Friday, March 27, 2015

03/26/2015 at 9:07pm

Photo by Shawn Poynter Kids of all kinds play together on a Boys and Girls Club basketball court in Washington, North Carolina.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the NCAA men’s tournament continues this week, we’re dusting off an old column by Dee Davis, publisher of the Daily Yonder. This essay originally ran on the Center for Rural Strategies website in 2002, five years before we began publishing the Yonder. Unlike Dee’s knees, we think the piece holds up pretty well.

Donald was 6’ 6”, a big 6’ 6” at that, with large hands, an open-mouth menacing look, acne scarred and a baseball cap mostly worn backwards, not that the rest of us were that damn handsome. Donald had some handicaps. Nobody said anything about it. Who would? Still you just noticed even if you were trying not to.

Donald would ride down with Otis in an old pick up truck along with this wiry high school kid who smoked cigarettes between games, and sometimes Otis’ little boy who would play in the dirt down at the other end of the court. Otis was a cockfighter back then. Guys would ask him about his chickens. Later when he got baptized he gave up on the roosters. I mainly remember Otis in spring, in suffocating summer heat, and in fall playing in work pants and a long sleeve shirt. He was spidery, and tricky in the post, but very sincere in other ways. When my friend Robert moved to town, Otis asked him, “Hey man, what’s your name?”

He answered, “Just call me Rob.”

Otis said, “Rob? I’ll never remember that. I’ll call you Red.”

I assumed that Otis and Donald were family, the way Otis looked after him, but I didn’t ask. My approach to basketball is to block out extraneous information. Think about the wrong thing, personal things, and you’ll get beat. I for one never asked about the chickens.

When it was in the paper that Donald had been run over by a truck, I was stunned. I had lost all contact years ago when he quit showing up to play. But just the week or so before it happened I was in the car heading out to Craft’s Colley to feed cats of friends who were out of town, and there he was sitting on a guard rail next to a bicycle. He waved. I didn’t realize it was him until I got past. He looked as though perhaps he had been going through a rough patch. His neck and chest were garlanded with what looked like a homemade necklace, maybe fashioned out of pop cans. And he looked smaller, much smaller, worn down someway. Still it was him, cap on backwards.

After the story came out in the paper, I found out almost everybody knew who he was because he spent his days riding his bike back and forth between Craft’s Colley and the WalMart. People said he was quick to wave and hard to miss. Those who had never even spoken to him were, just the same, hammered to learn of his death. He had a smile.

03/26/2015 at 6:56am

Headwaters Economics The chart traces the impact of various federal county-payment programs. As revenue sharing (shown in green) dropped, Congress created other programs designed to compensate counties for the decreased tax base created by public lands. Payment in Lieu of Taxes is shown in blue. Secure Rural Schools is shown in brown. Click to expand the chart.

Rural counties may get some good news this week if Congress reauthorizes funding for the Secure Rural Schools program. But in less than a year’s time, these counties will be right back where they started, arguing for their fair share of federal funding.
It’s time for Congress to create a more predictable and fair system for compensating counties that contain large amounts of federal land.
Federal public lands are exempt from local taxation, placing a hardship on rural communities that rely on property taxes to fund local services. As compensation, Congress has made payments under two programs: Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and agency-based revenue sharing payments (for example, payments via the U.S. Forest Service based on federal timber sales in a given county). In 2000, Congress passed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act to help make up for anemic revenue-sharing payments from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
“County payments” have been around for a century. But today counties find themselves stuck in a cycle of seeking congressional approval for payments every year. Besides initially dropping Secure Rural Schools funding for 2014, Congress only approved one year of funding for PILT.
This short-term fix approach—where Congress debates whether or not extend SRS or funds PILT for a single year —  should end. 
Since 2001 PILT has been the cornerstone of compensation payments for non-taxable federal land. This year, PILT will provide $422 million, while revenue sharing payments will provide $60 million. PILT’s full funding amount will rise to $522 next year. 
PILT’s heightened importance is increasing traction for to reauthorize and reform the program. But to work well, the system needs updates.  
03/25/2015 at 6:52am

All photos by Antone Dolezal. "False Lights" from the series "Devil’s Promenade."

Daily Yonder: Where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your background.

Antone Dolezal: I grew up on the northeastern region of Oklahoma, near where the plains and the Ozark hills meet.


DY: Where do you live now?

AD: Santa Fe, NM.


DY: When did you start taking pictures?

AD: My father had a darkroom and taught me how to print and develop film when I was 11 or 12. It wasn’t until college that I discovered photography as a means to construct visual narratives and became a serious image-maker. 

 "Spook Light Road" from the series "Devil’s Promenade."

"Further Down the Road" from the series "Devil’s Promenade."


DY: We’re featuring photos from two series, Devil’s Promenade and Ghost Town.  How did these series begin, and what’s the unifying theme in each of them?

AD: Ghost Town was the first series I completed after college. The images here are of abandoned homes and towns in Oklahoma that were hit hardest by the Dust Bowl. It is really a survey of the decay that has taken place over the past five or six decades in the No Man’s Land region of the state. It is a place rich with forgotten ghosts and left behind memories. My intent with Ghost Town was to evoke the current state of the region, while also telling a story that was from my own experience of exploring this landscape.

Devil’s Promenade is a collaborative project with Lara Shipley that is a narrative based body of work relating to mythology in the rural Ozarks. It is a project that blends regional folklore and local history with present day photographs of Ozark people, the land and interpretive images based on the mysterious phenomenon of the Spook Light – a floating orb found on a wooded road in the Ozark backwoods.

The Light was first documented in the 1880s and has since grown into a local tourist attraction. Because no one has been able to determine what causes the phenomenon, people continue to have a desire to see it. They want to go out into the pitch-black woods at night and experience fear and the unexplained. And so for us the Spook Light became this great metaphor for searching and desire in the Ozarks.

"Sleepless Days" from the series "Devil’s Promenade."


DY: How do you classify your photography?  Is it photojournalistic?  Fine art? Some combination of both?

AD: My projects are a mixture of documentary photography and interpretive images based upon regional stories I’ve read or have been told by locals. So there is a blending of styles and approaches that go into constructing these narratives.

With every new project I make a conscious effort to break my own rules and notions of what a photograph should be. There is a conscious attempt to always make better portraits or landscapes and if I have an image in my head that needs to be made I experiment with new techniques to make those pictures happen… and of course then a whole lot of editing to make it appear cohesive!

03/24/2015 at 2:14pm

Photo by Wade Payne A worker at a Hunt Brothers Pizza franchise in Andersonville, Tennessee, serves a pizza.

Pizza joints are everywhere in a city. Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s, and local places seem to be more plentiful than Starbucks. But get out into the country and your options are limited. Hunt Brothers Pizza’s business model is to fill these service area gaps with peperoni and hot cheese. Going where stand-alone food joints couldn’t make it, Hunt Brothers is setting up shop where people already go: Service stations and convenience stores. There are now around 7,200 Hunt Brothers locations. The beauty of the model is the easy set up for business owners, reports the AP.

In a typical Hunt Brothers arrangement, [convenience store owner Roy] Bruce said he paid about $10,000 for his oven, freezer, display case and other equipment and now just pays the Nashville, Tenn.-based company for the pizza ingredients. Hunt Brothers doesn't charge franchise fees or require a contract.

The privately owned company fine-tuned this approach starting in the early 1990s when four brothers who'd worked separately in the restaurant industry joined forces to sell pizzas to convenience stores. Hunt Brothers had 750 locations by 1994, said Keith Solsvig, its vice president for marketing.

"Convenience stores in rural areas were the hub," Solsvig said. "A lot of people coming and going. And a lot of these smaller towns, they didn't really have a lot of other restaurants or other places to eat."


Robert Crumb, famous collector of records and drawer of dirty pictures, claims that America lost “authentic rural music” in the early 1930s as the jazz age shifted to swing. The interview, published by the Red Bull Music Academy, focuses on vernacular music and shows off Crumb’s encyclopedic knowledge of turn-of-the-century rural music.

With jazz and other pop forms it takes a sharp nosedive in the early 1930s. When it goes from the “jazz age” to the swing era – Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, they get those smoother sounding “sophisticated” sounds. Everyone was supposed to sound sophisticated as an alternative to sounding naïve and country. “Country” was such a term of contempt. It sounds like you’re a hick from the sticks. You’re supposed to be embarrassed by that. It was the death of real, authentic rural music. Truly a cultural disaster.


The USDA announced plans to create a Rural Child Poverty Nutrition Center to take on hunger in rural America. The center, which will be based at the University of Kentucky, will give grants to organizations working on rural hunger and nutrition. The USDA estimates that around 85% of counties in persistent poverty are rural.

“The center will make it possible for children in rural areas to access much-needed nutrition assistance and help close the large food insecurity gap between urban and rural communities,” [U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom] Vilsack said.

03/24/2015 at 6:55am

The Greeley Tribune/Nathan Hergert A March 2014 oil-well explosion lit up the sky for miles around Greeley, Colorado.

The nation’s energy boom is bringing jobs, lower prices and – according to an article in a national firefighters’ journal – increased risk of new kinds of fires that may catch local fire departments unprepared.

Here’s one example, according to NFPA Journal:   

In March 2014 near Greeley, Colorado, a spark ignited flowback water, a flammable liquid that rises to the surface when an oil well is pumping. The blast shook houses and shot flames that were visible for miles. When nearby fire departments arrived, they didn’t have the materials they needed to extinguish the blaze. They had to wait for a foam trailer and water tankers. Two workers were injured.

“For a department more accustomed to fighting structure fires, it was an incident that required not just the proper suppressants, but the right training, equipment, and tactical approach to handle the fire safely and effectively,” writes Ashely Smith in the national journal.

Greeley, Colorado, is a city of nearly 100,000 residents that has a professional department with more than 100 firefighters.  If Greeley and its 110-member professional fire department are finding the oil and gas boom challenging, what’s it like for rural, volunteer departments in oil and gas country?

Smith’s report gives us a clue:

Advances in oil and gas drilling and exploration … have created a dramatic increase in oil and gas extraction activities in many parts of the United States … bringing with them activities and processes that can be unfamiliar to local fire response agencies. [Many of those agencies] are staffed by volunteers trained primarily in fighting structure fires. Departments often don’t have enough water, equipment, firefighters, training, or expertise to deal with fires when such a large amount of flammable material is concentrated in one area.

03/23/2015 at 6:54am

Green's 2014 film "Prince Avalanche."

Filmmaker David Gordon Green is probably best known for his popular stoner comedy Pineapple Express and his HBO series, Eastbound and Down. But he got his start with a handful of thoughtful films that explored the boundaries between family and community in the rural South. After his brief, puzzling foray into commercial comedy, his recent return to independent film provides a new take on old rural issues: outmigration, economic difficulties and uncertainty about the future.

In David Gordon Green’s 2013 film, Prince Avalanche, a woman combs through the ruins of her burned-down house looking for pictures, documents and artifacts. “All of these things are like memories,” she explains. “Sometimes I feel like I’m digging in my own ashes. … How’s anybody gonna prove that I had all these experiences?” In the majority of his films, Green uses the rural South to explore versions of the woman’s question. Are memories stored with communities, families or objects? Why does nature resist memory? Do memories matter in the face of uncertainty?

Green’s first film, George Washington (2000), established him as a keen observer of rural conditions. It tells the story of a dying North Carolina town, where kids watch adults struggle to find purpose after many of the town’s jobs have vanished. A young girl, Nasia, intones, “The grownups in my town, they were never kids like me and my friends. They had worked in wars and built machines. It was hard for them to find their peace.” A train yard foreman confirms Nasia’s observation: “This place is falling apart faster than we can do anything about it.”

03/20/2015 at 9:29am
Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Media Today NetworkA trauma team walks the wooden sidewalks of a Yup’ik village in Alaska. Members of the community requested the team to help them deal with a murder.

Child sexual abuse by Catholic priests traumatized not just individual children but entire Alaskan Native cultures, says Mary Annette Pember in a magazine-length report in Indian Country Today Media Network. The results of this “historical trauma” can be seen in the incidence of violence, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and a range of other mental and physical health issues among Alaska Natives.

The first installment of Pember’s series examines a rapid-response trauma intervention team that is using traditional Yup’ik cultural methods to help communities heal after disturbing events like murder.

It’s worth a read.


Rural school districts could improve teacher recruiting by promoting the non-materialistic benefits of living and working in a small community, according to a report in Slate.

Take for example, the case of Ed Wiest, who taught in a more urban area before moving to Pryor, Montana.

Over the years, Wiest came to appreciate the many benefits of working in a small, rural school—benefits he believes could be more overtly marketed. With small class sizes (usually fewer than 10 students), he developed deep relationships with the students and could easily track their progress from year to year. Being [his school’s] sole math teacher—“I am the math department,” he jokes—feels freeing, not isolating. Wiest chooses his own curriculum, controls the pace of his lessons, and is more empowered to experiment with classroom structure.

The article cites a study that found rural districts rarely highlight non-monetary benefits of teaching in a small town. Another study found that rural superintendents had better luck recruiting teachers when they promoted “the advantages of teaching and living in the area,” as opposed to monetary rewards like loan forgiveness.


Could such a teacher recruiting strategy be helpful in Wisconsin? The head of the Rural Schools Alliance there says rural districts are losing teachers to urban schools that can pay higher salaries and even signing bonuses, says Wisconsin Public Radio. (Can they trade teachers to a different team, too?)

Also in Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker is behind a funding formula change that will reduce overall public education funding but could have a severe impact on small, rural districts.


Disparaging Headline of the Day: “Tech Conference in Middle of Nowhere Attracts John McAfee, Atari Founder & More.” That “middle of nowhere” is Opelika, Alabama, which boasts a 1 gigabit per second broadband network. In terms of digital communication, that puts Opelika at the center of just about anything its citizens and institutions would care to be in the center of. And meanwhile, they get to live in a city of about 28,000 residents. Sounds like a good deal to us.


The National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation lasts throughout the month of April, with cities around the U.S. vying to get the largest percentage of their population to take the pledge. Crete, Nebraska, with a population of about 7,000, is the defending champion for cities of 5,000 to 29,999 residents. Too bad – there’s no category for smaller cities.