If you head east on County 20 off of US-77 between Winfield and Ark City, you’ll drive through a few miles of rolling plains. It’s mostly farmland, soybeans and such. The Walnut River runs south through this section, a slight current drifting over toward the Arkansas River. Well before you reach the river, you’ll notice the Little Mesas of the Flint Hills, a series of tiny plateaus bordering the river.
As soon as you cross the bridge, the road will curve to the right, taking a bight between the hills and the river bottom. Pretty soon, you’ll come to another curve where the road bends up the rise into the Flint Hills. Right before you get there, you might notice a field of grape vines growing off to your left. That’s a pretty good hint that you’re getting mighty close to the Wheat State Winery.
If you were to ease off the road in the curve, preferably staying on the gravel lane, you’d end up at the winery. A few of my colleagues, some with their spouses, ended up there with me last evening.
I’d arranged for a private wine tasting and light supper there last night for them, a gesture of appreciation and an opportunity to get to know each other a bit better. I’d picked up some cheese and crackers, a veggie tray and also made some more of my not-yet-famous Mad Hawaiian Chili. I dumped in a couple of packages of small smoked sausages, intending to pull them out as appetizers. But—and this will not surprise my wife in the least—I forgot to bring tongs. So… the sausages stayed in and that didn’t seem to bother anyone so far as I could tell.
We visited around the serving counter and table, sampling nearly a dozen wines, ranging from sweet to dry. The favorites varied as much as the personalities and a few of those personalities invited a bottle or two to go home with them. All of us took something else home with us, too. Memories of a pleasant evening, knowing a bit more about one another, new acquaintance with others’ spouses and for some, remembering the image of a dozen deer grazing in the field by the parking lot.
I will keep and cherish this memory as the first of many intended occasions, when we focus on knowing one another, cultivating the relationships that can transform both ourselves and the places that we work. I’ll also take the memory of a serene sky, a deep rose rising from the horizon and fading into an endless blue with that pale band in between.
And the brightness of stars in a prairie sky, high above a frosty night, stretching beyond the imagination, drawing me toward heaven.