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Reclaiming prairie is Flint Hills Counterpoint's goal

Staff writer

It’s almost dusk at Susan Mayo and Nasir Islam’s home near Peabody.

Switchgrass String Quartet readies to play live to the premiere of “Reclamation Meridian,” a film that chronicles the couple’s efforts to care for their 14 acres of land.

The film is one of many projects of Flint Hills Counterpoint, a nonprofit organization that grew out of Mayo and filmmaker Cyan Meeks’s friendship, formed while they were part of Tallgrass Artist Residency.

They are co-executive directors of the organization, which is focused on reclamation of tallgrass prairie in Marion County as well as arts that celebrate such.

As people milled about Counterpoint’s annual music, film and conservation festival Saturday, the moody music Mayo composed for Meeks’s documentary film begins.

On a screen in the background, viewers watch land burning and trees being cut down — a familiar occurrence in the Flint Hills.

The film is a culmination of a project several years in the making.

“The idea for Flint Hills Counterpoint started when Cyan Meeks and I had a joint residency with the Tallgrass Artist Residency.” Mayo said. “We met each other there. That would have been in 2018. She did a film about the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. She’s a great filmmaker and asked if I wanted to do a project together.”

Meanwhile, Mayo was learning more about conservation.

“We had lived here about 25 years and hadn’t done anything with our land,” she said. “The residency made me think of land stewardship a lot.”

Mayo and Islam began working — with the help of grants from agencies such as Kansas Forest Service and Natural Resource Conservation Service — to preserve their land.

Meeks filmed the process.

“There were seven acres that we cleared out trees and replanted trees that are native to Kansas and conducive to wildlife,” Mayo said. “We planted 300 seedlings and put in a couples acres’ worth of native grasses.”

Most work was done when COVID-19 closed schools and businesses.

“It was a good pandemic project,” Mayo said.

Mayo and Meeks received a $50,000 placemaking grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and raised matching funds.

“Flint Hills Counterpoint is the placemaking project,” Mayo said.

Flint Hills Counterpoint sponsors events throughout the year — tours and talks focused on Marion County.

It’s been working on an audio tour book for about a year with a grant from Humanities Kansas.

“We’ve interviewed 40 people in the county to get their different stories,” Mayo said.

Mayo and Islam will be planting silphium, a Greek and Roman herb once considered to be extinct, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3 in conjunction with The Land Institute in Salina.

Flint Hills Counterpoint will be working with Heidi Hittle, an arts teacher at Peabody-Burns Middle/High School, and her students to create a mural and other projects.

“Cyan and I are making another film about that,” Mayo said.

Volunteers always are needed, and people interested in helping Flint Hills Counterpoint can call Mayo at (316) 258-2342 or email flinthillscounterpoint@gmail.com.

“It’s fun to be involved in these projects, and as we grow, we need more volunteers,” she said.

More than anything, Mayo said, “we hope our story will inspire people like us” to take care of their land.

“Land is a responsibility, and land stewardship — it’s a thing to explore,” Mayo said. “You can’t just get some land and let it go. There are things you need to do to take care of it.”

Last modified Sept. 13, 2023

 

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