. It makes me wonder how Josie views vacation voyeurs like me who pay good money to help her parents, Josh and Gwen, burn prairie, collect fresh eggs, chase calves or just sit on the porch while a prairie wind helps turn the pages of their books.
"They appreciate what we take for granted every day. When people bring their gloves and can't wait to fix a fence, I still can't believe it," says Nancy Moore, a friend of the Hoys. These families and many others across the West have saved their ranches by realizing that city folk hungry for agritourism will pay to sample a rancher's lifestyle just as readily as they buy grain and beef.