Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Greasy Skillet asks...

High Plains Update

Don't call it "global warming." Around here, it's called "global spinning around in circles, so don't even try to guess what's up tomorrow."


This time of the year, if you stick your head out the front door at high noon, you have a one in four chance of guessing what season it is. A week ago it was sunny and in the 60s. A couple of days later, below zero and snowing. And now it's back in the 50s. There's green in the fields where everything should be golden, except for where's there's snow. (That says minus fourteen, there on the left.)


Even the geese are confused. They're flying north, south, east, west, all over the place. No idea which way they want to go.




Our neighbors to the east over at The Greasy Skillet are asking what it is that you love about your town.

If I had to build a perfect town from scratch, I can think of a couple of places to start. You'd have a beach a mile away, bike friendly roads, and a little Italian place two blocks from the house like we had in Kailua. You'd have cool clubs and coffee shops like the Exit In and Bongo Java (of Nun in the Bun fame), from Nashvegas. You'd have vineyards right outside your front door and the Alps around the corner, like in Lehrensteinsfeld.

I don't have any of those things here in High Plains country, but I'm not complaining, not at all. It would be nice to have a bit more culture within walking distance, but the big city’s a quick hop down the road. After living in Baltimore, Wash DC, Atlanta, and other east coast big cities, this is as big as I ever want to go again.

The thing I don’t quite understand myself is, this place just feels like home to me. I grew up all over the east coast, but I didn’t realize until I left how claustrophobic I felt there. Especially in Georgia, living under 70 foot pines that didn’t let the day light in until maybe ten a.m. Out here, when Mr. Sun comes up, there’s no doubt about it — he’s looking in your window, telling you it’s time to get up and get to work.

Don’t get me wrong... it’s hard to beat Asheville, NC in the fall for sheer natural beauty, or the hills of western Pennsylvania, upstate New York, or the North Georgia mountains. But to me, those are great places to visit. Living there is a different story.

Back before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars started, about the toughest thing one could do in the Army was go through the National Training Center at Ft Irwin, California. The National Training Center is basically in Death Valley, about as rugged a place to train as you’ll ever encounter. And to this day, I’m the only person I’ve ever met (awkward construction, but you know what I mean) who came back from there talking about how gorgeous it was. Yeah, it was a desert, nothing but rock... but if you looked hard enough, you could find flowering plants fighting their up through the rock. In the middle of nowhere, life was finding a way.


And that’s how I feel just about every day here. To some, picturesque might mean forested hillsides or fields of bluegrass or the rich colors of wildflowers. But I personally prefer the hardiness and ruggedness of something that’s just doing it’s best to survive. Desert plants that get by with a drop of water now and then, that are just barely green enough to capture light and CO2 and turn it into oxygen and new branches. Yeah, a magnolia tree on a southern plantation has it’s place, but can it roll down the highway at 60 mph like a tumbleweed? One bad ice storm and those 70 foot Georgia pines will be laying in your driveway (or in your kitchen, as we learned the hard way), but the plants here just shrug it off and silently remind you to quit whining. These plants are survivors.

And the same with the wildlife. Hawks and eagles circle overhead, reminding the little furry critters that they’d better not dilly dally unless they want to be supper. Foxes and coyotes roam the fields, reminding us that dogs were meant to have jobs, to work and play hard, and not to run around an arena, prancing for a judge. Even the cute little bunnies that run around in our yard aren’t hippity-hopping off to find Easter baskets but are part of this fight for existence, digging holes to hide from said eagles and coyotes and trying to survive temps that go from 100ยบ to below zero practically over night.

I have no idea how the product of Pennsylvania and Florida genetic material, with roots in a Mulligan stew of European rolling hillsides, came to feel at home out here. Either reincarnation or alien abduction must be part of the answer. But whatever the reason is, this place just feels right to me.

5 comments:

muddywaters said...

Great post! I enjoyed hearing your perspective on this question. I have a lot to comment on, so I'll probably do it over the course of the next few weeks.

I love the Great Plains, but I still haven't totally embraced them. When we visit Kristin's parents in SW Nebraska, there are times where I'll be overwhelmed by the sky, and the lack of trees. It will make me uneasy at times, but after awhile I get acclimated.

I know I live in Kansas, but I don't consider eastern Kansas the Great Plains. I spend a lot of time (probably too much) thinking about where the Great Plains, and the American West begins. My answer varies on a daily basis. Some days it's west of Topeka, but then I have days when I think it's west of Hays. You can't really consider the Flint Hills the Great Plains, but it has a West feel to it.

Anyway, I have more comments, but I'll save them for tomorrow. I'm going to now crack open my copy of William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways.

muddywaters said...

OK. Here's a passage from Blue Highways that I think is interesting. I wish I could articulate my ideas this well:

"The true West differs from the East in one great, pervasive, influential and awesome way: space. The vast openness changes the roads, towns, houses, farms, crops, machinery, politics, economics, and naturally, ways of thinking. How could it do otherwise? Space west of the line is perceptible and often palpable, especialy when it apppears empty, and it's that apparent emptiness which makes matter look alone, exiled, and unconnected. Those spaces diminish man and reduce his blindness to the immensity of the universe; they push him toward a great reliance on himself, and at the same time, to a greater awareness of others and what they do. But as the space diminishes man and his constructions in a material fashion, it also - paradoxically - makes them more noticeable. Things show up out her. Not one, not even the sojourner, escapes the expanses. You can't get away from them by rolling up the safety-glass and speeding through, because the terrible distances eat up speed. Even dawn takes nearly an hour to cross Texas. Still, drivers race along; but when you get down to to it, they are people uneasy about space."

**William Least Heat-Moon

On the Great Plains you can see and sometimes smell the weather long before it arrives. I love this aspect of this landscape.

I feel like hitting the road.

Kristin said...

Welcome Home!

muddywaters said...

What was your all-time favorite Exit-In show?

I've always wanted to do a road trip where I visit all the influential local music clubs. You can't go wrong with a club where Johnny Cash performed.

High Plains Drifters said...

Muddy, I don't think I ever saw a high profile show there. Saw a lot of local bands and indie bands. Del Amitri was one of my favorites, and for whatever reason they played there a couple of times a year as well as playing free shows at the Thursday night riverwalk shindig that ran all summer. I paid two bucks to see Hootie and the Blowfish a year before they hit it big, and saw Edwin McCain with some girl named Jewel opening for him. Then a couple of months later, I saw them again at the Bottleneck.