Derek Johnson Muses

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2009 Holiday Bowl: Out of the Snow & Into the Sunshine

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Sunset from the San Diego Maritime Museum

I didn’t really start to worry until afternoon on Christmas Day, but that’s just my nonchalant nature. The Christmas snow of 2009 had blanketed Nebraska the previous night, and now snow plows were not even running because the snow would just fall right back over and make the street look like it hadn’t been plowed at all. The reason I was concerned this Christmas afternoon was because my father and I had a flight booked to go from Kansas City to San Diego on December 27th to watch Nebraska play in the Holiday Bowl against Arizona.

But surprisingly, when we started down the interstate to Lincoln the next day, we had no problems whatsoever. The day was clear, and there was absolutely no one on the road. Some light flurries came down after we passed Lincoln, but we made it safely to St. Joseph to stay the night and then on to the airport in Kansas City the next day.

Those three days in California were like time spent on an island paradise. Time moved so much slower there. We went to the beach, hit museums in Balboa park, saw restored ships, and visited Cabrillo National Monument and saw its lighthouse. I’d go back to San Diego in a heartbeat because there’s more there I want to do. If I could have only picked one place to see, it would have been the Maritime Museum, with all of its restored ships from all kinds of eras. Submarines, cargo ships, freighters, the whole works. (P.s.-if you come to SD for a bowl game, wear your team colors. They will give you a discount.

But by far, the best part of the trip was simply sitting at a coffee shop on Coronado Island, having a light lunch and reading Prey by Michael Crichton. It was a white-washed, 1840’s style house where they gave you letter as marker for your order. Time passed slowly, the people were so relaxed, it made me want to think about moving. No wonder people get lost out here

The game itself was a spectacle. Having to get there early because of the limited parking, then napping in the car. (Californians always tell you to get to an event way before it happens.) Qualcomm itself is a decrepit pile of concrete, that, if it were in any other state other than California, would have been replaced by now. (Subsequent to this trip, I have had the opportunity to attend an A’s game at the Coliseum in Oakland. Virtually the same stadium.) From a Nebraska perspective, the game on the field was an extension of the fine vacation we were having.

I have to confess, as it began to rain at the game, I felt like complaining about it. Seriously, San Diego must get rain ten year, if that, and it has to rain while I’m visiting and outside watching my beloved Huskers? All the while, there is snow on the ground in Nebraska.

Pregame festivities

Pregame festivities

During that game, it felt as if nothing could go wrong, which, when you have the immovable Ndamukong Suh in the middle of your defense, is actually realistic. Bo Pelini’s post game proclamation (“Nebraska’s back and we’re here to stay!”) had months to brew with fans. But at the end of a season where you win six of your last seven, don’t you automatically expect to get better, with a coach only in his second year? But that’s what it’s like when you have a coach having early success, before you’ve seen the players he’s recruited. Oh well. We are winning, and who would have known after that the quarterback who’d be leading the team wasn’t even on the field yet?

Should Husker fans have learned anything from that game, from the stalled drives that were leading field goals? Maybe; back then, it was to early to say

I slept little at our hotel in Orange County that night, staying up late to read the news on the game and getting up early to catch our flight back. I didn’t get a view of the sea on our way up and down because we drove in the dark, but I couldn’t care less. As we boarded the plane to fly back to the world of snow, I pondered our mystic journey as some of the best days of my life.

Team

Huskers taking the field.

(More Husker Trips: Northwestern 2012, Minnesota 2011, Iowa State 2010)

What I Mused on Labor Day Weekend

This was the third year in a row I’ve spent on Lake Michigan with my family. The weekend came up at the perfect time: I finished my biggest month of work for Blue River (silage harvest) and for photography (show at the Civic Center). I went from the one of the longest work days I may ever have straight to an Amtrak train to Chicago and then to our lake house for the weekend. I celebrating by watching Nebraska win big, finishing a book that I said I would finish this summer (The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell), and of course, writing. But the best personal progress I made was in some thoughtful self-evaluation.

My Writing Spot on the Sunned-in Porch

Saturday morning, I went down to the beach. If I had learned anything from the last month, it was that I had a limited amount of time, and that if I was going to accomplish the goals I had, I had to set my priorities. To that end, I sat down on the beach and wrote out a set of goals that I wanted to accomplish that day and that weekend in terms of writing and people to contact. I didn’t accomplish all of them, but at least they were there, a reminder of untouched items needing my hand.

After everything I went through this month, I realized that if I’m going to accomplish the goals I want to, namely writing a novel and publishing my photographs, I’m going to have to have better organizational skills. I’m not a good organizer. If you would have looked at my life five years ago, you would have said I was anti-organizational. Likely, details and planning will never be my strengths, but I know that I can accomplish something through them.

Labor Day Weekend in southwest Michigan is a busy time. Lazy country roads are overpopulated, not unlike college game day in towns like Lincoln or Ames. There are usually two types: families on one last summer get-away, middle-aged-to-older couples in pleated shorts and polos. You walk the roads at your own peril, but the place goes dead quite late Monday night.

Our Beach House

Hitting the beaches and walking in the waves, I contemplated what I wanted my life to look like in a few year. The Tipping Point said that the human brain can handle only so many relationships at once, and I was pondering who I wanted to choose as friends. Too often, I operated from a low self-esteem position when it came to people and thus welcomed into my life people who were charming but had little beneath that charm. Even though I’ll never be as popular as I would have liked to be in high school, I still needed to seek out smart people to be around and learn from.

SW Michigan Shoreline

I had a good conversation with my sister that weekend too when she took me to get on the train at New Buffalo. She’s in a new position in her job, and it was great to swap stories over dealing with personnel issues. As my train rolled into Chicago, I openly wondered, If I lived in this city, who would I be? Would it be the right place for me?

Now that I’m back here in the thick of things, I realize how much lists matter and how much goals matter. Last night, it was 8:30 when I came back to the house from retrieving my mother’s phone. I played video games, but it kept nagging me that I hadn’t sent any e-mails out to potential employers. I realized that an extra half-an-hour in the evening doing little things was more important than another game of Call of Duty Zombies.

Amtraking

The day after the third harvest, I had to make travel arrangements to come to out to my sister’s for Labor Day lake weekend. Last year, I got made my arrangements too soon, not factoring in my other travel. This year, I waited until I knew work travel for sure. Unfortunately, my plans didn’t firm until a week before, so my cheapest option (by $100+) was to take Amtrak from Osceola.

After a fifteen-hour work day and five-and-a-half hours of sleep, I made a peaceable drive of an hour and a half from Ames to Osceola, with the light traffic of pre-rush hour. Parking at the station is (shocking) free. The crowd to get on was modest-a lot of Iowa fans heading to the Hawkeye’s game at Soldier Field against Northern Illinois. The train was only fifteen minutes late, and I got on eagerly.

This was my third trip to Chicago on Amtrak. Trains really only work well in more urban areas. If you want to go to Chicago on Amtrak from Lincoln or Omaha, you have to leave at 3:45 now, which is literally the most inconvenient time of night for a tree to leave as it is to late to stay up, or too early to get a respectable amount of sleep. If you can’t sleep on mass transit (I can’t, no matter how hard I try), you’re in for a very disrupted day. This time around, I thought hey, train leaves from Osceola at 7:40, it’s only seven hours to Chicago and six back. How bad could it be?

It took me about to three hours in to question whether or not the $100 I saved by not flying was worth it. The only way to withstand the tedium is to have enough reading, writing, or viewing material to get you through it (should have brought a TV show on DVD). The smell of the train is intoxicating, with heavy emphasis on the toxic. To top it off, you’re sitting by all these people who thinks trains are nostalgic and “so cool”. Please; how on earth did I not remember all this stuff?

I don’t even get the argument that taking the train allow a person “to see so much”. My life is sent driving around rural America, and I don’t know how people get a better view from the train. Try driving from Chicago to Lincoln on country roads, you’ll get a good view that way.

Never the mind. The trains I take out to my sister’s, the South Shoreline and the Amtrak train from New Buffalo, Michigan are much better in terms of cleanliness, although they cover much less ground. If I lived in the northeast, I’d probably like taking trains much more, and they are more convenient than driving in most situations.

My train back to Osceola was about half-an-hour late, and we had to do that ridiculously thing where they make us wait on the wrong side of the tracks until after the train passes. But I didn’t mind the half-an-hour drive back to Ames: it was free cookie day at Subway, and, when I stopped at Starbucks in Des Moines, I observed the return of pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks. So all wasn’t lost.

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The Omro of it All

Building by the Fox River

The road to Omro from Waupun (and US HWY 151) is fifty solid minutes on Wisconsin County Roads. I suppose I shouldn’t complain and should be grateful to the people who are willing to work with us, but last Tuesday as I made my way up County Road M, past the swivel in the road at County Road TC, I thought to myself, “Maybe it’s worth the extra twenty miles to take the major roads through Fon Du Lac and Oshkosh.”

This past trip marked my fourth trip to Omro overall. The first was last year, when I passed the town without much notice on a Thursday morning, exhausted after crossing Lake Michigan the previous night. Each of the other three trips, I ended up hanging around the town for an extended period of time that was longer than I intended. I didn’t have to go anywhere.

The Ben Franklin-style pharmacy

Omro is a pleasant city of just over 3,000, enough to seem substantial, but still really small. There’s a Piggly Wiggly and a BP/McDonald’s travel sitting on the east end of town, a small token of independence. The old fashioned, Ben Franklin-style pharmacy was in a state of remodel when I came in looking for twine. They didn’t have any, but I did find some at combo gas station/Subway/hardware store down the street.. There is a modest courthouse and town museum. It’s the smallest town I’d ever seen to have two thrift stores (until someone corrected me of this on Facebook), and there’s a bar next to the baseball fields which you could easily mistake for a machine shed. The largest restaurant location in Omro, a green roofed bar standing alone with dark tinted windows, currently sits empty. It is pledging to reopen in September “under new management.”

Omro’s Courthouse

I tried to off the restaurants in town and liked both. First, it was the Colonial Cheese House, and the last time, I sampled Jake’s Pizza, whose ad was on a tray in my room at the roadside motel. I was skeptical, but after obtaining the twine I needed, Jake’s was the first restaurant I walked by on the street. (Other than an authentic Mexican place, the likes of which I can find in Nebraska. There were two employees behind the counter, both on the phone most of the time I was there. I ordered a fish dinner and sat down to wait, expecting to write a full post by the time my food came. When the girl brought me my food, I’d written a measly two paragraphs. The way she handed the container to me, I knew it would be great, and it was. A small business ten miles from a major city has to work that much harder to keep its business.

The most distinctive part of Omro is the Fox River, which runs roughly through the middle of town. The city has several parks next to it, and there are a few homes with docks. In many ways, the river is to Omro is like Yellowstone is to Wyoming: a very unique feature, but it doesn’t seem to upgrade the town that much.

Bench on the Fox

It is in my work as a field monitor over the summer that I have to rely on the Omros, the Tomahs, the Reinbeck, Iowas, and the Doniphan, Nebraskas to get the things I need, like that ball of twine or the ice to keep the samples cold. I don’t romanticize these small towns, but I’m grateful for their presence. I admire the Jake’s Pizza and the gas station that takes in two other businesses, because they have to do more with less too stay in business. And every little memento I take from those towns, like that ball of twine and the legion baseball T-shirt of the Omro Dairy (“Thundering Herd) I bought at one of the two thrift stores, is logged into my brain and will be remembered every time I see that ball of twine or wear that T-shirt.

House on the Way out of Town

Road Notes: Back to Wisconsin and Dodging Biting Dogs

It was a bit exasperating to my psyche to go back to Wisconsin (even more so when a dog tried literally to bite me-keep reading), driving most of the same route to the same fields that I went to a month ago. But, I have some new experiences, so another edition of Road Notes. (First Edition and Sequel)

Plot in Spring Green is Shedding

Tuesday morning, I wake up in Dubuque, say goodbye to Tom and grab another punch for a free coffee. The morning clouds are laced by blue sun; it’s hazy and humid, but thankfully not a scorcher. When I get to the plot at Fennimore, I have to call our grower to double-check the location and find out the field I assumed was our test is not our test plot. The actual test plot is located in a place that is much more difficult to get to, along roughly graveled access road up-and-down an uneven plane. The plot itself is planted in a strip on a hill, and it’s going to be a long carry when I harvest the plants here.

Post-field, I head into Fennimore, intending find a library to e-mail some field notes to my father to make sure we are on the same page. I park the library parking lot, but see a bakery across the street, so I decide to support the local business. I don’t go in at first, but instead stand right outside the door to make sure they have WiFi. They do. The bakery is run by some conservative protestant women wearing homemade dresses and prayer-head coverings. I buy a pecan roll (incidently, “pecanroll” is the WiFi password). I e-mail my father, facebook a photo of the bakery to a friend of mine who’d love it (he does), and waste another twenty-minutes downloading podcasts, as if I haven’t already purchased two books on CD. Overall, the trip is a disaster.

The Cottage Bakery in Fennimore

This time, I decide to go straight north out of Fennimore instead of taking US Highway 18. Choosing a county road over US 61, which goes only a handful of miles to the west, it is finally cemented in my head that using county roads to navigate the Wisconsin hills just isn’t worth the hassle, especially when you’re slowing down for the Amish, which I do thrice.

Advancing to the town of Blue River on the Wisconsin River, I wonder what most of America would think if they knew that their milk came from dairies in the rotten wooden barns I’m passing. Blue River reminds me of Stapelhurst. Like every American town of 400 or less, it has too many buildings meant for businesses. From Highway 60 east, I get a spectacular view of the Wisconsin, which is dotted with sandbars, but nowhere near as shallow as the Platte.

Post-plot inspection (this one will be much easier to harvest than Fennimore), I drive into Spring Green and eat lunch at The Kitchen at Arcadia Books, the high-class bookshop/coffee shop I passed by last trip. The shop is built for light (light blue walls, varnished wood) and brandishes several old covers of The New Yorker on its walls. Ironic for southwest Wisconsin; must get Chicagoans out her for the Shakespeare festival.

 

Burn up through the valley to Mauston, where I stop at an Evangelical Christian coffee shop on the square. I’m drawn to the art in their windows, but I order a latte with a shot as well. They’re closing, so I head off and make a wrong turn as I try to get on the interstate and have to go back around the construction in town. Even though I-94 goes at an angle, only Wisconsin Highway 82 has an exit. 58 does not.

Most interesting vehicle I encounter on the way to Colfax is a F-350 with a trailer, North Carolina plates, and N.C. State plate on the front. Colfax is on the end of a dry spell, and our stuff there doesn’t look great, although it’s still July. On the way back down, I stop for dinner at Moe’s Almost Famous Diner, a 1950’a style place that I should have known values environment over food. The waitress is unengaged, tells me where to sit, is late taking my order and in bringing me the check, resulting in her tip getting dock. The food is really bad too, and I drive down to Tomah disappointed. Checking into the Super 8, the guy in front of me speaks with a Canadian accent, so I assume he’s driving the vehicle with Winnipeg Jets plates in the parking lot.

Tuesday morning, I wake up and, forgetting my lesson from the Cottage Bakery, waste a lot of time trying unsuccesfully to sync my iPod to my laptop. Our plot in Tomah has some insect damage but looks okay otherwise. As I get back to my truck, I met one of our plot’s farmers, introduce myself, and give him my card. We chat for a minute about the lack of rain, and I head out.

A couple miles east of Tomah, there’s a roadblock due to a bridge that’s out. I’m out in the middle of cranberry country and national forests, which means a long detour if I decide to take country roads. I consult my GPS and figure it’s worth the risk to go country roads. It pays off: I only have to drive eight or ten miles around, and I’m back on Wisconsin Highway 21.

Pond on the way

After viewing our field by Coloma, I stop for lunch at the Culver’s in Portage and trying to prove I’m classy, I find a lake and eat lunch in front of a bunch of swimming kids. Swing through downtown, cross the river, and I’m back on I-39.

I arrive at our plot in Arlington circa 12:30. It’s right next to a house, so I figure I should knock there first to let the people know I’m there. When I pull in the driveway, a dog comes up barking. I decide to ignore him, as I do all barking dogs, but he comes up beside me and bits a hole in my pant leg. (Praise the Lord I choose to put on long pants today.) Rattled, I head back to the cab of my truck without knocking on the door and without getting bit again. I debate what to do for a second, but then someone comes driving up the lane from the behind one of the barns. We speak to each other through our respective truck cabs; I don’t tell him about the dog bite, and he instructs me to drive to the field at the end of the lane I’m on. I do, and sit sheepishly in the cab for a few minutes while the dog continues to bark. Eventually, I cautiously get out and head into the field. The dog doesn’t follow me. I’m a bit relieved when I see that most of the crop here has been lost to drought, meaning I won’t have to go here again.

The dying plot

I take a county road (this one actually is straight) down to Sun Prairie, an upscale Madison suburb where I search for a place to buy scissors to cut off the dog rip in my pants. I don’t mess around and tell myself to stop at the first store I see, which turns out to be a Dollar General. No one stares at me when I go to buy the $2 scissors and a Gatorade, or when I come out and stand at the open door of my truck cutting my cargo pants into shorts. Thankfully, these pants were about shot anyway. On my way out of the shopping center where I bought the scissors, I make a failed attempt to jump on McDonald’s WiFi from there parking lot.

While I stop in Marshall to use their sterile peach library’s WiFi and call my Dad, I tweet about the irony of their being towns named Waterloo and Watertown within twenty miles of each other.

After examining the plot (excellent stand in spite of the heat), I drive into Watertown and take a leisurely break at Tribeca, a book/coffee shop with an upstairs that has a view of downtown Watertown. After working on an HL column on Rex Burkhead, I stroll down town to the river which must give Watertown its name. A bunch of teenagers roam the streets, and I wonder if their bored here during the summer.

Watertown

As I drive north out of Watertown, my dad texts me that the plot in Fox Lake has been abandoned and I won’t have to go there. I drive relieved through the wretched roundabout to get to Wisconsin Highway 26, relieved a stop has been eliminated.

I spend the night at what used to be the AmerInn in Waupun. The hotel is now called Borders for some reason, and a bunch of road crews are staying there. I’m exhausted, so I got to the one restaurant that’s close that I like: Culver’s, for the second time today. Later, I go back for ice cream.

I wake up at four and can’t get back to sleep. I work on my Husker Locker column, getting to the body of the work. I still manage to leave late and get to the first Omro plot at 8:40. The second plot takes me a while to find, but it’s by an abandoned school. The two plots (four miles apart) are works in contrast: the first is completely healthy, the second will be abandoned because of drought and weeds. Relieved, I drive back to Omro and waste some time browsing a thrift store.

Extra Mayo Without a Second Though

In the end of it, I was laughing so hard, I swear that I was in a college dorm room.

I was haging out with my friend Tom in the apartment of his friends Heidi, Naomi, and Laura, along with Heidi’s sister Emily. Tom’s roommate Dale and friend Bryce were along for what would be a very intriguing ride.

The night began innocently enough, with Heidi giving us one of her subtle psychology quizzes. Then she and Emily made things interesting and brought a jar of mayonnaise and graham crackers in the room. The girls began dipping the crackers into the mayo, and eating them, much to our collective dismay.

Naturally, I found this disgusting, given that I’ve never had a taste for odd food combination, such as peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches. But I felt a bit game, so I took a bit of graham cracker and swept up a bit of mayo on it. It tasted innocuous so I tried another one with a bit more on it. The flavors didn’t mesh very well. I tried one more with just a little, and it seemed fine, although I asserted the blend wasn’t perfect. I did it a couple more times, just so people couldn’t say I was coward.

By now, the attitude in the room was getting rowdy. Heidi had attempted to feed Tom a cracker chucked full of mayo, but both he and Dale refused. Bryce and I had gamely tried it. Upping the ante, the girls tried eating full spoonfuls off a big wooden spoon, wincing as they did so. I told them it would be easier to just chuck the spoon done without thinking. (Speaking from personal experience gained off a blender drinking dare in high school.)

But after Naomi choked down a glob and Heidi asserted she was going to be sick, they asked of we would believe that it was all just white chocolate pudding. They brought in the empty boxes to prove their ruse, and I tried the “mayo” again, trying to figure out why I hadn’t realized it when I tried it.

 

This was one of the odder experiences I’ve had in the last couple of years, mainly because, in high school and college, I was often the guy who didn’t get the joke and was on the fringes. To do this day, I still look around when people laugh, expecting to have done something embarrassing by accident. But this experience reminded of what I love about people, that they are capable of such great “creativity”, and life is about unexpected joys. This certainly counted.

Road Notes: Wisconsin Test Plot Tour

The trip before me..

Friday morning, I get up early and leave Dubuque by seven, determined not to waste time today. I get coffee at one of those drive-through huts by the mall and receive the third punch on a card that needs ten. I cross the Mississippi on the Wisconsin bridge and head for Fennimore, a semi-straight shot north. Fennimore has a Casey’s gas station plopped down right across from the town square; only other small town that I know has that is David City, Nebraska. I use the bathroom and buy vitamin water.There is a cornfield at the GPS coordinates I’ve been given, but there are no stakes to indicate the division of hybrids. I take some photos, check with my dad, and head out.

The next plot is in Spring Green, Wisconsin, to the east and a bit north. On the way there, I stop at the Frank Lloyd Wright Center to use the bathroom, darting past the retired tourist. It is overcast, but not raining. After checking my GPS and getting back on the road, my truck fails to get up past 45 MPH. I panic at first, but after I turn off to go the field, I see that I put the truck in second gear instead of overdrive. The plot is three miles from the Wisconsin River and is properly marked. I dally around Spring Green and almost go into a book store before I realize I have too many book already.

The Wisconsin River

Wheat field next to Spring Green plot

On the way up to my next plot in Tomah, I stop in downtown Mauston to get lunch at a local cafe, but when I see they don’t accept credit card, I walk out. (Michaelangelo’s didn’t take my card yesterday either.) I head up to the interstate and eat lunch at Subway in a travel plaza that has Brewer, Packer, and Badgers logos painted on the walls. Wisconsin love its sports and shows it. The plaza crowd: parents with kids, twenty-something guys heading to the wilds, a group of people dressed up for something (maybe a funeral), kids in some group, and a fifty-something guy alone wearing an Aaron Rodgers shirt.

I-94/I-90 to Tomah is laden with rock formation that I’d love to photograph. I get off on the north side of town and head to the field that I passed six miles from yesterday. I have to drive past a No Trespassing sign on a crude access road to get to the field, but no one comes by.

Back in Tomah, I check my online communications in the Culver’s parking lot and find an Amish guy selling baking goods and jam on the side of the road. I buy some monster cookies and a rhubarb crumb pie from him, and we chat for a minute about farming. I get back on I-94 and fly toward Madison.

Border of our Tomah plot

Wisconsin Dells looks like its packed up for the summer with kids and families. I get off at the exit right before I-90/I-94 merge with I-39 as the traffic begins to back up. I get gas at BP, where they are advertising free Brewers tickets, although you have to have seven purchases of eight gallons to get the tickets. I get two of the seven from my truck. I debate taking an alternate route, but don’t. Turns out to be the right decision as the traffic on I-90/I-94 has cleared.

It takes a while to get to the fourth field, by Arlington, because I have to take a bunch of county roads. It’s next to a farmhouse, so I don’t stay for long. It’s four o’clock, but I decide to head to one more field, this one by Watertown, before calling it a day.

I try to find a quicker way to Watertown that will involve using county roads. This leads to driving in the wrong direction for four miles, and I’m spent by the end of it. So I give in and drive through Watertown, and find the field, which is behind a dairy barn. I introduce myself to the owners and make my observations.

I decide to head up to Beaver Dam, which has hotels and is within ten miles of my next field. It’s just a half hour drive back through Watertown, who hasn’t yet finished a by-pass highway that will allow travelers like me to skip their quaint downtown. I spend the night and the Super 8 in Beaver Dam and eat dinner at the classy upscale sports bar in front of it (which serves breakfast for some reason). They don’t seat me when I come in the door, so I don’t tip as well I normally do, even though the Friday night walleye is really good.

Saturday morning, there’s an anxious woman behind the desk who asks if she can check me out while I’m eating breakfast. (There were at most four other parties staying at the hotel besides me.) After breakfast, I go to Wallgreens to get some meds and work on some blog articles, delaying my leave until nine. I stop by a river front market in downtown Beaver Dam and buy some honey, but it’s mostly a disappointment. I head back out of town and up Fox Lake where my plot is. The plot is on the side of County Road A. I have to walk a little bit from the turnoff where I park my truck.

Fox Lake test plot marker

Head into Fox Lake and put the GPS coordinates of the next field into my map, which turn out to be the wrong coordinates. The right coordinates are in an e-mail attachment that I can’t open on my iPod, and I need to have a WiFi connection to access. I find the little town library (which looks like a run down gas station, which chipped white paint and cement blocks) but it doesn’t open for another hour.

The public library in Waupun (15 miles up the road) has this zanny blue carpet with stars on it. The place is dead, and I have a seat on a couch in the teen section. After ten minutes of fiddling, I decide its not worth any more trouble to try and get on and leave. On the way out of town, I pull into a McDonald’s parking lot and find out that I can use my iPod to access the e-mail attachment I need.

Pass a number of dairy farms, noting how close the farms in Wisconsin are to each other, and how much more traffic there is. I stop at a park by the Fox River in Omro to use the restroom. The plot is five miles north of Omro, and I take my time there since it’s the last one. Upon finishing up there, I head back to Omro and get my lunch at the Colonial Cheese House, which is more like a specialty cheese store that happens to have a grill. I get a meal along with a huge pack of cheese curds, half of which I will certainly through away. I go back to the park and listen to Issues, Etc. while I enjoy lunch.

My Lunch View of the Fox River in Omro

Don’t Go Out There When It’s All in Here.

I had a great plan when I left Seward a couple of weeks ago. Get away, spend some time with my best friend. Read and write, get some perspective, and figure out what to do about work and the rest of my life.
Then Brandon Cavanaugh invited me to write for Husker Locker, an opportunity that seemed to be God’s way of saying to me, “Derek, you may drive around the plains, but you aren’t going to find any great revelation out there. Care to check My Word?” I was mulling going to New York. Hiding among the buildings, window shopping, hitting the best museums, not to mention the coffee and the food, but still, I get pulled back here.

A long time ago, I thought going off into the world and finding some kind of enlightenment. And travel can bred good perspective (as Eirinn so exemplifies) but my place is here, in Nebraska. I can’t really explain why. An artist like me would probably do better in New York or San Francisco; I’ve thought about going back to school at other places. But I’m convinced that this is where God wants me to be, and come fall, I’m going to give myself as much as I can to writing for Husker Locker.

When I graduated college and forgo grad school and seminary, I moved back home and expected to “find myself”. Instead, I spent many days playing video games and filling my life with Lost and 24 reruns, high drama as I thought of it then. And I traveled, and eventually, I began to work for the company. The only thing I learned from that mass of space in my head was that I had to commit to something if I want to go anywhere in life. The only time I came to believe I was worth more than what I had was the fall of 2010, when I handled several long weeks of tests without much of a break. It was the best accomplishment I had since I received a 98.2% in second semester beginning Greek, my freshmen year in college.
Recently, I heard a sermon by President Harrison that enlightened me to how God can work. Sometimes, he preached, we pray to God for a different place in life when we’re not content where we’re at. Hearing that, I know that, while Seward may not always be my cup of tea and there is a legitimate chance I may end up living here my whole life (horror of horrors), it’s comforting being here in this humble position (“Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation”[James 1:9 ESV]), knowing that God controls everything.

In way, I needed to be humbled after college. I got great grades, and thought I didn’t need other people, an assumption that proved miserably untrue. Maybe I needed to learn that I treating people like crap wasn’t what God wanted me to do, and before I could accept certain things with gratitude I needed to go to a lower place. Thanks be to God.

The Roads of Dubuque

If Omaha can figure it out, Dubuque has no excuse.  Omaha is shaped by hills and the Missouri river , but the roads are mostly straight . Even Fort Wayne keeps its roads going in round-about circles that generally don’t seem to bad, at least not in comparison to Dubuque’s streets. The longest a Dubuque street can go straight is nine or ten blocks

I think the reason I’m complaining is that I’ve been here to visit Tom 10 or 11 times since he’s moved here, and every time I drive around here, I always feel I get were I’m going by accidentally. I know Asbury Road, and that it ends by the Presbyterian Church and the University of Dubuque. I know how to get down to the Riverfront, but after that I’m reduced to driving around in circles. Too many streets start and stop and start in the wrong places; further, my GPS doesn’t work because of the bluffs. Granted, after a few days, I started to get the hang of it. I can find where I’m going, even if it takes me a while. But times I do wish I could look at roads that went straight for at least half a mile, and that there was one road that went straight from the waterfront to the end of town.

Sunday going to church, I had the prime example of how the roads in Dubuque are so screwed up. I came to a place where three roads came together, and I veered to stay on the natural way for the street that I was on to continue. It was the wrong way.

And even on straight roads, there are hazards. Take Loras Boulevard: there’s a turnoff on Loras I have to take that is right on top of a hill. You literally can’t see the oncoming traffic because the road falls off just beyond the intersection. I’m surprised I haven’t come close to an accident there.

Looking down from the intersection in question

Maybe I need to design my own city….

An Important One-Year Anniversary…

The Embarcadero, Just outside the Ferry Building

One year ago today, I flew to San Francisco to stay with my aunt and uncle for a month. Eleven months ago, I flew back here to Nebraska. In between, I soaked in a myriad of experiences as I tried new foods, observed new cultures, and read people on the subway. On that anniversary, I wanted to reflect on the last couple of months, and how that trip lead me to start writing this blog.

I began writing this blog back in November, after discovered the blog of a facebook friend (thanks Eirinn). At the time, I was in a very pent-up situation where I had a lot of thoughts but no way to express them. I kept thinking that everything I wrote had to be some huge book, but I found it was much easier to write a post for 500 words. My first posts were just my betting research, but then I expanded my territory and went with my heart. By mid-December I could produce a post a day.

Now it’s spring. I’ve finished the creative binge I had been on at the time (Stephen King claims that a creative cycle lasts a three months, a season). When my views went down at the beginning of March (spring weather), I decided that I needed to scale back and save some of my posts for this summer, when I’m traveling. I also have learned the value of connecting with other bloggers, and shaping my posts to better address their views.

But I really think the seeds for this blog began on those days in San Francisco, when I wandered the streets, messenger bag over my shoulder, eyes eager for the new. But I didn’t really find what I was looking for, and that was key.

I choose to spend a month in San Francisco because I wanted some perspective on life. My aunt and uncle had moved to the area in January of 2010, and Karen had asked me at a reunion in March of that year when I was going to come and visit them. It was something I had talked with them about years ago, so, in the coming months, I thought about it, and we arranged for me to visit in April of that year.

Scott and Karen had rented a suburban house with an ideal location close to the Interstate and the train to go into the city. Granted, Walnut Crack (as named to me by someone who grew up in San Francisco) is nothing more than Omaha with better shopping, but it’s got great weather and great view.

I will never forget the first time I got off the escalator from the subway and looked up at the skyscraper dominating. You can explain to someone how big a city looks, and it may look big on TV, but when you are looking there and standing in that dominated space, you realize how big the city really feels. Everything and everyone is so packed together in San Francisco, a city that is seven miles from one shore to the other. You can’t helped but feel small.

But what I learned most from walking those urban streets was that there’s a lot of opportunity in the world. I have never seen more people, and so many young people in one place. Everyone is bustling around from one place to the next, attending to their own business. It was when I started to realize, I should just be content with the world I saw.

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