Shot by a six-year-old first time photographer.
“What’s your favorite animal?”
“What’s your least favorite animal?”
“You said that was your favorite animal?”
“No, silly, I said SNAKES.”
My afternoon with the six-year-old began. “Can I use your camera?” she asked. “Okay, but put the strap around your neck.” Four hours and several hundred images and shaky video later our day came to a close as the the sun went dark over Laramie Peak.
Arriving here in late morning through the canyon from town. Cruising at 65mph past the old elk preserve where Juan used to pull over and let me watch the big bulls grazing near the fenceline. Massive, two-tone bodies with heads tilted back shrieking their calls, a high pitch like metal on metal in high wind. Each corner we look ahead wondering when the eclipse crazies will make their presence known.
In Wheatland you can feel a change. Gas stations with short lines. In the Safeway parking lot I see dreadlocks, purple hair and hippy clothes, a departure from the norm to say the least. People stare, but with smiles, studying these new creatures like unofficial anthropologists. “Happy Apocalypse,” the checker says as each star hunter leaves with their plastic bags fluttering in the steady breeze. Our checker dipping Skoal as he methodically, and SLOWLY places each item in the bag, perhaps wondering what the Hell we were actually buying. Gluten free this, non dairy that.
There sure is a lot of corn in Wheatland, but outside of the surprising crops this place looks exactly like it did twelve years ago when I was hear last. Flatter and hotter than Tie Siding but surrounded by lines of looming hills. Serpentine grids of green marking the cut of water through mountains then foothills then prairie and into the high-dollar Earth waiting for the slow burn of the center pivot. If you can’t appreciate water here you might already be dead.
“Are you ready for school?”
“What grade will you be in?”
“What is your favorite subject?”
“Don’t know, haven’t been in sixth grade yet.”
The folks I get to spend time with are technically not my family, but I remember them as babies, as kids and vaguely as teens, so this counts for something. We have history. Their mom and dad, their granny and grandpa I know as other names but they are one and the same. Stories are told, information exchanged and shy grandkids are suddenly in my lap asking if I’m going to be there everyday. “So I can use your camera and we can have fun together.”
Topics of conversation include yoga and semen. True story. When is the last time I got to transport semen that wasn’t my own? I find myself staring at cylinders of nitrogen labeled with things like “Baby Maker #4.” It’s just reality here, nothing more. The definition of “normal” swings wide and vast, like the landscape. I wish I could translate this place, but this underlying wish speaks volumes of The West and the predicament we all face. With several generations of Americans now born “away from the land,” it FEELS like the gap is widening between coastal dwellers and those who inhabit places like this. We simply cannot afford to let this gap continue to widen. Both sides, and even those in them middle must step back and assess, but do so without the critical eye of politics, the past or grudges based on rumor and fear. Truth is what will save us all, if we can ever agree on what that actually is.
I run my finger down the dash and a dark line emerges through the dust. “Stay to the right,” Jason says as I drive off into the field of alfalfa. “Can I take one more picture?” she asks. “Okay, but just one.” “Can I take TWO more?” she asks. Then follows with “Can I have some of your M&M’s?” “I want blue, yellow and orange.” I give her a date instead and watch as her face changes from happy to disgusted. “I don’t like it,” she says. “Well, you gotta take the gum out of your mouth first,” I tell her.