Thursday, March 31, 2005

Square Off

I have been searching for information on the rock fences built by the early settlers in Kansas. In the process of reading about this topic, I came upon an off hand observation by a writer that is totally true of people from Kansas and probably the mid west for that matter.

The author was writing about his attempt to follow the old Western Trail aka The Dodge City Trail from Texas north to the Dakotas. He wrote about crossing the line from Oklahoma into Kansas and wanting to go to a town northeast of his location. He stopped to ask directions and then wrote the following:

It occurred to me that a Westerner’s suspicion of diagonals is innate.
Westerners are raised, after all, in a country marked out in square miles. Their farms are square, their counties too, even their states—if they’re to count for anything at all—are rectangular. They think like their pioneer forefathers, in sections and quarter sections. And they orient themselves exclusively by latitude and longitude. There’s east and there’s west, occasionally north and south. No place is ever five miles northwest of any other place. No, it’s three miles west and four miles north.

I am always amazed when describing how to get someplace and people don’t know their directions. I grew up thinking in terms of directions and squares just as this man observed. The fields are laid out by sections and are identified by their direction, such as “the north 80.” To take it on a bigger scale, farms are sometimes described by their direction also, such as “the south Smith 80.” All of our roads are laid out in mile sections and “right with the world” as my Mom would say. As a kid, I would ride my bike ½ mile north and 1 mile west to get to my neighbor’s house. My mail route is in squares.

In addition to the normal north, south, east, west vocabulary, we Kansans feel the need to say whether we are going up home (north), down to visit friends (south), or over to the school (east or west). However, that is not always true because I will say I am going up home and we live east of there. I've never known the difference between up town and down town--I just figured it's whether you are north or south of it. We do go across places--but usually we're in a boat, atv or tractor. Of course if we are going to Colorado, we are going out west.

As a final thought on directions, my Dad had a theory that if you placed the head of your bed north you would sleep better. What direction is the head of our bed? North, of course!

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