To you Nebraskans, driving from Kearney to Sacramento and back is probably a yawner, but I’m a native Clevelander who feels as tiny as a corn kernel in the sprawling Great Plains. I never get tired of the expanse.
Last Saturday evening, I had dinner at the Speakeasy in Sacramento, a faded village with a historical marker, a few grain elevators and a puzzling sign that says “Slow. Traffic congestion.” My after-dinner apertif was a heady travelogue of central Nebraska
I offered to drive. I was joined by Lori Potter, newly retired Kearney Hub reporter, and Mary Pat Hoag, a retired features writer for the Norfolk Daily News.
We left for the Speakeasy in the late afternoon, passing through Wilcox on the way. I slowed down so Lori could point out the renovations to her old high school and reminisce about vanished businesses in the center of town.
After dinner, I wondered aloud about taking the road north from Sacramento to Highway 6. I’d researched it on Mapquest, but now, in person, I hesitated. It was a dirt road, and as a city slicker, I’m suspicious of dirt roads. Even a bit afraid. There were no warning signs and no red flags, but for some murky reason, these unmarked dirt paths don’t beckon to outsiders. But with two farm women urging me on — Lori grew up on a farm near Wilcox and Mary Pat was raised on a farm near Norfolk — the decision was made. I started up the road.
As I went, Lori looked way way way way way across the plains, practically to the moon, and pointed to a silver roof gleaming in the far, far, far, far far distance. “That’s Holdrege,” she said. “And that over there is Funk.”
“How do you know?” I asked. We were surrounded by hibernating fields and clouds brushing the horizon on all sides, and I knew this scenery stretched all the way to Kansas and all the way west past McCook.
“I just knew,” Lori said. Mary Pat chimed in from the back seat: “When you live here, you know where things are.”
I wanted to argue, “But there are no landmarks, just fields and a few clumps of trees!” But I stayed quiet.
As I slowed at intersections marked Road P or Road R or Road T, Lori told me those intersecting roads are all a mile apart. “How do you know?” I asked. She gave some tangled explanation about square miles.
We were the only car on the road, but I carefully observed all the stop signs, nervous that, if I merely paused, some rusty pickup would come barreling through and kill us all, but none did.
Next came a pasture dotted with cows and romping calves. Lori told me that heifers — I didn’t know what that term meant until I moved here — are brought close to the main barn for calving in case of trouble.
By the time I reached Highway 6, we were having so much educational fun that Lori suggested I leave the main highway and turn onto a paved but lonely road that headed north to Odessa and Highway 30, so I did.
My city friends would say there was “nothing” on this road, but they’d be wrong. I saw houses, barns, sheds, pickups, silos and tractors with fancy sprawling legs attached for — um, planting? We passed a feedlot sprinkled with just a handful of cattle, but Lori said cattle come and go in feedlots.
Meanwhile, Mary Pat sat behind me chatting about “country school.” I’d just assumed that was a school in the country, but no. Mary Pat explained that it was a rural school, maybe one room or two, that served farm kids.
I asked Lori why some cornfields still had acres and acres of chopped stalks of last season’s corn, while in other fields, the stalks seemed to be plowed under. Lori launched into No-Till Farming 101 and its myriad of variations.
Rick Steves, eat your heart out. You’ve got nothing on Lori and Mary Pat.