A vision of an ideal place

I’m a book collector. Okay there, I said it. If I wasn’t such a wanderer at heart, I’d be a book pack rat so my wandering ways are probably a good thing for keeping my possessions at a minimum. Now that I’ve lived in one city for multiple years, I’ve had the chance to indulge a little on my book fetish. Here’s my reading space with a partial view of my collection:

book nook

I have to confess that recently I’ve been a convert to the Kindle (ack!). I still read the paper versions of books when I can, but the Kindle has been helpful for me in airports and while traveling for work. I always have so much gear, paperwork, and extra food that the idea of packing so much punch (i.e. reading goodness) into a Kindle has always been enticing. And then I splurged and bought one and realized that my vision has gone from bad to worse and since I can make the words bigger than on a normal page, reading is easier. That concept really sold me and I found that I’ve read twice as much with my Kindle simply because it’s easier. I guess both my wandering ways and my poor vision will conspire to make sure I don’t turn into a pack rat.

But what’s on my shelves you ask (virtual and real)? Good question.

I’ve got a few that I’m reading, but there is one in particular that I just can’t seem to get over. Cheryl Strayed seems to think the same way about this book, or really, she thinks this way about anything this author writes because she wrote the forward and it reads like a love letter: “When we find each other we say, Oh my god, don’t you just LOVE HIM? And we do. We love Poe Ballantine.”

Yes, yes we do.

I’m nearly finished with Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere and have read several short stories from Things I Like About America. I adore Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere for its writing and find it interesting to read about a familiar place from a perspective of someone who happened to find it during his travels (and made it home).

IMG_2518

Ballantine writes about his life and also about the mysterious death of a local college professor, Stefen Haataja, whose body was found burned and bound in a ditch near where my uncle farms. My mother is a bit more skeptical (since it’s about the country she came from), but she may give it a try.

Chapter 1 starts with the following paragraph:

I first came across Chadron, Nebraska, by accident, in 1994. I had borrowed a car, thrown all my meager belongings in the back, and driven west, the direction of escape after disaster, the direction of decline and the setting sun. I intended to kill myself. The farther you go west, the higher the suicide rate gets, and I thought perhaps that would give me the momentum I needed. In America we remake ourselves, though it rarely works out.

It’s interesting to me how Ballantine stumbled upon a place like Chadron and came to call it home. It’s a similar journey many people probably take – wander around until life happens and you decide it’s easier to stick around than leave. But I can’t say whether this happened for him or not. I first got introduced to his writing because I learned that a documentary had been made about his efforts at unraveling the mystery of Haataja’s death. Curious, I sought out his collection of short stories and was hooked on his prose.

In the story, “Never and Nowhere,” he writes about searching for a certain kind of place:

…I head west on the bus with nine hundred eighty-four dollars and some roast beef sandwiches and some bananas and a bag of trail mix and the usual doubt and the usual set of diminishing expectations. For twenty years I’ve had a vision of the ideal place. I’ve tried to explain the place but I can’t. It is something like nowhere but not a ghost town. It is alive. It is not the vision of a televangelist: Leave It to Beaver with a cop on every corner. Neither is it some apparition of the future: twenty-four hour abortion and free milkshakes for the poor. It’s a place just as free as New York City, but there are no hookers circling my motel room like tranquil sharks in their tan leather jackets and parasols, and it’s quite possible I can’t buy liquor on Sundays. Nobody seems to understand this place. I know it exists.

This story was written about a time before he found himself in Chadron. It makes me wonder if he would think Chadron is that place he was looking for during his wandering years. I’d guess so.

There is something special about that part of the country. Few people travel there and the few who do never really get to see the back country highways or experience the friendliness of a place that doesn’t understand the word pretentious. There is a still beauty in western Nebraska that I think perhaps people who live on Alaska’s North Slope understand best. The tundra often has reminded me of the great plains with its expansive sky, rolling landscape, and a sortof feeling of endlessness that you get when you gaze out on it all. Here is a view from just outside Kaktovik, a pretty little village on an island in the Arctic Ocean:

Kaktovik

The beach in Kaktovik

City dwellers don’t get this, but that’s okay. That’s why books are so great, they provide a portal into worlds that you’ll never really understand. Good thing I’ve collected so many of them!

2 responses

  1. Thanks for stopping by Davis. I’m glad you found this small tribute to Poe Ballantine. I’m looking forward to seeing your film… and will link to it in the post.
    -brittany

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