Kansas Reflector: The Grasslands Conservation Act

Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park Credit: Shawna Bethell

Amid the chaos of 2020, I reached a point when I needed to get away: from people’s anger and fear, the suffocating cluttered skyline, even the lush vegetation of where I live. Open space was what I craved, and to find it I secured a small place in the Flint Hills where for the next several days I walked the grassland trails reacquainting myself with an ecosystem I had long appreciated, but had woefully lost touch with. It is rare to find a Kansan who does not know the quieting whisper of prairie grass or the sweet, clear trill of a lark and find peace there. These grasslands and their creatures make us whole. Yet we also know this ecosystem is disappearing at a record pace. My Reflector column


A Response to Hope

Being an op-ed writer, I learned long ago not to read the comments following a story, but from time to time curiosity gets the best of me or I get comments in my mssg folder. Upon reading those related to my most recent op-ed on resilience, I found, as I had hoped, that hope is contagious. The essay resonated with many. I received ‘thank you’ notes, hearts, and requests for reprints. Those make a writer smile for sure. Then there were the haters…who are just contrary…even when it comes to hope. I’ve come to believe these are just angry people, so damaged that their hate has become their identity, and they will not relinquish it. I’ve come to understand this too: bitterness has no party line.

But here is the thing…THE thing.

The first comment on my first op-ed for the Kansas Reflector was scathing. I had written about land in northwest Kansas, and I had definitely struck a chord with this fellow. So much so that I checked his social media platform to see who he was and what his particular stake in the game might be. So I remembered him when he commented on hope…except this time he was in my corner putting a boot to the haters. Now that. That made me pause. One of the reasons I’m writing the stories that I am right now is to try to find common ground between two disparate factions. I keep thinking that if I can find a way to speak to both the angry greens and the angry landowners, I can help find a way forward in conservation efforts in my home state. And when I saw that comment from the gentleman who disliked my earlier work so much…. Well, that small glimmer outshined every heart I received.

Yesterday I took a walk along the creek. I had avoided it for a while because the finding of a bullet-ridden body in a section upstream gave me the heebie-jeebies. But yesterday I needed nature, so I bundled up and took out. It was a cold, crisp day with the wind whipping the trees, so I was well alone on the path. Not even small beasts skittered among the leaves. It was quiet. Then just past the bluffs, on a skinny bare branch hanging low over the trail, was the telltale silhouette of a raptor. She sat in her glory: majestic profile outlined against bright blue sky, wind whiffling the feathers at her neck. I stopped instantly, but she did not fly. I stepped to the far side of the trail and continued slowly until I was beneath her, yet so close I could have reached up my hand. She turned her sharp black eyes and looked down at me, just…watching. I waited a few moments, then moved quietly on listening for her to take flight, to hear wing beats on the air or the clattering of branches as she rose. But those sounds of her leaving never came.

“Hope is the thing with feathers-

that perches in the soul-

And sings the tune without the words-

and never stops – at all

Emily Dickinson

Kansas Reflector: Doom Addiction Curtailed by Hope

Hope is the thing with feathers” E. Dickinson Photo Credit Shawna Bethell

When my editor said he wanted to use my column for Thanksgiving, I was thrilled. When he said he’d decided to run it ahead of the holiday because he was afraid we’d lose eyes on the holiday proper…well, any writer wants to hear her editor say her piece needs to be seen. You can see it here.

LSQ: The Writing Spider

Argiope Aurantia, aka Yellow Orb Spider, aka The Writing Spider. She was sitting in her web at the corner of my home, just beyond my worn-wood deck beneath the soffit where she would surely fall prey to cascading rainfall from my eaves. She was there when I returned from my vacation three weeks ago. She remains there still. I am concerned for her. Winter is coming, and she is not the first spider I’ve lived with who quietly disappeared with the first hard frost. But for now the fierce beauty rides out the changing winds, wrapping her kill of wayward wasps in silken shrouds and providing me moments of pleasure when I see her each morning.

Before I moved to central Missouri, I had rarely seen one of these colorful spiders, but they are plentiful here in the autumn months, and I find myself fascinated by their striking selves. This year was the first, however, that I looked them up to find their many aliases, and when I read they are called The Writing Spider due to the unique patterns of their webs, the synchronicity made me smile.

You see, fall is the time of year I return to myself, and when I left work one recent evening, the vibrant blue sky and warm air verily crackled with the energy of change. Looking skyward, I scanned for my wake of vultures and was pleased to find them flying. I watched as they cut and wheeled, riding the thermals just over the bluffs along the creek. Exhilarated by their merriment, I remembered the full moon would rise that night and that fall would officially begin two days later. 

I made my way home where I started evening chores, but after dinner I stepped to the deck and looked toward the horizon. A slash of blood-orange light glowed through the trees. Pulling on my shoes I walked into the night hoping to get a better glimpse, past the liquor store, the man in the park, the construction zone. Finally I caught her resting heavily just above the trees. Standing at the intersection with cars rushing past, I took in her breadth, round and full, a portent for the season to come. Then circling back home, I returned to the deck, lit a candle and watched her ascend. As crimson turned to gold, she eerily gilded drifts of cloud as she rose.

In the stillness I thought of my recent vacation when I spent time with the tribe of creatives I had not seen for nearly seven years. I thought of the vitality that creativity had lent my existence during my time with them, and I thought of my recent efforts to re-establish my work as a writer. Obligation and responsibility had, over the years, drained me of any spark of a creative life, and the written work I had done had often been done for the sake of a paycheck. What I realized under that full moon was that creativity had to be part of the deal or writing, too, became just another job, just another tick off the list. 

So with that voluptuous lunar entity in front of me, and with what I would soon learn to be The Writing Spider at my back, I made a vow to once again live a more creative life. I understood that priorities would need to shift, and those choices would not be easily made. But I also know that change is both inevitable and necessary. The moon phases and seasons turn. A spider lays her eggs for spring then quietly disappears.

LSQ: Migrations

I say that I write book reviews, but in reality I write recommendations, because who wants to write about books they don’t like? So here is my latest book recommendation appearing on Luna Station Quarterly for a novel I really loved: Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy. Gorgeously written, it will appeal to those who love both sea and sky and stories of people who believe that the natural world can heal us all…even when we think there is no hope left.

Kansas Reflector: Protecting the Lesser Prairie Chicken

Lesser Prairie Chicken Photo Credit: Greg Kramos / USFWS

Generally speaking, I’m a fairly rabid treehugger. The natural world and the beasts who live there touch my heart more than any other. But over time I’ve also learned that working together with those we may not always agree with is the only way to make any kind of progress. This is never more apparent than in Kansas where less than 2 percent of land is public land. My op-ed about the ESA’s designation of the Lesser Prairie Chicken discusses the need for such collaboration if we have any hope to save the bird’s prairie habitat and in turn save the species itself.

LSQ: Harry Potter and the Ivory Vikings


I’ve taken on a new project! Starting in June I’m writing a monthly blog column for the sci-fi/fantasy mag Luna Station Quarterly. It’s not something I ever expected, but have found that I really enjoy writing for fun again instead of just for work, and I like spending time in these worlds. My first column is based on a book I read about some mysterious little ivory carvings found on the Isle of Lewis Scotland. And since my all time favorite travel experience occurred on this enigmatic little island, and I love the magical world of Harry Potter, it seemed a story I wanted to share. If you’re into Vikings, Harry Potter, Scotland, archeology or ancient mysteries you can read my story here.

Found on the Isle of Lewis Scotland, these ivory carvings are shrouded in mystery.
Image Credit: National Museum of Scotland

Your Teen Mag: Wild Books for Wild Teens


, , ,

I love sharing books with readers, and it’s even more rewarding to share titles with young readers. Many thanks to Your Teen Magazine for publishing my story about eco-novels. These teen reads are not end-of-the-world dystopian novels but instead are books where young people are coming of age or facing an adventure set against the backdrop of endangered wild lands or waters. These are all great stories with energy, humor, and drama that nature-loving teens can relate to.

Mesa Verde, Colorado

Statesider: Reclaiming

Many thanks to Andy, Pam and Doug over at Statesider for publishing my travel story from the Kansas Tallgrass Prairie and Matfield Station. Going home can bring an unexpected appreciation for the land, ecology, and deep history we didn’t know as children. Thanks, too, to Bill and Julia at Matfield Station for their hospitality during my stay~

Matfield Station Kansas Flint Hills Photo Credit: Shawna Bethell