THE TRICKLE UP EFFECT
I wondered how many of my former classmates remember what res publica means. Today in Glendo Wyoming I was reminded in a most unlikely place. The scene at Bullfrog’s Grill, which consists of a metal building housing two shelves of groceries a few coolers and wood stove was a discussion about two horses that had been clawed up by a large cat of some sort. No one had heard of a mountain lion (here they are numerous) attacking a full grown horse. “Not much else it could be” one rancher said “unless we are going to accept we have a little bigfoot running around….with large claws”. After a long period of silence.
Another said, “nope not likely”. “A horse could have attacked the fence, somehow tricked the other horses into doing the same”. Again a long period of silence.“Not likely”, the horse owner said “as the claw marks were across the horse and then at a different height down its sides. Plus my fences don’t have claws”. Again a long period of silence. The group decided to move the horses closer to town, the concept of a town being relative. You can see just about all of Glendo from standing in one spot.
I then met Amy, Bullfrog proprietor and she cooked me an excellent burger that hit the spot as we watched a winter storm roll in. Talking with Amy you hear the same story across the West; it’s vanishing. What specifically is vanishing though most cannot say. So I asked how so? “People move here to get away from what happened in Colorado.” I had to think about that a moment because I’m from Colorado and I just moved here. She then explained that Colorado was overrun by folks trying to escape Texas and the Californians. After they were there a while, they lose their minds and start turning it into the same type of place they are trying to escape from. I agreed. “This makes ranchers and common folks down there come up here to Wyoming. An immigration pattern, refugees fleeing refugees, what their running from following them around stuck on them like leeches”. (Note Bullfrog’s sells leeches which are used for fishbait at a nearby lake.) The “trickle up effect” she called it. I agreed Colorado is not what it used to be she has a point.
A pattern of suburbanites fleeing what they have created and then recreating it, and then fleeing it again by trickling up into rural Wyoming is an interesting observation. It might mean urban sprawl is not so much a specific degraded place as much as it is a virus traveling with the host whereever it goes. That observation got my attention. I wonder could it be more culture specific and not geographic?
What exactly is vanishing though I realized I was sitting in. The Latin phrase res publica means this type of public thing like Bullfrog’s Grill. A comon gatehring place. Hannah Arendt describes it as a seat at the common table. To live together in the world means essentially that a world of things between those who have it in common, as a table is to those who sit around it…This public realm she said is what gathers us together. Places like Bullfrogs are the epitome of res publica. It’s two tables are literally the figurative table or the “res” Arendt is describing. They are where we meet our neighbor, discuss the weather, they are not a generic experience and are individualistic to place. If we are to seek a revival of public life in this country or preserve places that still have it like rural Wyoming we must recognize it’s value to community.
It is hard to imagine that a small metal building containing two shelves for groceries and four coolers (one with leeches and night worms) is valuable to defining place. But it is. It is not an abstraction, it is not generic nor can it be replicated elsewhere. Its unique to this spot and a reflection of it’s community. I will be back to the Bullfrog no doubt. And inquire as to the search for a horse clawing cat…or dwarf bigfoot whatever the culprit proves to be.
Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, pp. 52-53.