Trials, travails generate tales for Buffalo Commons

Friday, June 3, 2005
mary Ellen Goodenberger and Walt Sehnert will join other storytellers in all their glory in next week's Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival.

Drs. Deborah E. and Frank J. Popper of New Jersey insulted a goodly portion of Americans with their 1987 metaphor suggesting that the Great Plains of America be returned to a "Buffalo Commons," an area of light land use controlled by the federal government.


Hardy inhabitants of the middle section of America haven't learned nothin' living out here on the Great Plains, staring down the challenges of rain and no rain, crops and no crops, business or bust, heat and cold, wind and and the calm before the storm.

The very cycles that the Poppers determined were the reasons to depopulate the Plains and repopulate with buffalo are fodder for memories, and for the stories, the songs and the poems of the Plains people.

Nine years ago, the Plains people, particularly those of Southwest Nebraska, turned the Poppers's insult into ingenuity, twisting the couple's own words into something uniquely wonderful -- "The Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival."

The ninth annual storytelling festival -- Friday and Saturday, June 10 and 11 -- will bring to McCook people who love life on the Great Plains -- people who take inspiration for their stories and music from the weather, the land, the animals and the people that the Poppers thought were so undesirable ... so dispensable.

On the second day of the festival in particular, singer, songwriter and Texas trou-badour Andy Wilkinson will revisit the Buffalo Commons theory of the Poppers. According to festival organizers, Wilkinson will "hold forth on the future of the High Plains -- cowboy style."

Wilkinson's down-home dissertation will begin at 11 a.m., at the Bieroc Cafe in downtown McCook.

The tales and travails of Southwest Nebraska farmers and ranchers will take center stage at 12:30 p.m., also at the Bieroc, as storytellers Mary Ellen Goodenberger of rural Trenton and Walt Sehnert of McCook will host "an old-fashioned coffee clatch" -- subtitled, "You have to be delusional to farm in Southwest Nebraska" -- for the locals. Mary Ellen and Walt say, "Bring your best story ... enjoy your neighbor's best story."

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