story by Andrew Norman | photos by Angie Norman
It felt like we caught a lightning storm dancing naked in front of its bedroom mirror. It didn't think anyone was looking. It surely wouldn't have been so flashy, otherwise, showing off so brazenly, shooting hot streaks of light across an otherwise black sky as if it was chucking gallons of paint onto a canvas.
As we drove north on HWY 14 to the Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary for the inaugural Nebraska Music Retreat Aug. 25, we realized this natural art show was going to happen whether or not we left our light-polluted city.
Fortunately, we did.
Eight of us spent a weekend in one of the most beautiful areas of an already gorgeous state. We were all from Lincoln, so Hear Nebraska's goal to attract musicians, artists and journalists from across Nebraska to commune with nature and each other and to collaborate on an album recorded around a campfire didn't go entirely as planned.
No matter. We couldn't have had a better time, hauling hay bales and each other in the bed of an old 1960s Ford pickup to a firepit near the Niobrara River, enjoying a minnow spa treatment as we lounged in the fresh water, playing music and singing songs under stars popping so brightly they look like mini moons on an absolute-dark sky that began at the horizon from every direction.
We slept like drunken babies in the laid-back Lazy Easy farm house that, in five minutes, makes you feel as if you'd lived there your whole life. We even spent an evening at the sanctuary's grand Hutton House — an expertly furnished, ideallic prairie home on the 5,000-acre, nonprofit sanctuary — where we told dirty jokes, drank cheap whiskey and raised our voices playing cards.
We chased turkeys and crop dusters, and we put feathers in our hats. We grilled tender steaks that came from HN intern Casey Welsch's parents' farm in Fairbury. And we experienced Nebraska's appropriately not-so-extreme sport of tubing down a slow, shallow river — flatlander water luge. In case the natural landscape didn't make the experience spiritual enough, the legally ordained Welsch performed a rousing baptism for his fellow intern, Bryce Wergin, in the heavy, chilling waters of Smith Falls, dunking Wergin six or so times for good measure.
More than anything on this trip, we appreciated how quiet and slow life could be, and talked about all the things we normally don't have time for. It was the good life at its best. I hope you'll join us next year.