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.’

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.

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