Nebraska in February

Menter_farmstead_(Big_Springs,_NE)_3
Menter Farmstead, Big Springs, Nebraska.

Jagged stubbles of corn lie in parallel rows. They stretch away on tawny fields as far as the eye can see. The wide sky is wintry pale, dissected only by the vapour trails of jets, and it seems larger than life, with no hills between where I stand and the horizon, no matter which direction I look. Deciduous trees form random clumps. Bereft of foliage, their skeletal branches are exposed to the elements.

With the melting snow and ice comes an intense smell of cattle. Indeed, the countryside is dotted with farmlets; each has large reddish-brown beasts grazing the corn stubble, or standing in pens set upon rich, dark earth. Ancient barns contrast with shiny metal silos. Houses are picturesque – mostly painted white with steep-angled, grey shingle roofs and gables.

In the shady places where a little icy snow still lies, the earth is hard and frozen underfoot. Every blade of grass is dead and brown. The roots lie far below, waiting for warmer weather before sending their tender shoots upwards.

Yesterday we drove to nearby Branched Oak lake, and as I stood in the setting sun gazing out across the wide expanse of blue ice, a huge flock of Canada geese honked loudly from their roosting place at the lake’s centre.

For a person accustomed to hills, mountains and the ever-present sea, to trees that retain their foliage all year round, to grass that still needs mowing in the heart of winter, the very vastness of this land astounds me. As does the uniformity of colour – the blue of the daytime sky, the pale gold of the vast, rolling fields, the grey and white of the houses.

There is contrast, too. In the bright colours splashed on the landscape by progress. Every gas station or fast food outlet sports an enormous pole with a garish advertising sign on top. And there are fat round water towers, painted blue or white, which break the line of vision.

Every evening, the sun sinks low on a flat horizon and the sky is lit with flaming fingers of orange, rapidly changing to crimson, to ruby, and suddenly to midnight blue. The great dome above becomes awash with stars, the air becomes crisp and frosty, and the silence of the winter’s night descends upon us.


Adapted from a piece first published in Nerdnosh Vol. 4, #49; Story 4 — Feb 19, 1996

 

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