FLY OVER ME: VALENTINE

Fly Over Me: Valentine is Fly Over Media’s formative documentary project. Launched with a Kickstarter campaign in 2013, the various multimedia elements serve as an in-depth exploration of the lifestyles in the Nebraska and South Dakota sandhills. The region is rightly known as cattle country, but through a forthcoming book, website and short documentary film, the project illuminates the diverse array of communities in the area, each connected through a reliance on and love for the land they inhabit. In total, 10 journalists worked and lived in Valentine over the course of two summers. The following is a preview for the book and film portions of the project, which will be accompanied by an interactive website upon release. Any donations made through this page will fund this project’s completion.


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The Crouse family plays in a flooded street in Valentine on July 30, 2013, after a heavy rainfall. Photo by Lauren Justice.
By Jacob Zlomke

“I’m home for a while.”

Back then, some July Saturday in 2013, we’re sitting on the edge of Brewer Bridge, about 20 feet above the surface of the Niobrara River.

Now I’m trying to get it right on paper when I can’t even emulate the way I heard a stranger say it in passing one hot afternoon.

The “I’m” is barely there, a faint “M” sound affixed to the beginning of “home.” Emphasis on “home” with a big, round “O” sound. “For,” but slightly more like “fuh” with just enough of an “R” on the end to carry the word to “awhile,” all one word.

“I’m home for a while.”

Even on a Saturday at the height of tourist season, the heavy afternoons slug by. The early-morning groups of rivergoers, on tubes, canoes and kayaks have already come and gone. The ones who launched from upriver later in the day have yet to arrive. The Brewer’s Canoers and Tubers crew has little to do in the meantime so we sit up on the bridge of one of the river’s many landing sites and chew sunflower seeds, talk shit and make plans to get drunk later.

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Jason Hoffman, a rancher, walks out of the community building where dinner is being served in Brownlee, Neb., on July 28, 2013. Photo by Andrew Dickinson.

A lone aluminum canoe rounds the wide bend upstream. The gray metal of the craft looks deadly hot in the midday sun.

In small places along the National Scenic River portion of the Niobrara, currents pick up enough speed to cause, not concern, but a little extra attention. But for the most part, especially in July and August when much of the water has been drained for irrigation or evaporation, it’s a river as lazy as they come. So we watch the canoe for minutes on minutes before its passengers turn from two shadowy pillars into two humans, rowing a canoe steadily and confidently. It lacks the laughter of reveling bands of tubers and the nervousness of inexperienced rowers.

The canoe glides closer and closer. Alison, one of the Brewer workers today, stands up when the passenger’s come into sharp relief from the bridge.

“Ethan!”

The young man at the rear of the canoe gently lifts his paddle and lays it across his lap. A camouflage baseball cap with a bill bent dramatically toward itself shades his eyes as he looks up at the bridge. The face is expressionless.

“I didn’t know you were back. What are you doing?” Alison says.

“I’m home for a while,” he drawls.

And that’s it. Ethan sort of answers the question and nothing else is said. He floats silently under the bridge and down the river to the next landing site or further.

I think about it often. Today is more than two years since that day. I imagine Ethan with faintly red hair. He wears blue jeans and a worn-out grey t-shirt on a day, in a place where most, ourselves included, are shirtless and in swimming shorts or bikinis. I imagine him with the self-serious look of a 20-something man educated more by labor than textbooks. This is what I want to see — the idea of a stoic plainsman with few words to which I may ascribe a vastness.

The spare statement has since launched a hundred questions, but none as pressing as the question of home. Most simply, as in: What is it?

What does it mean for you, Ethan, to be home for a while? The answer is apparently weighty enough that the mere fact of it suffices as a statement of purpose.

What are you doing?

I’m home for a while.

Any donations made through this page will fund this project’s completion.

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