I pity the people who cruise through Nebraska seeing only endless fields of wheat and soy beans and corn as high as an elephant’s eye. They miss so much as they speed by locked inside their refrigerated SUV’s and mini-vans at 75 miles per hour. Things like Toad Stool State Park, a thin blade of the badlands slicing through the northwest corner of the state. The park is a collection of buttes and rock formations plopped down in the endless green sea of the Oglala National Grasslands.
On this brilliant July morning, the slanting light scalds the sculptured formations, bleaches them in light and shadows. It is stark, yes, like a lunar landscape, but there are also lush fields of ferns and glowing goldenrod that have caught the unusually abundant spring rains. I hop around this landscape, bounding from one formation to another like an old, gray-haired billy goat. I take pictures of all this, opening an enormous eye in my mind and capturing the creviced rocks and pockets of lush greens and glowing yellows.
After lunch, we head done the historic Platte River Road alongside the Oregon Trail, taking in the grass-covered Sand Hills and fields spotted with scattered bales of hay to Scott’s Bluff National Monument. The first thing we do, the only option, really, is to be awed by the columned layers of sandstone jutting into the air like the prow of a ship and the deep blue sky filled with speeding clouds. Then we hike up the looping path to the top of the bluff and repeat the process I followed this morning. I will again open the enormous eye in my mind and take pictures of all this, capturing the rugged bluffs topped with spindly pine trees, the great empty plains covered with velvet-green grass and creased with twisting, knotted streams, and endless cloud filled skies.
Later, I will cull through the images of the day, get them down in my note book. I will cultivate, nurture, and grow memories as my pen scribbles across the page. When I am done, I will select the brightest ones and hang them in the Museum of my Mind.
Before retiring, Scott Peterson was an educator in Mattawan, Michigan. He also taught writing classes at Western Michigan University. HIs essays and poetry have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals.