Yesterday afternoon, I made my sixth latitudinal crossing of Nebraska since November 2012. Given our proximity to the Spooky Season on this morning, I thought I might share with you one of the eeriest experiences I have had in my travels across the U.S.A.. The vignette reproduced below was written upon my completion of the last crossing in May of this year, and is entitled, "THE HAUNTING AT FORT McPHERSON" ...
Around 260 miles into the day's drive, I sought brief refuge from the monotony of the road and the glare of the mid-afternoon Sun at a verdant oasis furnished by the State of Nebraska to Interstate 80's weary westbound travelers in the County of Lincoln. The site of my respite, which was no more than a dozen or so breaths away from the southern bank of the Platte River, but whose true proximity to which was obscured by the modest but dedicated foliage of the prairie, was populated in the main by large Plains Cottonwood trees, whom the breeze had stirred to the most satisfying activity. On these grounds was a large marker commemorating Fort McPherson (né Cantonment McKean), established (per the inscription) "during the Indian troubles of the middle 1860s [...] [to keep] the telegraph lines in operation and the mail and stage lines running." Another traveler before me had also clearly taken exception to the imperial euphemism, "Indian troubles", which the marker bore, carving in the obsidian absence to its left, "AKA genocide". For this rejoinder, I was well primed: is there anything which might occasion more reflection of the ineluctable coloniality, violence, and complicity of a settler's existence in North America than traversing, daily, the stolen homelands of an ever increasing number of subjugated nations? But this anonymous confirmation of the reality of the nightmare of colonization, this external breach of the cultural cordon sanitaire around the requisite atrocities of my endeavor, hit very hard and fostered in me a sorrowful hatred which broadcast widely across the relevant centuries.
I lingered for a while thereafter in the shade of the Cottonwood trees, listening to their murmurings. The southerly advection of warm air which gave them such life, I knew, would also in time prove corrosive to the fair conditions then enjoyed. It was easy to imagine a tornado in this place, and as I observed the waves of surface wind winding through the mid-length grass, a eerie sensation fell over me. The light air of springtime conviviality ceased to issue from the Cottonwoods' rustling, which now whispered gossip and warning. Names and faces, upsetting conversations (never) to be had and a hundred hypothetical dangers came to mind, but all without even the slightest kernel of coherent meaning or obvious provocation. With this, I became uncomfortable and retired to the seat of my car in recline. Beset, I began to drift, haltingly, into a more inhospitable world.
Immediately, slumber conjured frightening images of the military arm of initial colonization. U.S. Cavalry and infantry soldiers, clothed in Union blue, inveighed against me in the wordless language of the dead, ripping and pulling at me as I pushed through their terrible procession. Their vague features nevertheless communicated their fury, and towards the end of this hostile host, a soldier seized hold of my foot and attempted to entomb me as his captive beneath the Nebraskan soil. Here, I rallied, calling desperately on the lifetime of charms with which I was travelling to deliver me from this vicious mob. Watching from above and to the left of where I laid was an indigenous elder, to whom I also appealed. Yet, on his face he wore a look of studied indifference. It is not the responsibility of the colonized to save the colonizers from themselves. His was the last image I saw before all these ghosts of the Plains dissolved into the beige tabula rasa of common dreaming. I awoke an hour later and continued my push to Cheyenne.