In his poem, “A Few Miles West of Medicine Lodge,” Harold “Doc” Arnett contemplates the area’s devastation and recovery from the wildfires that burned tens of thousands of acres of land in south-central Kansas in March of 2016. This poem was published on Arnett’s blog, Reflections by Doc Arnett: Lessons from Life and Living on September 30, 2019.
A Message of Healing and Recovery
“A Few Miles from Medicine Lodge” is written from the perspective of an onlooker who stops while on a drive through the Gypsum Hills and remembers the Anderson Creek Fire of 2016. The message of Arnett’s poem is the ability that time has to heal all wounds. He paints a vivid picture describing the “unseasonable green” grass amidst the buttes and mesas that make up the landscape of the Gypsum Hills. He describes the “heavy cedars, barkless and gray” that serve as a bleak reminder of the savage wildfire of 2016. He then offers the reader the hope that, given enough time, pain eases and painful memories fade.
Despite the scars left by the terrible devastation caused by wildfires in this region, the Gypsum Hills are still breathtakingly beautiful.
A Few Miles West of Medicine Lodge
by Doc Arnett
A few miles west of Medicine Lodge,
an odd rising of red dirt looms up,
a showing of ancient waters carving the soft earth of gypsum.
A few miles south of One-Sixty and a quick look
might have some travelers
thinking they saw something like Arizona or Utah:
small buttes and little mesas trapping early shadows
and a lonesome black cow bellowing from the ledge
just below an old pickup truck strangely abandoned
high above the red grit road.
We park for a little while
and walk to the line of a barbed wire fence
staked to the edge of the universe.
Just beyond, heavy sod gives way to the bluff
that falls away for a couple hundred feet,
a sudden and unexpected transition
into miles and miles of open range,
a valley that runs to the horizon.
A strange year of heavy rains
running all the way from spring into fall
has stained the hills and slopes—
all other than rock and bare ground—
with an unseasonable green.
Except for these heavy cedars,
barkless and gray,
windward side charred with grim testimony
of drier times and darker days,
when wildfires swept their way,
driven by fifty-mile-an-hour winds,
fueled by three years of drought
and poured from the very spout of hell.
Given enough time, enough rain, enough seasons,
and even these monuments of pain
will ease into the long slope of vanishing memory.
Scars become nothing more than barely remembered blots of time.
Other shapings will move across the face of sod and stone,
each covering become part of history and home,
until we have gained some place
beyond the forming of fire and rain,
the whisperings of the wind.
The Anderson Creek Fire
The wildfire of 2016, named the Anderson Creek Fire, is the largest in Kansas history, and one of the largest ever in U.S. history. The blaze started in Oklahoma and spread north to Kansas, affecting more than 620 square miles of land between the two states. The mayor of Medicine Lodge at the time called for voluntary evacuations fearing that the blaze would reach the hundreds of homes and businesses in Medicine Lodge. Miraculously, there were no injuries or fatalities caused by the fire. Nine homes were destroyed in Barber County.
About the Author
Harold “Doc” Arnett is a Christian minister, a long-time educator, and, currently, the director of marketing and public relations at South Central Kansas Medical Center. On his blog, Reflections by Doc Arnett, which he has written for over ten years, he regularly posts uplifting, spiritual content on a wide variety of topics. His devotional writing has been featured in “The Quiet Hour,” “Daily Bread,” and “Fruit of the Vine.” He also writes a regular column for the Cowley Courier-Traveler called “Kansas Character” and has a published book of poetry entitled Tears & Prayers on Amazon.com. He is a native of western Kentucky and now resides in Ark City, Kansas, with his wife, Randa.