Frontier Fellowship Report: Bennett Williamson

Biking home at sunset

I first came to Green River in February 2012 to visit my friend Ali Osborn, who was here as a Frontier Fellow. A drive through the San Rafael swell in the morning light, a few West Winds breakfasts, and walking an open field in the shadow of the Book Cliffs was enough to get me to apply for the Fellowship this year. I’ve happily spent the past six weeks watching Green River turn from summer to fall, working on a variety of projects, and trying to put my finger on what makes this tiny town so darned interesting.

Frontier Fellow Dylan Adams unloading supplies for the Seed Spittin’ contest. Hay bales and Book Cliffs looking especially picturesque. Snackin’ at Crystal Geyser.

I’ve moved six times in the past few years, and when I get back to L.A. next week, I’ll be packing up to turn right around and move again. Green River is by far the smallest place I’ve ever lived, and while it has it’s related small-town problems, it also has a profound simplicity that is entirely refreshing. “Why is there an Amtrak stop there?” asked my Mom. Why is Green River here at all? This is where the river gets shallow and slow enough to cross. There’s no big industry keeping the town alive, this is a place that people have been passing through for hundreds of years. This is the only place with water and gas for a hundred miles either direction on the interstate. The people are friendly, the sunsets are incredible. When they built the railroads, this was the overnight stop. Sometimes cars break down and their drivers just decide to stay. Simple.

City Code Enforcement Manager C.J. Vetere herds chickens off a neighbor’s lawn

Maybe that’s just the myth of The West playing tricks on me. But it’s the vast unfeeling desert creeping at the edge of town that made me see how hard people are working here, it’s stark cliffs towering over one tiny piece of humanity, everyone pulling their weight to keep it flourishing. The small business owners, the ranchers, the farmers, the volunteer Mayor, the people who organize softball games, and of course the Epicenter staff, helping keep roofs over people’s heads.

Here is a place where clearly you can be an agent of change. Coming off a busy summer managing a huge project, I was excited to have the time, space, tools, encouragement, lack of responsibility, and limited email access that would allow me to focus on my own projects for as long as it took to finish them. Like, ‘I made this, that means I am alive.’

Projects:
Green River Community Radio
I built a Part-15 AM radio broadcasting kit, to experiment with broadcasting in Green River. I know about the programming side of radio but I wanted to learn more about engineering. I also filed an application for a Low Power FM license for Epicenter, which, if granted, would allow them to build an FM station that could potentially reach the entire town. Many thanks to Common Frequency, who helped guide me through the FCC’s application process.

Testing the AM transmitter at Epicenter. Transmitter detail.

Weaving Workshop
I taught a weaving workshop at Epicenter, introducing the class to basic techniques on a frame loom, focusing on using yarn and fabric scraps, and showing ways to use cheap materials to make your own tools. I was really impressed with how quickly everyone got into the rhythm of the weaving, with some people finishing their first ever weaving in just three hours.

Tying off a completed weaving. Weaving detail.

Next Punchline 30 Miles
I installed two 8′ x 12′ billboards as part of High Desert Test Sites 2013 in Joshua Tree, CA. The piece was designed and constructed in Epicenter’s backyard, and then deconstructed for transport. Thanks to AmeriCorps VISTA Ryann Savino who helped with construction and installation. She travelled with me and the signs to HDTS and wrote about the trip more detail in a previous blog post.

Tracing the letters of the first sign. The completed punchline sign on Kelbaker Rd. near Amboy, CA.

Additionally, I did a ride-along interview with City Ordinance Compliance Manager CJ Vetere for the upcoming Green River Magazine, worked shifts at the Green River Thrift Store, took a field trip to melon and corn fields with The Boys and Girls Club of Green River, helped plan the Melon Days Seed Spitting Contest and worked the spin art bike at the arts and crafts booth, worked on my crockpot cooking for family dinner (carnitas, beef stew, veggie chili), helped Armando put in a new ceiling at Faye Sweat’s house, fixed a bicycle, learned what a goathead is and then picked a million out of my shoes, saw the petroglyphs at Sego Canyon at dawn, borrowed Justin’s truck a lot (thanks Justin!!), ate curly cheese fries at Chow Hound, and much more.

Goatheads!
Smashing over-ripe watermelons left in the fields after harvest.

Thank you Epicenter. You gave me a place to work, a place to live, a group of friends, and a real taste of life in a small town. I admire the work you do and I’ll be sure to come back to Green River to check in on you.

– Bennett

Visiting former Frontier Fellow Raphy Griswold’s Czech Hedgehog

Sunday, November 10th, 2013
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Cabin Time 5: Green River, Utah

Photo by Carson Davis Brown

Cabin-Time is a roaming creative residency to remote places. We had the pleasure of meeting the folks at Epicenter and collaborating with them to bring 15 artists to Green River to set up camp north of town in Desolation Canyon.

We love Green River. It was quite the experience to be greeted by new friends, hoot-hollerin and waving flags at our arrival. So American! Residents traveled from all over the country and everyone fell in love with the landscape and mystique that Green River and nearby Canyon offered. Late summer is monsoon season and we experienced it in full force–record rainfalls made for a dangerous road, muddy river, and cloudy skies. After three wet days, we were ready for the rain to go away. By Tuesday afternoon the sky cleared and we made it back into town for a party.

With Green River being the melon capital of the United States we wanted to taste as many of them as we could. We met at Epicenter and invited the public to join us for a table filled with all the in-season melons we could get. We picked up two of each from Dunham’s Melons: cantaloupe, crenshaw, israeli, canary, honeyloupe, lampkin, honeydew, and watermelon. Cabin-Time resident Sarah Williams made a watermelon + tomato salad and quinoa salad to round out the meal. We enjoyed meeting people and being back in civilization for the evening. I, Ryan Greaves, want to apologize for missing the mayor at the event. Our timings got crossed and we were craving twist cones from Chow Hound.

Photos by Carson Davis Brown

Canyon life had a beautiful rhythm to it–everyone setting off in different directions to work on their projects, rambling in and out of camp for meals and hangouts throughout the day. A big part of Cabin-time is meeting new people and working collaboratively. The theme that we chose to work with for this Cabin-Time was “Ford the River.” We interpreted that in many ways, but for any journey or crossing of a difficult obstacle, you have others with you. Many individual projects involved the participation of other residents, right down to the planning and coordination of the residency itself.

We left Green River with lasting friendships and memories of time spent together. Rain storms, sun dogs, sagebrush, and swims; every best day right in a row.

Visit cabin-time.com for more information about Cabin-Time.

Cabin-Time 5: Green River Residents
Carson Davis Brown (Grand Rapids, MI)
Sarah Darnell (Ventura, CA)
Stephanie Dowda (Atlanta, GA)
Ryan Greaves (Grand Rapids, MI)
Geoff Holstad (Ventura, CA)
Emily Julka & Ben Hunter (Madison, WI)
Bridget Frances Quinn (Austin, TX)
Steven Rainey (Grand Rapids, MI)
Mary Rothlisberger (Palouse, WA)
Cyrus W. Smith (Portland, OR)
Charlotte X. C. Sullivan (Brooklyn, NY)
Adam Weiler (Holland, MI)
Meg Whiteford (Los Angeles, CA)
Sarah Williams (Los Angeles, CA)

Monday, October 7th, 2013
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Melon Days 2013: The Melon Games

“Support the Melon Growers” parade float

Melon Days, our favorite weekend of the year, has officially come and gone. Festivities of the 107th annual Melon Days included the Melon Queen Pageant, the biggest and best Melon Days parade we’ve ever seen, volleyball and softball tournaments, square-dancing, live music, vendors in the park, and free endless watermelon samples.

Melon is a source of community pride in Green River. Most say it’s the best melon they’ve eaten. Jo Anne Chandler, the local archivist, says, “Texas and California don’t know melons. Green River knows melons.” Jo Anne believes no one knows how the first watermelon plant came into being in Green River. It could have floated down the river or a goose could have brought the seeds. No one knows. There are even opposing stories on who found that first watermelon plant. One story claims that a man named Oppenheimer found it in Little Valley. Another story says a man named Pace found it at Willow Bend. Both would have happened around the turn of the 20th century. Either way, one of them found the watermelon/watermelon plant along the river, saved the seeds, and began cultivating melon. Why does Green River create the best melons? The sandy soil and the old river bed create great conditions, and because it’s so dry here, but close to water, farmers are able to control the moisture. Also, supposedly, the only place that gets more direct sunlight than Green River, Utah, is Death Valley, California. Hot days and cool nights create a sweet and delicious melon.

The first melon shipment out of Green River was actually a side item to an apple shipment. There was an apple and peach boom in the early 1900’s when land was selling for $2,000 an acre. In the late 1910’s, there was a mild winter, and subsequently, an early spring. Flowers we are blooming, everything was gorgeous. But, then there was a unexpected freeze, which caused the sap in the blooming trees to expand, and caused the trees to explode. There were accounts of “snap, crackle, and popping” as the liquid sap froze to solid form. 50,000 Green River trees were killed that year. Realizing that orchards were a fickle investment, Green River farmers turned to melon. If a melon crop freezes, you can replant the crop, unlike apple trees which can take years to produce fruit.

Since Epicenter’s first Melon Days back in 2009, we’ve been addicted to this magical weekend celebrating Green River’s prized crop. We’ve never topped our first parade entry (Melon Monster), but we’ve finally perfected the Seed Spittin’ Contest and our booth in the park.

Armando dancing in the parade; Armando, Maria, Steph, and Ryann modeling Epicenter’s Melon Days shirt; Hand painted watermelon shoes by Maria.

This year we were honored to host Frontier Fellow, Erica Dixon, as the Seed Spittin’ Contest coordinator. Dixon annually coordinates the Communikey Festival, an interdisciplinary arts festival in Boulder, Colorado. This year Erica’s design included an obstacle course, a taste test, spitting for accuracy, and spitting for distance. All ages participated in this year’s contest, and winners include: Style- Alex, Distance- Tyrell (25′), Accuracy- Luis, 3rd overall- Nathaniel, 2nd overall- Emma Jo, and 1st overall- Rebecca. Congratulations to our winners! Thank you to our Seed Spittin’ Contest sponsors: Glenwood Adventure Park, Green River & Goblin Valley State Parks, Price Theatres, Robber’s Roost Motel, Ray’s Tavern, and the City of Green River. The contest and amazing prizes (movie tickets, a night in a yurt at Goblin Valley, tickets to Glenwood Adventure Park, and more) would not have been possible without their support!!!

Photos from our 2nd annual Seed Spittin’ Contest.

Our Melon Days arts booth this year was a major success and a fundraiser for Epicenter for the first time ever! AmeriCorps VISTA, Ryann Savino, coordinated the booth which focused on youth arts activities including tie-dyeing, bicycle-powered spin art, and face painting. The spin art bike was our most popular activity. After choosing a vintage vinyl record and placing it on the spin-art bike, a rider pedals to spin the record. Kids then squirt, drizzle, and splatter paint onto the spinning vinyl. Seeing the look on the artist’s face once their design was revealed was priceless!
Spin art bike in action.

Tie dyed shirts (shirt design by Dylan Adams, Frontier Fellow), Judith Trejo (2013 Melon Queen First Attendant) and her artwork, and drying spin art.

Thank you to WabiSabi, a great non-profit located in Moab, Utah, for letting us borrow their radical spin art bike. It was a huge hit! Thank you to our volunteers: Dylan Adams, Steph Crabtree, Dan Teed, Erica Dixon, Brett Jones, Nicole Lavelle, Miles Mattison, and Bennett Williamson.

Visit our Instagram feed for even more photos and short videos of Melon Days 2013. Historic information in this blog post was provided by Jo Anne Chandler, archivist at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum located in Green River.

Friday, September 27th, 2013
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