Limon, Colorado is a friendly place set down in a wide loneliness. From the Spanish word for lemon, limón. But pronounced Lie-man, in this town. Were there fragrant groves, the bare arms of women reaching up? If so, no longer. The main employer, now, is a mixed custody Level IV prison.
August 4th, 2016. There were blinding God-rays pouring through clouds as I entered Colorado from Kansas. Darkness falling as I pulled into the sloping parking lot of Limon’s Holiday Inn. A ten hour drive from Omaha, if you don’t take the fastest route. Yes, I wanted off I80, dipping farther south as I made the first leg of a drive to Snowmass Colorado, to meet up with my husband, Jim, at the end of his three weeks of throwing clay and stoking wood-fired kilns at Anderson Ranch Art Center. A happily married woman who loves a solitary, meandering drive. My own eyes, my own thoughts, my own backache and pee stops.
Today I got what I wanted, a journey on smaller roads, from my home in verdant eastern & south central Nebraska, from rolling muscular waves of intensely cultivated land, from the Platte to the Republican River Valley, flattening out to Kansas and gradually drier terrain of cattle ranch, horse farms, and the ubiquitous corn corn corn, some beans, some sorghum, some alfalfa but not much, and of course grass. Huge fresh bales on the recently harvested fields. A blessed absence of large field equipment on the roads, the first harvests having passed, the next harvests yet to come. A palette of dull and shining golds, of tired greens and zingy ones. An occasional long low building with fans and feed silos attached, no signage, which generally means pig CAFO. Some kind of CAFO. Which always makes me sad. I want to look away. That’s why, of course, there’s no signage. But I also see cows on open range, cows wading awkwardly into creeks. Standing blissful in muddy water. Black Angus, mainly, but some others I recognize, Hereford, Charolais. Even a big herd of Belted Galloways. From the thin pasturage and windy moors of southwest Scotland. And a few Piedmontese with their delicious tender flesh that is not produced from grain-feeding but from the microscopic fat cells in the fiber of their flesh. Everything delicious goes way back in time, folks, takes time, too, despite what Monsanto will tell you. And everything we eat, except for a few things like aronia berries and sunchokes, goes back to some place foreign. But let’s not get into prairie politics—we’re feeding the world, blah blah—or not yet, anyway. I love a good steak. Even better, a juicy hamburger! Let’s just say I see a lot of cattle transport trucks on the road. Lots of beef going to slaughter. Eighteen happy months and one very bad day, as they say in these parts.
But I forgot to mention stopping for lunch in Holdrege, Nebraska, where Nebraska Rural Living has its beating heart, Betty Sayers. She was right around the corner, but I had not met her yet. I enjoyed a nice meal of chicken tacos, beans and rice at El Agave, a family restaurant. I asked for hotter salsa and got a bottle of the wonderful Cholula hot sauce. I kept slipping around on my chair—was it the hot sauce or the polyurethane slathered over manic scenes of old-timey Mexico? I had a good view of the silos, those standing stones of the Great Plains. God, I love these contrasts.
Sunny skies, heading out again, heading south-west into Kansas, sun overhead, skies with many interesting and different clouds, skies doing their We-Are-Much-Bigger-Than-You-Are thing. Which I find deeply reassuring. Thank you, skies of the Great Plains, for being clear about that.
Deeply courteous people in these parts, people who look me in the eye, offering nothing unless I’m fool enough to need help, as I wind my way up onto the Colorado Plateau, people clearly of a different tribe from whatever my tribe is, but that’s okay, that’s the point!
This being my first post for Nebraska Rural Living, I’ll tell you up front that I’m not from these parts. I’ve settled in Omaha but I’m from the east coast. Someone who likes being an outsider. A stranger in a strange land. Among people who do not see the world, let alone me, the way that I do. Mostly I like it. Because, let’s be honest, I don’t have to bed down with the people I run into. Like the guy with more than 25 American flags stuck at crazy angles into a pile of rocks and broken down furniture near the entrance to his driveway, who’s built a berm around his house. A house too far back from the road that I’m on now, Highway 24 heading out of Limon, for me to see if there’s a moat with crocodiles inside that berm.
I’m a writer who loves to cook. Here’s my recipe. Flour freshly ground from grains of research. Moistened with the waters of observation. Fermented with the yeasts of imagination, which must—always, always—be gathered from a specific place and local airs. A touch of salt, for preservation, not nostalgia. A form of honesty that is more volatile and wild than literal. The proud humility of a writer who knows she needs the world more than the world needs her.
Thank you, Nebraska, for being the unlikely place that snatched me up out of Massachusetts by the hair—a story for another day—shook me, and dropped me down in Omaha. Which I adore. Yes, I adore Omaha! No wait-and-see, don’t-show-your-cards, Midwestern caution for me! I’m still the same person who started out as a child on a farm in Vermont, with all sorts of farm animals, and farm chores, as well as imaginary friends. A child alone, wandering through fields, down dirt roads, through forests, and along the shore of Lake Champlain, looking, listening, wondering. Singing. Making stuff up.