June 11, 2015

Saturated Sunday

For once, I didn't work last Sunday. Instead, I went to join a pilgrims' celebration in Pilsen. That was cool itself, but as it happened, I took a side adventure to experience more.

It looked like it would be a weekend like any other, busy as heck. I had a ton of assignments scheduled for Saturday, and on Sunday, I had to cover one event and sort all the photos for Monday's paper. But, towards the end of the week, I received an email that, also on Sunday, Pilsen hosts the annual Fr. Kapaun Day, consisting of a mass and a celebration including Czech culture.

I grew up in the Czech Republic, so this sounded like something not to be missed. It wasn't because of some "lack of home" compensation, though. Since I moved here to the US, many people had asked me if I missed the Czech habits and language and were surprised when I replied, "not so much." I decided to come to the US, I knew the differences before, and I had no issue accepting them. Some of my international classmates back in college were active only in groups of people from their country, talking only in Spanish, Portuguese, or wherever they came from. But in my opinion, such isolation takes away most of the experience from the place where you are. I am not firmly attached to one specific national tradition or language anymore. For me, it is more about the people's values rather than the package they are warped in. But here, I was curious to see how the cultures blended.

My coworker kindly offered to take care of the Sunday event, and so I was good to go. However, given all the other shoots, I had several hundred photos (the rodeo and many others) to get through before the deadline. I even thought of canceling the trip to finish the work. I knew that if I'd go, it would take all night to sort and file the pictures. But then I concluded that I could use a break and was like, "How many times will I have this opportunity?" So, I took my camera with a 50mm lens, a bottle of water, and I took off.

Pilsen is the fourth-largest city in the Czech Republic with over 700 years of history, known for its engineering industry and some of the best beer in the universe. But the place I went to is Pilsen established by Proud Czech descendants established in Kansas, in rural Marion Cty, roughly halfway between Wichita and Manhattan.


It never exceeded 100 inhabitants, so it didn't earn a town status and is listed as an unincorporated community. However, it has a church of a respectable size, even for much larger settlements. It is where the Fr. Kapaun Days celebration takes place.

St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church, dedicated in September of 1915. The tower with its height of around 120 ft/ 36m serves as a landmark in flat Kansas surroundings.

St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church, dedicated in September of 1915. With its height of around 120 ft/ 36m, its tower serves as a landmark in the flat Kansas surroundings.

Kapaun was a Pilsen-born veteran of the Korean War, during which he took care of the wounded and offered them religious activities. You can read more about him on Wikipedia. The celebration brings together people with Czech roots, veterans of the war, and Christian pilgrims from Wichita, who depart on Friday and get to Pilsen on Sunday. Suddenly, the place is full of nice young people and older ones with valuable stories to share.

I visited a cemetery behind the church, which has many tombstones in Cz.


Before the mass, I joined the celebration in the church basement, visited with people, and had lunch.


DSCF7599_1 They also had kolace, sweetened pastries that originated in Central Europe. They were good, but perhaps more refreshing were the language bits. I didn't use Czech a lot over the last few years, so it was fun to have a refresher. Some people reached out with "Jak se mas?" (How are you? in Czech), and two guys I talked to knew more beyond that. Still, not enough for a decent conversation. Later, however, I met a couple from Nebraska's Prague, who rocked Czech flawlessly. Cool! Then we went upstairs for the mass.

Once it ended, I walked through the church, looked at its 20 stained-glass windows, and I visited the local museum.


Meanwhile, the crowd left, and was ready to get out as well. However, before heading back home, I wanted to check out a reservoir that I saw on a map while driving to Pilsen. Getting there was a bit adventurous, as my cellphone battery died, and I didn't bring a charger with me. I had to trust my sense of direction.

Oh I love the high clearance on my car!

Oh, I love the high clearance of my car!

Well, the route I took clearly was not the main access, but it was entertaining to drive, and I made it to the reservoir fine.


Like pretty much every lake in Kansas, Marion Reservoir is human-made. Constructed in 1968, it covers around 6,150 acres (25 km2).


I took a short hike around the water and left soon to the Cottonwood Point, a treated area with a campground. When I arrived at the entrance, my language sense was evidently still messed up after the non-English discussion I had earlier because I greeted the guy at the gatehouse with "good morning," even though it was nearing 7 p.m. already. I realized this immediately after saying that, but it was too late. "I understand; you just woke up…" the gatekeeper answered. I explained the situation, and we had a good laugh about it. He also let me enter free of charge. Yey!


As I didn't plan any of this, I didn't have a swimsuit or a towel. However, my shorts were in my car since I left them there from my Arkansas trip, waiting for my next laundromat stop. With this problem solved, I began to swim to the other shore. There were a couple of individuals on boats or jet skis, but nobody was swimming beside me. That was probably good because no one heard me once I was like a half-mile from the land shouting, "duuude, it's so good." I rested on the other side for a bit while watching the sky, which was getting incredible. The east side was saturated blue, while the west was cloudy, turning dark orange. As I started to swim my way back to my car, I had a good view of a large storm cloud north-west. I couldn't see any lightning or hear thunders, but later that day, I read that it was a good-sized hailstorm above Salina. Since it was quite away at the time, I could enjoy the beautiful view of it. When I was about in the middle, the western cloud covered the sun, and suddenly, intense yellow rays were coming through the cloud holes all over.

I like to carry my camera with me all the time. However, I can't swim with it. So, the fabulous sky remained only as a memory. Experiences like this made me think about purchasing some waterproof action camera, so I could capture everything. But then, my budget aspect came to mind, and I quickly started thinking about something else.

When I got out of the water, I went for a short walk to dry. At the time, the clouds were already different, with no cool rays coming through anymore. I still took a pic of the horizon:


I stopped down the aperture blades to make up for the natural rays.

Then I started driving back home, and things got beyond words: the light turned perfect.


Kansas sunset above a bridge

At this point, the heavy black clouds from the west reached me, and a light rain began to fall.

As the skies were more dramatic, I turned to a dirt road, hoping to find a hill to gain some elevation for a view. That’s a hard thing to do in Kansas; I ended up in a completely flat field.

As the sun was almost gone, the western cloud developed into a big storm cloud:


Meanwhile, the storm from the northwest was getting closer and closer. Suddenly I saw the best sky this year, counting it among the best I have ever seen in my entire life. Look at that!

Enjoying the moment while taking pictures, a bolt of lightning struck down close to my location, and suddenly the whole sky blackened. It was as if a day would turn into night within a few seconds. As the sun disappeared, all hell broke loose. Hefty rain started pouring down like crazy, forcing me to immediately leave the spot, as the dirt road changed to a mud puddle and would soon become a lake. At the time I got back on the highway, visibility worsened as the storms got stronger. Within a moment, lightning was everywhere.

I stopped to enjoy the show and wanted to capture it. However, without a tripod and the willingness to get thoroughly soaked, it was challenging.


Back on the road again, there was a brand-new section of the hwy where the asphalt didn’t reflect any light. Besides the marked lines, anything past 30ft was pitch black. Driving further east, suddenly, a tree appeared in the middle of the lane. The storm did some damage in Chase County, so for a while, the road became a slalom between pieces of trees, ruined street signs, and dirt washed into the road. Adventurous, it was.

I got home a bit before 11, ate something, and started working on photos from the earlier shoots right after midnight to finish just before 7 a.m. But oh-it-was-worthy.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy some of my other posts about Kansas, such as:

Sunset Lake
"El Dorado"

Flint Hills Burning
"Hills on Fire"

You can also visit my blog archives for more categories and topics. Thanks for reading!

Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Stories



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