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The Adventure Continues

Let the adventure begin

As I peck away at my column I’m sipping coffee from one of my favorite mugs imprinted with the message, ” let the adventure begin.” I like the size, shape and feel of the mug and the reminder that every morning is the beginning of a new adventure. Lately my morning begins by sitting in my yard as the sun radiates through the boughs of my maple tree and creates patterns of light and shadow on the lawn and garden. I could spend hours watching and photographing in this outdoor studio. Each minute the angle and quality of light from the rising sun shifts, creating new potential compositions. My friends often ask when and where am I traveling next, but for right now I’m content to journey in my garden.

Spiderwort flowers in morning light.

The tree boughs and lawn also create a border that frames my view of activity and life on 25th Street. I watch mostly unobserved as kids ride bikes and scooters and adults amble, jog and walk dogs up and down the street. Some folks give a wave or say hello, but most just go about their business.

St Francis Borgia clergy and parishioners take part in the annual corpus Christi Procession in Blair.

While enjoying my coffee I mentally plan my day. In the summer time my day often includes lap swimming at the Blair City Pool. I no longer jog, and even my hikes are not as vigorous as they once were, so swimming has become my principal exercise. Since I was a kid I have always enjoyed spending time in the water and for many years I owned a sailboat. Swimming is my aerobic exercise of choice because I don’t know anyone who has suffered a broken leg, a twisted ankle or a concussion while swimming. For these reasons I was delighted to learn that the city pool would once again be open for lap swimming as well as open swim.  A big thank you to the YMCA for recruiting and training and hiring enough guards to make opening the pool for a full season possible. 

Colton Scheer flips from diving board at the Blair city pool.

Thankfully in the past two months the availability and effectiveness of the vaccines has drastically reduced the number and severity of COVID cases and deaths.  In addition, medical professionals, schools and commercial operations are learning which safety precautions and procedures are effective and which are not.  For these reasons and with some modifications, many events are again open to the public.  As an example, the Nebraska State Track Meet was extended from two days to four. The modification not only made the event safer, it also enhanced the experience for many participants and supporters. 

Grace Galbraith and Abby Osborn congratulate one another following their 400 meter relay team state record breaking performance.

At the end of May I was pleased to attend and photograph the Blair and Fort Calhoun commencement exercises which were modified to follow established safety protocols.  I enjoyed listening to the speakers talk about their experiences over the course of the past two years.  While veiled in humor, a common theme was sense of loss by  not returning to classes following spring break in 2020.  Blair graduate Cole Wilkins thanked coronavirus for the longest spring break in history and for, “showing us how much we really took for granted and making us understand how important family and friends really are…” 

Blair seniors pose for cell phone photos as they wait for commencement ceremonies to begin.

Fort Calhoun Salutatorian Mackenzie Hansen thanked the school board and administration for the safety protocols that allowed the school to remain open throughout the school year.  “Their careful planning and unwavering dedication has allowed us to experience as normal of a school year as possible.”

Looking to the future. Lily Pane plans to attend Iowa Western to study agribusiness and agronomy sales and one day own her own feed lot.

While Blair graduate Nathan Hiykel reflected on memories the class shared, by definition, commencements are about beginning. He ended his speech saying, “The experiences that you have made at this school creates a foundation that will propel you through life,” 

Class of 2021 prepares for their final class photo during last moments before graduation begins.

Over the past 16 months each of us, some more than others, has experienced loss and fear and heartache. It is easy and understandable to be angry and resentful and look for scapegoats. But what is the point?  

Photographer Joe Burns signs student yearbooks at Arbor Park Fun Day event.

I like the advice that Fort Calhoun Valedictorian John McKennan gave to his classmates. “Spend your time wisely.  Cherish your relationships, and give your time to others.”

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March to March: Random thoughts on the COVID year that was.

Last Thursday was a day of personal celebration and reflection. That day, March 11, was the day I received my second virus vaccination. It also marked one year since the corona outbreak was declared a pandemic.  

What I most remember about that day a year ago is that I was camping in the snow at Kearney State Park and listening to the chatter of sandhill cranes roosting on the river. Later that day I learned that the Crane Trust near Hastings had shut down and that Row Sanctuary would also be  closing the center and canceling all tours and viewing opportunities due to virus precautions. Over the next week or so, schools across the state closed for spring break and never reopened. 

Playgrouds closed due to pandemic.
Orange fencing surrounded Mathew’s Playground at the Blair Sports Complex. The city closed all of the playgrounds in April due to coronavirus concerns.

March and April last year are kind of a blur in my memory. What I most remember are the empty shelves at the grocery stores and the run on toilet paper, milk, eggs and cleaning products. Except for grocery stores, many businesses, including our Enterprise office, shut the doors to the public.  The library, the YMCA, city offices and the court house closed  Even the sports fields and play centers in the city parks were fenced off. 

A Memorial Community hospital and Health System employee tests a patient for COVIC-19 during a Test Nebraska event in June in Blair.

Over the next few weeks our nation was in a collective state of shock. We all wondered what would happen next.  For awhile the economy was in free fall. Without the PPE loans, increased unemployment benefits and other federal government help, it could have been much worse.

Fort Calhoun staff members roll out boxes of food items to families in need.

Throughout the spring and summer we at the Enterprise did our best to keep the public informed and tell the stories of individuals and organizations that were performing extraordinary acts of kindness and generosity to help those who were most in need. We also covered the parades, car cruises, the Washington County Fair and other events that helped to safely provide some fun and a sense of community.  

Jackie Warrik, left, Joey Morton, Mark Znotto, and Alicia Lourens prepare lunch orders in April at Butch’s Deli to help residents during the pandemic.

While people can be fearful, angry, and just plain ornery, they are also resilient. As the weeks progressed, businesses found ways to provide services while maintaining a safe environment for employees and the public. 

Playgrounds closed due to pandemic
Keala Roy administers a vaccine dose at a clinic held by Memorial Community Hospital and Health Systems at the Gardner Hawks Center.

During the summer, after much soul searching and intense planning, all of the schools in the county decided that students and teachers could safely return to classrooms in August. While remote learning and home schooling may be best for some families, I think  the majority of parents, students  and teachers agree that the return to in- class learning has been a success. Through the use of masks and modifications and social distancing, the schools have found ways to allow students to take part in traditional school activities.  

First school day at Deerfield Elementary School, Blair.

Getting students back in the classrooms and finding safe ways to continue to hold sports and music events is important because these activities provide a sense of the normal rhythms of life. 

Wearing masks, Ovation Show Choir performs during the spring Pops Concert.

Something else that surrounds us and can help to keep us in tune with the rhythms of life is nature. Our county is blessed with rolling hills and river valleys that provide beautiful landscapes. In town we have access to lightly traveled tree lined trails and city parks. While the visitor center is closed, DeSoto Bend Wildlife refuge is open. The Cottonwood trail and the Bob Starr overlook provide great views of the lake and wildlife. 

Snow geese at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, March, 2021

There is a Wall Street Journal article popping up on Facebook that confirms what I have known intuitively for a long time that getting outside is critical to health and increases longevity.  Spending time in nature is linked to lots of good things including reducing stress hormones, and decreased anxiety, depression and fatigue. 

Pat Jesson fills a syringe with COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic at the Gardner Hawks Center.

Getting vaccinated is a big deal. I generally don’t share my medical information with anyone – let alone social media, but I proudly posted the news when I received my first and then second shot. I do appreciate the many congrats and “likes”, and I happily reciprocate as friends and neighbors get vaccinated. I want people to know that my arm was mildly sore and a bit feverish for a day, but other than that I suffered no side effects. I want to get on and promote the vaccination bandwagon because the faster the majority of us are vaccinated the faster we get back to at least some sense of normality. 

Getting vaccinated is a big deal. I generally don’t share my medical information with anyone – let alone social media, but I proudly posted the news when I received my first and then second shot. I do appreciate the many congrats and “likes”, and I happily reciprocate as friends and neighbors get vaccinated. I want people to know that my arm was mildly sore and a bit feverish for a day, but other than that I suffered no side effects. I want to get on and promote the vaccination bandwagon because the faster the majority of us are vaccinated the faster we get back to at least some sense of normality. 

The elephant in the room

 

Masked supporters and mask-less opponents filled the library conference room last Thursday for a public hearing on a proposed ordinance to require face coverings while indoors in public spaces within the city.  For nearly two hours more than two dozen people spoke for and against the proposal.  Each speaker generally respected the three minute time limit. Those speaking included individuals from Omaha, Fort Calhoun and surrounding communities as well as the city of Blair.  The overall tone was civil and around two-thirds of those attending appeared to oppose adopting the emergency ordinance. Due to the lack of social distance and the large number of people not wearing masks some supporters of the proposal chose not to attend.

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Dr. Tuck Smith speaks during a public hearing on a proposed ordinance for a mask mandate by the Blair City Council on Thursday at the Blair Public Library and Technology Center. The Council voted against the ordinance.

Listening to the testimony reminded me of the story of the blind men and the elephant. The gist of that parable is that because each man touches a different part of the elephant, their impressions of the critter are wildly different, but all are valid. Similarly, the views expressed during the testimony were divergent but valid and truthful. The job of the council was to try and piece together a complete picture of the elephant.

Blair resident Jacey Ruwe speaks out against a mask mandate in Blair on Thursday.

The common thread expressed by all participants was fear, but not necessarily fear of the same thing.  Proponents of the ordinance fear the continuing spread of the virus and the impact on hospitals, care facilities and human life.  My impression is that the anti-mask supporters are fearful of the loss of personal freedom, government over-reach and the proverbial slippery slope. Speakers on all sides fear that they are misunderstood and treated with disrespect, bias, and hostility.

I left before for the vote, but my understanding is that the majority of council members pretty much agree with the position expressed in a recent Enterprise editorial.  The editorial takes the  position that residents should social distance and wear masks, “but they shouldn’t have to be ordered to do it.”

Personally, I agree that we should all take responsibility to do the right thing and wear masks in public places.  But voluntary compliance by the majority of residents is not likely. For the sake of the health and welfare of our community, my view is that a temporary ordinance would be a good thing.  I know from personal experience that poor judgement and self-interest can affect the well- being of others as well as our own health and safety.

A few years back I was taking pictures at an archery contest and stupidly talked the official at one of the sites into allowing me to walk downrange to take a photo of a young man who was aiming at a target. To gain permission from the official remember saying, “I take full responsibility.”

I was assured that the young man never missed, and I stayed a distance away from the target.  I broke the rules because I didn’t think the rules applied to me.  I didn’t fully appreciate that taking responsibility might mean jeopardizing my life.

Lori Davidson, who works at Carter Place- the site of an outbreak pf COVID 19, speaks in favor of a mask mandate.

I did get a great photo, but I also got shot with an arrow.  Fortunately the wound was not life threatening, but it could have been. That incident not only affected me but everyone at that event.  That incident was a horrific moment for the boy’s mother and traumatic for the young man.  Weeks later the boy’s father asked me to meet with his son to assure him that I was okay.  I gladly did so, and returned the young man’s arrow.  I am grateful that the family forgave my foolish effort to make a great photo.  It was a lesson learned, but it could have been tragic.

One of the speakers at the hearing commented that when you cross medicine and politics, you get politics.  That is probably true, and it is inevitable.  To quote John Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself.”  We are all dependent on one another to do the right thing. The problem is figuring out what that right thing is.

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Autumn travel – home and away

Recently, I returned home after from spending the better part of two weeks in Wyoming and Colorado.  I had been planning this trip for several months. I also had a pass to visit Yosemite National Park, but with so many wildfires in northern California, I changed my plans.  

Earlier in the fall I had followed the Oregon trail through Nebraska and into Wyoming.  I picked up the trail at Fort Laramie and then stopped at the National Trails Interpretive Center in Casper.  I also visited some other trail landmarks between Casper and South Pass where the Oregon and Mormon trails cross the continental divide.  West of the divide the Mormon Trail turns south-west toward the Great Salt Lake and the Oregon Trail heads north-west to Oregon and the Columbia River. 

Aspen trees amid pine trees in the Green Mountains in central Wyoming.

Leaving the Oregon Trail I found a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground in the Green Mountains.  BLM campgrounds are popular in autumn with hunters and people like me who are looking for relatively remote settings and simple amenities such as a picnic table, a fire ring and clean vault toilets.  The fall colors were gorgeous and night sky spectacular.

A bull moose on the loose in the Gros Ventre Campground in Grand Teton National Park.

I spent the next five nights at Gros Ventre campground at the edge of Grand Teton National Park near Jackson,Wyoming. It is a large first come, first serve campground.  When I arrived in the afternoon the campground was full, but the attendants allowed me and other camping units to park in the amphitheater parking lot at no charge so we could be first in line the following day.  The staff at the campground was very pleasant, and many staffers appear to be retired seniors like me.  The tent and RV pads are comfortably spaced apart and surrounded by Narrow Leaf Cottonwood trees and sagebrush. During my visit a variety of wildlife including moose, deer and moseyed through the campground. 

Perhaps in part because of the Covid pandemic, the modern restrooms ( i.e. running water and toilets) were kept spotless. While there are no showers on site, hot showers and laundry facilities are available at another campground about 30 miles away. 

If I haven’t mentioned it before, my National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass is just about the best purchase I have ever made.  The pass allows access to all National Parks  and Federal recreation areas and reduced campground and other fees. I paid as little as $3 at BLM sites, and not more than $15 at National Park campgrounds.  There is no charge at some BLM disbursed camping sites. 

A smokey haze covers mountain peaks in Grand Teton National Park.

While there are many breathtakingly beautiful sites in the Rockies, I find the Tetons to be particularly grand. The mountain range is surrounded by lakes and the peaks tower sharply and dramatically above the arid plateau.  I love to photograph layers of color-on-color, and such layers can be found in abundance in the Tetons.  Hiking along trails I photographed compositions of sunlit aspen groves against multi-colored leaves and foliage a granite mountain backdrop.  For several days a smoke haze hung low over the mountains.  On those days I mostly hiked the trails and didn’t worry much about taking photos.      

I also spent a day at neighboring Yellowstone National Park. The majority of the campgrounds at Yellowstone were closed for the season and the remaining campgrounds were full. Yellowstone is a huge park which eats up a lot of driving time. I have visited the park several times before, so I stopped at just a few of my favorite sites. One of these is Grand Prismatic spring. I absolutely love the vantage point from a trail that overlooks the spring, and I can’t imagine visiting the park without making a stop there. 

Visitors walk along boardwalks viewing the Grand Prismatic spring in Yellowstone National Park.

I visited the park on a Saturday, but the parking lots and the road traffic was not bad  compared to previous visits. Due to pandemic restrictions, there were few if any tour busses running and many of the popular amenities were closed for the season. 

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Leaving Jackson and the Gros Ventre campground I again spent a night at my BLM hideaway in the Green Mountains and then on to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  The only advanced reservation I made ahead of time on my trip was for a campsite in RMNP.  All but a couple of the campgrounds in the park are closed. Due to dry conditions no open fires are allowed. My campsite entitled me to the day of my reservation and the day following my reservation in the park. I also spent one night in a campground just outside the west entrance to the park. 

Smoke from Cameron Peak forest fire rises above the mountain slopes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

On the night I arrived, I could see a big mushroom cloud of smoke above the mountain range.  As I drove to the summit  of Trail Ridge Road I could see the billows of smoke from the Cameron Peak fire on the northern boundary of the park, A ranger told me that the huge cloud of white smoke was from a controlled burn or back burn to stop fire from spreading into the park.  As of last week, the Cameron Peak fire had burned well over 200,000 acres making in the largest fire in Colorado history.  Multiple fires have resulted in the closing of national forests from west of Denver to the Wyoming Border. As of last Thursday, the fire had spread across the continental divide and parents of Estes Park were under evacuation.

RMNP Elk

I arrived at the park bit late for optimum leaf peeping, but not too late for the elk rut or mating season.  In early fall bull elks descend to the mountain meadows to gather harems and vie for the attention and affection of females in heat.  I am not a particularly knowledgeable wildlife photographer, but I do love spectacle, and the annual elk rut is definitely a spectacle.  

A Bull elk guards his harem during elk rutting season in a Moraine Park meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I always remind myself while traveling that the journey itself is the prize, not the destination.  Weather, bad roads, closed facilities and many other circumstances may affect the trip, but that is what makes each adventure unique. When all is said and done the weather, equipment failures, mechanical break downs and missed opportunities may make for some great stories to tell friends and family back home.

Autumn color at Black Elk-Neihardt Park

Black Elk – Neihardt Park in Blair is a great place to go leaf peeping, and autumn color is at or reaching its peak in Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa.

 

Trail opens acres of park land to view

New vistas are open to view at  Black Elk Neihardt Park in Blair thanks to volunteers who have carved out a new mountain bike  and multi-use trail at the western edge of the park.  The trail opens up acres of park property that have been nearly inaccessible due to dense trees, grass and brush.

Cool rides turn out for Cruise Night

The weather was fine and so were the rides on Saturday night for the final cruise night of the season in Blair.

Hello Autumn 2020

Tuesday afternoon  I grabbed a lens that I haven’t used in awhile and headed down to California Bend to commemorate the first day of autumn 2020.