July 2010


Prairie Fire Newspaper went on hiatus after the publication of the September 2015 issue. It may return one of these days but until then we will continue to host all of our archived content for your reading pleasure. Many of the articles have held up well over the years. Please contact us if you have any questions, thoughts, or an interest in helping return Prairie Fire to production. We can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you to all our readers, contributors, and supporters - the quality of Prairie Fire was a reflection of how many people it touched (touches).

Heritage Nebraska highlights Hidden Treasures and Fading Places for 2010

By J. L. Schmidt

Just in time for your short Nebraska-based “staycations “ or extended weekend outings, Heritage Nebraska has released its 2010 list of Fading Places and Hidden Treasures. The Fading Places are those endangered places that are suffering from neglect, inappropriate or inadequate use or economic or environmental factors out of control. Hidden Treasures are those gems that you won’t find advertised on the tourist brochure racks at the Interstate 80 rest areas or the local tourist attractions, but they are worthy of mention just the same.

Rediscovering the schools of Brown County

By Alan Bartels

Generations of Americans were educated in the familiar one- and two-room country schools that once dotted the Great Plains. Though some remain, due to budgetary challenges and shrinking rural populations, the rural school is fast fading from the Nebraska landscape. Ruth Ann Steele of rural Brown County, Neb., through persistence and amateur archaeological expeditions, works to preserve not only the country school where her husband and children attended but all of the schools that have ever existed in Brown County.


"Polking Around"
May 9, 1974

By Norris Alfred

Lawrence Ackerman died at the Central City hospital Thursday and was buried in the Stromsburg cemetery Saturday. He was 79. Lawrence was a loner who had become a familiar figure on Polk’s Main Street after moving into the hotel many years ago. During the past year we could see he wasn’t well. He had grown thin and would walk into the Food Shop in the morning with his hands in his pockets, not for warmth nor from nonchalance, but to help hold his trousers up.

Nebraska Wesleyan theater: Doing the art, finding the life

By Dr. Roger Cognard

Few undergraduate theater programs field as high a percentage of their students in post-collegiate professional work as the Nebraska Wesleyan Theatre Department. Recent graduates of our program—virtually a professional theater company embedded in a liberal arts setting—have compiled an impressive list of credits. One alum landed roles in NBC’s “Law & Order,” the movie “It’s Complicated” (alongside Meryl Streep) and the touring production of “August Osage County.” Another played Tybalt at the Tony Award-winning Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. A third former student has completed several years as sound engineer at Nashville’s Dollywood, while a fourth, working professionally for only two years, landed a lead in the touring production of “Hairspray.” Another graduate managed the costume shop for the Palm Springs Playhouse in Palm Springs, Calif., and yet another began work as assistant artistic director of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre in 2009. Other program alums have delighted Shakespeare audiences in Cincinnati; have taught eager high school theater students in Omaha; directed technical work at the Lincoln Community Playhouse and stage-managed for the Oslo Theatre in Florida. One graduate even established her own actors’ photography studio in New York and now casts and manages productions at the Stratford, Ontario Shakespeare Theatre. And other Wesleyan theater majors by the score pursue professional careers in such prestigious venues as the Virginia Shakespeare Theatre, the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, the New Jersey Shakespeare Theatre, the Pasadena Playhouse, Disney Studios, the National Theatre in London, and major stages from Los Angeles and Denver to Chicago and New York.

Oil, water and 'The Blob'

By Eli S. Chesen

The April 20 Gulf of Mexico Deep Horizon oil spill disaster, with its seemingly infinitely expanding crude oil slick, has been reminiscent of the 1958 movie “The Blob,” starring a 27-year-old Steven McQueen (later his moniker changed to just “Steve”). The trailers for the old movie warned, “Beware of the Blob! It creeps, and leaps, and glides and slides across the floor.”

Nutrient pollution in the U.S. calls for urgent action

By Ephraim King, Ellen Gilinsky, Marcia Willhite, Jill Jonas and Jim Taft

Nitrogen and phosphorus, two chemicals that healthy plants need to grow, can, in excess amounts, cause serious problems for the water we swim in, fish in and drink. And, despite our collective best efforts, the problem is not getting better. As the United States population expands, nutrient pollution from urbanization and stormwater runoff, municipal wastewater discharges, air deposition and agricultural livestock and row-crop activities is expected to grow as well. Increased public health risks and treatment costs from contamination of drinking water supplies, in particular, is a major concern.

Swallows along the Platte, part two

By Charles R. Brown

The cliff swallow’s highly social nature also illustrates a fundamental consequence of living together for most animals: there are plenty of opportunities to exploit others around you. By color-marking cliff swallows and intensively observing them at their nests, we discovered that these birds are constantly trying to use their neighbors to their own selfish advantage. A bird will intrude into the nest next door, steal its neighbor’s nesting material (grass stems) or the wet mud on its nest, attempt to copulate with its neighbor’s mate, throw out one of its neighbor’s eggs or in some cases even lay an egg in its neighbor’s nest. These are not cases of mistaken nest identity, as cliff swallows clearly know whose nest is whose. Sometimes these trespass attempts are almost continuous, as birds repeatedly try to enter several of their neighbors’ nests in rapid succession. Typically, cliff swallows guard their nests almost constantly, probably to try to prevent their neighbors from doing these things to them, but there are enough lapses in guarding that bad things do happen. Often one bird will steal grass from its neighbor, only to have that neighbor return the favor at a later time; I once watched what looked like the same grass stem change “hands” several times as it was repeatedly stolen from a nest and then stolen back.

Monarch butterflies: The last migration

By Benjamin Vogt

On May 23 my wife yelled to me from the back door of our house, “There’s a monarch on the allium!” The last two springs, this being our third here, we had not seen a monarch butterfly until around my birthday in mid-July. And frankly, I didn’t expect to see hardly any at all this whole summer. As I dashed out to the garden with my camera in hand, there it was, fighting 40 mph wind gusts, rising and slicing through the air to land on an allium, as bumblebees zipped around it like electrons. I knew the moment wouldn’t last.

"Irresponsible" cowbirds and the decline of songbirds

By Samuel Truax

Just like human society, avian society has many individual personalities. There are those raucous types, like crows and jays, loudly quarreling among themselves as they accomplish their duties of survival and procreation. There are those like doves, that quietly go about doing their prescribed duties. With their lovely melodies, various songbirds bring enjoyment to humans as they accomplish their tasks. And then there are those who seem to be completely irresponsible in accomplishing their life duties, without the redeeming qualities of lovely feathers or beautiful songs, like the brown-headed cowbird.

The North American Model of Conservation

By Jeff Rawlinson

Perhaps no other story is more compelling and more important in American history as that of how our natural resources came to be one of the most important elements in our lives. The history of our citizenry’s strong land ethic ties us to the natural world long after other nations have forgone this relationship. We value how the common person from a common family can participate in the thrill of the chase, experiencing wildness to its fullest.

Sonny's Corner: Twelve

By Sally Herrin, Ph.D.

I’m a friend of Bill W, and the number 12 has special weight for me. I associate 12 with the 12 principles of the Anonymous brand. Groups like AA and NA and Alanon and others are mental health collectives. Meetings are on the hour 14 hours a day in most large cities, and any phone or computer will get you an address. You can identify yourself or not; most attendees will follow the formula, “I am Joe, I’m an alcoholic or adult child or methamphetamine addict.” They have free coffee, and many meetings let you smoke. You can take what you need of wisdom, good sense, instructive biography, the kindness of strangers—and much, much more—from these meetings, and leave the rest.

Since mid-April, talking heads have discussed, mostly in passing, the plan of Rev. Al Sharpton to create a 12-step plan for black American leadership. This makes me wonder if there’s a connection, if the influence of the friends of Bill W may have prevailed at last. Maybe black American leadership reached a kind of tipping point and finally enough of these leaders see American society for what it is: the world’s largest alcoholic family. Statistically, enough of the best and brightest black leaders are in recovery and are planning an intervention.

Immigration in Nebraska

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