Sunday, March 20, 2016

Beyond Corn & Cows: What You Might Not Know About The Cornhusker State

Happiness is Brayton, Nebraska, in your rearview mirror.

It's the opening line from the description of my book, as well as the teaser I used in a recent ad that proved to be wildly popular.

But I fear I might have sent the wrong message about my feelings about my home state, so let me set the record straight.

I LOVE NEBRASKA.

And I'm going to use this blog post to atone for whatever sin I may or may not have committed by using such a tagline about my home.

WHERE IS NEBRASKA? 

If you were to turn the United States into a giant target, Nebraska would be the state at the top portion of the bulls-eye. It's bordered by South Dakota to the north, Wyoming and Colorado to the west, Kansas and Missouri to the south and Iowa to the east.




We generally play well with our neighbors, but we have been known to fight over water rights, toxic waste and oil pipelines. And we commonly operate under the belief that Iowa is actually an acronym for a variety of playful insults (Idiots Out Wandering Around, I Oughta Went Around, In Omaha Without Authorization). It's all in good fun. (You should hear what Iowans say about us.)

FACTS EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW

Our largest city is Omaha. (Among its highlights are the Old Market, Joslyn Art Museum and the world-famous Henry Doorly Zoo.)

Our capital is Lincoln, home of the Huskers, Morrill Hall, The Lied Center for Performing Arts and so many other awesome University of Nebraska-Lincoln -related things, as well as the Penis of the Plains. (How many of you are brave enough to click on that last link?) It's not what you might think. I guarantee it.

Our state fair is in Grand Island.

We have a grand Archway over I-80 in Kearney. (That's okay to see, but the bird migration is much more interesting.)

Hastings is the birthplace of Kool-Aid. (Oh, yeah!)

Norfolk and/or the greater Norfolk area (pronounced NorFORK) has been the home of several notable people, including Johnny Carson, Thurl Ravenscroft  (he's greeeaaat!), L. Ron Hubbard and Max Carl.

The name "Nebraska" is derived from the Otoe word Ñí Brásge and the Omaha word Ní Btháska which literally translate to "Flat Water," after the Platte River that flows through the state.

Speaking of water, The Missouri River serves as the border marker between Nebraska and Iowa, and in addition to the Platte River, Nebraska is home to the Elkhorn River, the Loup River, the Little Blue River, the Big Blue River and the Niobrara River (to name just a few).

It boasts several natural and man-made reservoirs, including Calamus, Willow Creek, Big Mac and the Polish Ocean, as well as the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest underground aquifers in the world.

If the city streets look abandoned on any given Saturday during the fall, don't worry. It's probably just Husker gameday. (And don't get grossed out if you hear someone mention the Bugeaters. It's what the Huskers were known as before they were Huskers.)

Runzas might sound funny, but a majority of the population thinks they're delicious.

We eat cinnamon rolls with chili. We drink beer with tomato juice.

And beef...it really is what's for dinner.

The one-finger wave is a friendly gesture (as long as it's not done with the middle finger).

We have a museum devoted solely to clown dolls. It's located in Plainview, the same town in which the movie Nebraska was filmed.

Speaking of which, Nebraska director Alexander Payne lives here, too. (Seriously, Alexander, call me. I have a business proposition for you.)


BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT NEBRASKA: IT'S FLAT AND BORING

When I hear people say this I know two things: 1.) They came to the state with preconceived notions of what they'd find; 2.) They were in such a hurry to pass through, they didn't take time to discover the diversity of the state's landscape.

Yes, I-80 is boring. But if you get off the beaten path, you'll find some incredible scenes like these...

The evening sun contrasts dramatically with the edge of the Sandhills in the distance.

Abandoned houses are commonly found in fields along the state and county roads. Seeing one, you can't help but let your mind wander what the walls of those houses would say if the could speak about their former glory. 

A tank on stilts sits high above the ground just off Highway 281 south of Greeley, a town very near the now-defunct town of Brayton, Nebraska, where #tLR2H's main character, Heather, grew up. 


What do you do when you have a lot of wind? You harness its power. Windmills like this one are a common site in the fields along the highways. In certain portions of the state, you can also find fields of more modern wind turbines.

The Norden Bridge sat in the Niobrara River Valley in the canyons of  Keya Paha County. Yes. Canyons. I've lived here my entire life and never realized Nebraska had canyons until a couple of years ago, when I was dispatched to this area by the newspaper to do a follow-up on the Region 24 Complex fires. It was an amazing find and, sadly, one of Nebraska's best-kept secrets.

Let's just pretend this doesn't happen. Okay? Okay.
Okay, so never mind that last one. (Even the most loyal Nebraskans admit our winters suck.) :D

BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT NEBRASKANS

True or False: All Nebraskans are close-minded, ultra-conservatives who don't take kindly to strangers.

ANSWER: FALSE

In general, we lean toward the conservative side. But we're not afraid to step outside of our own shadow if we think it will be a smarter, better way to do things.

We are the only state in the union with a non-partisan, unicameral legislature, which means our legislators are more likely to work together to get s**t done.

And we were the first state to have a gubernatorial election consisting of two female candidates.

And we love strangers ... as long as they're not trying to dump toxic waste within our borders. :)

SO WHY DID I SAY HAPPINESS IS BRAYTON, NEBRASKA, IN YOUR REARVIEW MIRROR? 

I guess you just have to read the book to find out.
***

Kathryn Harris is an award-winning journalist and novelist. Get her debut novel, "THE LONG ROAD TO HEAVEN",  free with your Kindle Unlimited subscription, download it for  only $2.99 or buy it in paperback through Amazon.


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