Derek Johnson Muses

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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Seward Nooks: Loose West Ends

Even though it doesn’t always feel like it, I’ve lived in and around Seward, Nebraska for the vast majority of my life. I drive on the same roads, go to the same stores, and have outlasted several business. The whole town keeps telling me the same story every day, and even though it gets a bit stale sometimes, the story doesn’t totally suck.

So to that end, I put together a diary of some of the nooks around tow. The first little area is one I drove by all the time on Bluff Road/Hillcrest Street back in high school, and still do occasionally when I go to the Pac-‘N’-Save or to visit my uncle.

Bend in the Road....

Bend….

If this road were any good, I probably would have used more than I have, especially when we lived outside of Seward. It is the first country road west of Seward between US 34 and Bluff Road, curving with the river at the road’s north-most point. Every time there are extensive rains, the road turns to mush. I avoid it even on days when it doesn’t rain because the ruts that are left 250-grade pickups have messed the whole road up. When I’m out scouting fields, the ruts on this roads are the benchmarks for terrain I’m willing to go on.

The Bridge...

The Bridge…

This is the bridge on Bluff Road, right next to the curve and the end of the road I mentioned above. Most of the bridges that link country roads across the Blue River in the Seward area are like this: shoddy metal bridges that I would stop in front of if another vehicle was approaching from the opposite direction. And I know it must be a legal issue, but do we really have trucks rumbling down these country roads that get anywhere close to ten tons, much less the fifteen ton, advertised limit?

One that Got Away...

One that Got Away…

I can remember when this little turn off was first cut into East Hillcrest back in the mid-to-late 90’s. It was intended that this would be the second of two streets across from where the E-Free Church was at the time. It’s been fifteen or sixteen years, and not a single piece of ground has broken on this whole lot.

As a matter of fact...

As a matter of fact…

They haven’t even filed in the lots on the other street, Augusta Drive. (In their defense, they’ve come pretty close.) My best estimation, thirty or forty houses have been built in Seward since those curbs cuts were made. But it’s easy to see why nothing has been done. There are plenty of places to build in Seward where you feel more connected to the community.  Meanwhile, this fake sidewalk meanders on. Too bad we can’t get our tax dollars back on this one.

Twist and Shout...

Twist and Shout…

I’ve never heard of an accident at this intersection, but it’s an accident waiting to happen. The road is part of a thru-route and quite busy, there’s a yield sign to the city traffic, and if you turn west, you go straight over the tracks. Seriously, city-planner-who-designed-this, couldn’t you have kept the road on the west side of the tracks until it got to Bluff Road? Okay, I’m sure it’s a flood-plain issues, but I don’t think the issue would be any better or worse going the way you did.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bail Up!

East of that road and southwest of that development that wasn’t is this hayfield which gets mowed every so often. It’s not the worst location in the world, except that’s it is probably considered a flood plain. During the Seward County Fair, it be a great place to have a food stand, but until then, someone will probably keep bailing hay there, even it’s just so conspicuous.

Considerations while Receiving Communion

Remember This at All?

Remember This at All?

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13-14)

“Dear Savior, we come to your table at your gracious invitation to eat and drink your holy body and blood. Let us find favor in your eyes to receive this holy sacrament in faith for the salvation of our souls and to the glory of your holy name.” (Lutheran Worship, Prayer before Reception of Holy Communion.)

I think about this scripture and pray this prayer when I go take communion often. I’m not sure why (a version of the prayer is in the front of LSB), except that I might have something to with the fact that I’m always rushed because I have to go back up to the choir loft and tape another hymn, or I’m the last usher in line and have to tell pastor who to go give to communion in the pew to. Point is, I go to communion with a busy mind and a guilty heart sometimes. I still get Christ’s body and blood, which is fear-inducing.

It’s probably a good thing that communion is for sinners.

Writing Road Notes

Open Road West of Flint

Out There…

Last year, my main method of writing while I traveled was to type notes on my iPod touch during lunches and driving breaks, but this year I haven’t done that as much, for two reason. One, as I have gone back through old posts, I have found that this writing style leaves me with an incoherent narrative, a problem similar to the problem of tweeting-thoughts are broken into too many pieces. If I sit down the day I get back from a trip, I can write a more focused, direct first draft while it’s still fresh.

Two, I just feel more hurried when I’m away from home. I have a house now and wanting to spend time there, given what I’m paying for it and how much I have to do to maintain it. Either way, whenever I’m on the road, I think more and more about how long it will be until I’m back, although Tom staying at my place now relieves my nerves.

The road can be such a lonely place at times. Maybe it’s no more lonely than the rest of my life, but I still feel so isolated when I’m out there, passing miles of other truckers and minivans packed with kids on summer vacations. The gas stations, the hotels, and the restaurants are all same, which is a very comforting thing. But as the wear of the temporal adds up, I have to accept the confidence to let certain details melt away and remain on the asphalt, trusting that if that colorful mural on the side of an aging brick building in central Wisconsin is really significant, I’ll remember it when I get home and write it down.  All part of using the judgment of a good writer.

Whenever I would stop at a rest stop in central Michigan to write about how the shops in Small Town X were, I was doing so out of an insecurity of a novice who was sure he’d forget. Not that I’ve mastered the craft, but I’m more confident in letting the narrative form in my mind. Now I’m ready to face the silence of the road between my destination and home.

Reflected...

Reflected…

Road Notes: Brush with the South and Dragging On

It started out "promising" (field in northern Missouri)...

It started out “promising” (field in northern Missouri)…

Last Sunday morning, I rolled out of bed at 10 A.M. and took three hours to pack and square things around the house before I left. The previous day, I had come up with a flawless plan of how I would leave around nine and get to Columbia, Missouri by four at the latest for an evening of enjoying Mizzou’s campustown. Instead, I ended up rolling into Moberly, Missouri at 8 P.M. and eating a Subway sub on my bed while watching Sunday Night Baseball.

On the hour drive from Moberly to Thompson in the morning, I realized it might have been just as efficient to have spent the night in Mexico, Missouri, from which Thompson was a much shorter drive. But I pressed on to the farm, where I met our dealer-grower. He was not able to plant until June 30, but his soybeans looked promising as they battled the weeds, coming up among the straw that was grown in the field over winter. In central Missouri, the earliest frost is usually late enough so that he will be fine.

From there, I drove down US Highway 54 toward I-70, only to pull over at a Wal-Mart in order to get an oil change that I had been putting off. I got out of my truck at the drop-off spot just outside the mechanic’s bay, but none of the three guys in the garage to came up of to help me I had to wander into the office to find someone, and if I hadn’t had to take the time to get lunch there, the stop would have been an utter waste. Do I even remember my own time-saving principals?

My extra time gone, I made haste down the interstate. The next guy I had to met lived all the way down in Braggadoccio, Missouri, fourteen miles from the Arkansas border in the Missouri Bootheel. He had an appointment the next morning, but agreed to met me that afternoon, so I bolted through the St. Louis suburbs, by the bluffs of the Mississippi, until they rolled themselves into flatter country south of Cape Girardeau. I actually did see some corn, but I didn’t notice the crop I expected, cotton. I arrived in Braggadoccio just before 5, and met our grower by the tiny post office, and an old building that turned out to be his storefront.

Flooded Rice Field

Flooded Rice Field

Much of Braggadoccio was destroyed by a tornado several years ago, but our grower rebuilt his home and farming enterprise, and now is doing very well. He farms rice as a rotation crop, as it setups up the field with the nutrients that corn and soybeans need. Rice farming involves flooding the fields, a method that wouldn’t be possible without the abundance of water the Mississippi and St. Francis Rivers provide. I asked our grower to point out a cotton field to me, and it turns out, a cotton field looks just like a soybean field.

To get a jump start on the next day, I drove back north, stopping first in New Madrid, Missouri to take some pictures of the Mississippi from the town’s long river access amidst the industrial villages lining. After soaking in humid river air, I drove to Sikeston, where I spent the night.

Mississippi at New Madrid, Missouri; Kentucky on the Other Side.

Mississippi at New Madrid, Missouri; Kentucky on the Other Side.

There were four signs of the south I noted on this trip. First, the accents. Two, the abundance of mobile homes. Three, the rice and cotton fields. Four, how horrendously friendly everyone was. And fifth, when the hostess at Ruby Tuesday’s sat me for dinner, she said “Ms. Amber will be with you in a moment.” #outofmycomfortzone

Typical?

Typical?

Tuesday morning, I got up late and drove up through a small slip of the delta and crossed the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois, right by the mouth of the Ohio River near some of the flattest ground I’ve ever seen. (BTW, the mouth of the Ohio is so much grander than the mouth of the Missouri for some reason.) Cairo, like many of the mid-sized towns in Illinois, is bleak and run-down, with one too many civic buildings downtown. Mass construction (undoubtedly to spend Obama stimulus dollars) slowed the traffic on I-57 as I passed turnoffs for Louisville and Nashville, and continued toward my destination of Pana, Illinois.

After my third meal at Subway in three days (coupon) at the Salem, Illinois exit, I drove up a gritty US Highway 51 to my field north of Pana. It had some weed issues, but the stand was good. Not wanting to drive too late into the night, I headed up towards Springfield. I had to share a couple of my posts on social media, but instead of doing the easy thing and stopping at a Starbucks I knew from last year, I bypassed Springfield and decided that I would happen upon WiFi connection elsewhere. Surprisingly, my brazen spirit was rewarded at a gas station west of Jacksonville, Illinois.

I spent the night at the Super 8 in Hannibal, Missouri. Dinner was my official trip splurge-pizza and wine at an Italian brick-oven bistro. The chicken alfredo pizza satiated my craving for fine food, but the wine made me really sleepy. Nevertheless, I went for dessert at Java Jive and hung around downtown until dusk.

Wednesday, my final day passed like a dream, as I whisked across a near anonymous section of the Iowa-Missouri border, then criss-crossed across southeast Iowa until I got to our grower in Pella. This guy had actually planted his beans May in spite, and they looked healthy. I made one fatal mistake-the best time to met the grower was at 12:30, so I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal to put off lunch. By the time I finished going over the fields at two o’clock, I was in such a fowl mood it didn’t matter. (At least I got Culver’s.)

Even though I barely stopped, the drive back to Seward seemed to get so much longer when I reached Des Moines and began driving on the section of I-80 that I drive when I go to Ames. My mind has cataloged every stop and what’s at every stop, so now it always seems tedious and unnew. But I kept pressing on, and was never more relieved to arrive at home when I rolled in just before nine.

Looks promising...

Looks promising…

 

Introspection: Write Well, Not Just Often

When I started writing this blog, I was overflowing with thoughts. For the first few months, I gutted posts out without forethought, and somehow, managed to put up a post or two a day during the mild winter of 2012 (don’t ask me how). Gradually, I saw how it was self-defeating to push my work into the archives so quickly and pulled back, going closer to a post every two to four days. Since May of 2012, I’ve averaged about 10 to 11 a month, which seems about right.

But through all this, I’ve wondered what my long term goals should be. Yes, I love to write and I’m sharing about topics that I care about, but it’s weighed on me as to how many productive hours to sink into this venture. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about life, it’s that you can stay at the beginner to average level for a long time if you don’t do anything to improve.

That’s why I don’t write about sports or TV as much as I used, only when it comes out easily, and I don’t take the time to polish it as I would a piece about travel that I might republish. But still, the more I write, the more I ask myself: am I getting better at this, or do I make the same mistakes in every post? Can I use what I’m putting up here in a book down the line? Will a publication read this stuff and want to hire me?

Last week, I went back to the travel posts I wrote last summer and pasted all of them into a single word document. It covered twenty single-spaced pages. I have read part of it and have tweaked two pages of it. I’m grateful that I wrote all of this stuff down, and when I reread it, I can flesh out the details and improve the flow. Here’s to making it the best it can be.

Random shot of downtown Lincoln

Random shot of downtown Lincoln

Writing Starts on the Trail, and Other Techniques

A few weeks ago, I shared a writing technique that I use to jump start myself when I’m down. Today, here’s some more strategies that I use to write.

When I go for an hour walk, I start with a cluttered head and let that head sort itself out. Some people listen to music to get a clear ahead, but that usually does not help me. When I walk, I make mental notes of my most passionate thoughts, and what other thoughts are in association with that main thought. The raw form of a post usually comes out without a specific category. Sometimes it’s an obvious container, like a Nebraska football game or a trip I was on, but when it’s something like a personal update or assessing a book, then it can be tricky to find the starting point. And in this process, the starting point may not be the main point.

When I get home from my walk, I (try to) go to my computer or to a pad, turn on some music, and begin writing. This stage is more about getting all the points out, not putting them in order (that’s rewriting). Once I get going, it usually takes an hour and 500-700 words to get a solid post out, and I almost always go one or two points more than I should. I never outline, although sometimes I just write down one thought to see if anything follows it. If not, I move on.

The rewriting can be the most frustrating. My minimum rewriting requirements is that I get all of the spelling grammar errors out and get the flow working. If it’s a post about TV or movies or something else I don’t see as part of a larger market I’m putting forward, I don’t labor over it like I do my travel posts or my posts on Husker Max. There is a point where the extra labor is not being used productively, although more often than not I could have done more.

The one thing I have learn as a writer is that I will always have more ideas than I will know what to do with. If I type a sentence and nothing else comes, I tear myself away. Some of these I have come back to, others I’ve forgotten. Ideas want to get out, but if nothing follows the initial thought, it’s always good to let be as it is.

And there’s never any shame in sitting on ideas, if nothing coherently comes  The World War Z article was one that I waited to write until the movie came out. I knew back in January it was something that I wanted to write about because of how much the story of Jesika tore at me, but I needed to figure out how. (Frankly, I’m still not happy with the way that post turned out, but that’s the way it goes. At least I got it out.)

Site of most of meditation, on a bright fall night at sunset...

Site of most of meditation, on a bright fall night at sunset…

Idaho Stops and Observations

DSCN0315

Shoshone Falls, low for this time of year due to low snowfall and irrigation needs.

(First part of the trip)

Monday and Tuesday, my father and I visited our fields in Idaho along the Snake River Canyon, some geared toward next year, some at work for customers now. It’s an important part of the business, to let the people we work with know they are part of our BRH team and that we care about helping them raise the best crop possible.

Go for Green!

Go for Green! (Alfalfa, that is)

Idaho has become a much more diverse place agriculturally speaking. Our dealer told us potato production is down from what it had been, but guys will still move potatoes up in the cycle if the price suddenly goes up. They plant corn, wheat, oats, alfalfa (as a serious crop), soybeans, sugar beets, onions, and even radishes as a rotation crop. Everything is watered to death, but it has to be. It’s either dump water into the foot of earth above the lava rock that is buried under the ground, or nothing grows but sage brush. It is possible to turn some of the unfarmable ground into workable ground, but it requires a lot of time and money.

Many of our foreages are grown in the Snake River Valley near a town called Bliss, which according to our grower, “is a town with a happy name where no one gets along.” He says a third of the people are retirees, a third farm their tails off, and another third wish to do nothing whatsoever. Of the massive sewage facilities located to the north of his farm, he claims they were built in haste years ago before the housing market collapsed, when the city thought  thousands of Californians would immigrate to Bliss in the next ten years. Instead, Bliss’ stated population remains beneath 500, and the only Californians who moved in are trying to sell their huge houses on the river banks for more than million dollars, without takers. If you are going to build a house twenty minutes from the nearest competent grocery store, there are a lot more attractive locales to build it. The Tetons, for example. (Reminds me of other small towns.)

Snake River Canyon

Snake River Canyon

In fact, California immigrants seeking refuge from excessive taxes and high costs of living make native Idahoans quite chatty. The Boise metro area is a mass of urban sprawl, with half-a-million dollar houses next to front yards with goats herds and a single cow together. (Really? You’d think the goats wouldn’t stop bothering the cow.) Our contact near Boise told me that, when the demand for land around Boise was high pre-housing crash, a number of farmers were reluctant to sell, which resulted in the patchy neighborhood structure.  

Thankfully, we also had some time to visit some great places, like the World Center for Birds of Prey (where I had been as a kid), the Idaho State Capitol, and Bronco Stadium. As I did in Madison last year, I got a glimpse of the blue turf, even if the thrill of running through the stadium without authorization was withheld. Boise seems hipper and cleaner than either Lincoln or Omaha (the lack of snow helps), but even with all of the modernites who’ve come from California, the city still looks like middle America from the inside. 

Closest I'll get to the Blue Turf

Closest I’ll get to the Blue Turf

And here’s what I found to be…well, quirky.

Stinker’s gas station-Okay, the skunk mascot is kind of cute, but you’re ripping off Bucky the Banger, the University of Wisconsin’s mascot. The red trim is just insulting. And who would buy gas from an establishment that puts bad smells into its name? Selling gas is the same everywhere; don’t screw it up.

The fake rocks every other shopping center or high end home uses-you’re Idaho, why are you using fake rocks when you could literally go out to any field within a ten mile radius and fetch actual black lava rocks to use in construction? Okay, it looks pretty, but it just blinds everyone when it’s really sunny. Which is pretty much every day.

Yards full of every last truck, tractor, and other farm vehicle the farmer has ever owned-I was told by someone who grew up in Montana that the far West farmer never get rid of any of their old vehicles or equipment because they may need a part of that old tractor when their current tractor breaks down. Okay, I get that, but still, does the world need to look at such a mess in the middle of your yard?

Boise State’s Hipness-I walked into a Boise State fanshop, and it was literally a mantle full of every possible combination of orange and blue. (Does anyone know how much BSU has ripped from the Denver Broncos?) There were not a lot of wall hangings and T-shirts with game dates and opponents on them, like you see in a Nebraska fan shops. Even the wall hangings they had mixed in the orange and blue. Husker Nation, we cling to the past.

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