TimManBlog

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Archive for the tag “Nebraska”

September 30, 2014

Today is the last day of September and therefore the final day that can possibly claim any pretense to still being summer, so I’ve pulled together a few photos to honor the occasion.  Mostly photos in this post — the season’s political ads have made me tired me of words.

Sunflower Fields near Pollack, South Dakota:  A lot of South Dakota sunflower fields were ripening in August. The farmer told me that prices were down but yields were up.  Breaking even with last year.  He’s probably already off to Arizona for the winter.

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Canola Fields near St. Andre, Quebec, Canada: Bright yellow canola can turn a plain field into an impressionist landscape.  Nice of them to add the purple flowers along the roadside, though I imagine the more stolid types would call those weeds.  The rocky hills in the background are probably glacial deposits; they form the boundaries of the St. Lawrence River Valley.

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One More Bright Yellow Summer Field — Countryside near Leuven, Belgium:  2 photos of canola fields in Belgium plus a nearby farming village.  These were taken in the month of May, but it sure looks like summertime to me.

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Iowa — Farmhouses, Baseball, Cornfields, Old Churches, and Loess Hills:  The first two photos are from the Field of Dreams farm/set near Dyersville; the third shows late-summer cornfields outside Sioux City; the fourth is a view of the old St. Donatus church in July; the fifth shows a country road winding through the Loess Hills (yes, hills in Iowa!) along the eastern banks of the Missouri River floodplain.  The Loess Hills are ancient accumulations of wind-borne glacial debris.

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The Hot Summer Sun near Scottsbluff, Nebraska:  Scotts Bluff was an important landmark along the Oregon Trail. It rose so suddenly out of the Nebraska prairie that Oregon-bound wagon trains could see the rock formations for days before reaching them.  These photos to me epitomize the summer heat.  Bugs, dust, sweat, sunburn, biting insects, and rattlesnakes enhanced the experience.  In winter the bluffs are subject to blizzards and covered in snow.

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Finally, in the High Country Autumn Comes before September Ends — San Juan Mountains of Colorado:  All these photos were taken in and around Durango and Telluride Colorado in late September, 2012.

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IMG_6514There.  Summer is done for another year as the Colorado aspens introduce autumn once again.

The month of October begins tomorrow.  At the stroke of midnight you may buy your mega-bags of Halloween candy at Walmart without suffering social aspersions.  Enjoy.

Emigrants’ Return: California Refugees in Plattsmouth, Nebraska

July 15, 2012

When you mention “Nebraska” to someone from America’s left or right coasts they will freely associate this term with the words “corn” or “CornHuskers” (the college football team), or perhaps tornadoes or blizzards.  What is often forgotten is that Nebraska’s Platte River Trail was the emigrant superhighway of the 19th Century carrying travelers from the East to the West Coast destinations of Oregon and California.  Back then traffic went exclusively from East to West; yet I’ve found that in our day the emigrants have been retracing their steps.

Founded in 1855 on the banks of the Missouri River near the mouth of the Platte, Plattsmouth is a fair-sized small town, still relatively vibrant even though it lies far off today’s interstate highways.  Back when rivers were America’s highways Plattsmouth was a popular steamboat moorage and trading post.  Its downtown streets were lined with merchants selling goods downriver while also outfitting westward emigrants on the overland trails.  According to local historian Dale M. Bowman, “The area that is now lower main street was the staging point for the South Platte Trail of the Oregon Trail.  For approximately 18 years an average of 12,000 pioneers per month headed west on this trail.” (Early History of Plattsmouth)

The business district of Plattsmouth looks much as it did a hundred and fifty years ago.   The red-bricked architecture has been preserved and the red bricked side streets provide complementary color.

Main Street Plattsmouth with courthouse tower in background

The storefronts are open.  The old hotel — The Fitzgerald — is open for business as well.

The Fitzgerald Hotel (“The Fitz”)

The 1892 Cass County Courthouse towers above the streets of Plattsmouth like a Bavarian castle above its village.  This grand and ornate style of architecture was common in its time; it provided small frontier towns with a feeling of strength and permanence.

Cass County Courthouse. Plattsmouth, Nebraska

Inside the courthouse, old black and white photographs document the town and county’s history.  There have been numerous devastating floods.

By noon it was hot and I was hungry, so I found the River House Soda Fountain and Cafe and stepped inside. Obviously this old building was once a riverport saloon — there was a long bar, fixed barstools, and a pressed-copper ceiling.  Riverboat captains had drunk here.  So had emigrants — anxious to find their fortune in the West yet hesitant enough of the upcoming dangers to take one last draft in a civilized tavern before moving along.

But that was the past.  The new owners had turned the River House into a combination antique store, sandwich shop, and soda fountain.  Free wifi available.  A dozen others were already being served as I sat down at the old oak bar.  I ordered a root beer float and an Italian sandwich.

The River House Soda Fountain & Cafe

Looking around, I could see that the River House was run by a young mother with her two daughters.  (The great majority of small town cafes I’ve seen are run by women, not men.)  Mom was directing traffic. Her mid-teens daughter was the main waitress, enthusiastically taking lunch orders.  Then there was a younger girl, perhaps 7 or 8 years old, scurrying this way and that, trying to help Mom any way she could.

I flagged down “Mom”, a youngish looking woman, and asked if there was a place where I could charge my camera battery.

“Sure, right here,” she said pointing to an outlet behind the bar.

“Thank you. That’s great.”  I handed here the battery but added, “please don’t let me forget it here.”

“No, no of course not,” she assured me but added teasingly “this battery does look a lot like the battery I use for my camera.  If you were to leave here without it…”

“I guess I’ll just have to take that chance,” I added playing along.

“So where are you from?” she asked.

“Colorado,” I answered. “Just travelling this week.  Did you grow up here in Plattsmouth?”

“Oh no. I’m from California.”

“Ah, a California refugee,” I shot back.

She didn’t reply, but instead gave me a wistful smile which I read as ambivalence about having left the Golden State.

I went on.  “There are a lot of Californians just like you moving back to the Midwest.  I met a pair of California refugees in a small town in Kansas.  They were an older, retired couple.  They bought an old bank building and a cafe next door.  They’ve turned it into a bed and breakfast and restaurant.”

She was interested.  She asked me about the particular town.  I thought for a bit and came up with “Oberlin.  Oberlin, Kansas.”

We talked a bit more about how there were so many well-preserved towns in the Midwest before she had to attend to some other customers.

I had my sandwich and my rootbeer float which hit just the right spot.  The food is usually really good in these kind of places and the River House was no exception.

I retrieved my camera battery, paid the bill, said thank you and headed back outdoors into the hot afternoon.  I don’t know what brought them here to Nebraska from California, heading from West to East along the old California Trail.  Perhaps there are no longer good opportunities in California. Or perhaps she wanted a small town atmosphere to raise her daughters.  Perhaps taxes are too high or regulation too strong.  Or maybe it was something else.

But logic tells us that whatever terrible thing the California refugee is fleeing, that thing must be more dangerous to them than Nebraska’s tornadoes or blizzards.

Nebraska corn. The brown “silk” at the eartips mean harvest time is near.

A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.

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