What a day. What a life. What a state to be in.
McCook, NE was much too good to us. Yesterday morning, we left our comfy digs at Willow Ridge and rode down the street to Community Hospital, where the staff was ready and waiting to greet us. Usually we focus on patients, but this was a great visit for helping to de-stress the hardworking staff and start their day off on a bright note. They asked questions and worked their way through all four dogbeasts, and then left us with collected donations and a gift bag full of goodies for us and the dogs.
We left Community Hospital to drive to High Plains Radio. On the way, we stopped into Sehnerts Bakery and ate the most brilliant breakfast sammich ever: a sausage patty and cheese, wrapped in donut dough and fried. They call it a Delaware Donut. We scarfed them down and then piled into the radio station to talk to Rich Barnett on their Open Line show.
It was our first chance to do a radio interview, and we had a blast. Rich was awesome about asking us questions individually, so we didn’t get mixed up trying to talk over each other. We chatted while the dogs all slept soundlessly underneath the control board. Open Line broadcasts pretty far and wide, and it was a lot less stressful to talk over the radio than it is to talk to a news camera.
As we were getting ready to leave, the station got a call from Pet Pros Grooming, and they offered to give all four of our stinky dogs professional baths. We dropped them off like it was doggie daycare, and went back into McCook to run some much-needed errands. Without having to worry about the dogs cooking in the car, we could relax for a few hours. We grabbed odds and ends, new inner tubes for our pushcart tires, vacuumed out the car, and went back to Fuller’s Family Restaurant for lunch. We also picked up mail at the Post Office. Thanks to The Honest Kitchen for the dog food, and Bil-Jac for the coupons!
When we picked the mutts back up, they were clean and soft and smelled like sweet summer rain. The staff had even put little stick-on earrings on all the girls! It was like picking up brand new dogs.
We settled into the city’s free campground to rest, and hit the road again yesterday morning. Several days ago when we walked through Atlanta, NE, we noticed a pretty sudden change in the environment – sandy hills and scrubby desert brush started to dominate the landscape. Now, less than 70 miles from the Colorado border, we are climbing steadily and everything is starting to look more and more Western-like. The roadside ditches are full of spiny plants, the occasional cactus, and everything is looking a lot more friendly for the likes of rattlesnakes and gnarly bugs. The horizon is stretching further and further in every direction, the flat rim of the earth folding away under endless blue skies.
This state has worn us down to the bone. Every day seems to bring us more of the same: Unrelenting heat and endless horizons of the Big Ag monoculture desert. Every field that isn’t irrigated is burned brown and dusty from the drought. The fields that are irrigated look fine, but I see a lot more than green leaves and big money crops. These crops sustain communities, food supplies, and entire industries for millions of people. The drought this year is going to hurt food supplies all over the world, but that’s a trap that we have walked right into by banking on these lands and crops to sustain so much of our lives.
I wish I could look out over all of the fields of crops and see the fertile bounty of commercial success that the farmers see, but my eyes can only see destruction, pollution, and the cancerous growth of industry. Miles and miles and miles of corn and beans, all grown under intense applications of remarkably toxic chemicals.
A corn farmer back in Illinois was talking to me about his GMO crops and all of the chemistry involved in growing them – injecting liquid nitrogen into the soil, and dousing everything in Roundup. I recognize that I am a guest everywhere I go, so I try to listen and not argue if I don’t agree. I had a real hard time keeping my mouth shut when he told me with a chuckle that “Roundup is as safe as table salt” – a blatant lie that Monsanto used to market Roundup back in the ’70’s; a lie that they were taken to court over. The fact is, Roundup and similar GMO-oriented herbicides and pesticides have been linked to all kinds of damage to the environment and to humans. Birth defects, infertility, the colony collapse of our pollinators – all linked to safe-as-table-salt Roundup. But who am I to tell a lifelong farmer that the way he does things isn’t just bad, it’s damn near criminal for the amount of damage it causes?
To see the livelihood of so many communities riding on little more than the size of the yield of these very few plants is so disheartening. It’s big business – a giant food factory, running massive equipment and consuming abhorrent amounts of fuel and water, while systematically poisoning one of the most naturally fertile regions in the whole world. There was a time that we worked with nature, instead of against it. This chemical warfare approach to farming is so misguided. Our complete reliance on dangerous chemistry to grow our food is a very new phenomenon in our world – we did just fine without the cancerous sprays for generations and generations. Greed has brought this plague of chemistry and monoculture upon us – the greed and blind drive for profits that drives companies to patent genes, and sue farmers for saving their seeds. It’s only because of clever marketing and a “bigger is better” mentality that we have dug ourselves into this deadly hole; and Mother Nature has no sympathy for the wicked.
This is what I have been thinking about for the last 800 miles. It has been hard to stay positive. I would have loved to walk past some smaller organic operations, or visit a permaculture community, but it simply wasn’t in the cards. If it wasn’t for the great hospitality of the friendly people of the Midwest and the natural beauty of the ever-changing landscape, I might have lost my mind.
About a week ago, walking through the agricultural desert, Kait called Nebraska the Hump State. “It’s like the Wednesday of walking across the country.” We’re right in the middle, landlocked. We have been walking for so long, and we are only halfway; but if we can just push through it and get to the other side, we will be home free to the weekend of the West.