Artist’s Page: Dave Leiker

At the side of the road two crumbling walls converge, long sweeps of winter grass spill wavelike over the stones. In every direction tall grass prairie stretches toward the horizon, an inland ocean. For a moment the dry panorama is replaced by a vision of the vast inland sea which once covered the area. Deep below the surface, aquatic life is spinning, each generation leaving a trace behind, layers building on layers. In bright flashes the waters surrender again to land, leaving me once more on this isolated patch of dust, where I contemplate the fossil patterns left etched into this Flint Hills “sea wall”. There is such detail in the tracings, as if they existed only a moment ago.

When asked, we artists often say it’s the vast, un-peopled spaces that inspire us, or the over-arching meditation of our skies, the unreachable horizons. That’s all true, of course. But there’s also a deeper thing that keeps calling me back. It’s the way a perception of time changes in these hills. It’s easier to be mindful here. It’s natural to feel more grounded in the world, that there is a nobility to being a player in this immense sweep of time. Out here, we are compelled to take a longer view.

Existence feels durable in the Flint Hills, where a hard rock spine protects them from the plow. When I escape the attention-deficit city for these quiet spaces, I shake off the thoughts that life and the land we inherit is disposable. History coexists with the now so adeptly in the Flint Hills that there is a sense that our future does too. It’s calming, naturally optimistic.

Except for the companionship of the wind and crunch of limestone under tires, it’s quiet on the tall grass prairie. The only other people I see are ranchers whose heavy trucks turn onto private access roads and disappear into the folds of the hills. The tough job of working the landscape is a daily ritual, watching out for the health and needs of the herds.

My admiration deepens as I get to know them, to ride along as they do chores. An artistic documentation of the people who work the land has become the most meaningful thing I do with camera.

A selection of Dave’s ranching and Flint Hills images:

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The Flint Hills

Dave Leiker