Back in the USA.
But I still had a long way to go.
Entering the US from Canada in eastern Washington, there remained three days of driving before returning to Bemidji. I wrote about the second night last week. This, the final post from this road trip, is about the two character encounters on nights 1 and 3. As open and memorable as they were hospitable, these guys were an appropriate pair on which to end my excursion.
Meet Chris, owner of a no-frills motel in northeastern Washington state.
It was almost midnight when I crossed back the into the US. The border guy letting me into my country was more strict than the guy okaying my entry into Canada. After looking in my trunk, the middle-aged, stern-looking American border agent opened the gate.
I had called my motel ahead of time. So the sole proprietor was waiting up for me. It was that kind of place.
“Oh yeah? What are you writing about?” he asked after asking what I was doing in his neck of the woods.
“People of the Pacific Northwest,” I answered, tired from the long day’s drive from Vancouver to Kelowna to here.
“I’m not from the Pacific Northwest,” Chris asserted as he made a copy of my driver’s license. “I’m from New York City.”
He had the accent and everything.
Welp, I thought, guess I gotta another voice to capture. Out came the camera…
“I used to be a marathoner,” was the first piece of information Chris offered. “See that time?”
I looked at his certificates.
“Now fill this out so I can get some sleep,” he ordered, handing me a form.
Yet Chris and I would converse another 30 minutes.
“I used to be a bus driver in Brooklyn,” he said as he got comfortable in a chair behind his counter. “Then I came out here raising apples–an orchard.”
“From driving bus to farming,” I echoed. “Was that the idea? You wanted to do something different?”
“No, I wanted to get away from people asking questions,” he said before erupting a laugh.
He went on, though, sharing stories about being in a street gang as a teenager, about water skiing along the New York coast and feeling a large shark swim along his leg while in the water, and about being the only one in his current town to read the New York Times.
I did on my final stop heading back to Minnesota from the Pacific Northwest.
Similar to the farmers I met along the Oregon coast, this man bucks the trend of farming as I know it in the Midwest—only he does so while IN the Midwest. Gene and wife Christine have a farm in central North Dakota.
“We’ve increased the productivity of our native prairie grazing lands by about 430%,” Gene said matter-of-factly as he drove me around his property.
This increase clashes with the struggles other area farmers are having in this drought year. The difference according to Gene are his methods of polyculture farming (growing multiple crops) and sectioning his property (so cattle graze only certain areas at a time), and grazing nor more than 3/4 the land. This keeps the soil nutrient-rich and the grass healthy—a clash evident as the road separated his property from another.
“Short term grazing and a lot of rest and recovery time,” he said.
Gene’s also a rare holdout by not using genetically-modified corn seed. Thus, he doesn’t treat his crops with the same amount of pesticides as his neighbors.
Gene expressed optimism about his methods. In these lean times in central North Dakota, he said he’s having more neighbors asking him why his grass looks better than theirs.
“Feed the soil first, the animal second. Can only raise as much beef as there is forage to convert to beef,” he said is explaining the situation. “It’s a paradigm shift.”
Look for our video interview on The Periphery YouTube down the road.
The next morning, I hit the road for the final drive home. I94 to Fargo and a variety of smaller state and county roads later, I arrived to Bemidji. Yet the work from this journey had just begun. I’ve since been writing these stories, editing and publishing interview videos on The Periphery YouTube channel, and I’ve been doing presentations around the region.
In fact, I’m returning to the Bemidji library this Saturday the 7th, and then at the Duluth Radisson Thursday evening, October 12:
I hope to get to share with you in person all that I’ve enjoyed sharing online.
Stay tuned for announcements on this website as I release more videos. I’ve released five so far. You can also go to The Periphery YouTube channel to subscribe. If you’d like to suggest a person, place, or topic for me to cover on The Periphery, or if you’d like to help arrange a presentation in your community, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org