Thursday, May 26, 2011


For me, place is like a vine growing up through my life--the foliage is thick and it's always a tangle, but it's lush and constant, with the taproot anchored deep inside me. Other places can branch off the vine, but there's only one root. I think about place a ton, especially when I travel, even if it's only 100 miles from my house.

I live in Minnesota, and I love this place: awesome state to raise a kid, lovely scenery, great standard of living, etc. However, for the last six days I've been at the taproot--the edge of western Nebraska. It was time for my dad's auction, and that was hard but all right, but I didn't feel sad about him, at least not much. It was the place that made me hurt. What do you mean there's no reason to come back? Eeek. Tears. After all the stuff got done in my home town, I headed out to the west-West, the covered-wagon West. There was business to do, but it was mostly to return to the taproot of the taproot.

I discovered, way out there, that my great-great and great grandparents have the words "pioneers" engraved on their tombstones. Like covered wagon pioneers (btw, that's the Scotts Bluff National Monument in that photo, very cool, go visit). I've known this all my life, but it just hit me on Tuesday: people in my bloodline left their homes somewhere else to go live on a flat plain with these big, weird rocks sticking up. They yanked up their ivy and replanted it in Banner County, Nebraska. What the hell for? A new life. But what kind of life was it?

As I was sitting in the cemetery where my pioneer ancestors are buried, listening to the prairie dogs chirp at me to get the hell off their land, I pondered the space and silence. I wondered how many pioneers went crazy from all the quiet. I wondered how many of them re-read the two books they'd brought--or the 200, maybe, a covered wagon full of books. And contact with other people--how did anybody get mail (by Pony Express, I'd guess)? How many days did it take to get to a town, or to a neighbor's house? Those were strong people--a zillion times stronger than I am. No wonder the word "pioneer" means "groundbreaker" and "first of their kind". Even though I'm not that sturdy, I like knowing I'm descended from that stock. It gives me hope to be that brave.

Maybe it was the energy of the place that kept them there. The vibe in western Nebraska, even on the edge of it, where I'm from, is different. It's spacious and calm, almost like the atoms of everything are less connected. The prairie, where I live now, is dense and compact, and the atoms scurry around at high speeds. Out West, things are slower. More independent. More open. Maybe my relatives came for the free land and stayed for the fact that nobody bothers you out there. Don't know.

Love you, Minnesota, but I'm moving home someday.


  1. Many of my favorite stories are about place. Loved the old Foundation series, and Twilight, and Red Mars. Jared Diamond reframed history with, Guns, Germs, and Steel which is all about culture and place, as is Collapse- both of which are fascinating. Watched the widely praised movie "Somewhere" recently, with a strong 'place' theme.

  2. I think place is one of my driving forces as a writer--all of my books are Midwestern in their setting and in their flavor. Not very hip, I know, but we can be cool out here. : ) Will have to check out what you listed above!

  3. Makes me want to read books of pioneers!