UNL Range Club goes to Florida

Photo By | Ashley Burns

The Nature Conservancy was nice enough to let a rowdy group of Range Students tour the Disney Preserve a few miles outside of Orland, Fla. Touring in a swamp buggy students were given a first hand experience of the unique ecosystems indigenous to Florida.

This Live Oak plays host to parasitic Spanish Moss and ferns. Without proper management Live Oaks in Florida can colonize open grass expanses and make it difficult to maintain functional grassland ecosystems.

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Amanda Hefner celebrates the open ocean

A large alligator takes a break from the tepid, swampy waters. Nebraska students are enthralled.

Young alligators sunning themselves on the swampy bank

Cubans

Nope.

This is not a witty expose on the merits of a pre-Castro Cuban Economy, Cuban culture, Cuban dancing, Cuban music or Cuban rum and definitely not European Cigars.

This actually has everything to do with coffee and the fact that a very European coffee house called the Chocolate Bar house exists in Grand Island, Neb.

And at said coffee shop, they have drink called a Cuban.

Really its pretty simple – espresso, condensed milk.

No fruffy syrups or complicated frothing. Just a simply good shot of espresso and steamed condensed milk.

Simple. Sweet. Well-balanced.

Oddly enough, it’s metaphorical for this state. Sometimes locked in a Rockwellian vacuum, but with these bizarre paradoxes. Like the guy with the long, grey pony-tail sitting with a farmer at the window of this unique little gem. Or the dude talking to the lady next to me with the converse, cardigan and giant gauged ears.

I admit that the last time I was in Europe I was 11, and I have never been to any of the Scandinavian countries. But if I could imagine a Euro-coffee bar, it would be like this place – painted white brick walls, minimalist white/black decor, plain pine benches at long tables, high ceilings and drum lights.

Did I mention they serve beer here. Like good beer. Good local beer.

And I am kindred spirits with whoever acts as their DJ. So far I have heard Awolnation, Imagine Dragons, Plain White Ts and Nat King Cole. And not one Dadgum country song.

It is quite wonderful here.

This town is its own kind of unique. In many ways its like every other medium sized mid-western town. In truth, Garrison Keillor described a smaller version in Lake Woebegone Days, “The buildings are quite proud in their false fronts, trying to be everything that two stories can be and a little bit more.”

Most of the places down here by this coffee shop are fly-by-night law offices and run down bars that had their heyday 25 years ago. But in the mix are a few art galleries and one or two restaurants that might have amounted to something in a larger town. Along with places called things like, The Place, Coney Island Luncheon and the Chicken Coop, there is one bar not-so-subtly alluding to one of my favorite poems called J. Alfred Prufrock’s.

And this is why I love the mid-west. Just when you least expect it, in front of a dower brick building, with a false front 30 years out of style and a brass plaque advertising the services of lawyers also 30 years out of date, you find a gem.

I really only like cities at night

I really only like cities at night

Give me countryside by day

But at night the city changes shirts

and puts on a tuxedo jacket

At night the lights come on and set the stage

and remind us what movies used to be

The night covers up decay

The grit becomes glamour

the ghosts of Bogart and Bachal waltz

under the light of street lights and neon signs

preforming to the rhythm of the city

In the spaces between the shadows

they remind us what romance should be

The orange hue of halogen street lights becomes key lighting

on faces of passersby and ghosts

of champagne nights, mink fur coats and cigarette smoke

To remind us how the years have passed

The band has played the last number 

The rouge and lipstick have worn away

The modern world has gotten out of step with the sway

But at night, in the city

we can catch our breath

And for a few hours we can hear the band strike up again

Playing As Time Goes By 

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Creamed Peas

When I first got engaged to Travis, his grandma Georgia, decided I needed to be trained.

“When I first got married to Lee,” she said, “my mom taught me how to make white gravy and Lee’s mom taught me how to make brown gravy.”

Georgia is a first-rate farm wife, former hair-dresser, small business owner and fabulous cook.

And she’s tough.

At 5’10 with short, slightly spiky grey hair, Georgia is not afraid to tell you exactly how it is. (I aspire to be like Georgia)

Georgia was raised the youngest of ten siblings in Humphrey, Neb. Her dad was the town veterinarian. After 35 years of living on the farm she and her husband Lee moved back to the house she grew up in in Humphrey.

It’s two-stories, red brick, with a big front window and a nice front deck that you can sit on in the summer and passing neighbors will wave and comment on the weather. It has a small rectangle of perfectly trimmed lawn in the front and an unobstructed view of the neighbor’s equally well maintained lawn in the back.

And there is no better place to be, than Georgia’s kitchen.

Georgia cooks the old dishes Norman Rockwell’s idyllic families would be proud to serve. Golden brown turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy at Thanksgiving; slow-cooked pot roast done to perfection with cheesy hash browns and green bean casserole on Sunday; Ham with green salad (always served with Dorothy Lynch) and Jell-o dessert at Easter.

The first dish she taught me to cook was creamed peas.

I, being from California, where the closest thing I ever got to creamed peas was pea soup, was rather astounded at the thought of adding white sauce to canned peas. And by white sauce, I mean butter, flower and milk.

And, guess what, it’s awesome! Creamed peas are fabulous!

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Two of the toughest women I know, My mom and Georgia.

Scenes from the Mill

“Deb, I said, this is Lincoln. We got it good here,” said the man in the expensive peacoat.

I love coffee houses. I love coffee houses, because there is not better place on this planet to people watch. And the best is the Mill.

Located down town in a literal brick and mortar building that anywhere in California would have come with a sign alerting you to the danger of occupying such an establishment during an earthquake. The floor has seen too many shoes and too many spills, too many college students and too many business men. It is more board than varnish and has large chunks missing, but its got a story and its the better for it.

The interior has eclectic on lock. There are antique coffee grinders and a Schwinn bike in the window, and as you walk up to the counter a variety of vintage toys critically disdain your beverage choice.

The Mill is divided into two rooms, the one you walk into is long and narrow with a wooden counter. It is the one with the toys. The second is wide but has a corridor that leads to a back room and it looks like the inside of a pole shed with a vaulted tin roof being held up by 4 inch round peeler-core posts. There is a well used couch and a slouchy chair. This is the coffee shop of coffee shops.

There is the contractor in his carpenter jeans who is attempting to appear casual and at ease in his quarter-zip fleece and equally adept in his steel toes that have obviously never seen a construction site.

There is the busy little lawyer, in his busy suit, with the giant thermos.

Then there is the ad man. He works at a shop up the street. His khaki pants, Columbia jacket, and top of the line hiking boots are to give the impression of a man meant for the outdoors. He is not. Nothing about his outfit has been any further outdoors than the half-block walk to the Mill.

There is an interview going on behind me. The girl in that booth doesn’t know, but I am interviewing with her.

No one here is in any hurry. This is not Starbucks. If you want a rush go there.