We drove for three hours under sky to see the naked prairie. Burning season had turned much of the landscape black, and though there were no fires along the byway there was plenty of smoke rolling over. I pulled off and parked near the trailhead that said 3.5 miles. The hike began.

Spindly amber flora grew flush on the slopes, like the fur of some dying beast. We breathed the cool air and watched it tremble. Two miles in the trail became so steep underfoot we had to stop and rest for every minute or so of the climb. I played with the brush, let it crumble into brown dust in my hands. Winter had dried the life out of these bones.

What can be said about one’s first scope of the great plains? That it is like a painting? A painting of what? That it is like an ocean, like the English Moors?

It was silently standing away from my friends, searching for a comparison that I first felt the wind.

The wind in Kansas is not like any wind anywhere else I have ever been.

I once went to Chicago to see a family friend near Christmastime — it really moves there. Really cuts through your thrifted winter coat like kitchen knives. I felt kissy-face winds off the coast of Carolina that made me want to fall asleep, and I did, to the faintest sound of bluegrass music escaping my mother’s earbuds.

I say this, because it is easier to describe the wind in Kansas by what it isn’t. It isn’t particularly fast or slow. It doesn’t whistle. It doesn’t roar. It doesn’t dance, or flutter off your eyelids, like wind that comes in from the coast (because there is none).

When the wind comes, it comes from every direction you can think of, picks you up inside and leaves you feeling hollow, like a house with it’s roof caved in.

“There were people who lived here,” my friend said, “back in the homesteader days.”

I nodded. My grandmother was born west of here, out in Goodland, a town close to Colorado yet so far away it might as well be on the moon. She was the youngest of eight siblings who are all dead now. In a Waffle House off I-70 she showed me a picture.

“There used to be so many of us.”

Their names were biblical, and they lived in a small farmhouse with one mule and several cows. She pointed them out to me, explaining how each one had died.

The oldest boys each suffered an aortic aneurysm around twenty — one, two, three. They were old enough, she said, to remember a million miles of dust come claim the farmland. They fell asleep with dirt in their lungs. They watched their poor mule whinny as its body was covered in locusts. Nothing to eat but jackrabbits. They were old enough to remember the things the wind brought. In high school I heard that plants native to the great plains may only grow several feet tall, but their roots run ten, twenty meters deep. When farmers colonized the land, they brought plants with shallow roots. When dry season came, the wind uprooted them and picked up the soil.

My grandmother’s siblings who lived into adulthood did not stay in Goodland very long. One went to Missouri, three to Iowa, one to Oregon. They were Germans by blood. I wonder if their roots didn’t run deep enough.

Standing high on the Flint Hills, I realized that I have lived many places in my life. I was born in Virginia, raised in Missouri. My friends though, are as real Kansans as non-natives can be. Their lineages go so far back through the plains they are completely untraceable. They wear AD ASTRA t-shirts and put sunflower stickers on their cars.

I am a visitor here. A foreign seed. High on the Flint Hills, the wind touched me and I knew someday it would blow me away completely.

Fiction writer at the University of Kansas.