Posts Tagged ‘Great Plains’

Peace, Quiet and Thought

I’ve said this before, but I love visiting the Great Plains. There’s something about the vast open spaces, the capacity to see for miles and miles, that frees my mind from the cluttered inanity of the world. Having a broad field of vision in the physical world leads to having a broad field of vision in the metaphysical world. OK, fine, that last sentence was a bit over the top. I’m just fishing for fancy ways of saying “open spaces make me feel better”.

New England, much as I love it, tends to be a bit claustrophobic. The hills, mountains and forests restricts field of vision; the constant clamor of a high population density clutters the mind with noise. There ends up being so much noise, so much distraction, it’s hard to stay focused on a task, think through life’s bigger challenges, or simply sit and listen and appreciate a moment in time. Clarity and depth of thought requires personal space and lots of it; the lack of such space clutters the mind like the spare room of a chronic hoarder.

Eastern Wyoming (where Fort Laramie sits) is vast, open, and sparsely populated. It’s so easy to find peace and quiet, to be alone with one’s thoughts. This lends itself to observation, contemplation, and (yes, I’ll say it) spiritual reflection. Even the chronic prevailing winds of the western plains assist. A good, stiff wind in your face cleanses the soul like a sand-blaster cleans painted brick. Wide open spaces and weather: these are a few of my favorite things.

Add in historic Fort Laramie, with its crumbling brick facades, you find yourself reflecting on the past. Like most historic sites west of the Mississippi, Fort Laramie is part and parcel of Native American history, in this case the history of Indian suppression. A visit there makes one specifically reflect on that part of America’s past.

I feel like I could type forever, spewing forth my thoughts about the tragic conflict between the tribes of the Americas and the white settlers. I’d make a blog post so massive and unreadable it’d go down in the annals of bad web content forever. Instead, let me just give a short list of some observations I made at Fort Laramie and similar sites across the country:

  • Did you ever notice that great swaths of the Plains cleared of Indians by the U.S. Army are still pretty empty?
  • Did you notice that people are actually moving out of rural areas in the midwest? Depopulation of the plains has been going on for some time now.
  • Did you know that much of the land taken from tribes was given to cattle ranching? Did you notice that overconsumption of beef is now deemed a health hazard, and current factory-style, corn-fed beef production is considered bad for the environment?
  • Did you notice that family farms, another beneficiary of U.S. Indian relocation policies, are dying out and being replaced by corporate farming concerns that no one seems to like?
  • Have you noticed that California, the “promised land” for wagon trains and railroads, is, well, kind of a mess right now?

It’s been well over a hundred years since the government’s longstanding programs effectively nullified the Indians as a resistance movement and nearly eradicated tribal culture completely. But now, after all this time, I think the question needs to be asked: was it really worth the price?

Playing “what if” games is rarely productive. Nothing can undo what was done, and Monday-morning quarterbacking has as much value as Monopoly money. But maybe, hopefully, we can take the lessons we learned and teach them to others who sit along a similar precipice we sat upon in our expansionist phase. You don’t need to extinguish a competing culture or civilization to succeed and grow. In fact, it’s quite likely it leads to an opposite result.

[The pictures on this blog entry are mine and copyrighted thusly. More are here.]



Fort Laramie National Historic Site

Change of Heartland: The Great Plains

Holy Cow: The Wide Impact of Eating Red Meat

Google map to Fort Laramie

Just for the heck of it, I added a picture of a bunny….

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Peace and Unquiet

I find something magical in the Great Plains. I know, it’s just this big expanse of nuttin’, but I love the big, wide-open spaces. To stand in a spot where you can’t see anything, for miles and miles, feels so mentally and spiritually cleansing. It’s all about space, just experiencing the vastness of all dimensions, it’s … captivating.

View from Agate — © America In Context 2007

My very first experience with the Plains was not so captivating. I was returning from a business trip to San Jose, California. Shortly after the plane passed the Rocky Mountains, we hit a patch of turbulence. Patch? Patch nothing … the plane shook for nearly an hour! I really hate flying, I mean really hate it. We’re talking sheer, white-knuckled terror, and that’s on a good flight! This tumultuous one, well, either the plane was going to crash, or I was going to shake myself apart from the tension. Looking out the window, wide-eyed with fear, I could see the vast, unpopulated plains of Nebraska looming below me. “Anywhere but there”, I said to myself. “I don’t want to die in the middle of Nebraska!”

The pilot then comes on, and blurts out “well, we’re going to try to go up 5,000 more feet, see if it quiets down.” A twitch of the flaps and there we were, smooth as glass. I wanted to go up front and bitch-slap that bastard for waiting so long, but I couldn’t pry my fingers out of the armrests.

Being on the ground in Nebraska is so much better than flying over it.

Back On Topic

Funky Diorama — © America In Context 2007Agate Fossil Beds itself is nothing special. It’s just a couple of knolls in the prairie. But it does tell a fascinating paleontologic story. See, a couple of million years ago, there was this watering hole. Big herbivores loved this watering hole. Then, one day, it dried up. The herbivores started to starve. Then the predators came and ate them all up, but they too started to starve, for there were no more herbivores. Then the scavengers showed up and ate all the dead predators, but then they, too died, for there was nothing left to scavenge. All of them died in this big heap. A few million years later, paleontologists showed up, and wondered just what the hell happened! Was this some cultic suicide, did these Miocene animals drink some prehistoric Kool-Aid at the bidding of a dinosaur with a bad haircut wearing Ray-Bans? Or was it something more natural? It’s a neat story to those so inclined.

Agate does another wonderful thing: it helps preserve Native American culture. Here’s another case of individual bravery in the face of government brutality: a man by the name of James Cook owned a ranch near the fossil beds during the heyday of their excavation. He managed to befriend Red Cloud, chief of the Oglala Sioux. He often gave Red Cloud’s people aid and comfort during the painful years of reservation life. Red Cloud honored Cook through gifts of many Sioux-crafted items, all now displayed at Agate Fossil Beds. It’s a small, but quite impressive, collection. They also support Native artisans, and have regular showings of their current works.

It’s quite off the beaten path, but take a few hours to drive there. Lose yourself in the wide expanse that is the Great Plains (I recommend getting out of the car first, though. No zoning out behind the wheel, please).

Hide Painting — © America In Context 2007

[All pictures on this entry are originals by the blog owner.]

See all original photos of Agate Fossil Beds


Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Google map to Agate Fossil Beds


Just for the heck of it, here’s a picture of a bunny:

Agate Bunny — © America In Context 2007

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