—Phil Dagostino, Jordan Gulasky, and Emily Howe – 2015 Frontier Fellows
“And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” -Nietzsche
Under the moonless abyss of the desert night sky we lay as we stare at the stars. Streaks of sporadic space debris flash across as we hurtle through the universe. We are in Green River, Utah, where the fleeting insignificance of existence is all too apparent. Why here, and why now? “To build a float for the Melon Days parade,” I say. To whom? No matter. I have worn many hats, and the hat I wear here protects me from the scorching solar radiation—radiation not unlike that buried under the mysterious black pyramid on the edge of town. I have lost count of the many milkshakes I have drained from the Chow Hound. It is dry here, my mouth and skin attest. The river is cool and wet, an oasis of life. The train cries out as it passes through, stopping only long enough to pick up and drop off. “No time to smoke here,” says the conductor. “If you get off you stay off.”
YOU ARE HERE. The desert claims another soul.
Working in Green River for three weeks was as fun as it was hot as it was challenging as it was covered in melon juice. Melon Days felt like the best time of year to be there, with families pouring back into town and flyers for every kind of event you can think of in all the shops and diners. Seed spitting, speed sitting, parade floats, and floating the river—we tried to do it all (and won a couple of things while we were at it). Spending time as friends, putting your hands together to build something for the pure enjoyment of a community was a wonderful way to visit Green River, and I am grateful to have gotten a glimpse into the lives of the people of a place very different from my own.
I came back to Green River because I felt there was still work to be done—more desert-relationship to unpack. As a Frontier Fellow in 2012, I was fresh out of college and eager to understand what it meant to make work in the West. I came back almost exactly three years later (two years, eleven months, one week) asking the same question, this time with a stronger personal practice, and a new motivation fueled by my recent acquaintance to the world of the nine-to-five.
Here’s what I found: Green River was still there. The town is the same; I changed. I started to notice more, to understand what it means to be new in a place you are not from, to listen and to observe, to show up. Coming back with a defined project helped—gave me a place to direct my attention. Our melon float shepherded us into the community of Green River. The inherent nature of a community-based project is that it gets you out into the community. To walk in a parade, you walk with the community. Lined up after the marching band but before the Republican Party, we didn’t have candy to throw, but we were still greeted with delight. We built a float, walked in a parade—things that happen in small towns across America, but this was truly work I could not have made anywhere else. Headed south to Albuquerque in a car fragranced with melon, Green River took its official classification as ‘a place I come back to.’