Yesterday my wife and I flew with our infant twin daughters back to my ancestral homeland of Nebraska. When we landed in Omaha, our trip was far from over, since we had to drive another 150 miles to get to my hometown in the south-central part of the state. Having lived out of the state for almost fifteen years, it has become much less familiar to me, yet that has allowed me the great pleasure of rediscovery. I am now aware of what makes my homeland such a unique and different place, even if I do not plan ever to return to it permanently.
The reality of my estrangement from Nebraska hit me quite suddenly and quite beautifully yesterday as we drove west down I-80 into a typical December sunset on the Plains. The low clouds on the limitless horzion glowed with brilliant hues of orange and magenta that reflected off of the snow-covered hills between Omaha and Lincoln. The sheer expansiveness of the sky and unbounded vistas of the earth were once mundane to me when I grew up here, but nowadays haunt me with their almost brutal force. Being crushed betwen sky and earth is a good reminder of one's own small place in the world, something that might account for the humility prized by Nebraska's people.
After the sunset faded, night fell. It was Nebraska night in the time of solstice, almost primeval in its total and utter darkness. This kind of night, especially in the midst of a balmy cold snap, makes the world seem a dangerous and threatening place for mere mortals as ourselves to be venturing into. I love New Jersey and New York City, and I have happily tethered my life to those places, but they can never jolt me to reflect on my own fragile mortality the way that a single highway drive through a cold winter Nebraska can do.