June is over and I’m honestly grateful. Here on the prairie, June is a month of schlepping. I’ll define schlepp here because although it’s a common Jersey word, people out here probably don’t know what it means.
Schlepp- To carry clumsily or with difficulty; To move slowly or laboriously; To go on an arduous journey. (Yiddish)
We homeschool. We also live in the middle of no where. You may recall that I have already discussed how out here, the schools are everything. My own theory is that because there are no other cultural institutions, there is just nothing else and therefore schools are thee defining cultural institution by default. A post office, school and a grocery store is really what makes a town out here. I mean I suppose that given that your other options are hanging out at the grocery store, the railroad tracks or the post office, the school seems appealing. Even though I belong to two different homeschool groups in the Front Range area, they are far and we hardly know any other homeschoolers out here. The two other homeschooling families I know live 25 and 35 miles away, respectively. There are hardly any other activities (besides school) for children to participate in out here.
Out here, the local school calendars roughly run from the Assumption (August 15th for all you non-Catholics out there) to Memorial Day. While I one of the reasons that I originally homeschooled was to not arbitrarily plan my life around what some school board decides when the children should be off or in school, I find that I must do this anyway, as the schools finish in May and June is when they start the summer activities. These summer activities are wonderful in their own right, however, they are my children’s only chance to participate in these type of things. So it’s June or it’s nothing.
This was my son’s third year and my daughter’s second year playing tee-ball. While there is nothing wrong with tee-ball, it’s tee-ball or it’s nothing. There are no other sports for them to participate in. I really don’t know exactly how the tee-ball league is structured. I do know the tee-ball is through the towns, not the schools, but the players use the schools’ fields. The participating towns range from 60 miles away from my house one way to 40 miles away the other. The games are against the teams from the same town the same night, which is great at accommodating siblings. On a typical game night, for example, my daughter played her game at 5 p.m. and my son played his at 6 p.m. Tee-ball is pretty much the whole month of June. There was one practice in May and the tournament wrapped it all up the last Saturday in June.
My children also attended swimming lessons in Limon. While the program was great and professionally run, it is still about 25 miles away. These are the closest swimming lessons to us. I am extremely happy with them and so were my kids, but honestly, I’m glad they’re over.
My children are also attended Dance Camp, and, yes, I sent my son, too. While these ballet lessons are expensive (thank you to my kind in-laws for paying for them) I view them as a once in a lifetime opportunity. The ballet teacher grew up here in Lincoln County and teaches dance in Denver. She came back to hold camp. In my children’s lifetime, they have never before had an opportunity to attend professional ballet lessons in our area.
And then there is Storytime… The very local library only had a summer story time for June. The librarian is extremely awesome and has thoroughly motivated my children to read, but again, it’s June or it’s nothing.
Additionally, the librarian in the next town has cranked up Storytime to twice per week in the park. Her Storytime is always fantastic year round, but we have made an increased effort to attend it for the summer because we’ve been in town anyway. She also tends to cater to the grade school kids more in the summer as opposed to just the preschoolers during the school year.
Oh, and I forgot lunch in the park! A wonderful charitable group seeks to bridge the gap on summer lunch and lunch during the school year. They recognize that children from low income families receive free school lunches and that these low income families may struggle to put food on the lunch table throughout the rest of the year. The result is lunch in the park, free to any child, no questions asked. We have joined the group for lunch quite a few times. It is wonderful for both the children and their parents to socialize with each other, not to mention the free lunch.
June was also an extremely busy month for my farmer husband Kevin who planted maybe 300 acres of millet and still worked his full time job.
We had also planted a huge garden which the grasshoppers now chomped down in its entirety. We had two out-of-state friends visit us separately. My dog ran into the street and got hit by a car and died. My cat that I had from the time I was single got sick and had to be put down. I also have new baby chicks that I’m taking care of- they’re now about a month old now.
And then there is the usual- getting Vince to Chemo, going to Mass, buying groceries which are insanely far, etc.
I had a day on June 16th, for example, where we went to Limon (25 miles away) for swimming lessons, Storytime still in town, lunch in the park, back home because we forgot my daughter’s shorts, the pool in Hugo during a little down time, dance lessons, back home while they were in dance, back to Hugo to pick them up and then off to Stratton 60 miles away to play two tee-ball games. That was about 200 miles and a whole lot of wear and tear on all us. My wonderful husband took Vince to Chemo the next day just so we wouldn’t have to schlepp again.
So, yes, June was a month of schlepping, mainly because there are otherwise no local activities for my children to attend. These enrichment activities are blessings and are almost necessary to make my children well rounded and be able to interact with their local peers. However, I honestly couldn’t wait for June to be over so we can go back to our normal life of just about never leaving the house except for going to Mass, Chemo and Costco.
Posted in The Garden, Touring Eastern Colorado by Laura with 2 comments.
When I was a kid, I followed the story of the Stolpa Family. They had been traveling out west somewhere (Nevada- it was all the same in my Jersey mind) with their young baby. Their pickup truck had broken down. It was winter. On the side of the road, they waited days in their pickup truck. They turned it on periodically to warm themselves with the heat. No one ever drove by. When they finally ran out of gas, they set out on a 50 mile journey to a paved road. Finding shelter in a cave, they spent the night there and the next morning the husband set out by himself to bring help to his wife and baby. They survived. A few years later they made a TV movie about their ordeal starring Neil Patrick Harris.
During the news reports of the Stolpa Family’s survival story and again during the TV movie, I kept on wondering how it was possible that no one drove by the road they were stranded on. For days. I remember even asking my mother about that. It’s just out west somewhere, was her reply. Now that I live on the prairie of Colorado, I understand how there are some roads that people really might not drive on for weeks at a time. I’ve been in the Nevada mountains, and yes, it is more desolate and rough than the Colorado prairie, but the Colorado prairie and the Nevada mountains are really not that different from each other when you compare them to New Jersey. We both have sagebrush and in Jersey sage is simply a spice to cook with.
Here in Lincoln County, Michael Anderson from Wichita Kansas was recently traveling through, on the dirt roads between Arriba and Hugo. He ran out of gas in his pickup and set out across a pasture to get help. This was December 12th, which according to Weather Underground, had a high of 21 degrees in nearby Limon. Michael was never seen or heard from again until December 21st when they found his body in the original search area. The authorities are not saying if Michael simply succumbed to the elements or if he met with foul play. There is a current investigation so everything right now is hush-hush. I wish Michael would have had a better outcome, one more similar to the Stolpa Family. Although I never knew Michael, his tale has hit me hard. His story points to our vulnerability traveling these prairies. May his soul forever rest in peace.
Living on the prairie, it seems that all I do is travel. I travel to the Front Range frequently to go to real doctors and go to real stores. Although not recently, I have frequently travelled to visit my relatives in Jersey through western Kansas, which is just as rural as it is here. Here I must even travel to the “neighbors” who are maybe five miles away. I even occasionally travel to more out of the way places like Karval or travel dirt roads for 40 miles if I take that shortcut to go to Colorado Springs. Most of the time when I travel, I am alone with my six children six and under. We are perhaps more vulnerable than Michael, who was a single man in his twenties.
So we can perhaps learn some lessons from Michael? Can we be prepared so that we do not die in a pasture between Hugo and Arriba like he did? We can try. I am by no means a survival expert, but I will share with you what I do to attempt to avoid a fate like Michael. The truth is that out here on the prairie it can happy to any of us. So here is my “list” in no particular order. I hope it can help you. It is by no mean inclusive and I welcome you all to add to it in the comments section.
1. I have a cell phone. In theory I keep it charged, but not always. This is something I have to work on. I have T-Mobile which roams off of AT&T, but reception is spotty for GSMs and CMDAs. I keep an old Verizon cell phone charged in my minivan, too. If I do not have service in a particular area with a particular carrier, I might have service with the other carrier. I can dial 911 if the need arises, with the charged up phone.
2. I try to make sure someone knows where I’m going. My husband does not control me, but I always let him know where I’m going. If it’s in the dark, I let him know the general route I’m taking. Even when I was single and lived by myself in Pennsylvania, I would sometimes call a friend and tell her that I’m at a certain place when it was night and I was by myself. If I go missing, I want someone to know to call the Marines.
3. I keep my vehicles gassed up. I know. You’re shaking your head because you recall that time three years ago when I went down to Karval and ran out of gas on my way back. (The closest gas station to the town of Karval is maybe 30 miles away.) My husband was at work and my wonderful saintly father-in-law came and brought me gas. It was a few kids ago and it was in the middle of a beautiful sunny day, but I really learned my lesson and vowed that that would never again happen to me and it hasn’t. I am not responsible for just me anymore. I have the responsibility of my beautiful children and I am determined to not let something stupid like gas be our demise. I always make sure I have enough gas in all of my vehicles to go to a real hospital, or for whatever unexpected adventure awaits us. I also have money with me. When I was a cashier at a truck stop, I can’t recall how many times travelers were stranded with no gas to go on and no money to buy some. That’s not going to happen to me.
4. I don’t blaze a trail. You’re also shaking your head because above I just told you that sometimes I take that 40 miles of dirt roads shortcut to Colorado Springs. I do, but I always make sure it’s high and dry and during the day. I will only venture that way when there are perfect road conditions. And even so, it’s a known shortcut and it is very well travelled, for out here at least.
5. I don’t always stop to check on strangers. That day when I ran out of gas, a kind pastor-man stopped to check on me. The very time before that when I was stuck on the side of the road when my transmission died near Rush Colorado about four years before that, the very same pastor-man stopped to check on me. If it is a well enough travelled road, I’ll drive right on by because someone else will stop. I fear Jack the Ripper is there. I’ll judge the situation. Sometimes I’ll call the non-emergency number of the sheriff dispatch. Sometimes it will be my neighbor and of course I’ll stop.
6. I ask our guardian angels to guide us there safely. When I’m traveling alone with the kids, we’ve got our 7 guardian angels in tow with us. I’m sure we keep them working overtime.
7. I keep the van stocked. You name it. I got it. Water, glow sticks, granola bars, blankets, hoodies, diapers, formula, bottles, candles, matches, etc. If we had to hunker down and spend some time in our van, we’d be OK.
8. Although our vehicles are older, we keep them in good working order. I wouldn’t feel safe if they weren’t. Of course anything can happen at any time, but we try to minimize the risks and have reliable vehicles and tires.
I feel so bad for Michael Anderson. What a tragedy that he ran out of gas on dirt roads in Lincoln County and it claimed his life. I try to be prepared and take precautions so that we will not have the same fate. The Stolpa Family in Nevada survived, but I do not think I could. I aim to prevent situations like Michael’s and the Stolpas’.
Update 12/30/15: I have since learned that Michael did meet with foul play allegedly from his own traveling companion. However, if he did not run out of gas, the murderer would not have the opportunity. We could also argue that if the murderer was determined, they would have found another opportunity. Sigh. At any rate, this is a truly unbelievably sad tragedy. May Michael’s soul forever rest in peace.
Posted in Touring Eastern Colorado by Laura with no comments yet.
November is the month of All Souls. Halloween is October 31st, which is the Eve of All Hallows or All Saints Day Eve. On November 1st, we celebrate All Saints Day, a feast day of all the saints in the Church. Then on November 2nd, we celebrate All Souls Day and remember everyone who has ever died in all of humanity. We pray for their souls. We believe that if they are still in Purgatory, our prayers can relieve their suffering and even liberate them from Purgatory and send them to Heaven.
Us Catholics pray for the dead throughout the entire year and not only during the month of November. (Praying for the dead is in St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy and Maccabees, and that’s just off the top of my head.) It’s a good practice. We also believe that those dead we pray for will pray for us.
Everytime Sometimes when I pass a cemetery, I pray for the dead of that particular cemetery. So do my kids. They remind me. We offer the souls of the people in that cemetery a quick Eternal Rest or a Hail Mary or even both. For those of you that know the Pharisaical bo-bo Catholic that I am, you can imagine that these prayers aren’t always said with devotion or even at all and that I kind of take spells and do better at these prayers sometimes more than others.
Out here on the prairie, there are many country cemeteries. Sometimes they are family burial plots in unnamed cemeteries surrounded by pasture on land that hasn’t been that family’s homestead in 80 years. They don’t have signs. You can barely make out the headstones. I would venture to say that some might not even have headstones. We try to offer an Eternal Rest especially for these souls because I think it’s possible we may be the only ones still praying for them. There is one such cemetery only 2.5 miles from my house.
Genoa Colorado is hardly a mecca anymore. Still, there are times that I have to run to a certain business outside of Genoa or even pass through Genoa to go on the Interstate. When I am on my way to Genoa, I pass one such country cemetery.
One day when I was on my way back from Genoa, my husband happened to be with us and I remembered to pray.
“What are you doing?” he asked, as I belted out a mumbled Eternal Rest.
“I’m praying for the people in that cemetery we just passed.” I said with all Pharisaical Catholic pride.
He started laughing. “That’s not a cemetery,” he said.
“Yes it is. Don’t you see the gravestones? They’re all fenced off there.” Jesus really condemned those Pharisees. Several times.
“Those are not gravestones. When I was a kid, that was a blah-blah and So&So had his giant propane tanks propped up on those stones.”
Meanwhile I’ve been praying for the propane tank holders for years. I’m a Novus Ordo Jersey girl Catholic, trying to get this prairie-thing and this Trad-Catholic thing. I’m bound to have a few slip-ups. Now I’m sure in all the course of humanity, someone had to die or be buried there, right? May their soul rest in peace.
Posted in Culture Clashes of a Jersey Girl on the Colorado Prairie, Touring Eastern Colorado by Laura with 4 comments.
A few years ago some enterprising Hugo residents opened up a wonderful new restaurant in the town of Hugo. Called the Turkey Crossing Cafe, the restaurant was “on the strip”, that is in the main area of Hugo’s main thoroughfare.
The Turkey Crossing Cafe was everything you could possibly want in a cafe. They were in a historic but completely renovated building. At over 100 years old, the building was a land office, a drug store, a teen recreation center, some miscellaneous restaurants and about everything else over the years. The owners had taste- they renovated the building that everything was new, clean, tasteful and fresh, yet kept some of the historic aesthetics, like the original tile floor from the drug store.
The Turkey Crossing had absolutely delicious food! The recipes were all their own. They handmade all their roles from scratch. They cut and ground their hamburger meat from an actual side. They cooked in pure peanut oil, so their oil was GMO free. The fries were hand cut. Just about everything was from scratch and absolutely delicious. I had never had something there that wasn’t fresh, wasn’t tasty, or wasn’t for-real-homemade.
The Turkey Crossing had excellent prices. Cost-wise they were cheaper than fast food but in reality incomparable. They were kind, family-friendly and small-town friendly.
All around the Turkey Crossing Cafe was the epitome of what a real restaurant should be. They were classy, clean, friendly, inexpensive, for-real-homemade, etc. I was proud to take visiting family members there.
The Turkey Crossing Cafe will be closing its doors this Friday for the last time. This saddens me to no end. The Turkey Crossing did everything right and they’re still closing. Hugo Colorado is not really known for its uniqueness. Hugo is a little town on the prairie. We do have a grocery store, school, hardware store, grain elevator and a USDA office, but if you needed a pair of socks or a pair of jeans, you’re out of luck. The Turkey Crossing Cafe was a bright spot here and now it’s gone.
The owner has promised us something bigger and better in the same spot. I really hope he is successful.
Goodbye, Turkey Crossing.
Posted in Touring Eastern Colorado by Laura with no comments yet.
The prairies are dry. My area’s normal annual rainfall is about 13 inches.This is farm country, but the area is so dry that it is mostly dry land farming, that is farming without irrigation. There is simply no water with which to irrigate. Rain is everything here.
We’ve had an extraordinarily wet year here. It’s a blessing. We all realize that although it’s been very wet this year, that we can never take this for granted, that the next year it might be really really dry. In an area of dry land farming, rain can make you or break you.
Since rain is rare, it’s also an event. Most people have rain gauges. They usually get them for free, as swag from the bank or the gas guy, or whoever. Rain gauges (with advertising) dot the landscape here. And it’s with good reason. The rain is very variable. My (rented) field that’s a half mile away will get a different amount of rain than my house, or than the other field five miles down the road. It probably all balances out to the same amount of rain, but it’s still interesting.
A popular morning-after pastime is to drive around and check all of your rain gauges in all of the various fields. You then dump them out so that you have a true measure for the next rainfall. You may even sneak a peak at your neighbor’s rain gauge (but you don’t dump them out).
Since rain is an event, it’s the standard polite conversation topic. I have heard this conversation over and over and over between different farmers. I’ve even tried to participate occasionally. I’m going to give you the script here, in case you ever come out here and want to fit in. Change the details accordingly.
Farmer One: “Did you get any rain last night?” (He knows full well that Farmer Two got rain, but that’s how the conversation always starts.)
Farmer Two: “We got three tenths.” (It’s almost always expressed as a fraction with tenths as the denominator. They always talk in inches, but they hardly actually use the word inches.)
There’s a pause to let it sink in. “How about you?”
Farmer One: “We got a half.” (There’s the pause again.)
Farmer Two: “I heard that Smiths got one inch over by Johnsons’ place.” (They both know the Smiths, whose father bought land from the Johnson family back in 1974. The Johnsons have all been dead since the eighties, yet their land will always be known as Johnsons’ Place.) (And there’s also the subtle I can’t let you think you got more rain than everyone.)
They might also give the rundown of how much rain they got in their various respective fields.
Although rain is the standard polite conversation, it’s also involves a bit of bragging. Rain talk is like locker room talk. The one who brings the rain up is the one who has to brag the most. He asks the second person about it only to really brag about himself. He’s really deluding himself, because although he might have received more rain this time, next time he’ll receive less and it will balance out.
I don’t go out much, but whenever there was recent rain and whenever there are two farmers and wherever they are (the post office, the hardware store, etc.), they have this same conversation. It’s a cultural phenomenon of the Colorado prairie, and I’m sharing it with you.
Posted in Culture Clashes of a Jersey Girl on the Colorado Prairie, Touring Eastern Colorado by Laura with no comments yet.
There is a housing boom in Denver. Whether it’s because of legal marijuana, California’s high taxes or that people just like looking at the mountains, the population of Denver is increasing and they are building more and more houses all over Denver and its suburbs. Bidding wars have been common. Driven south because of the high prices, Colorado Springs is also experiencing a housing boom. Denver and Colorado Springs sit in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. There really can’t be too much expansion west. This leaves us east, and it’s only a matter of time before this housing boom is also impacting Colorado’s prairies.
Have you ever heard of Deer Trail, Colorado? Deer Trail is a small Eastern Colorado has-been railroad town about halfway between here and Denver. Deer Trail is along the I-70 corridor, about 30 miles west of Limon. Their claim to fame is that they are the site of the World’s First Rodeo. Deer Trail has that horror-movie-esque type landscape that’s too common in these prairie towns. Unlike the town of Hugo, which has made great strides in getting rid of its has-been areas, Deer Trail is overrun with decaying buildings. However, the west side of Deer Trail fills me with hope, the hope of houses and people.
I have often lamented about our rural area. Lincoln County is so rural that it’s not even considered rural. We are the frontier. The USDA considers Lincoln County FAR, that is Frontier and Remote, Level Four, which means that the majority of the population lives over 60 minutes from an area with 50,000 residents. This is why we have no Wal-mart. This is why I must travel for real doctors and real stores. This is why our school district is bigger than some whole counties in New Jersey and yet less than 200 students attend the local school. Now that ALCO has closed, I must travel for about everything.
I have also theorized that the predominant problem out here is lack of people. Lincoln County residents don’t have less babies than anyone else in America, but we do not grow by people moving to our area. As a matter of fact, people move away (and I really don’t blame them. Truth be told, I’d move if I could.)
But Deer Trail is different. Deer Trail has found a way to capitalize on the Denver housing boom. Someone there had the foresight to start a “development” (my Jersey word) on the west side of town. If you build it, they will come, right? Well, they’re coming to Deer Trail. Maybe they’re not coming in droves, but Deer Trail is getting a share of Denver’s population boom. I mean, look, look at these houses! People live in these houses. Increased houses means increased people and increased people means…. I don’t know… Wal-mart? A grocery store?
As it stands now, Bennett Colorado is the last outpost. Situated along the I-70 corridor, Bennett has a King Soopers. OK, so King Soopers doesn’t automatically make Bennett a thriving metropolis, you might say, but it goes a long way towards that. The King Soopers has brought a McDonald’s, a truck stop, and a Tractor Supply Company. Big deal, you may say. King Soopers provides a butt load of jobs and automatically knocks Bennett out of the food desert category. They have fresh yummy produce there, a contradiction to the Eastern Plains.
Let’s face it. I’m a non-expert. I’m just a Jersey girl turned Colorado prairie farmer’s wife with a edjamucation from good ole’ Rutgers in a field that has nothing to do with economics or urban planning. I just can’t help but think that Deer Trail gives me hope. I hope that the population of Deer Trail will continue to increase, as a lower cost alternative to the Front Range crazy housing boom. Maybe this population growth will even spread into the creepy town of Agate. Maybe it will even spread to Limon. Maybe we’ll get some real stores in this rural area. Maybe we’ll get real vegetables and real doctors. Maybe we’ll get some real culture, like a real POPS concert. Maybe the Denver population boom is a blessing to us rural folks. Maybe…
As I said, I don’t know much, but Deer Trail gives me hope…
Posted in Touring Eastern Colorado by Laura with no comments yet.
The prairie is made up of wide expenses of grassland and cropland. There are pretty much two areas of the prairie: “the country” and “town”. The country is pretty much the entire area that is not town. Today I’m going to talk about the little towns on the prairie.
I was recently lamenting that every time I go somewhere local (which isn’t often) people know who I am. I get lots of “Hi Laura”s and “How’s Kevin?”s and I have no idea who these people are. I stick out.
“That’s just how [that town] is,” the person replied. “I’m from [ACertainOtherPrairieTown]. It’s different there. It took me a long time to get used to [that town]. I know what you mean.”
I tried to explain that no, you don’t. ThatTown or ACertainOtherPrairieTown are the same really. They are both dippy prairie towns. I’m from New York, as in New York City. You cannot compare New York City with a prairie town. The person doesn’t see it that way.
I may be stupid, but it has taken me a long time to “get” prairie towns. I’m going to share what I’ve learned about prairie towns, the “rules” if you could call them that. I wish someone had handed me a pamphlet with these rules when I moved here. It would have helped. It’s taken me seven years to figure this all out. So here are the “rules” that prairie towns seem to follow, in no particular order:
1. They started as railroad towns. Not every town is along a current or defunct railroad line, but the majority are. They have a rich railroad heritage. Railroads out here predate the homesteads. Eastern Colorado was roving gigantic herds of cattle and railroad towns for a while. The Homestead Act did not open this particular area until around the 1870’s. The farmers are newer than the railroads. The towns had all the earmarks of historic railroad towns and the remnants of the railroad heritage remain, even if the tracks themselves are gone (as in the towns along the Rock Island Line).
2. A Grade A Town contains a post office, grocery store, and school. A Grade A Town means nothing really. It’s a term I made up to distinguish a happening (by prairie standards) town from a town on its way to being a ghost town. It seems when they take out the post office, the grocery store or the school, the other two may shortly follow.
3. The town itself is less than three square miles. There are smaller towns that aren’t Grade A Towns that are perhaps a few blocks, but even big towns are very small.
4. The term Big Town refers to the population, not the geographical size of the town, and its not really big, just bigger. “That’s a big town,” they might say. I’ve learned that, no, it really isn’t, that it’s just a little more crowded, the key words being little more. Town1 might have a population of 600. Town2 might have a population of 1500. Town3 maybe even tipping the scales at 4000. Town3 is a “Big Town”, but it’s not really a big town at all. For example, Spotswood, NJ, where I lived as a teenager is 2.5 square miles and has a population of 8000. That’s a very small town Jersey-wise, but it’d be a thriving metropolis out here.
5. Most of Eastern Colorado is “unincorporated”, a term that basically means not in a town. This took me a long time to wrap my head around. A town out here does not border another town. For example, there will be TownA, a great big expanse of nothing and then TownB. In New Jersey, I could stand on the town borders and literally have one foot in one town and one foot in the other. That will not happen here. Even though TownA is the next town from TownB, there is a great expanse of unincorporated county in between.
6. A lot of actual towns in Colorado are technically “unincorporated”, too. I really don’t understand the political structure here, just that these terms are used.
7. Zip codes and school districts are independent of town borders and each other. I have personally known people who have Ramah zip codes, for example, that live in three different counties. Some live 30 miles southeast of Ramah and some live 30 miles northwest of Ramah. Ramah itself is maybe 1 square mile if its lucky and does not have a school. People with Ramah zip codes probably live in four or five different school districts.
8. A good way to measure the size of a town is by the size of its graduating class. School districts here are literally hundreds of miles large. The towns themselves are maybe three square miles, tops. The country (unincorporated areas) are so sparsely populated that they seem to contribute little to the size of the school class. So the school districts will be hundred of square miles large, yet maybe 75% of the students live in the actual 2 square mile town. A “big town” will have 25 people in its graduating class, while a small town will have 12 and a town hanging on by a thread (without a grocery store or post office, see my theory above) may have two or three. Still, even a “big town” school has a minuscule graduating class.
Years ago in Jersey, I remember going to my sister’s graduation. She graduated with 500-something from the public high school. It was on their football field. The name readers read the graduates’ names in tandem and there were two lines of graduating kids with two degree-givers. The name reading still lasted forever it seemed. Her graduating class was about three times the size of the entire local school district out here (which is hundreds of square miles large). This is far away from the prairie in more ways than one. A big town really ain’t a big town.
9. There is both a camaraderie and a rivalry between the towns. The rivalry is with the schools and the sports. The camaraderie is that in a way, we’re all neighbors. For example, I am equidistant between a certain town and Colorado Springs. The people in the far away prairie town got my back. They might know my husband or if they don’t they know his uncle or cousin or their uncle or cousin knew Kevin’s grandparents. They know my last name and they know that [insert my last name here]s come from outside the town we come from. People in Colorado Springs are probably unaware of the prairie towns’ existences. It’s just different. It is also considered a local drive to drive 100 miles from one prairie town to another, but not 100 miles to Aurora.
10. The school and sports mean everything. Your average Joe-Schmo-resident knows the colors of the local high school and the colors of the nearby prairie towns’ teams, which are all rivals. They know the stats of the team. They know who plays what sport. They go to high school sport games for fun. Homecoming is a major thing here. People actually come ‘home’ to their alma mater, people who now live hundreds of miles away. (I totally don’t get this.)
11. These towns all have limited access to medical care and commerce. Being far from real doctors, real hospitals and real stores is just a way of life for the prairie town residents. It doesn’t phase them, and it’s been their way of life for generations.
12. The towns have declining populations and are in various stages of decay. The prairies have been loosing population. There are empty falling apart houses and empty falling apart business buildings. This is all very sad.
In 2010, I worked for the census. A certain census employee seemed the type who, um, marched to his very own drumbeat. The crew leader for his area sent him to a certain prairie town.
“That guy is committing fraud,” the crew leader said. I was the crew leader’s boss. The crew leader continued, “That guy went to [ThatPrairieTown] and every single one of those houses, he marked as vacant or uninhabitable. He didn’t even check.”
“That guy is weird,” I said. “I wouldn’t put that past him at all. Go out to [ThatPrairieTown] and maybe spot check him, or redo a few of his areas.”
The next day or so the crew leader called me. “That guy might be weird, but he’s accurate. Every single one of those houses was empty. It was apparent no one’s lived there for twenty years.” We both didn’t realize just how decayed ThatPraireTown was.
There are some bright spots, here and there. One example is the Hugo Improvement Partnership. They have been slowly buying up some of these abandoned falling apart buildings. They level the buildings or fix them up and resell the lots. They have drastically improved the look of Hugo. It is a slow process, a very gradual progress by these volunteer community members, but their efforts have severely lessened the decay in Hugo. Perhaps other prairie towns can model their efforts.
13. For the most part, town residents have lived in and around the area for generations. There isn’t too much “new blood” that comes in. My blood is new, for example, but I married into my husband’s family, who has lived in and around here for over 100 years. They are not unique. People don’t move here. Plenty of people leave (hence the depopulation) but for the most part newcomers don’t come.
They’re not inbred, however, many families have many connections. My husband’s grandmother might have been cousins with his grandmother. Or sisters-in-law. People are just very connected.
As a matter of fact, when I met That Guy from the census, the weird guy mentioned above, his first words to me were, “Oh, you’re a [insert last name]. You live near Hugo.” Yup, I am. Or I married one, I guess. That Guy lives about 50 miles from here, yet he knew that [my last name]s come from Hugo.
14. The landscape, predominant architecture types, streets, and surroundings are all pretty similar. If I was in Hugo and you kidnapped me, blindfolded me and dropped me in, let’s say, Cheyenne Wells, I’d probably never know the difference. Cheyenne Wells is probably about 80 miles from Hugo, too. They’re all surrounded by prairies, where there are vast fields of grazing cattle, wheat and corn. They have some trees now and then, but they’re not predominant. The environments are pretty boring here, for hundreds of miles. The towns do not have suburbs. It’s town or it’s prairie and that’s about it.
I lived in Northeastern Pennsylvania for 2.5 years. I could probably write this same blogpost about the former coal mining towns there. There are bigger cities, like Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and Hazleton, but also smaller ones like Lehighton, Nanticoke and Coaldale. They all look the same. They all have similar histories. If I was in one, kidnapped and blindfolded and dropped off in another, I’d also still never know the difference. There are many commonalities with the coal mining towns, just like there are many commonalities with the prairie towns. I suppose that each region of the country is that way.
Or maybe it’s that as an outsider, I see more of the commonalities than the differences. All I know is that the prairie and its towns are different worlds from the former coal mining communities of northeastern Pennsylvania and certainly different worlds from the Staten Island and Central Jersey of my youth. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they were all parts of different nations. So getting back to that same conversation that I mentioned in the beginning… I really don’t see a difference between Prairie Town A and Prairie Town B. I’ve outlined the “rules” here that the prairie towns all seem to unknowingly follow. I am still getting used to it all. I’m sure if I was from a prairie town, I could probably distinguish the differences a little better, however, being that I am a Jersey girl homesteading in Colorado, the biggest difference is Jersey to the prairie and not prairie to prairie.
Posted in Culture Clashes of a Jersey Girl on the Colorado Prairie, Touring Eastern Colorado by Laura with no comments yet.
ALCO in Limon has closed its doors for the last and final time. ALCO was a chain of “general stores” headquartered in Abilene Kansas. They filed for bankruptcy in October 2014 and have now closed permanently.
The best way that I could describe ALCO (in my Jersey experience) was an old-fashioned K-mart, or a K-mart on a smaller scale. They sold a bit of everything and rotated items on sale with a weekly sales paper. They knew that they were no competition for Wal-mart and targeted rural areas where Wal-mart was far away.
The closing of ALCO is detrimental to the rural areas it served. I’m going to use Limon as an example here because that is the location that I’m most familiar with. The closest Wal-mart to Limon is about 60 miles, and the closest area where there are other “real” stores is about 70 miles.
When any place closes, the natural and most frequent commentary is “I feel sorry for those people who lost their jobs.” In a place like Limon, there’s a lot more to it than that. Don’t get me wrong- I feel extremely sorry for the people who lost their jobs. Being out of work stinks, there’s no doubt about that. Even with unemployment compensation, loosing health benefits, 401Ks and opportunities for advancement is detrimental to anyone.
But there’s more. I’m not an economist at all and I have nothing more than two introductory undergraduate economic courses. Remember this as I say what I’m saying here, as my definite un-expert opinion. The closing of ALCO in Limon (or other similar areas) will decimate the area more than the closing of a store in a more developed area. This is a no-brainer. Let’s say, for example, we could figure out the GDP of Limon. How many businesses are contributing to this GDP? The answer is a way smaller number than an area like Denver or New Jersey. Even if you took the great 2 square miles that Limon is and took another 2 square miles of Denver or New Jersey, the GDP of Limon will be radically lower. Even if we took all of Lincoln County’s GDP, can we compare that to, um, the entire State of Delaware, which is even a little smaller geographically? If one store closed in Delaware, would that impact the economy of the state as much as ALCO closing impacts Lincoln County, Colorado? Of course not. My point here is that since there are few businesses in Limon, one business closing will have a greater impact than one business in another place where there are a lot more businesses. It’s simple percentages. ALCO is a higher percentage of the GDP of Limon than another store would be in another area. If we measured the impact of ALCO’s closing in percentages of the economic activity, we could see the real impact.
And there is still more. ALCO’s closing leaves a gaping hole in the community, a hole of where to get stuff. We have a wonderful supermarket in Hugo. We have a Dollar General in Limon. We have some wonderful hardware stores in both communities. We have a drug store in Limon. We have grain elevators. We have some restaurants and even some chain fast food places in Limon. We have a convenience store in both Limon and Hugo. Need an antique vase? We got you covered because we have a plethora beautiful antique stores.
But there is a lot more that is just not sold in this community anymore. Necessities. Let’s say I was in desperate need for a car seat. I used to be able to buy one in ALCO. Now I need to go at least 78 miles to the closest Wal-mart where there used to be car seats for sale a half hour away in ALCO. (I have enough car seats so this is just an example.)What about jeans? Or shoes? These necessities now require a road trip or Amazon Prime. And that doesn’t include other niceties of living in the 21st century, like a blender or a toaster or toys for the kids.
I have AmazonPrime. I have credit cards that I can use to order stuff online. I have a capable fully insured vehicle that I can drive back and forth to the Front Range cities to go to real stores. But what about the people who don’t or won’t? I mean the elderly, the sickly, the poor.They might not have the wherewithal or the stamina for a Marathon Day. ALCO’s closing hits these people the hardest. It’s almost as if ALCO’s closing widens the class-gap. You’ve all heard the term food desert. Maybe we can now call Lincoln County a “stuff desert”.
So, bottom-line, what I’m saying here is that ALCO’s closing is devastating to Limon and the surrounding areas on many levels. Any business closing hurts the local economy, but the impact of ALCO’s closing is so much more to extremely rural areas:
1. It stinks that people have lost their jobs. This is true for any closed business.
2. Because Limon is such a small town with such few businesses, one store closing will have a way bigger impact on the economy than one store closing in an urban or suburban area.
3. ALCO’s closing leaves a gap. Certain goods that were readily available now require a road trip or online ordering, which some people (the poor, sickly, elderly, etc. ) are not capable of.
Posted in A Day In the Life, Touring Eastern Colorado by Laura with no comments yet.
I recently made a trip to a Sacrament of a relative. Unfortunately, Kevin had to work so I was alone with the children on this journey. The journey was about a hundred miles, a hundred miles from the middle of nowhere to the middle of nowhere. There were two possible routes there, the pavement or going by Arriba.
Arriba, pronounced with a short i, is a town here in Lincoln County. Believe it or not, I had never been in the town of Arriba. Since I was running late (of course) I choose to go by Arriba, since that way was supposed to be quicker. Although I had been to the town where the Sacrament was before, I had only been the Arriba way once before, about six years ago when I was a newlywed. I didn’t remember it, so I looked at the map online before I left. It should have been simple. I would drive by Arriba and end up in that other town. What could go wrong? I drove and drove and drove. The one particular dirt road that I was on seemed to get narrower and narrower. There was grass growing in miscellaneous places on the road. I had to take it easy. I did not pass even one other car. I never thought much about it because Arriba is not exactly a destination of choice to most.
And then the road turned into a trail….
What is a trail road? you may ask. A trail road is a dirt road that you should really have pickup for. There is usually grass in the middle of the road. A trail road is pretty much a set of tire tracks that happen to be on the map.I had checked the map. This particular road went all the way through to where I need it to. Reality was different. I had to backtrack. Between having to drive slow on the road and then the backtracking, I think I lost the time I would have saved by going by Arriba. I was still late.
Don’t rely on the map. should be a cardinal rule in Eastern Colorado. They should hand out pamphlets explaining this. It’s something that I can’t get through my Jersey mind. For this recent trip, I should have asked someone about the particular route. They would have gladly explained that the road that really went through was three or four miles away and parallel to the trail road. Yet this seems to be a lesson that I have to learn again and again.
I remember before I moved out here I was visiting. We weren’t married yet. I was looking for a job. I had an interview or something. Earlier that day, Kevin and I were in [that same town where the interview was]. When we were on our way back to [that other town] we passed a dirt road. “If you’re ever going from [that first town] to over where my parents live, ThatRoad is a shortcut.” I filed that information in my Jersey brain. A few hours later, after my interview, I happened to be going from [the first town] to over where Kevin’s parents lived. I thought I was doing well when I saw ThatRoad and I turned right.
ThatRoad was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. Really. ThatRoad had an unsigned railroad crossing. I had never seen one of those, except in a Lifetime movie or something when someone dies there because they don’t see the train. Then there was a cattle guard. I had seen one of them before in the middle of nowhere in Nevada. I felt smart because at least I knew what that was. ThatRoad continued. There was a little bit of grass in the middle, under the car. Also, apparently some rancher owned the pasture on both sides of ThatRoad. The grass in the middle of the road seemed to get taller. How much longer could this road be? I thought. I drove on. And then there were cows. Yup, cows in the middle of the road. The rancher owned both sides of ThatRoad, so the cows just hung out where they wanted. I’m thinking they weighed more than my Corolla. Move it cows. A Jersey girl is a long way from home. Cows do not move unless they want to. I drove on. Slower now. The cows moved a bit, taking their sweet bovine time. The grass under the car in the middle of the road seemed to get taller. Should I turn around? No, cows in the rearview mirror. I pressed on. Another cattle guard and then I finally made it, made it to pavement. Hooray!
“You are really brave to take ThatRoad,” Kevin said, when I told him about this. Brave? No, stupid. I was stupid. Roads like that are not met for Corollas. Most people out here have pickups, so they would think nothing of a road like ThatRoad.
When I was 39 and a half weeks pregnant with my second child (no exaggeration, literally 39.5 weeks pregnant), I worked for the Census. I was basically in charge of the Eastern area of the local district, an area geographically way bigger than New Jersey. I had to train my crew leaders. They sent us one area to practice on. It was about 25 miles from the site of the training. We were supposed to be checking for “living quarters”. We were two cars full of about 9 people. Did I mention that I was due in a few days? The CensusRoad turned into a trail, too. Let’s reflect on this: For our supposed training, I led 9 people out into the “country” 25 miles or so from a gas station to a trail road where there was no cell phone service to look for missed houses and to distribute censuses. The map never indicated that CensusRoad was a trail road. In retrospect, it’s no wonder that I didn’t go into labor or break my water or something.
I have learned this lesson, again and again and again… Don’t trust the map. Any road can be a trail road.
So what about Arriba? I know all of your inquiring minds want to know. We actually went back home through the proper-not-a-trail dirt road and this time drove into Arriba. Arriba unfortunately suffers from Eastern-Colorado-town-past-its-prime disease. It was pretty sad town, with a population of 244 in 2000. Did you know there’s a Clown Museum in Arriba? Sigh, we’ll have to make another trip…
And then I think of Ma and Pa Ingalls. Pa drove their horse and buggy over 600 miles from Pepin, Wisonsin to Missouri and then to Independence, Kansas. Laura and Mary were toddlers. They didn’t have a cell phone or a car or even a trail. Pa didn’t even get lost. I should be able to handle the trail road, yet I can’t…
Posted in Culture Clashes of a Jersey Girl on the Colorado Prairie, Touring Eastern Colorado by Laura with 2 comments.
If you are not aware of it, there is a movement in northeastern Colorado to secede from the rest of Colorado and become the “Fifty First State”. The movement includes a few nearby counties. Although when put on the ballot in November 2013, the Lincoln County voters voted the proposition down, I wouldn’t be surprised if it became a ballot issue again here. Also, our neighboring counties are still considering this, so it does remain an issue for the citizens of Eastern Colorado.
The main argument that the proponents of secession are using is that they feel “unrepresented” in the state legislature. The majority of those in favor of secession would self-identify as “Conservative”, and there seems to be a gradual “Liberalization” of the state policies. The proponents of secession believe that if they had their own state they would be more represented, since the majority of the population of the secession areas have a similar ideology.
Let me give you some background on the current state of Colorado. Colorado is a big square, pretty much, as a matter of fact all of its borders are latitudinal and longitudinal lines, with no “natural” borders. The eastern third-ish of Colorado is the prairie land. Going west, the area roughly at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and in close proximity to Interstate 25 is known as “the Front Range”. The majority of the population density is concentrated in the Front Range. The Western Half-ish is all mountains. These are very distinct geographical areas. The mountains and the prairies are just different.
For example, one such city on the Front Range area is called Boulder. Boulder is a beautiful city with a reputation for very liberal ideologies. For the most part, these Boulder citizens are very different from your Joe-Schmo-Prairie-Dweller. They have different ideologies. We share a Congressman, Cory Gardner, with part of Boulder County, but not Boulder itself.
|I stole this picture from Wikipedia to show you
where Colorado’s Fourth Congressional District is.
Becoming the Fifty First State would give these prairie areas their “own” state government, as well as their “own” Congressman and Senators. The hope is that the prairie areas will “feel” represented, that they will be able to elect politicians who share their ideologies.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m ubber-conservative. It seems that the majority of those in these areas in question calling themselves “Conservative” or “Republican” are in favor of the “Fifty First State”. I disagree. I wish this area to stay as part of Colorado.
The main reason that I am against secession is that I don’t believe it will do anything to solve our problems. The main problem with Eastern Colorado is Depopulation.
While I don’t think the birth rate in Eastern Colorado is particularly lower than any other area, Eastern Colorado, unlike most other areas of the Colorado does not have a population growth through immigration. (OK, I might venture to say that the birth rate in actual Lincoln County is pretty low since there is no place to have a baby in the actual county. As a matter of fact, I would bet that my babies may be the only babies actually born here some years since I have home births.) By immigration, I mean immigration of people from other countries and immigration from people in other areas of the United States.
No one gets off the boat and says, “Oooh, let me come to the prairie. Lincoln County, here I come.” Really, no one moves here. As a matter of fact, the prairie is bleak, ugly, sad and depressing, not to mention that it has few opportunities for socialization and economic activities. So, yes, the prairie has a net exodus of people moving away, coupled with a birth rate below the rate of replacement. The net result is no one here.
I can give my Catholic editorial here about how the low birth rate is caused by the use of contraception, but regardless of the whys and wherefores, it suffices to say for the purpose of this blog that the prairie areas have experienced a depopulation. The depopulation is caused by the low birth rate and no population increase through immigration. Plain and simple.
|This is stolen from Wikipedia, and shows
the population of Boulder County.
Boulder County is 752 square miles.
The reason that the prairie peoples feel underrepresented is because there are hardly any of them to represent. I mean, really, compare those population numbers above between Lincoln County and Boulder County. It’s almost like it’s a different state. (Ha!) I understand why the Fifty First State Proponents feel so unrepresented. The Front Range areas have a different terrain. Their birth rate is probably the same as the prairie areas, however, the Front Range has population growth through immigration, whereas we do not.
|Shh! I’ve been to Boulder because I have an
unhealthy obsession with the Monkees.
I do have a solution to the “underrepresented” prairie of Colorado to make them represented. The solution is people. If we could increase the population, we could get our own congressman and a bigger voice in the state legislature, too.
So how can we increase the population of the Colorado Prairies? I have a solution!
1. People should have babies. I know it’s old-fashioned, but seriously, have babies. The prairie people have contracepted themselves into oblivion. If there were more babies being born into familes residing here, there would be more of a demand for obstetric care here and maybe one day, you may even be able to have a baby in actual Lincoln County again. And we can increase or at least maintain our own population.
2. Public Relations. We should launch some kind of public relations campaign to show how cool the prairies are. We should make people want to live here. We should market our area in other areas of the country. We shouldn’t stand for it when books like Colorado For Dummies or C is For Centennial: a Colorado Alphabet don’t even mention the prairies. Like maybe we could sue them or something.
3. Get rid of Monsanto. Seriously. We farmers need to stop growing GMO and copyrighted seed. We need to put ourselves on the map, that the prairie of Colorado is a beautiful area where they grow wholesome grains and organic yummies. If we take the middlemen (grain elevators and the whole Big-Ag system) out of the picture, we can actually have smaller farms to support ourselves. Imagine that. And then businesses to grow out of those farmer business. Maybe a cheese-making shop. Or a butcher. The possibilities are endless. People will move here for the wholesome food, or the favorable farming environment, or to start one of those businesses.
4. Pay student loans. OK, I know I’m against government intervention and spending tax dollars. But even the homesteaders initial draw out here was free land, free land given to them by the government. Maybe student loans are the modern day version of that. Kansas has a program where they will payoff student loans of new people moving to their rural counties and exempt them from state income taxes for a few years. We should copy them. Nebraska did.
Let me sum up the reasons that I am against becoming the Fifty First State:
1. Our underlying problem is depopulation. Becoming our own state ain’t gonna make people move here or have babies.
2. It would be a logistical cluster, excuse the term. Seriously, don’t we have enough bureaucratic rigamarole?
3. The State Prison would close in Lincoln County. That provides 300-some-odd jobs and would ruin the little bit of non-farm economic activity we have here. The results would be decimating, plus we’d loose not only the inmate population, but the population of the staff and inmate families. Becoming the Fifty First State would further depopulate Lincoln County and therefore drive us further into the hole.
4. It’s unprecedented. The last state to do this was West Virginia in 1800-something. The government is so different now than it was then. It is really a different time.
5. Do we really want to spend our time and energy trying to secede? It’s not going to work. And it’s going to make enemies in the Colorado legislature. Forget about passing a law like Kansas has to encourage people to move to the rural areas or something else that would benefit us.
6. And what’s to stop those with different ideologies from moving to said-fifty-first state? Will we close our borders? We may just get a repeat of the same problems.
7. More selfishly, in my particular school district, the voters just approved a new school expansion project (which makes total sense in a depopulating area). A large chunk of the school building costs are going to be paid for by a BEST grant, a grant through the state of Colorado. If we seceded from the state, I’m sure that grant would be gone. Our property taxes would climb up so high that I might as well move to New Jersey.
We’ve made our bed here, a bed of Monsanto, contraception and no public relations. We need to lie in it, or fix it the right way. Seceding is a bandaid, really.
Posted in Touring Eastern Colorado by Laura with no comments yet.