Saturday, January 23, 2021

Nebraska, It's Not For Everyone

The post title was in fact a state advertising campaign. I thought it was hilarious, but not everyone did and it was quickly abandoned. There's truth in it though.  For a bit of light diversion I thought it might be fun to tell you about where I live. I found some old photos to better illustrate the Nebraska Experience for people that have never been here. 

January 2006-it snowed a little! 
There's a driveway beneath all of that, though if memory serves, it was days before we were able to get out. Sometimes I miss rural living, but then I remember how hard it was in winter. On the positive side, if I could make it out the drive, our county road was on a school bus route, so it got ploughed first.   Maybe not ploughed to the standards people have in the city , but good enough to be drivable for most cars/trucks. Beyond that stand of trees is a wildlife area that was open to fishing and hunting. That didn't stop people from coming up in the driveway to hunt. If I'm generous, I could believe people didn't know that the house and drive weren't part of the wildlife area. That's being awfully generous, but yeah. Today's tip is to ask permission if you want to hunt on someone's land. Most people will say yes, but you should ask first. 
I think this was the first time I let Dan play in snow. Might have over-dressed him in a snowsuit and a ski jacket (sent by my late friend Evelyn because she must have thought it was all cowboys and Indians out here and we wouldn't be able to find outerwear that wasn't buffalo hides). Poor kid had so many layers on he could barely walk or move his arms. This was the back door to the mudroom. It led to the kitchen. Our storm cellar was under the mudroom, and that's where we rode out the tornado in 2008. Today, that little boy can't be bothered to wear a coat unless it is below zero outside,  and he has closed all the vents in his bedroom because he enjoys sleeping in a cold room. Typical Nebraska conversation:
Ma: Where's your coat? 
Kid: In the car
Ma: I hope it is keeping the car warm. 

I have had elderly strangers scold me for not wearing a coat when it is close to 60 degrees F. 
"Well what about a nice windbreaker? You should find yourself a windbreaker." For the record, I haven't seen anything resembling a windbreaker (a thin nylon jacket) for sale in at least 40 years. 
Anyway, here's a photo with a baby for scale. There's a sidewalk under there, somewhere. Note the garage, and the car sitting in the snowy driveway. Nebraskans don't keep cars in a garage-that's for lawnmowers, bags of lawn fertiliser, cool metal implements you bought at a farm auction. It could go in the shed, but that's already full. I've yet to meet anyone here that uses a garage for their car. 

The barn is no good for storage-it is full of scrap wood, feed, and tools. 

Eventually the snow melts in spring, but then the dirt drive becomes a muddy mess.  Nothing a chain hitched to a tractor can't pull you out of, but still a mess. If you squint, you can see some cattle in the upper right corner of the photo. We moved to the city when Dan was 8 1/2, but he has a healthy fear of livestock (it isn't just bulls that will charge), farm machinery, wells, and septic tanks. Most farm kids do. I'm glad he had that experience and hopefully it will serve him well when his friends want to do dumb things like driving 100 mph down a dirt road because they think no one is around (spoiler: Sometimes there's a tractor). 

I always wondered if the salon owners were being sarcastic. Still, that's not the sort of thing you'd see in a big city. I've never been to a tanning salon. My mum was rather partial to them in the 80s, but I have to think even she would have been hesitant to visit a salon called Three Mile Island*. 

You know you're a Nebraskan when you have an album of photos with pictures taken beside heavy machinery.
I mean, why wouldn't you want a photograph beside a giant excavator? 
If you're a Nebraskan, there's also likely a photo of you in front of a grain elevator. Of course there is-that's the tallest structure in town besides the water tower. Baby provided for scale. You might notice Danny had a case of wry neck when he was born. We straightened him out with physical therapy and exercises (which he screamed through) but I'll never forget the woman who looked at him in the grocery store and said, "What's wrong with him?! Why is is head all floppy like that?" Some people don't have filters. I think I tried explaining how it happens (the baby curls up in the womb and prefers that position once they're out, etc.) but if it happened today I might have had a more pointed response. Anyway, my floppy headed little baby is once again a good measure for scale in the photos. 

Many Nebraskans have a good old dog to keep them company. Well, the dog was old anyway. And lazy. I'm sure he rode back to the house in the wheelbarrow. He lived to 17, and is buried on the farm. 
March in Nebraska means visiting the farm store and trying to resist bringing home ducks and chicks.  By some miracle, I never did which is a good thing because I know they would have died of old age and never ended up on the dinner table. Raising poultry is a bit of work, and they're prone to infections that you need to isolate and treat. I know everyone thinks a pet chick or duck is nice for Easter, but trust me-you don't want to do that. As for people that dye the chicks pastel colours for Easter to sell knowing they'll be "Set free" by parents that can't be bothered...please don't do that. Chicks can't fend for themselves in the wild and will just end up some feral cat's dinner. Do the right thing and visit the chicks-and then leave them at the store for people that know how to raise them. 

Back in 2009 on the blog, I wrote a little song about keeping poultry healthy:

If your little birdie is lookin’ sort of dirty

Call your vet.

If your poor old chicken has a cough that’s really kickin’

Call your State poultry diagnostic lab.

If your duck has green diarrhea, droopy wings, and doesn’t see ya’

Take her out.

And wash your hands.

If your bird’s eggs are gross misshapen

And the wattle’s really gapin’

Take it out

(And scrub your shoes with disinfectant).

If your rooster’s not so large and has a thick nasal discharge

Call the vet.

If the swans begin to sneeze it might be Exotic Newcastle Disease!

Call a vet!

Some creepy genius guy from MENSA

Caught Avian Influenza

When he stuffed and mounted a pheasant head

And now poor Einstein’s DEAD!

Don’t play with dead birds your find in the wild!

And don’t eat them either.

If you must handle a dead bird with your fingers or your toes

Please don’t go rubbing your eyes

Or pick your nose.

Get some water. Get some soap. Call the State!

Why did the chicken cross the road? Who knows? He might have been sick!

Don’t take chances

Call the State!

And wash your hands.

And don't touch. 
Now that's the quality content you come to the blog for.

Moving along...
So what's there to do for fun in small town Nebraska? Well, if the owner of the local car dealership owns an antique firetruck, he might just take you, and your parents for a ride. If you're well behaved, he might even let you clang the bell. 
Your dad will have to hang off the side to keep you from falling out. Mama's hanging off the back of the truck protecting no one but herself.
That firetruck would come out every summer for the town's Days celebration, and again for Halloween. There were only a few streets in town to drive up and down, but the kids loved it. He's since retired and sold the dealership, but I suspect that truck still comes out once in a while.

Here's something every Nebraskan can relate to. If there's livestock, there's going to be flies. How many flies depends on how good your hygiene and management of the lot is. Unfortunately, we lived next to someone who didn't do a very good job. Was this what inspired Danny to see a future in exterminating? Who knows? I'm sure it had some influence. His first sorta-complete sentence was, "Flies mama, flies!" Thought it sounded more like, "Fwies." First warm sunny day in spring and they'd come pouring in through the widow gaps, floor vents, and anywhere else they could fit. Fly paper would last a day before needing to be replaced. It was horrifying, disgusting, and painful (those brown flies bite) but it would usually settle down pretty quickly until the first cold day in autumn when the flies would panic again and head straight for the warmth of the house. Anyway, my little "Fly Hunter" got pretty skilled with a swatter, though I had an old ballerina slipper I'd employ for serious cases. At any rate, it wasn't as bad as field mice running for the house as soon as the corn was cut down in harvest time. I never had flies pounce out of a cabinet when I opened the door, hit my head, then the ground, and then run out the door before I could comprehend what happened. But yeah, flies.
At least his last bite was expensive cheese.

There were snakes too! Bull snakes. They look like rattlesnakes and even do a pretty good job of shaking their tails to frighten predators, so you'd be forgiven if you mistook them for a rattler. Bull snakes are harmless (though it will hurt if you get bit) but they're BIG. I mean really BIG. Five feet long. And wide. Big, big, harmless stupid snakes that liked to hang out in the mudroom (fine) but occasionally wandered into the kitchen (not fine). I have to think that's just part of the Nebraska experience that you get up for a drink of water in the night and there's a five foot snake curled up in the corner. I chased it off through the back door yelling after it to, "Eat some mice while you're in the mudroom."
If you're lucky enough to have farm cats, they'll help keep the snake population down (though you find snake heads all over your lawn because they pop off the heads and then eat the bodies like noodles). 
Every once in a while we'd find a snake in winter, but they'd be small like this one. 
"I am snek. I am smol."

Living next to a wetland, we also had our share of frogs. They'd jump up on the windows at night making a plopping noise that would scare the daylights out of me.
"Hello human. Do you have any flies?"
"Oh certainly, come right in."

I didn't mind the frogs. I miss hearing them at night.
Another familiar sight to Nebraskans-the Turkey Vulture. 
Came home to this one afternoon-like they were waiting for me. Sometimes I like to shout at them that I'm not dead yet.  This was the hay barn being re-built after the tornado. Oh yeah, we get tornadoes in Nebraska. That was a mess. We do get all manner of extreme weather, but every region gets something. I'd prefer a tornado to an earthquake. 

I didn't think I'd end up a storm spotter, but Danny wanted to take the class, so I figured why not? I've only had to call something in to the weather service once. 

On the roads...
If you're driving down a two lane highway and someone is headed the other way, lift a finger to "wave" and every so slightly nod your head. I don't know why we do it, we just do. More of a rural thing than urban, but I've had people do it in Omaha too. 

This was our home library. The short bookcases in the front are double-sided so it was a bit like walking through a labyrinth on the other side. I home schooled Danny until he was 14, and having a home library while not essential, was helpful. I definitely had a better collection than our town library that consisted of two bookcases in a trailer. We've since whittled down the collection. 

Another part of the rural Nebraska experience is your neighbour's cattle getting loose and coming over for a visit. 
"Let's go eat the grass at Goody's"
"If I hide in the hay bales, maybe they won't notice."
"Nice a shame if I charged it"

"Okay, let's help them mow this grass..."
Danny thought a sign might serve as a warning, but cattle aren't good readers. 

Admittedly, even the bull was pretty tame and accustomed to being fed by humans, so I was wary, but not petrified. I learned that had I really needed to get to my car,  leaving a trail of cereal in the opposite direction would be enough to distract them. Cattle are really only concerned with eating. One time a new neighbour from a few miles down the road lost his long horned rare breed bull which showed up in our yard surprising the hell out of our little poodle. We didn't know him, but he was a sort of hobbyist farmer that hadn't really thought through the whole enterprise and was gone in a year or so. Now, that bull scared me because it looked like an ox! Anyway, if you're visiting Nebraska and someone is moving their cattle across the road, just turn off the engine of your car and wait the few minutes it takes. Honking, or trying to cut through a line of cattle won't win you any friends when the farmer has to go round them back up. You'll get where you're going shortly, just hold your 

I hope you've enjoyed your visit to rural Nebraska. Next time, I'll take you into town, and maybe a "real" city. 


Bibi Maizoon said...

Hah! I love it. I guess not surprisingly there are quite a few similarities to living near the edge of town here in Nepal or rural Sonoma county where I was raised.I didn’t know the Midwest had so many snakes, makes sense considering all the rodents in the grain crops. We have huge, non aggressive rat snakes here in Nepal. I gave up chicken farming when Bird Flu requiring biohazard teams to exterminate the entire flock became a monthly event in Nepal for like 2 years.
The insects bother me the most as far as country living goes. Even in relatively mild California the flies and mosquitoes were 20x what they were in any city I have lived in. My painful run in with Asian hornets here in Nepal has made me reluctant to swat at anything flying ever again.
I kind of miss the sacred (but dangerous) cows roaming now that our streets are paved and we have a homeowners association banning them. I can attest to bulls and cows charging and goring, especially if you are carrying a bag of apples as I was when chased over a brick wall to safety! Still see shepherds bring herds of goats and water buffaloes by in Winter.
Always love seeing Danny’s baby pics!
Stay safe, xox

Polyester Princess said...

What an entertaining read, which had me chuckle and shudder in equal parts! The flies alone would be enough to put me off, but add snakes, itinerant cows and vultures into the equation, and I assure you moving to small town Nebraska is now definitely off the cards. Danny's sign is just brilliant, especially the very forbidding Ever! xxx

Emily said...

I've never noticed any one-finger waves on Pacific Northwest roads, at least not the friendly kind. You Nebraskans are a very civilized people.

The cat lover in me squealed in delight when imagining the barn cats at the backyard "noodle" buffet. But when I imagined what it would be like to find a big snake in the house late at night, I shuddered, then laughed when you told it to eat some field mice on the way out the door.

Are there many spiders in rural Nebraska, and are they big? Because that is what I fear the most.

Goody said...

Asian hornets are no damn joke-you're lucky to be alive. I am so scared they're going to get established in the US. I mean, killer bees is one thing but murder hornets...*shudder*
The western and southern parts of the state have rattlesnakes, but so far Omaha has been clear of them. Mountain lions tho...

Honestly, the flies are the worst part, and it isn't constant. The thing that terrifies me are something called a wood roach, which looks like a giant beetle, but it flies. They live outside but occasionally get indoors and they're just horrifying. I know they're harmless but...

The farm cats would go after their share of birds too, which I couldn't do much about. We have several interesting spiders in Nebraska ranging from the poisonous Brown Recluse to the giant Wolf Spiders. Brown recluse, like they're name indicates try to avoid people and will scurry if you come across them but it is wise to check your bed and shoes, just to be safe. Typically they hide in closets, unused drawers, boxes, etc. If I haven't gone through something in a long time, I give it a cautious opening. Wolf spiders are harmless, though their bites will cause quite a swelling. They're tarantula sized which freaks people out. I don't mind them, but if you are afraid of spiders, rural Nebraska might not be for you :)

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the guided tour of your Nebraskan experience. Nebraskan life seems so curious to me. That is one of the best parts of reading these blogs. I just can't imagine living where everything is so open. I live in a wooded and hilly part of Montgomery County Pa. There is a large flat rock in the woods outside our window where the turkey vultures gather each spring to mingle and mate. Pretty funny to think of such gawky creatures enjoying each other so much. They probably have been meeting on that rock for eons.

Gail from Pa

bahnwärterin said...

what a wonderful post!!
love it! especially your library - my younger self would felt like in paradise between all the books!
little danny in the snow reminds me of my own childhood (and youth) in the erzgebirge - the winters! but not much people had a car anyway and if the early bus did not came thru after a very snowy night the menfolk of the new housing estate got on their ski to reach the workplaces on the other side of the mediaval town :-D in my youth i worked in a leather clothing factory in a 2-shift system and in winter the last bus a quarte before midnight did not go 4 of 5 times.... so we walked - 3 girls who lived in the same hood - half´n hour in snow & ice. we never got a cold or influenca :-D
the "animalic adventures" only came to me after moving into the BWH: but sheep instead of cattle thankfully.... one morning a found a 60cm snake in my garden clog - where lisbeth had stored it - a bit scratched but alive.....don´t mind to meet them in the garden thought. an population of fat & huge spiders in the house for the first years - it was unused for over 10 - we sorted that out by a genozid...... still spiders in every corner but mostly the thin and not frightening category..... thankfully NO tornados!!! but the 120kmh storm that removed huge pieces of our roof was shocking enough and the sound it made is still a horrible memory.
not much people i know personally would like to life in a 130 old house that is mostly still in a 19.cent. status with no central heating but a tiled oven to feed with coal, an icy bathroom, hallway & staircase and a 400m driveway that is only two muddy lines in the grass and the next shop in 3km. but the railroad station is only 2,5km away - ha ;-DDD
thanks a lot for the peek into nebraska life!!!

Vix said...

What a life! I've always been scared of the countryside despite never having lived there, your tales have confirmed my belief that I was born a townie!
Coorg, in South India, has an equally bizarre advertising campaign to Nebraska - Visit Coorg but don't come back - as tourism is buggering up the ecology of the area! xxx

Beth Waltz said...

This post rang a tower full of bells! Much of my childhood was spent on the remnant of Old McDonald's Farm: the herds and machinery were gone, the big acreage sold to the neighbors, but the buildings (and cats) remained.
Yes, we had rats in the old dairy. I deeply regretted throwing a hatchet at one -- and not missing. We had 5'long black snakes chasing the rats and we kids were instructed not to bother them. (The cats ate only the little green garter 'noodles'.) Snow did drift over fences and Dad had to schlepp groceries up the lane in feed sacks slung over Smokey the Shetland pony (who grew a winter coat that would have impressed a woolly mammoth).
But what really struck a chime was the "one fingered salute." As an adult I exchanged this gesture with feed-hat wearing locals ONLY when driving trucks. If either of us were in cars, the rule did not apply. And I'm only now wondering why...

Señora Allnut said...

this has been a both terrifying and funny post to read. I'm an urban girl who even avoid to visit our quite tamed country (particularly my grandparents' house in a village in the middle of nowhere), but anyway I've had to deal with flies, mice and other plagues which appear anywhere there is livestock and grain. But nothing that could kill you!.
But snakes and tornadoes and snow and all the other things you mentioned have terrified me so much. Rural Nebraska is not my cup of tea, darling. Totally understand young Danny's warning sings. Ever. ;DDD
And the state advertising campaign really made me giggle. It makes me think on some old touristic advertisements to visit Spain which were such bad ideas (but caused such good jokes).
Thanks for this visit and your witty writting!

Vronni's Style Meanderings said...

Rural living is definitely not for me! Aren't you glad you moved back to a city?

The Nebraskan one finger wave made me laugh; they do the same in Donegal!

Danny looked so cute....

Take care

SAM said...

So many similarities to rural Minnesota and rural behaviors. I've not been beyond Omaha, and even then, really only to one of the high schools for a show choir competition and the same hotel, a Hampton Inn near a college. Good memories as my kiddo's choir won the Grand Champion that year and sealed her love of college acapella groups-which she now is part of.

Goody said...

It definitely takes some getting used to the absence of trees here. I know the vultures are necessary to deal with carrion but they're not pretty to look at!

I hope I never need skis to get out, but I do own a pair of snowshoes. Living without central heating is difficult. We didn't have heat on the second floor of the old house, but the bedrooms over the kitchen would get ambient heat. We used downstairs rooms to sleep anyway.
Lisbeth probably thought she was bringing you a present!

I don't honestly know how I did 12 years there. Country living looks nice from the outside, but needing a car to go everywhere is a drag.

in some ways roof rats are easier to deal with because they're easier to get (maybe not a hatchet...). I didn't like glue traps because then you'd have to kill the damn thing and I was always worried what else might get caught on it. We only saw two rats in 12 years and both were shortly after an old barn came down but, ugh. We caught one that had a craving for a bag of dried cous cous one evening.

@Senora Allnut
Since writing this post we had the worst snowstorm since 1975. Everyone got two days off from school/work, and I'm sure some parts of the state are still digging out. Maybe because I'm feeling too old to shovel a foot of snow, but if someone offered me a chance to move to Florida or California tomorrow, I might do it.

I wonder if Irish immigrants brought us the wave? Entirely possible.
I don't miss country living mostly because it was such hard work day to day. It is OK when you're young, but no place to grow old. If I had to stop driving tomorrow, there's a bus at the end of my street that can take me straight downtown. Pure luxury.

There's definitely similarities around the Midwest.
I want to hear more about the show choir! My kid is completely uninterested in the arts, so tell me about yours.

Mim said...

Three Mile Island Tanning made me laugh.

My mum keeps being given spare chickens by people, but as a fox visits her farm fairly regularly, she's never overrun with them...

I had no idea you had so many snakes in Nebraska - or that the cats would eat them. That said, mine like to hunt slow-worms, which are kind of snakey. Dunno how they'd feel about a five-footer tho. That's a big snake.

Goody said...

Your cats would feast on our snakes ;)