“… a sortie into west Kansas, where the kinetics are sweet and pure, where if there were son or daughter or Venusian beside me I would announce, ‘You have now entered the High Plains.’…Meanwhile it is a perfect place to get lost at the wheel and thrive. The lonesome stretches with their frank yet infinitely subtle topographies invoke the free-form open-country pleasure of watching one’s self in the imagination from half a mile above, a southbound speck in Gove County. Driving becomes a sort of gesture, and intimate interaction with the earth’s surface having to do with words like tangent and cosine.” (Merrill Gilfillan, Magpie Rising).
I love that Merrill Gilfillan uses the words “tangent” and “cosine” to describe driving through western Kansas. To me, the word tangent makes sense in this landscape. The vast openness makes the curvature of the earth obviously apparent. The road is flat at every point, but it is so long and straight that I can see its curve. The car hugs this curve and its relationship to the curve of the road could only be described as tangent. “Cosine” is less colloquial. It brings to mind math class, ratios, and triangles. It implies that the plains are so vast and open that the spherical curvature of the earth is exposed, and in turn, words like cosine can come out of the math textbook and live amongst the grasses, hay, silos, and farm houses of the Kansas prairie.