Archive for Sunday, January 29, 2006

Testing the state tune

Does ‘Home on the Range’ describe the Kansas you know?

January 29, 2006


Brewster Higley may have been one of Kansas' first image consultants.

More than 130 years before the current state slogan, "Kansas: As big as you think," Higley was waxing poetic about his surroundings in "My Western Home."

That's the poem that became "Home on the Range," adopted by the Legislature in 1947 as the official Kansas state song. Higley wrote the words around 1873 on his homestead in Smith County.

The poem - and later the song - highlights the geography, geology, wildlife, flora and other features of the state Higley loved. But he also took some creative liberties with the piece.

So for this Kansas Day - the 145th anniversary of our state's founding - we've consulted experts to analyze our state song.

How well does "Home on the Range" describe our state today?

1) "Where the buffalo roam"

Buffalo are roaming in Kansas, but not in the numbers they used to.

Jerry Schmidt, president of the Kansas Buffalo Assn., says there are between 10,000 and 12,000 bison in the state. In the early 1800s, there likely were millions in the state.

Most of the current population are in herds of 30 to 50, though media mogul Ted Turner owns 2,000 to 3,000 in southwest Kansas. And most are raised for meat, though some ranchers just like the novelty of having the animals around.

2) "Where the deer and the antelope play"

Obviously, there are deer in Kansas - and too often they're seen "playing" on the roadways.

Antelope are another story.

Pronghorn - the official name for the antelope found in the Midwest - once were found in the western two-thirds of the state.

Now, about 2,000 antelope can be found only in the southwestern part of the state, as far north as Sherman County and as far east as Finney County, says Matt Peek, research biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. A loss of prairie land has taken its toll on the habitat.

An additional 50 pronghorn live in the Flint Hills of Chase County, though hundreds have been reintroduced to the area over the years. Only recently have there been some more successes with reproduction, Peek says.

So antelope are surviving - but it's taken more work than play.

3) "Seldom is heard a discouraging word"

A study released last year showed some life on the range might not always be so happy.

The research, by Dr. Allen Greiner of the Kansas University Medical Center, indicated Kansans living in densely populated rural areas are less likely to be content than their counterparts in urban areas or sparsely populated rural areas.

Greiner says those who live in the densely populated rural areas are more likely to smoke and drink than others. He says consolidation in agriculture and attraction to cities may be to blame.

4) "Sky is not clouded all day"

The sun does shine on Kansas more than it does in most states.

According to National Weather Service data, only seven states have more sunshine than Kansas does. The four reporting stations in the state see sunshine an average of 66 percent of the time between sunrise and sunset.

George Phillips, science and operations officer for the National Weather Service in Topeka, says early settlers probably noticed Kansas had more sunshine than their old states. Massachusetts, for example, sees about 55 percent sunshine during daylight hours.

5) "Where life streams with buoyancy flow"

Several species of aquatic organisms have become extinct in the state, and more than half the species of the state's threatened and endangered list live in streams and rivers, says Paul Liechti, associate director of the Kansas Biological Survey.

Kansas waterways aren't as healthy as they were when "Home on the Range" was written, but they are in better shape than they were a half-century ago, Liechti says. Pollution has been cut back, and water treatment plants have eliminated most raw sewage.

State song lyrics

Official words to "Home on the Range," as adopted by the Kansas Legislature in 1947:

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, Where the deer and the antelope play, Where seldom is heard a discouraging word And the sky is not clouded all day.

Chorus: A home, a home where the deer and the antelope play, Where seldom is heard a discouraging word And the sky is not clouded all day.

Oh, give me the gale of the Solomon vale, Where life streams with buoyancy flow, On the banks of the Beaver, where seldom if ever Any poisonous herbage doth grow.

Oh, give me the land where the bright diamond sand Throws its light from the glittering stream Where glideth along the graceful white swan, Like a maid in a heavenly dream.

I love the wild flowers in this bright land of ours; I love too the wild curlew's scream, The bluffs and white rocks and antelope flocks That graze on the hillsides so green.

How often at night, when the heavens are bright With the light of the glittering stars, Have I stood here amazed and asked as I gazed If their glory exceeds this of ours.

The air is so pure, the breezes so free, The zephyrs so balmy and light, I would not exchange my home here to range Forever in azure so bright.

And as far as the "buoyancy" part goes, irrigation has taken its toll on some streams in the western part of the state to the point they're not flowing with as much water as they once did.

6) "Where seldom if ever/ Any poisonous herbage doth grow"

Kelly Kindscher, associate scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey, says there are plenty of poisonous plants in Kansas - and there would have been some near Higley when he wrote "Home on the Range."

Current poisonous plants include locoweed, larkspur and, of course, poison ivy - which is commonly found on stream banks, including the Beaver.

7) "Bright diamond sand"

Kansas' sand is, well, ordinary.

"I'm not sure there's anything so distinctive about Kansas sand that it would somehow be more reflective than other types of sand," says Rex Buchanan, associate director of the Kansas Geological Survey.

The sand deposited along stream beds, especially in western Kansas, is eroded rock from the Rocky Mountains. But it's not any "brighter" than other sand.

8) "Graceful white swan"

Trumpeter and tundra swans both can be found in Kansas, says Chuck Otte, a member of the Kansas Ornithological Society board of directors. The Marais des Cygnes River, translated literally, means "marsh of the swan."

There were few reported swan sightings in the 19th century, Otte says. They're becoming more common with reintroduction programs in other states.

9) "Wild curlew's scream"

Bob Antonio, a local birder, says the long-billed curlew, a migratory bird, is found in far western Kansas, with occasional sightings in other parts of the state.

And yes, Antonio says the bird's distinctive call sounds like a scream.

10) "Bluffs and white rocks"

There are bluffs in locations across the state, but the reference to white rocks likely is talking about the limestone or chalk outcrops found in Smith County, says Rex Buchanan, associate director of the Kansas Geological Survey.

Both Fort Hays limestone and Smoky Hill chalk - including the well-known Monument Rocks and Castle Rocks formations - found in that area would classify as "white rocks," Buchanan says.

11) "When the heavens are bright"

Kansas skies, generally speaking, don't make for particularly good stargazing compared with other areas, says Bruce Twarog, professor of astronomy and physics at Kansas University.

High humidity and low altitude don't make the atmosphere particularly transparent. And atmospheric instability makes images seen through a telescope lack detail.

Lights in urban areas - including Lawrence - make astronomy difficult. But, Twarog says, there are parts of Kansas that don't suffer from that problem.

"Overall, the plains states where the population density ... is low, as in western Kansas, have among the darkest skies in the continental U.S.," Twarog says.

12) "Air is so pure"

"Except for a couple of metropolitan areas in Kansas - namely Wichita and Kansas City metro - we have some of the best air quality in the world," says Dennis Lane, a civil, environmental and architectural engineering professor at KU. "Even these metropolitan areas have better air quality on the whole ... than most comparable cities."

Though some states have cleaner air - including Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and parts of Colorado - the only real issue for most of Kansas are the days when grasslands and prairies are burned.

13) "The zephyrs so balmy and light"

Kansas' zephyrs - generally considered winds from the west - may be balmy, but the Kansas gusts rarely are light.

According to National Weather Service data, the average wind from reporting stations in Kansas is 12.2 mph. Only Massachusetts, Oklahoma and New Jersey have higher averages (and New Jersey's numbers are skewed because one of its two reporting stations is on a mountain with an average wind of 35.3 mph.)

Also, Dodge City's average wind of 14 mph is the highest for any city in the continental United States, except for Boston.

However, the "balmy" part of the line does hold true. George Phillips, science and operations officer for the National Weather Service in Topeka, says west winds in Kansas typically compress and become warmer as they come from the High Plains and Rocky Mountains.


bearded_gnome 12 years, 4 months ago

mind numbing pedantry!

picky picky PICKY!

its fine poetry, not so far from accurate, and is a state song supposed to be more accurate than the New York Times? give me a break, ITS POETRY!

beautiful song, in any arrangement. keep it.

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