Making my way from Chadron to Alliance and Scottsbluff on the western fringes of the state, I visited Tom and Aleisha at a large ranch in the middle of the Sandhills. Their ranch is along Highway 27 amid the landscape and its people famously and notoriously rendered in the writings of Mari Sandoz. Despite comprising over a quarter of Nebraska and being designated a National Natural Landmark in 1984, Tom said that many Nebraskans know little about the Sandhills. Out east, we are unaware of this vast expanse and its place in our social, economic and historic narrative.
The ranch house was several miles west of the highway along a track acceptable for trucks though somewhat less comfortable in an RV. With people and animals so dispersed, I asked Tom what community means to him. He observed, “You can live in Omaha and hardly know your neighbors at all, and when you live out here there is a whole lot more opportunity to get to know and work with your neighbors. Your neighbors are miles away but you get to know them.”
Tom and Aleisha were welcoming hosts that appeared at ease in this pastoral location, yet sophisticated too in their appreciation and experience of the world. After lunching with them, I left the ranch and kept on down highway 27. The impression of an ocean of grass washed over me. Marking this route, Mari Sandoz lived and is buried among these rolling grasslands.There is a calming solitude to this forever green, though I wondered how I might endure this limitless landscape if I worked within it, especially with weather less serene. I had asked Tom and Aleisha if this lifestyle was lonely, but they said simply that you adapt to your circumstances and come to appreciate the environment. I savored it while I could.