Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An Excerpt from The Traveler's Guide to Oklachusetts

Oklachusetts is an old state, one of the first in the Union. Colonists from the Old World settled the eastern half early in the 17th century, establishing industries along the rivers and coast in hopes of forging a better life. But it wasn't until the late 19th century that inhabitants, spurred by overpopulation and an insatiable thirst for natural resources, finally crossed the imposing Ouchishire Mountain range that forms the state's central spine. These pioneers discovered a rugged beauty that defied their powers of description.

One notable exception is The Diary of C.A. (Charles Astor) Lazdowskos, recently discovered wrapped in cheesecloth in a basement in New Lawton. A riveting if somewhat untempered account of the hardships and wonders of settling the western half of Oklachusetts, Lazdowskos's Diary became an instant bestseller upon its publication in 2002. In one particularly poignant passage dated April 28, 1889, Lazdowskos describes how Oklachusetts's two halves

seem determined to outduel one another for the claim of Most Sublime....Looking out over this foreign tall grass waving to and fro under the wind's relentless charge, yea, waving even to the very horizon, the smell of fresh grass baking golden in the sun and the stalks' ceaseless sussurations, one cannot help but recollect the mighty ocean stretching to infinity away from Boskogee harbor, the majesty of salty air, the insistent lurch of the tide, the overwhelming sense of something larger than you, of being alive, of being small and happy in the midst of grandeur. Coming down the western slope of the Ouchishires, confronting the endlessness of these wild plains opening up before us, we tired pilgrims feel as ones returning from a long vacation--ancient, timeless, wiser. We are happy to be Oklachusans: east or west, our world is possibility.

Coincidently, that last line has sent literary scholars scurrying to the stacks in a frenzy of bookish glee. As it turns out, Lazdowskos had departed for the west from Amherst, home to our state's finest poet, Emily Dickinson, who once wrote, "I dwell in Possibility-- / A fairer House than Prose." A guest log from the Hoffman Hotel located three doors down from Dickinson's family residence confirms Lazdowskos had spent some months there in 1884, just a year before Dickinson's death and five years before Lazdowskos would lead the westward charge. Since Dickinson only published a handful of poems in her lifetime, and the one in question wouldn't see the light of day until her Collected appeared in 1893, it's safe to say that Lazdowskos and Dickinson were, however briefly, intimates. No visit to Oklachusetts is considered complete without a stay in the quaint frontier town Lazdowskos himself founded and where he spent the rest of his days: Possibility, population 457.

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