Traveling A Thread of A Different Color

By Casey J. McLaughlin

I recently took a personal trip north from Kansas through Missouri and Iowa – hitting a large swath of Region 7.  I rarely get into the field but I still spend an immense amount of time viewing our region through maps and aerial imagery.  The leaves have all fallen and the harvests are mostly in and so I was struck by the remaining color.


I saw brown everywhere.  Even the road seemed a washed out earthy color.  For me, spring is the best time of the year because it washes the winter drab colors away with budding trees, emerging flowers, and green grass.  At some point during my 10-hour drive north, I looked around and saw more than just brown.  I noticed that what seems like homogenous farm-scape actually contained a rich diversity in form and color.

Attribution: Gary D Robson

Gone were the golden fields of wheat.  Gone were the lush green corn and soybean fields.  Gone were the alfalfa pastures dotted with purple. In their place, I saw harvested fields dotted with foraging cows.  I saw plowed fields with ridges of brown dirt.  I saw fields filled with huge rolls of hay.  All brown all over the place.  At least I thought I saw only brown.   Looking closer I saw a host of different colors framed by a brown backdrop.  I looked across the fields and there stood a beautiful red barn on a hill.  The next field contained a block of pine trees that I knew framed a windbreak around a farmer’s home.  Driving through cities, I saw the familiar vibrantly green yards – along with bright advertisement signs for gasoline.

Amana, IA. Attribution: Casey McLaughlin

We titled our blog the Big Blue Thread because of the thick blue line cartographer’s represented the Missouri River with.  The rivers were our first great transportation network and continue to be the lifeblood of our society.  Our other transportation networks (highways and  railways) haven’t been around nearly as long, but the last 100 years have seen our commodities and ourselves moving in more directions and more times.  Each layer has added color and depth to our experiences of the region.  Riding the highways this weekend reminded me that brown might dominate the season, but is only one of a hundred details in this part of the country.

Casey McLaughlin is a first generation Geospatial Enthusiast who has worked with EPA since 2003 as a contractor and now as the Regional GIS Lead. He currently holds the rank of #1 GISer in EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.