Western Nebraska: national treasure, best-kept secret

Western Nebraska: national treasure, best-kept secret
Head west to the Nebraska National Forest, not far from the Wyoming State Line, where pine ridges reach heavenward; where temperatures are mild this time of year; where the air is clean and dry; where the pace is slow and quiet.

People out there tend to be good natured. Most don't hesitate to strike up a conversation with total strangers.

You know this even before you arrive. Go west on Highway 20 to the sandy grass-covered hills and be greeted by the Nebraska wave.

Look for the noticeable salute from drivers of oncoming cars: one index finger slightly raised from the steering wheel to welcome you as an honorary nameless sojourner.

Mosey through town and you can't help stir up conversations with people you meet along the way.

When you do, discover what the world is searching for: friendliness you trust, openness you believe, sincerity you embrace.

Like the modern-day cowboy you meet, whose ranchland covers thousands of acres; whose cattle roam with antelope; who checks his herd by plane; who points out the difference between a grassy knoll and a weathered butte; who says with a crusty chuckle, "No, those ain't rocks; them are cow pies."

Then, pointing in a southerly direction, down a long dusty road named for the original homesteaders, his great-great grandparents, he nods at the noonday sun. And with a prideful tone, he directs your attention to an abandoned one-room school house, where children once learned how to read and write – how to be friendly, trustworthy, and sincere.

Reading a local police report offers the same sense of freedom and security.

"9:26 a.m. Caller advised his black flip phone had been flushed last night at the above location. 7:37 a.m. Caller advised this morning she noticed that someone had gotten into her vehicle last night and messed everything up ?�stated nothing seems to be missing but they sure made a mess.

"5:37 p.m. Caller advised that his sister had come into his home and was pretending to be his wife. Caller stated that he and his wife had just moved here and that the sister had lived here for some time.

"4:49 p.m. Caller advised there were two females and one male sitting on a couch in the alley and appeared to be watching houses. Caller requesting they be checked on ? "

7:01 p.m. Caller advised Western Nebraska is a national treasure. Caller requesting to keep it a best-kept secret.

A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her column writing has won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. For more information, e-mail pauladamon@iw.net.

� 2007 Paula Damon

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