Friday, June 28, 2013

A History in Song

For generations, history was kept alive through music. It's still true today more than you think it is. Cecelia Otto, an "Artistic Journeywoman" is on a journey across the Lincoln Highway performing songs from the early days of highway travel. KHGI-TV/KWNB-TV/KHGI-CD-Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings

She calls her journey an "American Songline".KHGI-TV/KWNB-TV/KHGI-CD-Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings

You'll be able to see her this weekend in Kearney on Sunday and Monday, in North Platte at the Fort Cody Trading Post Summer Music Series on July 4 at 6pm, then in Sutherland at the Oregon Trail Golf Course on July 5 at 7pm.

Monday, June 24, 2013

How things get done in a small town

My sister-in-law is editor, publisher, reporter, columnist and chief-cook-and-bottle-washer at the Courier-Times, serving the small towns of Sutherland, Hershey and Paxton. She gets a front-row view of how things get done in small towns - very seldom do folks wait for someone else, or the governments (in this case Village Boards of Trustees) to get things done. They roll up their sleeves and do it themselves. Here is her recent column.

It hasn't been that long since people from the community of Hershey came together with multiple fund raising events that helped them achieve their goal of renovating their American Legion / Community Hall. The tall brick building that sits just east of the Kwik Stop in Hershey is a constant reminder of what people can do when they work together and pull together in the same direction. It is what I would call a well-focused effort.

Many of us recently witnessed a similarly good example in the Paxton community with the hosting of what may be the best Cattlemen's Ball that has ever been produced. It took many, many, many hands, and some strong leadership to make such an important event come together.

Whenever these types of events or campaigns occur, there are always reasons to complain. We may think that we could have designed something better, or perhaps we would have had a better policy, or maybe we didn't like how someone handled a particular situation. It is a given that we can always improve, but the focus and effort have to move on.

There comes a time when a decision has to be made - with the best information available - even if we find later that we could have made a better decision. There comes a time when we have to work with what is being done, rather than causing division by nay-saying efforts and complaining.

Words of wisdom from those who have gone before us "A three-strand cord is not quickly broken" (Eccl 4:12). We have a much greater strength when we are focused in the same direction.

Sometimes I think some community service groups look more like opponents in a tug of war than folks working together for the common good. When this happens, it's time to stop and have a talk. Whether it's a community, a church group, a civic group, employees from a business, or a family, communication is not something we can afford to let go. We can take that same statement and replace the word "communication" with "respect". Respect is something we cannot afford to let go.

I'm personally excited about the plans to renovate the Sutherland American Legion / Community Hall, and I'm excited about the possibility of a new facility, also on the south side of the tracks in Sutherland, that would feature offices, a meeting hall and storage for fire department equipment. I think both plans can work in harmony, both can be successful, and both can benefit the area.
I believe we can all work together - for the common good.

Definitely words of wisdom!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Stories: The Wanton Destruction of Trees – October 1919

Laura Ingalls Wilder would have made an incredible blogger. We all know her from the wonderful “Little House” books, but did you know she was a farm journalist and a woman’s activist in the early years of the 20th century? Many years ago I discovered her columns in a book entitled: Laura Ingalls Wilder: Little House in the Ozarks. A Laura Ingalls Wilder Sampler. The Rediscovered Writings Edited by Stephen W. Hines. This book was published in 1991, so it’s about time for the writings to be rediscovered again!

So here it is, from October 1919: The Wanton Destruction of Trees

The American Forestry Association has sent out a plea to make a great national road of memory of the Lincoln Highway by planting trees in memory of our national heroes all along its 3,000 miles.
Historical view of the Lincoln Highway tree lane at Duncan, Nebraska
Besides using our native trees, it is planned to bring over and plant Lombardy Poplars from France, chestnut and oak from England, and cherry and plum from Japan.

This plan for making a living memorial to American heroes has been endorsed by councils of Daughters of the Confederacy; and the Department of the Interior and the Forestry Department are aiding in the work.

For sentimental reasons alone such a memorial would be most wonderful, for while in life our heroes stood between us and danger, their memory would in this way still hover over us and give us comfort and pleasure, linked ever more closely to us by our loving thoughts in the planting and care of the living, breathing monument, which will reach across our common country from coast to coast.

As an example, such a great national tree-bordered highway might help us to realize the unnecessary ugliness of most of our country roads, and perhaps in time, they also may be tree-embowered and beautiful.
A modern view of the still-remaining Lincoln Highway tree lane at Duncan, Nebraska
Motoring on the Ozark highway the other day, I passed over a long stretch of the road where the large, beautiful native oak and walnut trees had been cleared away from beside it, leaving the roadway unshaded, bare, and ugly. A little farther on, I came to a place where the farmers on each side had set out young walnut trees in even spaces along the road in an attempt to put back the beauty and usefulness which had been destroyed by cutting down the forest trees.

It seems such a pity that we can learn to value what we have only through the loss of it. Truly “we never miss the water ‘till the well runs dry.’”.

People painstakingly raised shade trees on the bare prairies; but where we already had the shade and beauty of the forest we have carelessly failed to preserve it, and now in many places must carefully rebuild what we have destroyed, taking years to replace what was removed in only a few days.

While a drive along a shady roadway is much more pleasant than one on a hot and dusty road, still pleasure and beauty are not all that are to be considered. There is also a utility side to the idea of trees along the way, for they help to keep the roadbed in good condition by retaining moisture and preventing washing away of the soil.

In many parts of Europe the fruit and nut trees along the roads bring enough of an income to keep up the roads so that the people pay no road tax. Rather staggering, that idea of self-supporting roads to a people who spend so much for poor roads as we do. Another curious little fact in regard to trees in Europe is that anyone in Switzerland who cuts down a fest tree must plant another to take its place.
Handmade sign denoting the Duncan tree lane
Of course, in the clearing of our great new country, we could not do that; but we have destroyed trees when it was not necessary, seemingly through a spirit of wantonness, and so we have a double task before us; to plant trees where they did not grow and to replant in some places where they have been cut down. The work has been well started in some prairie states. Six thousand trees have been set out by the United States balloon school at Ft. Omaha.

People of wooded districts can save themselves much trouble and expense later by preserving the trees along the roadways, for I am sure the Lincoln Highway will set the fashion which all our country’s roads will follow in time.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

2013 Nebraska Cattlemen's Ball

The beautiful Hanging H Ranch just west of Sutherland, Nebraska was the site of the 15th annual Nebraska Cattlemen's Ball on June 7 and 8. Over the years the Cattlemen's Ball has teamed up with the Eppley Cancer Center and raised over $7 million for cancer research while promoting beef in a healthy diet and showcasing rural Nebraska.
It sure lived up to its mission in 2013, with the Union Pacific Railroad even bringing in a special train from Omaha with VIP's on board to attend the Ball.
The Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center can be seen in the background of the above photo of the special train arriving at Bailey Yard. Below, with 4,000 visitors expected for the Ball, a pasture at the Hanging H Ranch was turned into a parking lot, with shuttles from Farm Credit Services providing transportation to the gate.
Ralph and Beverly Holzfaster and Neal Hansen, hosts for the Cattlemen's Ball, made sure guests felt welcome from the moment they stepped onto the grounds.
Lots of friendly faces greeted visitors in the ticket tent. Local residents from the surrounding communities from North Platte to Ogallala and Grant to Arthur volunteered to help make the Ball a success.
Just in case guests had a little too much liquid refreshment and didn't know where they were, helpful signs pointed the way.
Does rural Nebraska know how to throw a party or what? Thousands of people packed the main saloon tent for non-stop entertainment throughout the day. As rain showers moved through for most of the day, these tents were very popular.
In the Art and Wine tent, North Platte's Feather River Vineyards showcased their award winning wines.
Having this many folks enjoying a great event on a rural ranch in western Nebraska was a perfect opportunity to educate about Nebraska agriculture.
New to the Cattlemen's Ball in 2013, and a very popular event, was the Ranch Rodeo. Here cowboys from several local ranches compete in events that showcase the skills they need every day to do their jobs. Below, both a mother cow and a calf need doctored, so the mama is immobilized while the calf is still on the loose.
The beautiful Hansen Ranch and the still-stormy skies of western Nebraska are the perfect backdrop for this event.
Every now and then, a baby will need supplemental feeding, so these wild range cows will need to be roped and milked. Not an easy task, but these cowboys showed how it's done.
A live auction and a delicious Prime Rib dinner and a concert by Lonestar finished up the evening. Organizers hoped to raise $2 million for cancer research, and through the generosity of bidders, I'm guessing they came close to or exceeded their goal.

If all of this looks like fun and you'd like to participate in 2014, the Cattlemen's Ball will be held on the Hoot Owl Ranch in Harrisburg in the Nebraska Panhandle between Kimball and Scottsbluff.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Prime Desert Woodland Preserve in Lancaster, CA

Theodore Roosevelt said "Do what you can, where you are, with what you have." Excellent advice, and the folks at the Prime Desert Woodland Preserve in Lancaster, California are doing just that.
Details of the straw bale construction of the Interpretive Center
This 100 acre preserve is carved out in the middle of housing developments. I would put it on my list of "must see" in a visit to the Antelope Valley. It is extremely easy to get to and wonderfully done.

And, there is a Nebraska connection - below is a photo of their Visitor Center, which is constructed of straw bales - an excellent choice for the heat of the Mojave Desert. Using straw bales as construction material first started in Nebraska in the 1880's.
There are about three miles of trails throughout the Preserve, and they are beautifully laid out. They wind through a varied eco system, including a riparian area complete with whispering Cottonwood trees.
There are interpretive panels throughout the Preserve discussiong the flora and fauna, preservation efforts and the history of the Antelope Valley. The one below highlights a Creosote bush estimated to be 800 years old!
Joshua trees abound in the Preserve. They are kind of like a Yucca on steroids. The resemblance is complete to the flowers and the seed pods.
My visit was in early June, well into the hot dry summer time. Below, you can see the smoke from the 2013 Powerhouse Fire which burned more than 30,000 acres just west of Lancaster. Much of the brush throughout the Preserve was brown and dormant, but I would well imagine it has its green moments.
Lots of wildlife in the preserve too. Birds like the one below and the crow flying in the photo above, and cute little squirrel-like creatures. Kind of like a cross between a squirrel and a prairie dog. Bushy tail, but seemed to make their homes in burrows in the ground. Naturally, they were too speedy for me to get any photos of.
There are lots of benches along the trail. Since I was there at nearly high noon, I only found one that was shaded, so I took advantage of it! As you can see, the trails are wide, flat and hard-surfaced (though not concrete, which is nice). This was my longest walk since crushing my heel nearly a year ago. According to the Preserve docent, I made it about 2 miles. It is an easy walk, and I would recommend it to anyone. There are a lot of little loops that are shorter.

As you can see, the Joshua Trees are wonderful. There are also a lot of Junipers on one section of the Preserve which makes a great combination. I applaud the foresight of the founders of the Preserve for carving out this little natural niche within the neighborhoods of their city.

It looked to me like the Preserve is well utilized by locals running and walking the trails, but it is great for visitors too.
Of course, it always makes me wonder what other small towns could do with what they have to make life better for their residents and to attract visitors.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sunday Stories: I Remember Sutherland by Rodney Fye Part 5

The final installment of the reminiscences of Rodney W. Fye as recorded in the 1891 - 1991 Sutherland Centennial Book.

Since I left Sutherland, I’ve been to dozens of exotic cities in far-off countries around the world, places I only read about in the Sutherland Library, where most of my hopes and dreams resided in the custody of Mrs. Wilson. She always knew just the book I’d enjoy. In my travels, I’ve sometimes found myself in the company of generals and presidents and movie stars I’d have expected to exist only on the silver screen of the old Star Theatre. I sometimes found myself singing in my heart “if only you could see me now (you folks back home)” at the same time I was half ashamed to admit I was a lowly Nebraska boy from such a poor family in such a small prairie town always referred to as “near North Platte” because no one could ever possibly have heard of Sutherland, though we know now how rapidly that is changing.

In retrospect, it now seems incredible that my generation (SHS class of 1946, give or take 5-10 years) has already had a full life that spans years on a farm without electricity, the replacement of passenger trains by jetliners, the replacement of ice boxes and the ice man with his menacing tongs and leather apron by attractive and functional double-door refrigerator-freezers. The radical transformations in the world over the last 45 years might make it nearly impossible to find anyone left in the world who hasn’t seen a TV or a movie or who doesn’t know what a refrigerator or a light bulb is, even if they don’t have one. It’s hard to imagine now what was when I was growing up. Cars had running boards, that we depended up on a sudden summer hail storm to provide us with the ice for making ice cream after the ice cut from last winter’s frozen Platte River had melted away under the hay in the old ice house, or that we bathed just once a week each Saturday on the farm in water heated atop a wood stove. Yet we considered ourselves modern and up to date because our cars had replaced horse-drawn carriages, we enjoyed movies regularly, and we had begun to have electricity even on farms. The old ways disappeared one by one until even our Saturday night filled with socializing and good fellowshipping are gone, too, but replaced by what? I’m not sure that all we’ve given up in the name of progress has been so all-out wonderful.

After I left Sutherland, I always harbored the secret satisfaction that there remained one quite, innocent place forever untouched by the crime, the big-city violence and ugliness that was the price of living in Los Angeles or San Francisco. I knew that in Sutherland, there lived forever truly dear hearts and gentle people who deserved to stay that way. One place on this planet untouched by the kinds of problems and challenges that almost daily have occupied me in San Francisco. I’ve had my life threatened four times by dangerous, even deadly tenants. I’ve had to put up with drug dealing, prostitution and violence in my apartments, not to mention striking employees, sabotage, embezzlement, fraud, disloyalty and betrayal. I’ve been appalled along with my neighbors at the bloody assassination of a mayor and city supervisor right in city hall the same afternoon by a crazy fellow politician set off by a diet over-rich with Twinkies, according to his defense attorney. The court virtually excused the man from his crime with a slap on the wrist verdict that had him back on the street in fewer years than some thieves. That verdict set off a night of rioting and destruction by an enraged citizenry, the likes of which this city has never seen.

I took immense comfort in the belief that I could always retreat to Lincoln County if city life became too much for me. I knew there existed on this planet an island of peace and sanity called Sutherland. Then one evening I stared in disbelief at my motel TV in northern California as I heard the announcer deliver the electrifying report of a mass murderer loose inmy dear, sweet innocent hometown. There was a brief time that night and in the days following when everyone in the nation and many in the world knew where Sutherland was.

A few months later, I was traveling on the famed Orient Express train from Munich, Germany to Istanbul, Turkey. Imagine my surprise and amazement to pick up a Time magazine someone had left on the seat across from me and to read how a small Nebraska town named Sutherland had become the focus of a story of how local residents were reaching halfway around the world to find Vietnamese refugee doctors to staff their local hospital.

All these events left me with the sad and disconcerting feeling that my hometown had lost its innocence, had been deflowered, that it had joined the 20th century, maybe wiser and more experienced, but infinitely sadder. A Quick glance at the police blotter column, “On the Record” published daily in the North Platte Telegraph confirms it. On the day I wrote this, there were reported seven cases of women and children being assaulted, raped, battered, or abused, three property crimes (theft or vandalism) as well as numerous drug-related crimes, all big-city stuff. I’ve known for some time now, like author Thomas Wolfe, that I could never really go home again, because the Sutherland of my memory no longer exists, though I believe it did once.

I become a big more philosophical each time I return from my nearly annual visit, I often leave more depressed than the last time because I so much miss those I’ve loved so dearly and will never see again in this life, realizing they belong now to the past, as do my memories and as will I, myself, all too soon.

Sutherland with its inevitable changes has come to remind me of the impermanence and fragile mortality of my own life. 

May God bless Sutherland, her dear hearts and her gentle people and help us to hold on to the best parts of our lives, our memories for our children and for our children’s children.