Honestly, It's Not for Everyone

  1. That’s Nebraska’s current tourism slogan, and it seems perfect to me. Most people from the state (at least among those I know) will freely admit there are no obviously sublime sights, no real mountains, no towering redwoods, no massive canyons, only one real waterfall (and it ain’t much by Niagara standards). But then they will say something like, “it’s got a lot of subtle beauty.”

    And so it does.

    I was born in ranch country, way out in the northwest corner of the state, in the shadow of a rock formation known as Crow Butte, in the small but once raucous town of Crawford, which had grown up adjacent to a major Old West cavalry fort, Fort Robinson. I only lived there the first three years of my life, but that butte and that landscape seem to have been seriously imprinted in my consciousness. My next 20-some years were spent in the eastern half of the state, in farm country rather than ranch country, and later in the city of Omaha. For one glorious year in my late 20s I moved out west again, a little further south, along Oregon Trail landmarks of Chimney Rock, and Courthouse and Jail rocks. I left due to the little issue of having to make a living, so returned to Omaha.

    I have spent the last 20 years in Wisconsin, a state with many redeeming features and nice landscapes.

    But it doesn’t feed my soul.

    This summer I’m planning to make what may well be a farewell tour of my Nebraska roots. Solo. I’ll spend the first long day driving some 600 miles to Grand Island, about a third of the way into Nebraska, along good old boring Interstate 80. From there I will pick up Highway 2, which wends its way through the wondrous Sand Hills, “a place like no other,” and, according to the old TV commentator Charles Kurault, one of the ten most scenic drives in the country, past ranches and open land and rolling hills, sagebrush and tumbleweeds. I’ll end up that day around Crawford, and the next morning I will climb up Crow Butte, and look down on Crawford, and say hello and goodbye to the toddler me who looked up there from the streets below. Perhaps I will drive to the White River canyon, which I know was one of my father’s favorite sites; perhaps I’ll catch the image of the young man he was standing on the banks, his flyrod flicking, and the line curling out into the water. I'll try to visit Toadstool Park, a southern extension of The Badlands.

    Next day I’ll head south, to Scottsbluff, and climb up Scotts Bluff, then out past Chimney Rock, and to Courthouse and Jail rocks. If time permits I will climb up Courthouse, and say hi to the younger me who loved to hang out there. I recall the summer of my year out there when a friend came out from Omaha to visit. He asked what I liked so much about being there. We climbed up Courthouse and iooked west, over open and barren landscape and felt the wind and smelled sage, and I said, “this is why.” And he agreed.

    That night I may camp in the Wildcat Hills, an area of bluffs and canyons. Next day I’ll wend my way back to civilization, perhaps making an overnight in Omaha to see my daughter and grandkids, and finally to Wisconsin.

    I won’t have any fabulous photos to share, but perhaps some subtle ones. But mostly, I’ll feel like I’ve done what I needed to do, and perhaps eased some of this deep and perhaps irrational longing to soothe my inner child. And have made a real goodbye to someplace only some people, myself among them, could love.


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