Today I am driving to Seward. It’s been nearly two years since we moved away, and this is my first trip back.
I had forgotten how beautiful Nebraska can be. As afternoon drifts toward evening, soot black trees stand etched against a pale blue sky. Some are near, others at the edge of vision. The full circumference of the horizon is visible. Close to the land, the sky is light and has a few wispy clouds, but as you lift your gaze to the zenith the color deepens to a clear, perfect blue with no sign of cloud at all. Reflected by lakes and ponds, the blue becomes an incredible deep azure, a color so rich it looks unreal. Winter grasses surround every patch of azure water with shades of pale gold—each one a warm, sweet, dry, rustling color.
At the far edge of fields where trees are thick, early blooming brush and silver maple crowd together, their overlapping twigs forming a matrix that looks like red-brown cotton batting. Against this background, tangled black walnut branches and the sweeping arms of elm trees are punctuated by the dark, dark green of eastern red cedar. Clusters of cottonwood, tall and dun-colored, look out over the tops of the other trees, and in low places where water might pool stand slim white poplar. Scraggly lines of cedar and brush grow along fences sectioning the landscape.
But the best are the old trees. In the middle of some fields, magnificent, solitary green ash stand amid the corn stubble, their branches curving majestically outward—iconic images reminiscent of an older time.
In Austin, there are laws protecting trees beyond a certain measured girth from destruction by property developers. This is good. But here in the Heartland, fields and trees are protected by respect. Respect for nature, for beauty, and for the perseverance required to survive heat and cold, drought and flood.
I drive along, surrounded by mile upon mile of open land and gradually I leave the concerns of life in Austin behind. The sturdy beauty of the land seeps into my soul.
I wasn’t born in Nebraska, but it is here that I come home.