Month: June 2012

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Petting a Rattlesnake, Lusker Ranch

Petting a Rattlesnake, Lusker Ranch

Petting a Rattlesnake, Lusker Ranch

Most people expect to see a car, some bikes and perhaps tools when they walk into their garages. The Meidells found a coiled rattlesnake; for fear it would be back and bite one of the kids, too far from medical help for them to have any hope of survival, Eric killed it.

Afterward, Leif was inexorably drawn to the hide of the reptile as it dried on the fence rail near the house as Eric rewound a rope behind him.

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PlainSky, Nebraskans: Storm and Moon, Buffalo County

Storm and Moon, Buffalo County

Storm and Moon, Buffalo County

This is the landscape of my youth: the southeastern last finger of the Sand Hills, their rolling tall grasses broken by occasional cornfields and stands of trees. It differs from the central and northwestern hills, with their intermittent ponds, lakes and absent trees, but in all hold true several constants: grass, sand, storms and sunsets.

The truly cavernous sky of the Sand Hills makes storms seem either miniscule or massive, and on this Wednesday evening, with its brilliant warm light flooding the plains, a large storm appeared toy-like and benign when compared to the moon and open heavens.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Abby Meidell, Lusker Ranch

Abby Meidell, Lusker Ranch

Abby Meidell, Lusker Ranch

Abby Meidell is a bright, honorable and cordial young woman; she served as our “tour guide” at the Lusker Ranch the morning of the May branding, showing us the land, explaining the minutiae of life, and showering us with massive caramel rolls.

As the adults prepared to ride out to round up the cattle pairs for the branding, Abby stood talking with my assistant and me, and the corrugated metal of the equipment shed made a fantastic background with the morning light creating dramatic shadows in the building’s galvanized waves. Abby would normally ride that morning, but still recovering from a ruptured spleen, she was grounded. As the adults began to ride off, she looked wistfully back at them, and it was evident where she would love to be.

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Ray Semroska, Orella Road Pasture

Ray Semroska, Orella Road Pasture

Ray Semroska, Orella Road Pasture

Ray Semroska is veteran rancher whose family has lived and ranched in Sioux County since the 1880s, a claim few Americans can make as they climb the ladder of real estate and career toward that dream home in a gated community in the perfect school district close to the golf club.

Ray knows his land with an intimacy founded in generational memory: Every draw, every tree, every washout from the last heavy rain is precious for Ray. If only all of us still had that tie to the land.

I grew up in the same circumstances, using the few trees, deep draws, creeks and open spaces of the southeastern Sand Hills as my playmates, and I think those experiences provided the impetus for my passion to work the PlainSky, Nebraskans project. In short, I feel the land deeply.

So does Ray.

 

PlainSky, Nebraskans: Tree and Its Dead Sibling, Sioux County

Tree and Its Dead Sibling, Sioux County

Tree and Its Dead Sibling, Sioux County

I have a fascination with single trees and phases of natural life, which explains some of this image. Moreover, with its vast treeless expanses broken only by the occasional lone cottonwood, the high Great Plains fostered in me a propensity for searching out those single sentinels as they bear silent witness to the changes in the world around them.

I found this cottonwood, together with its long-dead sibling, some time ago in the back country of Sioux County, and vowed to return.

And return I did at 5:00 a.m. on a late May morning.

Sergio, Lusker Ranch

Sergio, Lusker Ranch

Sergio, Lusker Ranch

Sergio is a character cowboy: funny, mischievous and genuine. During a brief respite at the Lusker Ranch branding in May, he said, “You know, I was a National Geographic centerfold.”

Intrigued, I asked for more details; Sergio was featured in 1993 as part of the story “Wide Open Wyoming,” photographed by Richard Olsenius. Sergio was carrying a mailbox across a road, and found it funny that such a picture emerged from his experience with the magazine.

“The photographer spent five or six days with us, and I end up in the magazine carrying a mailbox. Funny, eh?”

I imagine Olsenius found Sergio as photographically intoxicating as I did, and much of the branding, I made images of him. He’s not a Nebraskan, so he won’t feature in the Plainsky project, but he certainly will find a place in others. I chose to publish this one first as a character introduction to such a fascinating subject.