There are no boring places, only boring minds.
About two miles up the road from my house lies a little abandoned mining town called Buncom. I drive past it frequently and admire the old-timey vibe of the wooden buildings. But, to be honest, the “town” doesn’t amount much—just the empty shells of a bunkhouse, a cookhouse and a post office. “I wouldn’t recommend stopping here unless it’s on your way to somewhere more exciting,” writes a TripAdvisor reviewer. “Horseflies abound.”
I wonder: Is Buncom even worth writing about?
My college professor Lawson Inada would say ‘Yes’. A former Oregon poet-laureate, he encouraged us to be unhesitant in writing about where we are from—no matter where that place is. It was an important message for us at the time: Our college had little prestige and was far-away from the hip, big cities. Most of the students came from the surrounding rural areas and unheard-of small towns, like Coos Bay and Klamath Falls
I think most of us entered his class with the belief that poetry was the preserve of the extraordinary: for Montemartre bohos in Paris, for tortured artists in New York City apartments, for jazzy coffeeshop beats—people who led big, interesting lives. Not us. So, at first, we pretended—writing big, abstract lines in an attempt to be profound, lines like 'midnight stars twirl and explode in my consciousness'--lines that evoked nothing and meant nothing.
But Inada continued to nudge us toward the ordinary, toward the personal, toward the real. “Are you from Grants Pass?” he asked. “Then write about Grants Pass!”
One of my favorite books illustrates the beauty of this advice. PrairyErth is a 622-page tome about, of all things, a county in Kansas. The amazing thing about that Bible-sized book is that, although it’s about the seemingly empty midwest, it is utterly fascinating. The writer, William Least Heat-Moon, finds the extraordinary in the ordinary, the great within what’s humble.
He writes: “For years, outsiders have considered this prairie place barren, desolate, and monotonous… but I’m not here to explore vacuousness at the heart of America. I’m only in search of what is here.”
Heat-Moon goes on in the book to create a “deep map” of the county—diving into it from every angle: its geology, its residents, its tall grass prairies, its native people. I loved that book, underlined my favorite passages, copied its lines by hand, and from it, ultimately learned how to think like a writer. After reading a book like PrairyErth, one can only conclude: There are no boring places, only boring minds. Afterall, who hasn’t encountered a provincial character who fascinates, or met a world traveler who bores?
And, so, with my wider travels now on-hold, I actively apply my explorers mindset to places like Buncom, a two-star attraction where “horseflies abound” and, at first glance, seems about as boring as its name. I look again at the very ground underfoot, with all of its thistle and rock and learn how to ask: What kind of thistle is it? What kind of rock? Stay Tuned for more about Buncom...maybe even poetry!
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