WICHITA — It has been five months since Virginia Soyez died on a Monday in March, but every morning her husband Frank keeps their tradition. He wakes up at 5:30 a.m. — a habit that hasn’t left him since his days as a tank mechanic in the army — and sits in a brown recliner across from its now-empty pair in the sun room. He sips weak coffee from a brown and tan ceramic Fort Scott mug decorated with a sprig of wheat and foregoes breakfast altogether, as there’s no longer anyone to share it with.
Dancing along the wallpaper’s top trimming are cardinals, Virginia’s favorite bird. A wall of windows looks out onto a small backyard with enough room for a birdbath, a red and gold birdhouse on a wooden platform and two double-crook black metal stands that hold four bird feeders.
“My wife always said that if we were going to go to a nursing home, it would have to have a sun room like this so we could sit and watch the birds,” Soyez, 86, said.
Vulnerable bird populations
Often referred to as the nation’s breadbasket, Kansas once captured the national imagination as the “land of Oz.” Now, due to severe global changes in climate, some of the essential symbols that distinguish it from the rest of the country are being threatened: Wheat and other crops struggle to withstand the rising heat; the Flint Hills, which houses most of the last of the nation’s tallgrass prairie (less than 4% of the original prairie remains), is vulnerable. And, more than 52 species of birds, including the western meadowlark, the state bird, are at risk of losing their range within the state.
As raging wildfires devastate California and rising tides contribute to coastal flooding, Kansas is not typically at the forefront of the national climate change discussion. While 67% of Kansans agree that climate change is happening, only 52% believe it’s mostly caused by human activity, according to a survey by Yale Climate Change Communications. That puts Kansas below the national average on both beliefs, though signs of a shift are emerging.