All posts filed under: Places

Highway 27

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 …

The Bean Broker

Andrea “Andie” Rising, the proprietor of the Bean Broker Coffee Shop and Pub in Chadron, is a lovely contradiction. A ranching child, she relishes the rural life, riding horses and wrangling cattle. “I love to hear the curlews and to smell the meadow. I could be alone for months,” she said. And yet Andie is one of the most gregarious people I have met. “I think it’s so important to be able to talk to people that have had other experiences.” She relishes not just the activities within the building, but the Mildred Block Building itself, which Andie acquired over 15 years ago. Built in 1912, it started life as the New Citizen State Bank and has been many things since, such as a Non-Commissioned Officer Club and an armory. Now, the ground floor contains the coffee shop and pub, as well as Andie’s flat. Upstairs are more than a dozen rooms that are being restored for use by local entrepreneurial tenants. Some of the design features include the original tin ceiling, mosaic tiled floor …

Beautiful Nebraska Sandhills

The natural beauty of the Sandhills area was one of the highlights I was told to expect. Indeed, as I spoke with people in the Valentine area, one of the factors in its success as a small rural town is the natural environment and outdoor opportunities that Mother Nature has bestowed uniquely in this region. Anyone that enjoys the outdoor life, from hunters to hikers, and those that appreciate its visual wonder, from authors to artists, find inspiration and excitement here. Traveling between Valentine and Chadron, I decided to make an overnight RV stop at Merritt Reservoir SRA. I hadn’t expected it to be as delightful. Just three miles north of the recreation area is Snake River Falls. While Smith Falls are the highest waterfall in Nebraska, Snake River Falls are the largest by water volume. Invisible from the road, the pounding noise of water tumbling onto rock greets you first as you walk towards them, before you clamber down into the river’s ravine and see them head on. They are quite a surprise in …

Dannebrog

John thrilled me, as did so many of the people that I met in Dannebrog. I don’t know what ailment John has suffered, but signs of surgery to his throat and an inability to speak were apparent. What I treasure about John, though, was his face-wrinkling, leg extending laughter as the men in the Danish Baker bantered and boasted. After we talked for a while and I had given some insight around my travels into conversations, John got up to leave. A hand like an anvil weighed on my shoulder while his other hand thrust an affirming thumb up gesture. His face lit up with earnest appreciation as he shook my hand. In many ways John reminded me of my father, who died five years ago of throat cancer. Perhaps my affection for the men of Dannebrog is because their earnestness, humility, humor and sense of community is exactly what my father would have relished about this place. It could also be because of people like Tom Schroeder, the owner of the Danish Baker. Alone …

A word on process

When I conceived the approach to a couple of 830 mile long conversations, I had anticipated setting up a table, a couple of chairs and a canopy in a public space in the towns that I visited and then inviting people to talk with me. It was always apparent, though, that the context of each engagement, the vagaries of the weather and the circumstances of the moment would influence this approach. So it has proven. In Omaha, my set up was outside Millard branch library with the planned arrangement. As I moved into rural Nebraska, however, the heat of the day, the locational footfall or paths people took in their daily lives, and timing all affected the set up of the conversation space. In Pender, the public park was entirely empty, but the pool was full of children. Pender’s Main Street was also quiet and would stay that way until the pizza place and bars got busier in the evening. In Wayne, I was able to set up on Main Street outside a popular retail …

Lukas and Mark

The young professional and entrepreneurial spirit in Wayne, Nebraska has a couple of standouts in Lukas and Mark, who own both Rustic Treasures and The Coffee Shoppe adjacent to it on Main Street. Although Lukas could count on both hands the number of similar entrepreneurs, he observed that their slice of Main Street is a vibrant retail hub. I observed in turn that Lukas is vibrant. His enthusiasm is uncontainable and he’s a chatterbox, but a smart, insightful and entertaining one. Mark is the calm and unflappable one, according to Lukas. The success of their business, Rustic Treasures, can be seen in the numbers, in a year growing staff from a couple to six full-time and four part-time and increasing revenues threefold. But it isn’t just their success that caught my attention, it is that they are a paradigm of the entrepreneurial ethos that every community should be seeking and nurturing. Lukas, for example, told me that he cleans the street of trash every morning along their entire block. They use social media not only …