Between theatre and concerts, various upcoming Oktoberfests, haunted house tours, and a film
festival on the way, Wichita’s arts and entertainment choices appear to be at an all-time high.
But out there—away from the schedules of town and the confines of Facebook--autumn’s
general spookiness rises, with or without us.
If you’re seeking one of those more profound autumn hauntings, a good bet for Friday would be the opening night of the Land Institute’s Prairie Festival. Forget carnival rides and fried foods: This nearby festival starts with a barn dance and an extra-special bonfire in the country on Friday night.
On Saturday, things will get a little more down to business, with speakers discussing
environmental frights, or at least great concerns, and scientists leading tours through the prairie. (No promises on whether zombie bees will be a hot topic or not.) Poet and naturalist Wendell Berry will be speaking Saturday, as will other highly regarded environmental scholars, including the Land Institute scientists. They’ll provide food for thought all day, and locally produce foods for lunch will be an option. Some souls will likely require music to complete the weekend, and they can find that at the concerts with singer-songwriters (Eliza Gilkyson Saturday evening and Ann Zimmerman Sunday morning). The festival is on the prairie at the Land Institute itself; the organization has worked for three decades to address changes required for keeping agriculture sustainable.
Matfield Green sculptor Bill McBride and ten volunteers have been tending to his planned
installation piece, Hedge Fire Circle, this summer. It’s an addition to the bonfire, with one
circle of stone and a larger circle of hedge wood to be set on fire. “We built it during July,” he
says, “the hottest month in Kansas history.”
It’s a stepped-up version of the Land Institute’s traditional bonfire that, along with a barn dance, opens the festival. McBride and volunteers have been excavating the circles in the ground, gathering the hedge wood, and raising a circle of posts. McBride and the Land Institute staff decided to use hedge wood (also known as Osage-Orange) for the same reason early Kansas farmers built fences with it a century ago: It lasts. The circle of hedge wood is 60 feet in
diameter. Within it, containing the bonfire, is a circle of stone, 15 feet in diameter.
The scale model photo of the fire circle suggests it could be a little Stone Henge-y. Or at the
least like a mysterious crop circle just before a planned burn. Like the occasionally lit fire pots
in front of the Keeper of the Plains, it’s bound to spark primal memories, or whatever is sparked when people gather to watch intentional fires.
McBride isn’t giving definitive prediction on what it will be like—he points out that there could
be a downpour—but he is hoping that conditions are good and that visitors find it “delightful.”
“It could be magical. I hope it will be. There will be music. People bring guitars, and I think