MCDOWELL CREEK, Kan. - When Jan Garton passed away on November 9, 2009, one of the leading voices for conservation in Kansas was stilled.
Regarding Jan's successful campaign to save Cheyenne Bottoms, the Hutchinson News wrote, "Jan Garton's life story perfectly illustrates how one person can make a difference." Jan's public actions and public words are well known.
Less well known iis her poetry, even by her friends. As Jan's executor, I had to clean out her file cabinets, and there I found writing she had never mentioned. Her poems give insight into just what it was that helped her change the world.
Jan had an outsider's view of society, but an insider's view of nature. To her, humans in the aggregate were grotesque. In "I Hate You," she wrote:
Faceless faces etched on flesh
Beaming out disapproval or approval
To those they favor or hate
All dependent on their mood.
What a farce!
Ugly and twisted. God-awful!
She had a vision, though, of how the ugly could become lovely and the twisted straight. The catalyst was nature's beauty. In "Quiet Is for Evening," she wrote:
Openness to such loveliness was also key. Jan let nature touch her, and the experience shaped her very personal sense of God. In the same poem, she wrote:
Not from dreams of almighty gods
But from the need to understand why grass is green
And sky is blue and why birds fly
My god is a god of earth
His name is "god" with a small "g"
He doesn't say here is eternal life
He says this is your life.
Here "your life"--human life--is god-given, not "god-awful"; it is part of the loveliness, just like sky or grass or birds.
Many reformers have been driven by a vision of a utopia that never comes to be. Jan's vision was something she actually experienced--moments of beauty when, through openness, reverence, and the "need to understand," humans could fit in.
Jan was repulsed by a society that was proud of dominating nature. Instead, she was drawn to a community that welcomes non-human creatures as well as human beings. In her too-short life, she helped to pull Kansas away from the former and toward the latter. She made a difference--and her newly discovered poetry helps to tell us how and why.
It also allows us to hear her inimitable voice once again.