I simply don't know where to begin. I love you so much, yet regrettably, I have only come to this realization over the past few years. Over 15 years ago I first set my eyes on you. A mere toddler, barely three-years-old, I couldn't possibly appreciate or embrace all that you were. However, without realizing it, I began falling in love with you over the ensuing years.
You were so beautiful that early fall day, as my three sisters, parents, and I began moving into our new home in the town of Gering, nestled in your panhandle. In those early years, the part of you I knew was limited to our neighborhood: A quiet, small group of houses situated alongside the Monument Shadows Golf Course, so named because we were in the shadow of the gorgeous Scottsbluff National Monument, one of the only formations that broke up your flat prairie landscape. Perhaps I became a little too comfortable with my neighborhood, as at only four-years-old, I boarded my little red tricycle, loaded my two-year-old sister on the back, and decided to take a ride around the neighborhood... by myself. Luckily, our local police officer escorted us back to the house after coming upon us halfway around the block. My family quickly had a great appreciation for another perk of our small town: even when I didn't know my own address, the officer knew where everyone lived.
For a young girl in a town of 8,000 people, the opportunities were endless; I don't remember being bored or lonely for even one second within your borders. In the summer, my sisters and I would pick the produce from our backyard garden and load it in our little blue wagon, then make our way around the neighborhood selling the fresh vegetables to our neighbors who had quickly become friends. To thank them, we would pick flowers from our yard and make May Day baskets each year to drop at every doorstep. Perhaps not as welcome were the loud "parades" we frequently led around the block, recruiting friends, gathering noisy instruments, and generally making fools of ourselves without realizing it, as our kind neighbors always humored us.
As a child, I took for granted the fact that your land was so plentiful until our New York City relatives visited and were completely astounded by the prospect of houses that didn't touch each other, large plots of land you could own yourself, and seeing more green plants than concrete. Now years later, due in large part to extensive traveling this year, I've finally come to appreciate my childhood growing up around open spaces and clean air.
I came to be thankful for your open spaces even more, as two new brothers were born at our local hospital, and my now five siblings and I had the ability to explore and play. With my mom homeschooling the six of us, I would hurry to complete my school work each morning in order to have the rest of the day to play. I loved Chimney Rock, which was an important landmark on the Oregon Trail when the pioneers who first fell in love with you made their way across the country. Perhaps the one place I have loved the longest, though, is the Scottsbluff National Monument. Beginning at a very young age, my sisters and I would pack our backpacks with water and snacks, board our bicycles, and follow the path near our house across the prairie to its base. As I grew older, I began making the trek myself and would then hike the path to the summit. Standing at the edge, gazing across the valley, was the most exhilarating feeling in the world.
For these reasons, as well as innumerable others, I love you, Nebraska.
Photo courtesy of Teresa Scanlan