The Nebraska Press Women group imagined a day as bright as a crocus when it held its spring conference April 27 in Broken Bow. The agenda included a trip to a wind farm, but Mother Nature didn’t get the memo.
Despite the wind, it was an unforgettable afternoon, not only being sequestered inside a turbine, but being immersed in the prairie, too.
On that bitter, grumbling afternoon, we headed north from town to a sprawling ranch owned by Matthew Haumont. Wind turbines were splayed across his prairie for miles, their white blades turning in that wind like white kayak oars.
As we got out of our cars, we gripped our windbreakers with icy fingers, fearing that the ax-sharp wind might fling us away like stray tumbleweeds. We tightened our daisy-yellow hard hats and slipped on clunky safety goggles.
Then Haumont and Craig Sheridan, an on-site technician for Broken Bow area wind projects owned by Con Edison Clean Energy Businesses, led us into the guts of a turbine. Sheridan led us up the steps of a tiny substation underneath those Goliath-sized blades — it was turned off for safety — and unlocked the door. We crowded inside, all 18 of us, but Sheridan left the door open, so we had to scrunch into the interior corners to escape the wind.
Sheridan explained technical stuff, electrical stuff. On one side, 153 metal rungs scurried all the way up to the turbine’s roof. As Sheridan talked, I gazed out that open door and saw the wind roam and dip and heave the prairie grass up and down like waves on the sea in a fierce gale.
When Sheridan finished, we were let loose. We headed back out into the wind, back onto the prairie and I came alive.
Other NPW members headed back to the warmth of their cars, but not me. I stood staring at the prairie, that nothingness, that void open to the wind and the sky. Land rolled into forever until it was lost in every direction.
I am from Cleveland. I’ve lived in Nebraska for just five years, but I am still struck dumb by the prairie. I wondered like I always do what day-to-day life is like out here. I wondered what it was like for Haumont to tend to his hundreds of cattle during round-the-clock calving season.
Soon, NPW member Irene North joined me.
Wow, she said. She’s a reporter for the daily newspaper in Scottsbluff, but she ventured to Nebraska just a few years ago with her husband. They came from north of the Hudson River near West Point in New York state, from land shaped not by corn and prairie, but by mountains thickly forested like heads of broccoli.
Irene grabbed her camera and began snapping away. We uttered phrases like: “Look at that!” “All this space!”
We two tongue-tied “easterners” literally and figuratively were blown away by rural Nebraska as it runs away to the Sandhills.
You do not understand, and how can you? How can you scurry to your car when all this wonder is spread out before you?
Clustered in an arroyo below was a herd of cattle, a handful of Haumont’s 900 cow-calf pairs. We watched them, too. One cow plodded up the arroyo and studied us for a bit. Haumont had told us that the turbines don’t bother the cattle. Sometimes, the cattle even mingle among them.
I was shivering. Those ominous clouds threatened to collapse into cold rain. They kept circling like lions moving in for the kill. Irene and I knew time was running out — NPW had come out here to see windmills, after all, not the panorama of the prairie — but she kept snapping photos, sneaking in one more from this angle, one more from that one.
At last, I heard Lori Potter holler that it was time to go back to Broken Bow. Lori is a farm girl from Wilcox. She knows this land in ways that I never will. But I see it in ways she never will.
I hope I never, ever get tired of it.