The Bigness

Trip Start Apr 02, 2007
Trip End Jul 02, 2007

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Flag of United States  , Nebraska
Saturday, April 28, 2007

the midwest seems to go on forever. i suspect it is one of those vague names applied in the absence of any more specific designation. ie., if you are not of 1) the west coast 2) the east coast 3) the deep south or 4) texas, then by default, you are a part of the sprawling midwest.

but nebraska has nothing to do with the places i was coming from.

frantic bolt through the chicagan subway to catch my night bus to nebraska. sleep. wake in the glow of morning, approaching the missouri river. that big, magnificent flow must be a mystic barrier. it keeps the industrial midwest out. nebraska is a different world.

it looks like this...


...but it isnīt flat. not like i expected and not like its neighbouring states are dead flat. nebraska is an endless field of slightly rolling hills, so you can never see far ahead and the world feels pressed up close to the immensity of the sky. in the depressions of the hills - between each . and the next - are farm houses and barns and rusted old cars. the hill themselves are dusty yellow or burnt brown. it is not corn season, so the fields have been striped down to the earth. but they look receptive and eager to sprout gold again.

i came Nebraska to visit a friend and to see the night sky she had told me about. in the bigness of the empty fields, in the bigness of the empty sky, beyond the light and smoke of the city, there is room for the sun and moon and the stars to work their magnificence. and the clouds, which each day marbled the sky with their white streaks. there is nothing for them to hold on to or snag on here. they stretch out on the wind. they catch the light of the setting sun and turn magnificent colours. a nebraskan sunset - those i saw - would not be drawn in red orange yellow. bronzes, golds, pinks, peaches, nectarines, apricots and roses are necessary, and every grade in between.

the night sky was not, as the planetarium had lead me to believe, a mosaic of stars. it was, when i sat beneath it watching intently, a full and silver moon in a rippling sea of clouds. it was a sky and a moon, like the yellow undulating earth, that i had never seen before. the bigness of nebraska is different to the bigness of australia, or any other bigness.

i encountered other kinds of bigness in Lincoln, Nebraska.

the bigness of the truck. the bigness of the road. the bigness of the parking lot. the bigness of the fast food joint. the bigness of the meal. the bigness of the appetite. the bigness of the partying. the bigness of the frat houses. the bigness of the frat boys. the bigness of the university. the bigness of the university football stadium (which, on game night, is the third biggest city in the state). the bigness of football.

Lincoln is the state capital and home to some 200,000 people, but it felt like a country town to me because at any one time i could only see a few things at once. the city is so spread out that you could be forgiven for thinking that each strip of fast food joints, set on immense block, was the sum total of the city. but it just keeps on going and going, iterating and reiterating.

out here, under the big sky and upon the big land, with the high water table and the golden crops, its easy to see the world as infinite and man as a drop in the ocean. its easy to see why big cars eating big petrol burn about town, why such huge blocks house such insignificant buildings. and why excess is everywhere. the consequences of overcrowding and overconsumption donīt exist here. the bigness of the land exceeds the bigness of the society. how rare that is.

big hearts and ideas. i met great friendliness and hospitality during my short stay in nebraska. i arrived knowing one person and left knowing many. in the gentrification of old railroad warehouses into microbreweries and restaurants, in the grand architecture of the state capital, in the magnificent worlds of the omaha zoo, gestures were visible that had nothing to do with excess or ignorance. the same gesture was visible in the mechanics restoring old tractors, in the planting of apple trees by a stream, in the queues at tiny ice cream parlours. the empty bigness of nebraska is inviting. there is space in which to get on with the enjoying of life.

one more bigness; the bigness of the trip, of the country, of the lands ahead. five days in nebraska and not once did i take an afternoon nap, as many predicted i would do in the absence of any other diversion. i was busy in nebraska. it is big and it is sometimes empty, but it is more big than empty. how many people, and i include myself here, would have expected me to be able to say that i left feeling there were things that remained undone? that is how it is; the bigness i encountered was a tiny piece of the full bigness out there in that part of the ridiculously big midwest.
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