I like to visit Omaha at least once a year to reacquaint myself with my place of origin. I need to walk the hills, breathe the air and feel the positive vibrations of the people of The Corn in order to remember who I am.
I am from the middle. The Heartland. It’s a place of immense beauty, but interestingly, not everyone can see it due to its subtle nature. My interest isn’t in moving people to see what I see in the vastness of the Nebraska sky or the swirly patterns of its rivers. It’s personal, this need to reconnect with the patterns of my making.
My grandpa, Eldon Burn, shared the best parts of Nebraska with me when I was young. For example, we used to load Prince in the station wagon and head south, past Nebraska City to farmland owned by friends. Prince (and later, Duke) always cried with excitement the entire ride, springing into action on the crunchy cold ground once we arrived, his nose and legs ready for duty. Duty meant finding a covey of Bob White quail, and Prince never failed to perform his assigned tasks, just as Eldon’s one good eye never failed to bring down one, two or three quail in perfect sequence.
It’s been decades since I have hunted quail, but the hunt is eternal. It’s the game that changes. Now I hunt for work, talent and hometown experiences that need revisiting.
Seeing the impressive collections at Joslyn Art Museum, especially all the Western and native art is an experience I need to have every so often. It helps me to vividly imagine what it was like for my ancestors who came from Europe to this totally wild place, where it was common to sleep with a rifle under your blanket in a house made from sod.
I think of the word “fierce” when I contemplate 19th century Nebraska. Even if you were headed for points beyond, just getting across the state on horse, foot or wagon would have been an epic journey. Just as it was an epic journey from the British Isles, France and Russia–the countries of my ancestors–to America and the Great Plains.
It goes without saying that people form their identities in response the climate and land where they live. On Sunday, I made it a point to climb the highest hill I could find near Omaha’s Old Market. From the pinnacle in Little Italy south of downtown, you can see for miles. In 19th century terms, you can “scout” and there’s a lot to pick up on, including a massive amount of building and rebuilding in downtown and along the riverfront.
In other parts of the U.S. ambitious developments are floundering. Not so in Omaha. Unemployment is under 5% and retailers have not fled, they’ve converged. There’s a new baseball stadium going up north of downtown, new hotels, new warehouse living, new running trails, a new pedestrian bridge across the Missouri, and that’s just a slice of the action.
Omaha has it going on, and I’m proud to see the city grow and become ever more vital to its inhabitants and visitors alike. If you’ve never been to Omaha and you don’t know people there, you might be wondering when you will have occasion to change that. There are myriad answers: the College World Series every June, Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder’s meeting, BigOmaha, or any number of concerts at Qwest Center or smaller indie rock shows at Slowdown, a venue owned by Saddle Creek Records. Once you visit, you will know people in Omaha, and that will make your return visits all the more enjoyable.
To see more photos from my visit, click over to this Flickr set.