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Flint Hills of Kansas open eyes of city boy

The Shoemake family photo album will no doubt hold shots of a beaming boy holding his first turkey.

But the picture that'll come to mind when I think of the 8-year-old's April trip to the Flint Hills will be of the boy, eyes wide in wonder and pride, in a face-to-face stare with a pencil-sized snake.

Many times, Keith asked, "Dad, can we move to Kansas?"

Mike Shoemake, Keith's dad, had more than a hunt in mind when he brought his son from suburban Chicago.

Blessed to be born and raised amid rural areas, Mike knew his son was in need of "de-cityfication."

Mission accomplished.

The boy took to the prairie like, well, like a boy to the prairie.

Deer trails through rugged woodlands took the place of paved sidewalks through manicured parks back home.

Along the way, Keith found adventure in what many rural Kansans take for mundane.

There was the jigsaw puzzle of a cow skeleton to be partially pieced together and a scraggly shed deer antler that lit up the kid up as if he'd found a Boone & Crockett drop.

He learned a gravel bar of flat rocks and a broad stream pool can be as entertaining as television, and that his thumb was as adept at operating a spin-cast reel as a PlayStation.

He figured out a kid doesn't need expensive toys to stay entertained.

Had his dad allowed, he'd have probably spent an hour or more in a broad cattle pasture, kicking the "soccer balls" of recycled grass.

A sharp kid, Keith quickly learned to look for, and expect to see, copious amounts of wildlife.

He deduced that rural Kansans were some of the nicest people he'd ever met after the cook at the Hitchin' Post in Matfield Green let him pick out his own potato for fresh French fries.

He also noticed that a rancher took 20 minutes from a busy day to introduce him to a young, fuzzy-maned buckskin colt.

He learned that he has the capability to change.

Keith kept perfectly still when a hen turkey passed unalarmed within a yard of where he sat.

He learned to listen to his loved ones, and give them full trust, to work through two phobias.

His fear of snakes moved from a hesitant fingertip touch to the tail to cradling the juvenile racer in his cupped hands for several minutes.

Unsure of holding fish at one pond, he carried them around the water at the next, and dropped them into the bucket where we kept the makings for the next day's fresh fish breakfast.

His dad was understandably proud as he saw his son blossom on the prairie, especially when he asked him, "Where would you rather go, Keith, Disneyworld or Kansas?"

I agree with the boy's answer. Kansas prairie has much more to offer a child than any amusement park of any age.

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