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Borderlines: Sketches from the Empty Quarter: Arlington Cemetery, in Far Western Kiowa County


By GK Harkness

April 19, 2023

A lonely spot in a lonesome landscape.

Not long ago, midway through a journey homeward bound, faint echoes from another time whispered in my ear, prompting me to pause my hurried passage and detour to a quiet setting that I had been sidestepping for decades.

There were no other visitors to disturb the solitude, two miles from the highway and a mile and a half down a faint track. In point of fact, I doubt anyone else had been there since Memorial Day, if even that recently. Plastic floral arrangements, while durable, are hard to date.

There were three curious antelope, each cautiously watching me, a few other sentinels, ever alert prairie dogs and a hawk or two, all gathered under the endless open sky that covers the grassland. No sound beyond the slow sweeping hush of a faint warm breeze. My ears are no longer able to discern the high-pitched notes of songbirds or the soft murmuring voices of children, but there was a steady chorus here, not of sound but of memories ascending from the collective lives resting at peace under the floor of the sky, audible only in the hearts of unhurried travelers.

I counted seventy residents, the first arriving in 1891 and the last in 2015.

There is a kinship among those of us who have lived, loved, and worked on the high plains, not necessarily of blood or written record, but of shared hardship and the promise of joy in an unforgiving land. The prairie is not a place for anyone seeking a life of ease or quick riches. We who stay here have found patience is not only a virtue but an absolute necessity of life. We watch the skies and wait … and hope. Those who sleep under this sod understood the struggles and embraced the limitless horizons. They refused to give up. They earned their livelihood by adapting. Those who could not, moved on.

The ones resting in this solitary setting have long since become a part our history, and if they could, would consider us with detached amusement as we relearn the lessons they took with them. Arlington Cemetery is as much a place in time as it is in physical reality.