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


Seeing photos of my granddaughter’s visit to a pumpkin patch reminds me why these seasonal venues draw visitors from miles around.  Walking among vines to eyeball and then pick and carry home these great orange globes connects people to the soil that grew that particular squash and to the sun and rain that nurtured it. It’s like holding an electrical wire and getting the full buzz, only without the shock and spasms.

Autumn Uglies

Nov 1, 2013

Those of us who share our country homes with wildlife love spring time when we see the babies.  Nothing is cuter or sweeter than a newborn fawn unless it is six or seven baby raccoons following mom to the creek.  On the other hand, nothing is funnier looking and yet more charming than a flock of recently feathered turkey poults trying to catch grasshoppers as they follow their mother through tall grass.


The palette of autumn colors in western Kansas dazzles me every year.  I know many folks think foliage tours in eastern states reveal the best seasonal color, but I wish they would drive across the prairie with me.  The colors may not be quite so obvious as the hardwood forests in the East, but anyone with a good eye can enjoy our fall hues.


Frequently, people lament the passing of the good ol’ days but when questioned, rarely do any Sad Sams want to return to days before air conditioning, central heat, automatic transmissions, cell phones, internet, and cable TV.  While it is possible to live life without those items, most of us don’t really want to revert to life without modern technology.


Normally, I avoid sequels.  I don’t want to know what happened after Rhett left Scarlet standing in the door with his famous line echoing in her mind.  I definitely didn’t want to see Rocky triumph more than once.  However, I must write a part two to the hedge apple saga.  If I don’t, that tale’s audience may enter the next bug cycle with unfounded hope.



“Hedge apples, direct to you!” An Internet site suggests that placing these objects “around the foundation or inside the basement provide relief from cockroaches, spiders, box elder bugs, crickets, and other pests.” Hedge apples. Aren’t they ugly fruits that look like a green brain? In fact, green brain is another term for this wild pod along with the terms Osage orange, hedge balls, monkey balls, and horse apples.

A Weekend to Remember

Sep 27, 2013

 Last week’s gusting winds did more than catch  arms and legs  in slamming doors, blow hair in directions it’s not intended to go, and make me tilt at a 60 degree angle in order to prevent joining a bazillion tumble weeds traveling hither and yon.  It set my nerves on fire and prepared me to enjoy a perfect weekend.


  Folk wisdom, especially weather-related folk wisdom, captured my attention when I first learned the saying, “Red sky at night—a sailor’s delight and red sky at morning—a sailor’s warning,” from my grandmother. I’ve tried to determine whether or not her wise words consistently ring true over the decades, but so far--no verdict.


  When I left home to attend a five week National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Teacher Seminar, my husband devoutly promised he’d water my flowers.  By the time I left, velvety purple petunias, coral moss rose, and vibrant snapdragons already showed heat distress.

While in North Dakota, I kept track of western Kansas weather through phone calls and monitoring the Hays Daily News.  Though some rain fell, I knew the only way my flowers would survive was through regularly hosings. 


From the time I toddled until I finished 3rd grade, I called oil boomtowns dotting Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico home. During those years my family lived in this stark and beautiful region, my dad would bring me bits of petrified dinosaur skeleton he found near rig locations where he worked. These bones-turned-stones gripped my imagination until I added a dinosaur tooth and a dinosaur coprolite or fossilized doo to my rock collection.


As a youngster riding down Highway 50, I never questioned how this piece of asphalt connected me to the past of either Kansas or our nation. It was a boring ride that didn’t have interesting scenery unless we happened to drive through a storm with writhing clouds or pass through at sunrise or sunset.

Gifted Armadillos

Aug 23, 2013

Sometimes you look at a creature and wonder how it evolved into the beast it is. The kangaroo and platypus come to mind, but they’re Australian, and who can account for animal adaptations down under? The critter I’m most curious about is one I see squashed all too often on the Texas and Oklahoma Interstates--the armadillo. Not long ago, I spied an immigrant armadillo flattened on I-70 in Trego County.

Over decades, my students have written many essays detailing results of getting between young animals and their mommas. Mothers aren’t only tender. They’re tough when necessary, and one look at a momma cow with her calf clearly states you don’t want to mess with her baby. Years ago, a family of fledgling wrens reminded me how moms fuss over their babies and that I should stay out of their business.

Assistant Pollinator

Jun 14, 2013

Watching bees and butterflies with pollen-coated legs buzz about my garden fascinates me. While I don’t plan to grow my leg hair until it can collect yellow nodules of plant magic, I have decided to join these insects’ efforts to pollinate my tomato blooms.

First Hunt

Apr 25, 2013

Parents mark children’s lives by firsts:  tooth, word, step, and day of school.  As youngsters mature, these memorable moments come further apart.   However, for a youngster who hunts, this list continues to grow.  If my husband and his friends’ experiences are any indication,  this record not only lengthens but  is infinite.  Hunters live for their stories, which always include a first. Perhaps this is a hunter’s way to cling to childhood’s elusive magic.

How many remember dancing in a circle while weaving long ribbons around a May Pole or making construction paper baskets covered with crayon drawings? Afterwards, flowers picked from the yard or a kind neighbor’s garden filled those paper baskets. Once you loaded your baskets with fragrant blooms, you sneaked from door to door to hang your homemade containers. At each house, you’d knock and then run like crazy to avoid detection. May Day was one of my favorite holidays from earliest childhood.

When I think of Great Plains birds I usually think of meadowlarks, hawks, and crows.  In this dry country, I don’t think of water birds with their long legs and necks as typical.  Yet these herons have made the plains home longer than European immigrants have.  Their limbs have adapted for wading our shallow creeks and rivers, and their bills make perfect spears to impale unwary fish and frogs.

Trophy Dust Bunnies

Jan 31, 2013

Athletes compete to make the play-offs.  If effort and luck shine on coaches, managers, players, owners, and fans, two franchises make it to games such as the Superbowl, World Series, Stanley Cup or other legendary competitions.  Olympians dedicate four years to earn those few seconds or minutes they have to claim gold. Hunters spend seasons seeking the biggest buck, bull elk, caribou or other record setting trophy to decorate the family room.  After a week of packing a house we lived in for 16 years, I have decided homemakers need their own prize.

I swore I would never be a woman who lived her life behind a camera lens.  I wanted to live in the moment, experiencing life as it occurred. 

I achieved this goal until I received a Nikon that captures moments up close and from considerable distance with clicks of a silver button.  Using that telescopic lens, I could see fine details my unaided eye used to see as blurs.

For the Love of Wildness

Jan 10, 2013

A while back, I read a book titled For Love of Wildness by retired Game Warden Terry Grosz.  I wish I’d found it earlier in my marriage to help me understand my husband’s love for his work.  This time of year, I always needed a good reminder of why he chose his profession and why he devoted so much time and energy that wasn’t always appreciated.

Dust Storms and Attacking Tumbleweeds

Dec 27, 2012

Growing up, I heard story after story about the Dust Bowl from my parents and grandparents.   Dad described his mother shoveling rather than sweeping post-storm drifts.  Grandma told how she placed wet sheets over her children’s beds to protect their lungs as they slept.  She’d launder the linens the next day because they got so dirty.

Clearing the Air

Dec 20, 2012

In China that was the year of the horse or sheep or some such beast.  Around my country home, it was the fall of the skunk. 

Driving up our 1/8 mile long entry road the other night, I counted four black and white creatures in my headlights. Since those were visible, who knows how many stinky little pests ran around outside my vision.

I grew up in a hunting household.   My dad made an annual pheasant pilgrimage to Kansas.  He also spent time stalking javelina and deer in Arizona, but he was always a rifle hunter.

Swagger and Blink

Dec 6, 2012

If junior high dances are anything like they used to be, on the way inside, you pass noisy boys jostling one another for dominance.  You hear snippets of saucy trash talk, see manly posturing with exaggerated shoulders and aggressive chins, as well as smell a mixture of colognes designed to tantalize the fairer sex awaiting that evening’s Prince Charming. 

Lucky Hunters

Nov 29, 2012

After every rifle season, lucky hunters celebrate their success stories, recounting details of the hunt to their friends and anyone else who will listen.  Over the years, I have heard many a tale about the one little turn of good fortune that transformed the ordinary hunt into the extraordinary hunt.  One story I never heard ought to be told because that hunter is the luckiest of them all.

Autumn sounds different on our rocky hilltop.  As the temperature drop and days grow shorter, life looks and sounds considerably altered than it did just six weeks ago.  We have new guests at the bird feeder while other frequent diners headed South weeks ago.

Like death and taxes, I count on box elder beetles invading every year.  These nuisances creep into every crack and crevice of our house, silently multiplying until nowhere is sacred.  I have even had them fall off a showerhead while I shampooed my hair.
Unfortunately, I don’t know much about these creatures other than that they show up like a bad penny every fall. They squeeze through airtight windows, out of electrical sockets, and under door jambs like Mongol hordes.  What lures them, I don’t know.

Weather in Kansas often leaves a person feeling a little schizophrenic.  If it confuses me, what does it do to vegetation and animals that live outside?  At this moment, our climate is causing some abnormal buffalo grass behavior.

Sandhill Song

Oct 25, 2012

Leaves changing colors and a sudden nip in the air proclaim autumn’s arrival more forcefully than any date on a calendar can..  With that change comes an ancient song.  Like steps on the porch announcing a visitor, this tune is the sound of summer’s exit and fall’s approach. Vernal musicians herald ice storms and frosts that destroy lingering tomatoes and late summer blooms.

I remember college days . . . waiting for the first warm day of spring when my friends and I headed to a nearby lake . . . unveiling our winter-white bodies to piercing rays of pre-summer sun.  It felt so good to lay my bathing suit clad body on the softness of a worn patchwork quilt.   While vitamin D mixed with UV rays coursed through our sun-starved carcasses, my friends and I agreed  that this was bliss.  If I close my eyes, I can still feel the sharp edges of small stones pressing into my spine and the sensation of solar beams soaking into my belly and face.