Day 2 of our great Nebraska journey took us to the Rowe Sanctuary at 5:30am under cover of total darkness.
To be clear…we were remote. Very remote. The closest city, about 12 miles away, is Kearny (pronounced Car-Knee) and has a population of a whopping 30,000.
We were also told to dress for cold, extreme cold. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary as it was a balmy 50 degrees.
So, why were we there?
600,000 Sandhill Cranes
Only to see the largest migration of Sandhill Cranes in the world. At one peak point this year, there were (we were told) 600,000 birds along the Platte River.The come up from Mexico, Texas and other parts of the southwest to fatten up here prior to their flights to northern Canada, eastern Siberia, Alaska, and other locations.
They’ve been doing this for millions of years and the Audubon is working to preserve the ideal environment for them which, as you might suspect, has been impacted by human habitation in all various forms. I’m becoming quite the environmentalist.
After a long, silent walk (you need to be quiet and avoid flashes to prevent spooking the birds), you arrive at a “blind” where you can observe the birds waking up in the middle of the river.
[Incidentally, we learned that the phrase “a mile wide and inch deep” was coined in reference to the Platte River in Nebraska. After having seen it, we can understand why].
When you get inside the blind, you have to be quiet and only red flashlights (which don’t scare the birds) are permitted. However, you have the opportunity to look at the various holes, use your binoculars, telephoto lenses (no rapid shots allowed-again, bird spooking) and watch the animals.
The noise. You constantly hear the noise, sort of a guttural sound as they communicate with each other. When you cup your hands around your ears to intensify it, the sound is so powerful.
Slowly, but surely, the birds come to life. They do mini-dances, start to flap their wings, and a few take off. Then more, then more…until a final grand finale when they all leave (kind of like the last train is leaving) to head off for a day of foraging with the ultimate goal of increasing their body weight to prepare for the long flight, the summer mating/nesting season, and whatever else they do in their free time.
You’re in there for 2 hours and initially you might think, “what the heck am I going to do staring at birds for 2 hours?”
But after about 3 minutes, it becomes mesmerizing. It’s meditative and a cause for reflection. You think about the digital/urban lifestyle that so many of us lead and how divorced we are from the realities of the natural world. Which is sad.
You think about the bigger picture. You are in awe that God (or whatever you think) created so many creatures and why hundreds of thousands of them come to this one spot every single year. You think about your place in the universe.
You see the dawn start to emerge, the figures start to become more clear through the lenses of your binoculars. You see the red on their heads and the black and grey of their feathers. The blurry shapes turn into High Def creatures.
And, then, in the epic Grand Finale…they all leave and the river is totally empty of birds, where only minutes before thousands had been.
The sun is now up. It’s 8:08am and you head back to the Visitor’s Center. You just had a surreal experience and it hasn’t all sunk in yet, but you know you saw something that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Life in a Flyover State
Before heading back to Omaha, we had a chance to have lunch with Bryan Kuntz of Intellicom, a Kearny, NE technology provider. Five or 6 years ago, he had participated in a class I gave and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.
Bryan rounded out some of our perceptions about Nebraska from Day 1 and commented about the low unemployment (3%), high growth of the economy (agriculture, manufacturing, and increasingly technology), and best of all, the quality of life for his family.
Low crime rates and a very friendly atmosphere. He said that his in-laws cannot even physically lock their home, as there are no locks on the doors at all. Yes, you read that correctly.
That dovetailed with something we had experienced while at the state capital building. There is NO security to get in there.
X-ray scanners and metal detectors are now so common place that it’s noticeable when it’s not there.
But here’s the thing…at least in my experience, people on the East and West coasts like to deride middle America as “flyover states” and the perception that the people who live there are less sophisticated, less open-minded, less educated, and less intelligent.
However, even in the middle of the Platte River Basin, you have 4G coverage. The wi-fi in our motel was faster than some places I’ve been in New York City.
The people I’ve met (and yes, it’s a limited subset) are educated, informed, and connected.
They just like the pace of life and the fact that they can let their kids walk around the neighborhood without fear.
And, I’ve decided that the term “flyover state” is just plain arrogant. Look around Nebraska (or any other states in this area). First off, these are people like you and I, just doing their best, but maybe more significantly for all of us…this is where your food is grown. Don’t take that for granted.
So, I guess Nebraska, Day 2 represents an appreciation of the world at large, beyond the urban metropolises in which I normally find myself and the digital lifestyle which I lead.
It reminds me of the larger eco-system in which I am but a bit player; reminds me of the many pieces of the global puzzle, all of which have a role to play.
P.S. A special shout out to the kosher bagel shop (Bagel Bin) in Omaha. Who knew?! ;-)