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Sunday, September 10, 2000

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Cleaning and the great plains

Vacuuming and cleaning and scrubbing today. The worst part was trying to get the top of the stove clean. It just slowly accumulates and suddenly is filthy. Outside of hardcore grit which scrubs away the paint there isn't an easy way to get the baked on grease off.

We had a wonderful storm this afternoon. The thunder sounded like it was right overhead and you could see the bolts hitting close by. It knocked my computer out once and the trees were bent from the wind. I stood outside watching till the rain became so hard that it was blowing in my door. I chatted with my neighbors, who I don't normally talk to as we run on different schedules and people don't sit out in front of their door saying hello to everyone.

Between cleaning I finished "Bad Land: An American Romance" by Jonathan Raban. This is a wonderful book. He takes us with the people in Europe and the crowded cities of the eastern United States. as they migrate to North Dakota and Montana, with their hopes and dreams of a new life and land of their own. From their high hopes and the promises of the railroad and the US government he shows how most of them are beaten by the reality that you can't survive in this part of the world without thousands of acres and a lot of luck. They only had a section and few had any luck.

He brought out an interesting theory that the high level of government distrust in Montana, Idaho and eastern Washington was in large part because these people remember how the government lied to their grandparents and stripped them of all their dreams. Raban talks of women on their knees crying for rain and men becoming old as the lies they were told take everything from them. The railroads ended up with the money, the government ended up with the land again. Even Roosevelt's new deal was looked at with distrust though many gave up their pride to take the jobs it created and once again they were just manual laborers, not landowners.

I then went on to read "Great Plains" by Ian Frazier. While Raban covered mainly the first part of the 20th century in eastern Montana with an emphasis on the homesteaders, Frazier takes you on a road trip through the whole great plains from eastern Montana and western North Dakota down to the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas as eastern New Mexico. He also goes back and forth in time from the Lewis and Clark Expedition to a founders day celebration in Nicodemus, Kansas, which is the only remaining town in Kansas settled by african americans that poured westward in an attempt to gain real freedom and land of their own. They weren't able to hold on to the land any better than the whites were.

He covers Crazy Horse, the joy that overtakes many people when they drive through the incredible expanse of the great plains (I've felt that joy and wonder), the fact that most of the famous cowboys and sheriffs were basically outlaws, the cruel trick that railroads and nature played on the homesteaders, and the interesting fact that some of the most successful homesteaders were anabaptist Germans that were kicked out of Russia but brought the knowledge of surviving the Russian steppes to the American plains. Frazier's love of the great plains and the reality that he would never be able to live there make this a wonderful introduction to the center of the US that so many people just fly over and never actually see.

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(c) Rachel Aschmann 2000.
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