Friday, July 28, 2006


All In The Family... Life in The Nebraska Sandhills...

Landlubber \Land"lub`ber\, n. [Prop. fr. land + lubber, or possibly corrupted fr. laudlouper.] (Naut.) One who passes his life on land; -- so called among seamen in contempt or ridicule.
Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)

I've come to a fuller appreciation of my landlubber status after reading about oceanside recreations in GreenmanTim's Walking the Berkshires and Sarabeth's I Once Was HP. Their climates are different (Massachusetts for Tim vs. Florida where Sarabeth remembers playing in the ocean), but they could be writing about Mongolia as far as I'm concerned. That's how foreign their oceanside experiences are to me.

In the Nebraska Sandhills where I grew up, water was plentiful in small quantities. It spilled out of the cattle tank overflow pipe and creatied little windmill ponds in every pasture. The Skull and Bloody creeks usually had a little water around under their bridges, and in spring when the snow melted, they flooded their swamps. We had a fishing lake on the Big Meadow that was fed by artesian wells and stocked with northern pike and bass. It was several acres in size with a big marsh of cattails and bulrushes around it.

We crossed the Calamus river frequently, and occasionally we crossed a larger river: one of the three Loups, the Niobrara, the Elkhorn, the Republican, or even the broad sandy Platte in our travel around the state.

If we went to Iowa, we crossed the Missouri River, and if we went to Illinois, we crossed the Mississippi River. It was quite a thrill to go across big bridges and look out the car window to see the river far below. (In those days, most bridges were built so you could see the river, unlike modern bridges.)

I sometimes threw a fishline into the water (the creeks and our artesian lake). I sometimes waded in the windmill pond to catch pollywogs and I often dipped my arms into the windmill tank to collect snails. A few times each summer, my parents took us to wade and splash in the Calamus River where it was broad and shallow. At the annual week of summer Bible camp, we spent an hour each day playing in the creek. This paragraph describes the full extent of my childhood interaction with water beyond the bathtub and garden hose.

Neither of my parents could swim, and they didn't consider it particularly important that we children should learn to swim. The swimming pool at Bassett offered lessons, but it would have been a daily round trip of 70 miles for my mom to take us. She was busy in the summer with many things that had to be done. I understand that, and I'm not angry about it.

Later in life, I learned to do a very inefficient dogpaddle that might allow me to survive for a minute or two without touching my feet to solid ground. Perhaps more importantly, I learned to float on my back. Still, I'd be a goner without a lifejacket in deep water.

A couple of summers ago, I let my brother and sister-in-law talk me into kayaking on the Niobrara river in northern Nebraska. My sister-in-law grew up on the banks of the Loup River and she swims, but my brother (like me) is totally life-jacket dependent. He loves kayaking though, and in most of the Kansas rivers they go on, he could stand on the riverbed and have his head above water.

That little trip of a few hours down the Niobrara was the closest contact I've had with a river in years. I really enjoyed it. I understood the well-being that Huckleberry Finn and Jim always felt when they were back safe and sound on their raft, floating down the river. It's very peaceful.

In the photo below (taken with a waterproof Kodak disposable camera) my brother in his cowboy hat and Isaac are leading the way. My sister-in-law sent a photo of me in my kayak, but I can't locate it at the moment. (However, I have proof, if pressed!)

I've seen the Atlantic once (not counting views from airplane windows.) Descriptions of the ocean and the beach in the blogs I mentioned above have made me think that sometime in the next few years, I should make an effort to see the ocean a few times before I get too old to travel. I would like to come home with a collection of seashells and smooth rocks I have gathered for myself, even if I don't find any quahogs or do any bodysurfing.

Dwight and Isaac on the Niobrara
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

UPDATE 8/10/06

Aha! While searching fruitlessly for another photo, I found the kayaking photos I mentioned above. Here I am with my brother. You can see who is wielding the paddle expertly. (Hint: it's not me!)

Dwight and me
Niobrara River, August 2004.

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Sarabeth said...

Just last week as my mother-in-law watched my daughters bob up and down in the pool repeatedly she asked if the water in their ears bothered them. I told her no, that they had never complained of it.

"Well, how do you get it out?" she asked, clearly looking perplexed.

I then realized something of my non-swimming mother-in-law and asked, "Have you never had your head under the water?"

"No. Well, in my baptism, but it wasn't long enough for water to get in my ears. Doesn't it feel weird?"

"It never did to me, but I'm sure it would to you. Plus, sound is different with water in your ears. It's distorted."

The rest of the swim lesson she kept playing with her ears.

And, I'll have to write a nicer story about the beach. The one where I came close to drowning isn't typical of my beach experiences, but it did happen.

GreenmanTim said...

The hardest part about the beach is packing to leave. My little ones are settling down and I'm moving about the old house replacing our numerous divots. It is a melancholy chore, made more so by the knowledge that my 95 year-old grandmother will probably move out of the house into an assisted living situation at the home of one of her caregivers at the end of the summer. I made sure to take lots of pictures of her with her great-grandchildren, who love her unconditionally despite having no knowledge of her when she had command of her mind and memories. It is "Great-Gran's" to them, and that is a blessing.

Thanks for the link and the kind words. I'm waiting to post on the whales until I have access once again to my scanner. Pure magic!

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.