In June of 2013 I spent a week in Alaska, visiting with family, some of whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years (It’s the first vacation I’d taken since 2003). My previous visit to “The Last Frontier” was in 1993, during Christmas of my senior year of high school. I have two sisters, one brother, four nieces, one nephew, three grand-nieces, and four grand-nephews who call this state home. I stayed with my sister, Sue, in Palmer.
90 degree days greeted us in the Valley, while the cooler temperatures of upper 60’s provided pleasant weather closer to the mountains. The Midnight Sun, our constant companion, kept any bad weather at bay.
Without coordination, my brother Bill who also lives here in Washington, came to visit at the same time. His kids surprised him with it at Christmas. Sue hosted a large family get-together, which included her husband’s family. I met my niece Brittany and my nephew Jeff for the first time.
Both of my sisters, and my sister Joy’s daughter, Brittany, and I spent a day visiting the Portage Glacier, Whittier, and shared an amazing dinner at The Double Musky.
I’ve never spent a day with my sisters. We laughed until we cried, we teased each other, and on the drive home Sue took us to places where she and Joy grew up. It was such a special day for me. Even now, a years later, I tear-up thinking about that time together. My brothers are great, and I’m glad for my time together with them, but there’s something special about sisters.
I didn’t know it until we went there that I’d been to the Portage Glacier outside of Anchorage once before, when I spent a summer with my brother Marty in 1990. I didn’t remember much, except watching a movie about the glacier in a nearby observatory; the movie talked a lot about ice worms.
Despite the constant beauty, I’d been smack dab in the middle of a creative funk that summer, and didn’t really find a zone, but visiting the little town of Whittier woke me up a bit. The local fishing boats tethered in rows along the docks charmed me; it’s well worth the half hour drive, down a one lane road, one way tunnel, THROUGH A MOUNTAIN!
Cruise ships make this town a port of call, and one was in port while we were there.
Time didn’t permit us the opportunity to check out the creepy, abandoned mental hospital in town, but the image of the dandelions in a beer bottle made up for it.
That week last June filled me with so much peace. Allowed me to relax completely. And, filled me with a lot of love for my crazy family.
*recently I was reviewing a draft to post, and came across this little gem. I didn’t realize I’d never gotten it on my blog!
I crossed over the Platte River on my way into Central City, noting to return to it on my way out-of-town. A shallow river bed, muddy islands poke out from its center. Nebraska means “flat water”, which is derived from the native word for the Platte, thus making it the state’s namesake. Platte itself comes from the French for flat.
The Missouri River marks the Eastern border of the state, between Nebraska and Iowa. This also makes it Omaha’s Eastern most border. Not as impressively wide as the Columbia River here in my home state, nor as mythic as the “Mighty Mississippi” which borders Iowa to the East, it’s easily traversed. On its western border in Omaha, it marks a landing site for Lewis and Clark.
A patchwork of highways frame Omaha, taking you anywhere in the city in 15-20 minutes. With a population over 400, 000 it’s a quiet city with minimal traffic. (A most welcome change from Seattle’s constant gridlock). Rolling hills break from the traditional landscape of the Midwest. A lazy Missouri River rolls to the East, keeping Iowa at bay.
Omaha is hot pavement, with nary a tree in sight. I can’t imagine how barren winter must be, once the few deciduous trees drop their leaves.
The Gene Leahy Mall of hand-crafted waterfalls, and artfully cascading steps, point to a condensed cluster of downtown high-rises. The buildings huddle together in defiance of its surrounding agricultural communities. (Even the ever-present grain silos wink at the traveler driving East into the city. Dressed up in the urban-chic of commissioned graffiti).
The Bob Kerry foot bridge angles across the Missouri River into Council Bluffs, Iowa. I’ve heard the locals call it the “Bridge to Nowhere”, as there isn’t much on the Iowa side other than a small amphitheater, a suburban neighborhood, and a nice view of Omaha.
The people of the city are wonderfully down to earth, and the epitome of “real”. Brusk without being brash. Polite but not overly effusive. It’s not a city where strangers meet your eye as you pass on the sidewalk, or share in a polite smile of acquaintance. Yet, the musician/waitress and local glass artist that I met were eager to share with me what they enjoy most about their city.
With only a day and bit of an afternoon to explore the city I regret not making it to The Old Market District. Equally wish I could have gotten some late afternoon shots of the Jocelyn Art Museum and the Durham Museum. But sunburn, and the uncertainty of being alone in an unfamiliar city near night held me back. It’s the only time when traveling alone became a liability.
I woke at sunrise on Memorial Day and headed back in to Omaha (without any coffee I might add, say what you will about the charms of Central City, their lack of acceptable caffeine is a demerit). My plan was to spend Memorial Day in Lincoln, the Nebraska State Capitol. I decided to head East on Hwy 66 through farmland with the vague hope a bathroom and a cup of coffee might avail itself (it did not). I did come across some sweeping vistas and the charming town of Polk. It wasn’t until angling south to reconnect with I-80 East that I came to the town of York and the blessed sighting of Starbuck’s.
I managed to reach the capital building at dead Noon. Hot sun blasted the limestone building, baking the bronze sculpture of “The Sower”, but didn’t diminish from the blue, tile embellishments. Being Memorial Day, the building itself was closed, and the area around it fairly deserted. A mall is under construction, with a design plan intended to herald the capitol building from a block away.
While Illinois is the “Land of Lincoln”, it’s Nebraskan early politics that afforded this state’s capitol his name. Wikipedia tells me that the original town, Lancaster, was renamed Lincoln in an effort by the power brokers of Omaha to prevent the capitol from moving south (due to Southern Nebraskans desire to secede into Kansas). The thinking went, naming the city after the recently assassinated president who ended slavery would make in unappealing to those residents south of the Platte River. 158 years later, it stands as a monument to Lincoln, even including a replica of the Lincoln Memorial monument in Lincoln Memorial Park.
I’ve been told that college sports are an important part of Nebraskan life. Considering it made it into the Father of the Bride Speech at the wedding on Sunday, I’m inclined to believe it. Just a few blocks down from the capitol building is the main campus for the University of Nebraska. I figured it’s as good a place as any to enjoy my salad and journal a bit. Afterwards I ventured into the college bookstore, where I bought a T-Shirt for my trouble. Grateful to the two girls who directed me to a local coffee shop (The Coffee House) where I purchased an iced Almond Milk Latte. (The pretentious hipsters could give the Elliot Bay Bookstore baristas in Seattle a run for their money, but the coffee was excellent).
“Nebraska.” Peabody waived a hand, vaguely west…. “They still grow them pretty guileless in Nebraska. I think it’s all that soy and corn.”
― J.D. Robb, Witness in Death
Driving west along I-80 I watched weather rolling across the sky. Dark clouds would appear and roll steadily south. The promise of sunlight to the north diminished a few squalls of rain. At sunset that bright, orange, ball of light would slip down past the farms in the distance, holding on to the edge of the world until the last possible second. In the morning, it would light up the land, bringing stark contrast to the fluffy white clouds and the bluest of skies.
I’m blessed to live in a town nestled within the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It’s beautiful here, and in my mind nothing compares to the site of Mount Rainer rising up on the rare, sunny, Northwestern morning. However, mountains aren’t the only beauty to see in this country, and what we make up for with mountains, trees, and tangible topography, is weakened by a lack of horizon (unless of course if you’re at the ocean).
For all that we are an industrialized nation, so much acreage of this large country is dedicated to abundance. Grain silos explode into the skyline in each small town found along the train tracks and highways that crisscross the state of Nebraska. Rolling green crops, and brown earth teeter off as far as the eye can see. Farm co-ops, equipment repairs and sales, and grain and feed stores dominate retail.
I left my home at 3:30am on Saturday, May 24th and headed to Sea-Tac Airport for a 6:00am flight that would ultimately bring me to Omaha, after a brief layover in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. 198 miles west of Omaha, lay my destination: Central City, NE; population 2,934.
There is a sweetness to the air out in the middle of the prairie; it’s a gentle scent that compliments the quietness of a quintessential, small Nebraskan town.
In town for a friend’s wedding, Beth’s family arranged for the out-of-towners to stay in the girls dorm of the Christian school that the bride herself grew up attending.
Stepping out of the car, the scent of fast-dying lilacs assailed my senses, adding a touch of spring to the heavy musk of the humid night air. Simple and complete, the dorms offered all the necessities of home – once I propped a chair against the door to keep it shut, that is!
Alone on the school’s campus the next day, I took advantage of the bench-swing I spied upon my arrival the previous evening. The wind blew alternating cool and warm, depending upon the cloud cover; the humidity obvious when it stilled.
Of note: birds fill Nebraska’s skies. Brave birds that dive for food in front of 60 mph car tires. Melodic birds who serenade all through the night; their songs dance along the swaying trees in the ever-present wind. Their sounds a welcome reprieve from the crows and stellar jays that populate the Northwest. A lovely red cardinal (to my uneducated eye) took a break atop my red rental car before flying away; none-to-happy I disturbed its camouflage. I swear I heard an owl off in the distance.
The largest bumblebee I’ve ever seen causes me concern, dancing around the grass beneath my seat.
It’s peaceful here. Meditative.
This beautiful, brick building dominates the campus. Out here, tall things grab your vision. Built in the 1800’s as the home for Nebraska Central College the building stands pristine and aristocratic next to the other, utilitarian facilities. Upon closer inspect, though, its age peeks out through peeling paint, broken roof tiles, and cracked/discolored brick.
The train tracks tri-sect a town dominated by a grain silo; a monolith on the horizon that reminds you how critical farming, and in particular corn, is to this region of the US. An IGA serves as General Store, selling sundries, supplies, and food.
I wouldn’t describe Central City as a sleepy town, maybe tired is a better adjective. While the modern parts of the town (a hospital, parks, fields and schools) take on the suburban nature of any community, vacant brick buildings populate downtown. A closed theater gives one a glimpse of more prosperous times for the area’s county seat.
The last two days I spent developing the photographs from Nebraska, which I’ll be sharing over the course of the next week. I think these make up for the four days of the 365 Project I’m behind on.
You may ask why I decided to visit Nebraska, instead of say…Chicago, or Germany…
…Truthfully, I doubt I’d have ever visited this particular Midwestern state, if it wasn’t for my friend, Beth, who married Jonathan Keim on May 25th.
I believe the best way to get a feel for a place is to drive it. While I did spend time exploring Omaha’s museums, and tourist attractions, a significant amount of time was spent touring Central Nebraska, killing time before the ceremony and reception. The day after I drove back to Omaha, but stopped first in Lincoln to visit the state capitol on Memorial Day. I spent a full day in Omaha, before returning home on Wednesday.
So different from my native Pacific Northwest, I played around with bracketing and learned HDR in Photoshop, finally. (The above image isn’t an HDR image, but it’s my favorite, so that’s why it’s my teaser). I found the change of scenery inspiring, and though I didn’t to everything I hoped for, it was a nice break from the routine of life. That’s what vacation is supposed to be, right?