I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Scottsbluff, NE as I quick post this before heading out for Colorado to explore the Rockies & do some hiking! You know you're not in NYC when there's a café with wifi that doesn't have password protection. I couldn't post this yesterday because the Internet was down at the farm, but I wrote the essay that follows about my time in Nebraska, some things that are on my mind from being here the past three days. Check it out & expect more pictures today!
"I just brought some green tomatoes in from the Hoop House, and I’m camped out in my cool, basement bedroom out of the midday sun. I’m at the first stop on my trip, an organic farm in western Nebraska with my good friend Emily & her friend Nathaniel. I spent the morning harvesting radishes & shallots, after waking up late from a combination of the traveling the past few days & the rodeo we went to last night.
Yeah, I spent my Fourth of July at the rodeo. Some of the events at the Camp Clarke Stampede included bronco riding, calf roping, barrel racing, & steer wrestling. They were serving cold beers & various summertime food. I had a brat [not as good as Wisconsin brats] & talked myself into getting into a funnel cake, which I fully intended on sharing, but ended up eating the majority of. There were fireworks too, of course, underscored by patriotic anthems of the USA & military veterans & God. And at the end of the night…bull riding.
Hopefully all of them are doing some yoga to work out those kinks in their necks & backs.
I enjoyed myself last night, but I found myself being incredibly judgmental of the western Nebraska people. I found myself thinking, “Do those young boys ACTUALLY want to wear those boots and cowboy hats, or are they just naively perpetuating potentially damaging gender norms?” And also, “I feel so bad for these P.O.C.’s here, I wonder if they feel microaggressions & stigmatism on a daily basis. How crushing.” I thought the women looked oppressed & the whole event was a PETA nightmare waiting to happen.
But I’m sure that even despite the jean jacket I borrowed, I did not look like a local, but rather some out-of-towner crashing their party. And if I were to try to articulate these thoughts to them, I’d get sent back to where I came from, quickly.
I’ll totally admit, from my admittedly amateur observation, there was an unspoken but palpable sense of ritual at the rodeo. Folks brought their own lawn chairs, rented out the best seats in the house in advance. The women did their hair & makeup, and the men were dressed in fancy shirts and giant-ass belt buckles. There were those fancy jeans that I recognized from the many years of watching my cousins show livestock at the Wisconsin State Fair.
This means a lot to the Bridgeport community. I could tell that these people care deeply for hard work, communing with animals & nature, and community. Simple would be the wrong word to describe them [there’s always a demeaning connotation attached to it when it’s used to describe another person]. But unaffected, maybe. Unpretentious. There we go.
There was an unpretentious honesty to the rodeo, a lack of complicated niceties or decorum that felt truly authentic. From my interactions with the owners of this farm, Beth & Nathan have a straightforwardness about them that is totally refreshing. It would be reductive to say that they’re so genuinely happy, but I do think they’re genuinely at ease.
As an urban dweller who constantly works himself up into a tangled extension cord of nerves, this is something to be admired. Because with me, it’s always “ok so do I actually know how to get to my friend’s place in Brooklyn” & “should I get a morning coffee today” & “fml I have so many emails to sort through” & “where do I find funding for my theater projects” & “maybe I should activate my Tinder account again”…etcetera. As a New Yorker, I am the embodiment of pretension. I mean, the fact that I just used the word “pretension” just goes to show, huh?
Hearing Emily & Beth talk about watering schedules, harvesting, delays because of construction on the train tracks, I know that not everything in the country is idyllic pastures of gently swaying grasses. With our globalizing world, I’m sure it’s increasingly difficult to make a living off a small family farm. As Emily was saying, New Yorkers would drop five bucks for some organic kale without thinking about it; but here, everyone’s growing their own. I’m sure everyone’s in better shape out here than I am, but the years of bending over, tending vegetables & hauling produce, I’m sure they take a toll on the body.
But as I finish writing this up to head back outside & harvest some garlic, I can’t help but feeling like there’s a sense of clarity in this part of our country, clarity not unlike I set out on this road trip to find."