Technology and the digital realm may drive much of the exploration in the 21st century, but there remain older, more analog landscapes to be sought out still, at least according to Lawrence author George Frazier.
Working as a software architect for Silicon Valley, Frazier is well-acquainted with the trappings of the digital age. However, while earning his degree at the University of Kansas Frazier also became invested in the environment, noting he routinely trekked across the western U.S. to be in the wilderness. Then, as some prairie land in Lawrence become embroiled in politics during the constructions of the south Lawrence traffic way and Frazier saw the strong reactions from the public, he had an awakening of sorts.
"At that point, I realized in Kansas we still have wild lands that matter that people feel strongly about and I realized I didn't know anything about them, even though I was kind of trying to live out my wilderness fantasies out west, so I decided that I would try to find out everything I could about the wild places that remained in my home state," Frazier said.
In turn, that also acted as inspiration for Frazier to write his first book, "The Last Wild Places of Kansas: Journeys Into Hidden Landscapes," which was published in May 2016 by University Press of Kansas. While Frazier noted he has published articles both in trade magazines and those aligned with his personal interests (i.e. "Canoe and Kayak," "Wild Earth," etc.), this book was an entirely different venture.
Part travelogue, part memoir and part cultural history, the book relates Frazier's experiences traveling across the state to gain more insight into the wild places. While not a guide book, Frazier said it can be considered a guide to how to think about the Kansas landscape and hopes it inspires people to get out in the environment and learn something new.
"More than anything, these wild places accumulated stories, and so they're infused with cultural memory and the culture can go all the way back to the Native Americans," Frazier said.
Over the course of several years of research, Frazier noted his trips brought him to Newton frequently and he said he spent around a year in Newton overall while working on his book. From looking into pioneer and founder of Wichita J.R. Mead (who had dealings in Newton) to tracking river otters in the eastern part of Harvey County near the Flint Hills, what struck Frazier during his time in the area was the proximity to so many of the places he sought out.
"Boy, when I was doing my trips I wished I lived in Newton," Frazier said. "The important thing about Newton in Kansas is that it's really at the heart, right in the middle of a bunch of our most significant bioregions."
Wild places can be defined by tremendous biodiversity, iconic landmarks or the presence of threatened species, according to Frazier, and he said he criss-crossed Harvey County in search of many such sites. History is also important, though, and Frazier noted he utilized that in helping him understand the wild places in a 21st century context.
Noting encounters with some individuals who ride their horse to the grocery store while staying in Newton, Frazier noted that is the attitude he is trying to encourage. With 98 percent of land in Kansas being privately owned, he knows exploring it all can be difficult, but making connections (like he did with landowners) helps. Frazier said he hopes his book will spark an enthusiasm for readers to try and do the same.
"We have an interesting environment, interesting prairie legacy, but a complicated set of hurdles for anyone who wants to access those prairies," Frazier said. "That's something that I think is worth doing and I think it's a good thing for anybody to get to know the place where they live."
Frazier's book is now available at the Newton Public Library.