Editor’s Letter from Issue 06: Hinterlands

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“We don’t have hills like this in Missouri,” my friend Chris said. He fumbled for words to compare the naked limestone near Wilson, Kansas, to his home hundreds of miles east. “Trees,” he finally said. “We do have steep, rocky hills like this, but they’re covered in trees.”

Words matter. They frame how we feel about a place, what we see in it, and whether we see anything at all. This summer, I asked Missouri high school students for words and phrases they associate with the Midwest. They said: humid, multifaceted, rivers, fields, temperamental, nice, bland, corn, ranch (the dressing), hillbilly, jeans, plains, plaid, kinda there, kinda boring, and “I don’t really know.”

I wish they could have heard author Dan Flores talk about the Great Plains as the most exotic edge of the Western world. For a short time, European earls brought parties to hunt there, and colonizers fell ill with prairie fever. Since hearing those stories, I’ve traversed highways between Kearney and Emporia, Kingdom City and Dodge City, imagining the landscape reclaimed by grass seas and bison herds. It’s easy to see the Midwest as enchanting and varied as the Serengeti (pg 31). Omaha as the magical Land of Oz (pg 47).

Hinterlands, by definition, are areas lying beyond what is visible or known. Issue by issue, The New Territory guides readers through Hinterlands both physical and mental. We do it for the joy of sharing what we love, but also for the actions we hope will result. For as Robert Macfarlane writes in Landmarks, “It is true that once a landscape goes undescribed and therefore unregarded, it becomes more vulnerable to unwise use or improper action.” It is true that telling and reading stories creates the opposite effect.

So here, as always, we’re excited to crystallize “the Midwest” into knowable pieces. Daniel Tyx tours small towns trying new ways to keep their community running (pg 81). Steven Gerkin shares Midwest-born crime novels that were anything but Midwest nice (pg 25).

Olivia Exstrum was a child when the U.S. government raided a packing plant in her hometown. She now revisits the event with clarity, wisdom and unavoidable comparisons to how we treat immigrants today. Finally, Eli Reichman’s documentary of a farm family in North Dakota shaped the theme of this issue. How does life outside of the public eye differ from what we expect? His photographs let the land and people speak for themselves (pg 93).

It’s important to search for words, to access unknown realms that challenge our vocabulary of place. It keeps us connected to our roots and the rest of the world. “It’s Stafford-on-Springfield, Highway 44,/not Stratford-on-Avon,” Elijah Burrell writes (pg 63). Poetry names our places, and we begin to see them.

Subscribe to The New Territory, Purchase Issue 06 here, or pre-order issue 08 here.

Tina Casagrand, Publisher of The New Territory Magazine

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