Thursday, July 24, 2008

Yet another way to grow (or at least salvage) a rural economy (that is also a rural lifestyle) . . .

The second installment in the New York Times "Going Down the Road" series appears today. This piece by Kirk Johnson focuses on the great state of Wyoming, in particular its northern tier. The story features both a look at some current rural lifestyles near Sheridan, the dateline, and a reminder of an interesting moment in history when a movement initiated in Sheridan would have created a new state called Absaroka, part northern Wyoming, part southern Montana, part western South Dakota.

There's rich imagery of both the land and the people in Johnson's writing:
“The grass culture — people who make a living from growing grass, or from the animals that eat the grass — that was Absaroka,” said Ken Kerns, a 76-year-old rancher who has lived most of his life on the Double Rafter Ranch, which his family staked out in the 1880s about 45 minutes from Sheridan, Absaroka’s fleeting capital. 
Ranch families like the Kernses — conservative, self-sufficient and wanting mostly to be left alone — were demographic anchors of the Absarokan movement. And the never-ending battle to sustain ranching as a way of life in turn created the character of Swickard-like curve-ball creativity, Mr. Kerns said — that if one thing does not work, you try another.
For the Kernses, keeping the ranch alive has meant bringing in paying guests for week-long cattle drives. In short, the cattle themselves no longer paid the bills.

Johnson further links the story's two threads and provides more details about the Writer's Project in the Wyoming context, as with this sentence:
Agriculture and its discontents set off the first sparks in the Absaroka movement, starting in South Dakota around 1935 where farmers and ranchers chafed that the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt was leaving them out.
Read the entire story and note the many rural themes that run throughout it, among them self-sufficiency, resourcefulness, independence, spatial isolation, and attachment to place.

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