The Picture I Chose Not to Take.

The Picture I Chose Not to Take.

We are headed back from New Mexico and decide to get off the interstate highways and bear Northeast ward toward home.

Our journey takes us diagonally through Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska. They are wide expansive prairie states.

The towns we pass through seem haunting. Many are one to three thousand people in population and they all have an eerily similar demographic.

Your first clue is the abandoned or boarded up buildings on main streets and the unpainted homes some occupied and some abandoned.

The pole barns that house the Dollar Stores in these communities is considered a new improvement to these impoverished places.

Even the gas stations struggle to keep up with current technology as we stop to fill up.

The gas station convenience store does a profitable business in candy bars, coffee and microwaved hot dogs.
They serve the locals and those that are just passing through.

I pass through hundreds of these towns each year as I travel and in every case they have a very similar demographic.

They have no work force, they have limited industry and they have no immigrants.

They have an average that is well above fifty, they have a limited amount of youth and few that intend to hang around.

The progressive communities will build a fancy water park in a last ditch effort to forestall the out migration.

They create a park that will sustain fond memories of their town in the eyes of those that are leaving.

The cemeteries have more space than necessary.

One of the towns has a Ukrainian history.

The settlers came from afar and they included skilled stone masons. A stone out cropping was close by and they created a quarry, the city prospered.

Its wealth can be seen throughout the community in the form of beautiful stone homes, commercial buildings and even barns.

These buildings replaced the temporary frontier gothic buildings of the 1880’s.

It was a sign of permanence, it was a sign of gainful economy.

These communities became fruitful and farm families populated every section of land.

Schools were built and the children became educated in their small communities.

People like Clyde Tombaugh lived in one of these small town in Kansas his community cared for his education and he went on to discover the planet Pluto.

Recently with his death he not only left that town of his youth but he also left our solar system. His ashes were sent beyond our reach on a NASA spacecraft called New Horizons.

Others left and became bankers and lawyers in larger communities beyond the county line.


Back in the little Ukrainian town the original stone masons of long ago were taking a dirt nap in the local cemetery.

Their buildings stood as testament to their skills.

The buildings were re-shingled once more just after the dustbowl days and by the mid to late 1960’s they were once again in need of repair.

The mortar between the stone blocks needs tuck pointing every century or so.

This simple but laborious task give us a clue as to what is happening to a society and community right before our eyes.

It is social entropy in freeze frame or slow motion. A community in generational decline.

Alas, In the early 1970’s the owners of the buildings no longer have the money, knowledge, skills or understanding of how to care for stone crafted buildings.

They used a Portland like cement to fill in the cracks. It is patiently the wrong material to use as it wreaks havoc with the stone and causes more damage.

In one or two generations these Ukrainian settlers had lost all of their original skills that allowed them an economy of the prairies of the Great Plains.

No one was evidently left to advise them, to counsel them, to help maintain their homes in a fashion that respected the nature of the materials they were using.

In the blink of an eye the tradesman were buried and their knowledge went with them.

Today abandon lots can be found dotting the town. On Main Street in an abandon lot stands a glorious, gigantic, brightly colored Ukrainian Christmas Egg.

Certainly it is one of the largest Ukrainian Christmas Eggs in the whole world, it stands perhaps two stories tall.

A valiant attempt at reinventing themselves and putting their best foot forward.

It is their tourist attraction. It stands next to their old opera house theatre that struggles and begs to be restored.

As I drove along an older man was getting out of his brand new shiny Walmart Semi tractor and trailer.

He had made it home for the night and was parked directly in front of his dilapidated, rusty, sun faded trailer home.

His home was half the size of the semi.

The image creates a perfect picture of our historic attempt to populate the Great Plains.

I slow down and reach for my camera.

I then realize that this is THE PHOTO I CHOOSE NOT TO TAKE.


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