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


After pulling weeds, mowing lawns, playing, or swimming under hot summer sun, evening breezes provided welcome relief during games of softball and freeze tag played at dusk during my childhood. As a youngster, I loved being outside under lavender, apricot, and rose tinted  skies when cool winds blew  and tangled hair into Medusa-like snakes and tickled sunburnt skin. This was a such a positive part of my life that I still enjoy replaying mental videos of evenings my brother and I invented new games or enjoyed old standbys with neighborhood kids after supper.


We’ve enjoyed a lush garden this summer with tall corn, big cabbages, sweet potato vines that could be jungle instead of food, and towering tomato plants. Imagine our horror when we visited the garden one morning to find an interstate of raised trails weaving in and out our plantings. This was my introduction to a live mole.


All eyes in the stands focused on a bright yellow Volkswagen parked in the center of the Big top.  Both doors opened simultaneously, allowing two clowns wearing towering top hats and oversized, floppy shoes  to step into the spotlight.  Then two more characters in bright, outsized  attire squeezed out, and then two more and two more and two more  like an out of control tube of toothpaste until there were 12 clowns crowding around that little  VW.  If those weren’t enough to dazzle the crowd, two more popped out. 


If you tune into the news, you’ll see people and nations disputing boundaries. These disagreements might involve guns, artillery, and bombs, or they may be legal wars that wind their way through courtrooms for years before anyone gets a definitive answer regarding who owns what. Since the beginning of time, humans have wrangled over property lines. After watching two male cardinals duke it out last week, I’ve decided people ought to settle their differences the way birds do—with song.


In Victorian times, people of good breeding with time on their hands apparently went “calling.” As either a pass into another’s home or as a token of the visit, guests left behind a reminder of the visit in a lovely dish placed on an entryway table. These ornately engraved name cards held special significance if one bent the left top corner one way and another meaning if the deliverer tore a different place. 


Old houses intrigue me—especially those with formal parlors. In today’s world, the concept of an appointed sitting room is alien to our interactions. However, after participating in the Donna Day Craft Workshop at Cottonwood Ranch Historical Site, I’m rethinking my feelings about fancy salons folks once used only for weddings, Sunday visitors, or wakes.


For weeks, I eye-balled a dead deer lying in a nearby wheat field. Each time I passed, I saw carrion eaters had whittled the carcass further. When I first spotted the broken body, I hoped a highway crew would clean it up, but after observing how many meals it provided not only to crows and magpies, but also to other scavengers, it served a better purpose where it was.


Living in the same region and sharing roads, doctors, schools, and hair stylists doesn’t mean people see a common experience from the same perspective. Everything that’s happened to individuals prior to those events colors their interpretations. It’s true of two kids who grow up in the same house with the same parents but tell two different stories about their upbringing. People spin their own explanations. 


A phone call brings Karen one step closer to becoming the oldest generation.


Typically, when you see wild turkeys, you see them in a flock. If they are seeking a morning breakfast of grasshoppers and other early rising insects, several dine together.  At night, they gather in  large groups to roost in a big tree that provides each bird its own branch.  However, they perch close enough to one another for the turkey equivalent of The Walton’s “Goodnight, John-boy” evening song.


Only a Grinch could hate spring’s arrival. What’s not to like about warmer days, leaves unfurling, grass greening, tulips and daffodils bursting into bloom, lilacs perfuming breezes, and white blossoms exploding on Barbie’s wedding bush. This plant is really called spirea, but for little girls playing dolls, this shrub provides bouquets enough for a hundred wedding ceremonies--hence its nickname.


One of my favorite novels to teach is John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. I love his use of landscape, the very human ways the main character Kino and his young wife Juana face ills that befall them, and truths about human nature the author unfolds in quotes that spill from memory at odd times. One of those instances occurred recently.


You’ve heard the saying, “Looks can be deceiving.” That statement describes our little terrier’s coat. When you see him, he looks like a sleek little pooch who doesn’t shed. That’s true September through February. However, when March blows in, he gives March Madness a new interpretation.


Some words stick in the mind, and serendipity is one those memorable terms rattling around in my cranium. In college, I hung out at a retreat called Serendipity House. I’d never heard the expression before, so after my first visit, I hit the dictionary.


St. Patrick’s Day has come and gone for another year. With the flip of that calendar page went the need to wear green and an urge to search lawns for lucky four-leaf clovers. The more common three-leaf variety representing faith, hope, and love symbolized Ireland’s most famous saint. Add a leaf to that trefoil and you get luck as well. Finding a shamrock with that extra something is the difficulty. According to some statisticians, only one in 10, 000 possesses the lucky fourth.


Recently, a friend sent me a link to “Scott Wade’s Dirty Pictures.”  It sounds like something that should make me blush; however, it is actually a site detailing a clever artist who turned his dirty car windows into canvases for spectacular drawings.  With recent snow melt and the resulting swampy driveway, I  wondered if I couldn’t save some money on canvas and take up sketching on our pick-up and car windows.


If you took an evening walk or happened to look out your window eastward last Thursday, you saw what some call the Worm Moon, a term American Indians introduced.  While these nomadic people didn’t follow a Julian calendar, they knew the importance of using seasonal lunar phases to record passing time.


Here’s a challenge: can you tell the difference between handmade and machine made bread? Handmade means no mixers, no dough hooks, and no electronic devices of any kind until it’s time to pop those risen loaves or rolls in the oven. If taste buds can’t tell a significant difference, why would anyone choose an old-fashioned technique to do a job?


Like my students, I appreciate occasional snow days. Waking to hear a DJ listing my school on the school cancelation list reminds me of finding an unexpected twenty dollar bill in an old pair of jeans. 


Living in the same region and sharing roads, doctors, schools, and hair stylists doesn’t mean people see a common experience from the same perspective. Everything that’s happened to individuals prior to those events colors their interpretations. It’s true of two kids who grow up in the same house with the same parents but tell two different stories about their upbringing. People spin their own explanations. 


One part of Eastern thought that intrigues me is the Zen  concept of intentionally living in the moment and experiencing that moment fully. I suppose that is a  major reason  why I enjoy the out of doors so much.  It’s hard to hike, camp, bird watch, fish, or hunt if you aren’t fully aware of your surroundings and the relationships of those elements with one another. Not long ago, I spotted a Zen rabbit on one of my walks, and it gave me much to consider.

City dwellers take for granted easy access to services. With strip malls in urban areas sprouting like weeds in a wet summer, finding a groomer and pet care is as easy as taking a drive around a section is for me. During that four-mile drive in a city, people have to choose which business to support. In small prairie towns on two-lane highways where customers are in short supply, it requires ingenuity to figure out how to meet people’s needs and make a buck at the same time.

Cosmic Sand Pile

Jan 24, 2014

 Remember the joy you found digging in a great dirt pile or a big sand box when you were a kid? As youngsters, my brother and I spent hours creating our own geography, which included mountain ranges, deep valleys, sloping hills, and raging rivers. All we needed was sand, a couple of spoons or trowels, and water.

Frugal Good Times

Dec 27, 2013

Go to enough auctions of people who survived The Depression, World War II, the blows of the 50s, and the one car families of the 60s, and you’ll find  boxes of small square table cloths and probably more than one deck of regular or pinochle playing cards and maybe a box of dominoes. These inexpensive, reusable items were ingredients for Friday and Saturday night good times as well as the center of family gatherings at holidays.


Despite stickers embedded in fingers and palms, I don’t want to give up my beautification project.  Nope, I’m not digging backyard sandburs. I’m decorating a Prairie Christmas tree. Yep, I’ve gone Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I’m turning a tumbleweed into a showcase for curling green, gold, and red ribbons accented by shiny ornaments.


I can’t imagine living in times prior to scientific understanding of the year’s shortest day and longest night, the winter solstice.  Before easy access to candles, kerosene, and electricity, this was a worrisome season. Little besides faith the sun would return comforted ancient people through increasingly long nights.


Not so long ago,most  people considered serious women hunters a rarity.  Their appearances on outdoor channels were uncommon, and you couldn’t find camouflage or blaze orange specifically designed to fit feminine  curves.

The Force: Music

Nov 30, 2013

It’s interesting how certain tunes and lyrics transport our minds from the present to another time and place. I can’t listen to “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog” without finding myself traveling backward through time to age fifteen when I rode shotgun up and down the main drag of a small Southwest Kansas town. With our windows rolled down, summer breezes riffled our hair until a comb could hardly pass through it. Oncoming drivers blared horns to greet one another as part of the nightly ritual. These discordant sounds disrupted KOMA tunes that set the rhythm of our popping bubble gum.


As soon as nights get longer and colder, I find myself scouring cook books and magazines for festive recipes.  The irony is that I may whip up one of two of these temptations, but always, always, I return to childhood standbys.  While new flavors tease family taste buds, traditional recipes comfort and connect us to loved ones and times long gone.


Having learned to drive in Southern California where merging with rush hour traffic was a driver-ed mandate, I relish our area’s slow-paced traffic.