Karen Madorin

Prairie Ramblings writer

Community: Hays, KS

A sixth generation Kansan, Karen Madorin cherishes the prairie in a way only one who has left a beloved homeland and returned can.  A writer, amateur photographer, and former teacher, Karen loves finding fossils from the ancient inland seas as well as learning about modern pioneers who harvest Kansas wind.  Her Prairie Ramblings essays celebrate living the good life on the High Plains.

Ways to Connect


Imagine a time traveling pilgrim joined your family’s Thanksgiving celebration this year. After you got over the surprise of finding in individual wearing a tall hat, short pants, stockings, funny looking shoes, and possibly carrying an antique weapon in your dining room, you’d have to wonder about the differences between 1622 and 2014. Questions might include what this visitor thought about modern homes, holiday foods, and current pastimes to celebrate a national holiday that ties contemporary Americans to one of the first English settlements in the new world.


Living rural means viewing stars without light clutter, neighbors helping neighbors in good times and bad, and signaling every driver you meet with a two-fingered wave. It also means shopping takes effort, and running a successful business takes even more. Despite difficulties, creative folks find ways to provide services others need. I could rave for pages telling why I like shopping local where I feel welcome and my commerce keeps money in the region. I love my small town bank, mechanic, stylist, grocery, drug, and hardware stores.


One of my favorite features of winter is being able to see bird nests in leafless trees. I like to figure out what species lives in a particular area so I can look for it when days lengthen, temps warm, and foliage hides those cobbled together nurseries.

Larry Weishun

As a kid, I lived 11 miles from Disneyland. I took for granted that I’d visit the happiest place on earth several times a year. And I did. Due to immaturity, I didn’t understand why my out of state cousins were so excited to visit Southern California and the Magic Kingdom. They were giddy about meeting Mickey and exploring Adventureland, and their enthusiasm for something so commonplace as Disneyland escaped me. After all, it was just a big amusement park with a bunch of costumed characters walking around waving at folks.

    How is it that gun-metal skies, golden leaves, and russet milo fields can stun the eye yet cause eyes to swell, noses to run, and throats to itch badly enough that sufferers want to take a wire brush after them? Every fall, these irritating symptoms remind me that spectacular seasonal beauty comes with a price. I don’t even have to stand in a field of this attractive grain. Living in the vicinity is enough to drive me and others nuts.


Due to its central location between Forts Leavenworth and Wallace, Hays, Kansas, hosted numerous famous military men who earned their gold stripes and leaves fighting the Mexican- American War, Civil War, and Indian Wars.

These soldiers left their mark on our landscape in the names of forts, towns, parks, streets, and university buildings.  We would have forgotten one such site except for its mention in the letters and diaries of Albert and Jennie Barnitz, later collected and edited into Life in Custer’s 7th Cavalry by historian Robert Utley.


Once upon a long time ago, children played on asphalt or gravel playgrounds filled with tall metal swing sets filled with finger pinching chains and towering slides with two thin rails to guide a youngster up a dozen rickety steps. Those chains and rails froze little hands in December through February and roasted those same palms July through September.


Despite the fact I had a flu shot the minute the doctor made them available, one of those germs invaded, took up residence in my ears, lungs, and sinuses, and has hung around with his buddies far too long. I’ve taken antibiotics and added a few homeopathic treatments to see if I can send this invader packing. Some of my self-care, which includes slathering Vicks on my feet and wearing cotton socks to bed, has offered comfort but not a cure. Several sympathetic friends recommended taking elderberry elixir, and one provided a bottle of his homebrew. When I looked up elderberries, it appears science agrees that syrups made from this native fruit have successfully evicted this nasty attacker and its accompanying symptoms.


It’s clear Americans have a love affair with stuff. Even the tiniest towns have entrepreneurs who build and rent storage units to families and individuals who own more than they can keep at home. Reality TV caters to this crowd with shows such as American Pickers, Hoarders, and Junk Gypsies. Northern Kansas communities that border historic 36 capitalize on this popular trend each September. The annual Highway 36 Treasure Hunt focuses on both buying and selling goods that might include ornate doors and their hardware, pre-war metal wheels that didn’t get collected in the iron drives during WW II, antique furniture, dishes, and glassware, hunting and fishing gear, and oddities too good to throw away.


Friends of ours who ranched along the Saline River found elk sheds buried in a bank when they were working cattle years ago. My first response was, “Impossible! We don’t have free-roaming elk in western Kansas.” After examining their treasures, it was clear the creature that lost these antlers inhabited this country over a century earlier. The ungulate that’d sported this rack had grazed native grasses and forbs before white men began tilling rich bottomland and running herds of cattle where buffalo once roamed.


From the time we’re little, our parents teach us to watch out for muggers, pickpockets, and other lurkers. What is more difficult is protecting ourselves from invisible germs we pick up either in public or at home where we think we can let down our guard. Somehow, somewhere, an unseen virus targeted my immune system the first week of school. I apparently didn’t wash my hands nearly enough.


Nothing is more enjoyable than sitting outside on a cool Kansas evening listening to live music and watching the sun set. That is until a couple days later when you realize chiggers showed up at the same party you attended. Over 48 hours, music and breeze-induced peace and relaxation turns into itchy torture. The hungry, invisible insect larvae ruin family picnics, exciting baseball games, plum picking, and a thousand other pleasurable summer activities.


“Gotta crawl, gotta crawl
To the ugly bug ball
To the ball, to the ball
And a happy time we'll have there
One and all
At the ugly bug ball.”

Disney knows how to capture an audience with a combination of heartwarming characters, snappy tunes, and memorable lyrics. 

Die Fly!

Aug 16, 2015

If curses and death wishes worked, a fly couldn’t survive, let alone buzz in anyone’s ear or crawl on their flesh, near my house. In the last two weeks, I’ve thought or said, “Die fly,” at least a 10,000 times. Unfortunately, wishing these creepy crawlers into the afterworld has had absolutely no effect. It’s time for an attack plan.

A few years ago, we replaced the windows in our house. I expected dust, noise, flies, and suffering through hundred degree plus July days, but I didn’t expect an Oscar quality actor to make an appearance. One thing about living in the country, something unexpected always happens. Because of our remodeling project, I faced one of my most dreaded fears—a snake in the kitchen.  

We’ve raised chickens most of our marriage, so that’s thirty years of learning to understand feathered, cackling females. I can confirm this species is messy, noisy, piggish, and sometimes mean –which explains the term henpecked. They’re also dense and run like gawky, miniature Tyrannosaurs. Despite their character flaws, I love my girls. However, one of them has confused me.


The London Blitz involved nine months of German bomber-induced devastation that drove people who lived there into a state of constant awareness regarding the location of the nearest bomb shelter. While the banks of Big Creek won’t echo with the drone of mechanical motors and sound of carpet bombs exploding one right after another, one locale faces a dive bombing hawk intent on scoring a fresh chicken dinner.

Dingle Images

Somewhere I saw this quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” I agree and add you’ll meet interesting creatures along the way. Sometimes those new acquaintances look like something from an intergalactic space bar.

If you’ve ever closely examined vintage Ellis photos, you know the town had even more big trees shading yards, parks, and walkways than exist today. Seeing old pictures made me think about trees growing around town. Fortunately, I didn’t have to look long before I found a history of local tree culture.

Art on the Move

Jun 29, 2015

Frequently, I see ornate box turtles crossing a country road or highway. Because I like this home-carrying little reptile, I dodge these little speed bumps. While seeing them slowly lumber across the road triggers a smile, I hadn’t thought much about these Kansas state reptiles until recently.

This summer, I’ve been waking up early to enjoy the cool morning air as I water, weed, and pick veggies. A bonus of rising with the sun is meeting some of my yard neighbors that hide during the heat of the day.

Nobody told me when I married a game warden that a pelican would take up temporary residence in my children’s wading pool. Nor did I realize my two tiny daughters and I would spend a couple of days throwing our hooks and lines off a bridge over Big Creek trying to catch enough fish to satisfy that visitor’s insatiable appetite. On the other hand, that eating machine never expected to vacation at our house either.

As a self-appointed foodie, I often watch Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives for cooking inspiration. Guy Fieri’s success at seeking eateries with reputations for amazing fare motivates me to look for excellent dining on road trips. Because of my research, I have a list of favorite restaurants. However, none of these culinary institutions matches the quality or flavor of my all-time preferred place to eat, Grandma Lottie’s kitchen.

Fawn Nurseries

Jun 7, 2015

Years ago our family tent-camped at Slough Creek Camp Ground, a primitive site at the north end of Yellowstone National Park where wildlife is abundant and close. That particular summer, the area’s fawn population had exploded. Does led babies to the stream bank directly across from our tent. While my husband fished, transfixed little girls and I watched the tiny creatures scamper and nurse while their mommas browsed and occasionally cleaned a baby. This is my fondest memory of camping with small children.

No Place for Sissies

Jun 1, 2015

We invited a French exchange student to share our lives for six weeks one summer. Her first question after she deposited her luggage in the bedroom was, “Do you have tornadoes here?”


It is that time when Kansas cars, driveways, and tops of heads wear purplish reminders of a passing bird’s mulberry feast. Everyone saw it coming as pale fruits of this native tree first turned from white to bright red then matured to black-purple. Not so long ago, Jayhawk-state residents looked forward to this early spring fruit as one of summer’s first harvests. Now days, most folks consider these berries a mess to clean up.

Jelly on the Bush

May 17, 2015

I've heard some folks refer to cattle as, "hamburger on the hoof."  With that reference in mind, I have been salivating about all the jelly on the bush that the current blossoms have been hinting at.  I was disheartened by the frost that took many of my sandhill plum possibilities.  As the summer progresses, I will rise to the challenge with our feathered friends to see who will be the first to the harvest.

Lilac Memories

May 10, 2015

Memory triggers include anything from childhood toys,  favorite tunes, or scents that punch the start button on videos of our past that cycle over and over in our heads.  Each spring when lilacs bloom, I get a full two weeks of scented prompts that start those mind movies rolling. 

Lilacs figure into my earliest recollections.  I haven’t checked with my mother, but I suspect their scent wafted into my very first home to imprint on my infant brain.  Every time I smell those lavender blooms, I think of sunshine and gentle breezes combined with motherly and grandmotherly love.


 Remember the childhood story about the country mouse and the city mouse? I loved to read that book as a little girl. Why it appealed to me, I don’t know. However, since late this summer my daughters and I have had the opportunity see observe the differences between country cats and town cats.

Sharks in Kansas

Apr 26, 2015

Sharks swimming in Kansas waters? Looking for dorsal fins cutting through waters where I fish, wade, and swim gives me goose bumps. I’d already spent too much time focusing on such worries as a teenage body surfer in Huntington Beach, California.

Eggs and Antlers

Mar 29, 2015

I hated leaving childhood and the annual Easter morning search for hidden goodies behind. Until I discovered shed hunting, the adult equivalent of a child’s egg hunt, I didn’t know grown-ups could still experience the thrill of finding well-hidden treasure, in this case antlers camouflaged by tall grass.  My husband introduced me to this spring ritual soon after we met. Discovering that first drop thrilled me the same way finding Easter prizes brightened my early years.