Written by Luke Dull
So much to say, so little space to say it.
The decision to go to Kansas was an easy one for me. I lived in Kansas for 4 years, met my wife there, and got married there. I’ve always considered it to be my second home. Of course I was going to load up and head west. I’ve made the long drive down I-70 a hundred times: straight through Indy, around St. Louis and finally past Arrowhead Stadium to Kansas City. Obviously, this particular trip was different. I rode by myself the whole way and spent the majority of the time with the radio off, imagining what I was going to see when we reached Ashland. Approaching the top of every hill I prepared myself to look out onto the damage of the fire that came through just weeks before. The illuminated sign on the side of the road reading ‘Warning: Fire Damage Ahead’ gave way to a landscape that the 14 hours of driving barely prepared me for. It seemed like we would have to drive forever to see the green on the other side.
It’s the reality of the scope of this disaster that hit me hardest and has stuck with me since we returned from the trip to Ashland. When I parked my trailer in the lot to get unloaded I remember contemplating: “What difference is this really going to make?” I spent the next few days ripping out and repairing fence and getting really good at rolling barbed wire.
The night before we left, I had a conversation with the woman we’d been working for. Earlier in the day I had noticed that she got emotional while we tore out a fence along the cedar row that had burned behind her old house at their ranch. That night she sat in her chair and described her childhood memories of playing out in that row of trees and even saving them all during a drought years ago. She described how proud her grandfather was that she took the time to make sure they all survived. That row was what made that place home to her and now every tree sat there, blackened by the fire, waiting to be ripped out. She cried as she continued to recall memories of the time she spent out on the ranch and I was happy to sit with her, listening to her stories. Toward the end of our conversation her disposition changed and she began to share her plans to replant and nurture new trees so the next generation could find use for them. I watched and listened as her language changed from ‘what was’ to ‘what will be again.’
It was in these moments that I found the difference that we made by travelling out there. While we couldn’t save everyone’s ranch in 3 three days, we certainly made a big difference for a few small families. When I met Jackie and Dean on Sunday morning they seemed unsure about the way forward with the amount of work yet to do. Jackie admitted she hadn’t even had time to think about her cedar trees prior to our arrival. When we left Monday afternoon I could tell things looked clearer. It had rained a bit the night before and we had rolled up miles of fence and set more than a few posts. After watching the Ohio boys at work I think Dean was forced to rethink his ideas about ‘those Yankees’ from up north. We had got them to the point where they were close to having the fencing crews come in to put up new fence and at that point, it was a game changer for them.
Driving away from Ashland, I didn’t know how to feel. It was hard to feel good or fulfilled because the drive north takes you past miles of fence and pasture that needs work still. I honestly felt guilty for leaving. The 6 hour drive to Kansas City by myself, once again, offered a lot of time to gain perspective on what just happened. I finally arrived at a place where I felt hopeful about the work we did for the people who needed it most. By being people of action, not just words, we were able to make a real difference for a few families. The church I used to attend in Kansas City had a motto that encouraged people to ‘point their arrows out’ and be active in the lives of others. My ultimate hope is that by taking a trip like this, I can encourage others to live an ‘Arrows Out’ kind of life.