August 2013


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).

A Fresh Look at Free Will, Part Two

By Clay Farris Naff

Before he gained fame as a writer, Sam Harris, author of a widely read book that denies the existence of free will, earned a doctorate in the hard science of brains. As a neuroscientist, he naturally doesn’t believe in souls.

Nor, for that matter, do I. However, to dismiss souls from the realm of causation is not to douse the debate. There are versions of free will that do not depend on souls or magic of any kind. The one I defend, as sketched in Part One, springs from emergent, top-down causation.

Nebraska Trails

By Caitlin Hassler

Nebraska has always been a corridor for travel. The pioneers traveled through Nebraska on their westward journey on the Oregon Trail, the California Trail and the Mormon Trail in covered wagon caravans. The cowboys drove herds of cattle through Nebraska to the railroads. And don’t forget all the road trips Nebraska has seen from the historic highways to Interstate 80. Today is no different. Nebraska was meant to be traveled, and possibly the best way to experience Nebraska travel is on foot or on a bike because Nebraska has extensive trails across the state.


Unpublished Journal
Oct 24, 1992

Norris wrote this piece while in Hamilton, N.Y., visiting Jonathan and Pat Kistler.

During the night, wet weather sneaked in with some thunder. When I heard the thunder, I wondered what the noise was. It didn’t sound the same as Nebraska thunder. It was a rattling rumble, out of context with treeless plains. A noise that echoed off the hills and filled the valleys. A thunder that bounced instead of rolling unopposed from horizon to horizon.

A Yellowstone Story

Teton range in autumn, from Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyo.  (Thomas D. Mangelsen)

By Paul A. Johnsgard

My first view of Yellowstone National Park occurred when I was a teenager, just after World War II, when gas was again becoming easily available and my father had purchased a 1946 Ford. I had pleaded with my parents to consider a vacation trip to visit Yellowstone Park for our annual vacation; I even threatened to hitchhike there if necessary. I had just purchased my first 35 mm camera, an Argus C-3, which was totally unsuited for photographing wildlife, but which I felt would at least be adequate for scenic photography.

My dearest wishes were realized when my parents agreed to the trip, and we set off in late June, driving via South Dakota’s Black Hills and Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. These regions provided my first views of real mountains, which were soon outmatched by the amazing alpine scenery we encountered as we approached the park on the Beartooth Highway. We spent two days in the park, the most memorable aspect of which for me was the amazing number of black bears that we saw. We counted well over 50 within the park, including several females with cubs, as well as bison, elk and mule deer, plus a lone coyote. I saw dozens of bird species for the first time, such as Steller’s jays, gray jays and Clark’s nutcrackers, and had a fleeting but memorable glimpse of a rare Lewis’s woodpecker. I also vividly remember seeing ospreys nesting on rocky pinnacles in Yellowstone Canyon.

To Benefit Its Citizens Nebraska Needs to Get in the Clean Energy Game

By Ken Winston

What if the Husker football team lost to Iowa by a score of 51-6? What if Iowa beat us every year? What if the Huskers lost to Wyoming and South Dakota State, too? What if we also lost out on three major recruiting battles to Iowa, for a five-star quarterback, running back and defensive lineman? Nebraskans would be outraged; they would be calling for a new football coach, a new system, a totally new way of doing things.

In fact, Nebraska’s public utilities are getting beaten in the clean energy effort, and it has a much more serious impact on our citizens and our economy. Iowa has developed more than 5,100 megawatts (MW) of wind gener- ation capacity to Nebraska’s 450 MW. In fact, by the end of last year almost all of our neighboring states had developed far more wind-generation capacity than Nebraska, including Kansas at 2,700 MW, Colorado at 2,300 MW, Wyoming at 1,400 and South Dakota at 780. Why is that important? Because it has a direct impact on electric rates and jobs, both of which are very important to all of us.

Stormwater: Our Own (Relatively Recent) Creation

By Kent E. Holm, CSM

Let’s face it … did the term “stormwater” really even exist in the lexicon of the average American even a decade ago? Think also of “wastewater” in general and the significant and substantial changes that our country has experienced in terms of how we deal with our residential, commercial and industrial sewage, especially in the post-World War II era. We tackled the need to treat our wastewater/sewage instead of simply dumping it into our lakes and rivers and letting “dilution” take care of the issue. Now we are taking on “stormwater”—the water that originates during precipitation events.

Book Review: "What the River Carries: Encounters with the Mississippi, Missouri, and Platte" by Lisa Knopp

Review by Lopamudra Banerjee

“What the River Carries: Encounters with the Mississippi, Missouri, and Platte”
Author: Lisa Knopp
Publisher: University of Missouri Press

I love rivers. Wide ones, narrow ones, straight ones, winding ones, single-channeled and braided ones. I love a river’s mysterious depths and bottoms, its reflectiveness, its changeability and rhythms—spring thaw, annual rise, low water, winter freeze. I love that a river’s rushing waters stir my imagination and connect me with other parts of the region, country, continent, earth.

Thus opens the preface of “What the River Carries: Encounters with the Mississippi, Missouri, and Platte,” the latest book by Lincoln, Neb.-based author Lisa Knopp, a collection of poignant essays in which she meditates on the three Midwestern rivers and the different ways in which she has known each of them. “What the River Carries,” one of the distinguished finalists for the 2012–2013 ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment) Book Award for Environmental creative nonfiction is a geographical, historical and spiritual exploration of the landscape surrounding the author, where she presents these three rivers as enduring metaphors for seeing or exploring herself.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Ted Kooser’s Arrival in Nebraska

By Mary K. Stillwell

In August 1963 Iowa native Ted Kooser, future U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, packed up his belongings and “lumbered westward on balding tires” toward Lincoln, Neb. Several months earlier as he finished a “nightmare” year of teaching high school English, the shy 24-year-old realized he didn’t want to continue teaching. For the summer, he painted signs, working out of the back of his Jeep pickup, lettering the glass windows of storefronts along small-town Main Streets while he weighed his options.

World War II Exhibit Traces the Lives of the “Greatest Generation”

By Tracy Tucker

Even for someone who does not belong to “America’s Greatest Generation,” the past leans close and makes itself felt in the gallery of the Red Cloud Opera House, where “Our Lives, Our Stories” is on display for the first time in Nebraska. As visitors file through, there are exclamations: “Grandma had these glasses!” “Oh my gosh, I worked at a soda fountain just like this!” The exhibit is a monument to the shared experiences of an entire generation, born just before the Great Depression.

On Listening Well in Combat and in Peace

By Sulaiman Murad with Phip Ross

During my four-and-a-half years in the service of the U.S. Army as an interpreter, I met hundreds of different interpreters from diverse communities all over Iraq. I forged close and lasting friendships with many of them. I spent long days and nights sharing stories about our sometimes funny but often difficult situations during our missions with the army. So in the first months after arriving in the United States I decided that those events should be written about for the American people in a book to let them know what was going on with their soldiers outside of their country.

Arboretum of Art Graces Nebraska City

By Jenni Brant

The conversations about tackling a public art project in Nebraska City, Neb., began in 2010 when the town adopted the new branding of “Arbor Day’s Hometown—Where Great Ideas Grow.” With support from the community, a grassroots effort led by volunteer representatives from local arts organizations, the public school board, area tourism and economic development, city government and others launch­ed and steered the project, entitled “An Enchanted Arboretum,” toward realization. Area foundations and organizations, including The Paul, John, Anton & Doris Wirth Foundation; the Karl H. & Wealtha H. Nelson Family Foundation; the Kropp Char­itable Founda­tion, Inc.; the City of Ne­braska City (LB840 Funds); Rotary Club No. 2090 and United Way of Nebraska City, donated generously to build and ensure necessary funding for the project.

Great American Comedy Festival: Six Years and Thriving

By Kandra Hahn

Driving west to Divots event center in Norfolk at 9 p.m., the sun was still lighting up the horizon. It had been a stormy late afternoon with a patchwork of Watches and Warnings—flash floods, thunderstorms and tornadoes—that had now mostly moved east.

It was Friday, June 14, 2013, building toward the end of the sixth Great American Comedy Festival in this north-central Nebraska town. The sky often puts on a spectacular show for the comedians who compete to come here from all over the nation. Away from Omaha and Lincoln, there is a wide horizon and the sky seems prone to show off in June, in colors of gray, green and pink. In return, the comedians put on a spectacular show.

I have lived on these wild plains my whole life, and I have been looking up warily all evening, checking to see if tails are trailing down from the banks of clouds above. At dinner I kept glancing out the window as I read about the “Future Stars” of comedy and those returning after a year of polishing their credentials to host and support the show.

Hastings Symphony Soon to Celebrate 90th Consecutive Season

By Liz Case

In 2016, a mere three years from now, the Hastings Symphony Orchestra will be celebrating its 90th consecutive season of performance in Hastings, Neb. Not many orchestras, large or small, can make this claim; Hastings even boasts one of the oldest continuous orchestras in the United States. So how has this small group lasted so long? In short, dedication. Unlike most orchestras, HSO could afford to continue during the Great Depression because it was largely run by volunteers. Today the roughly 70 members remain involved not for the money but for the experience itself. They largely consider every Thursday rehearsal and Sunday concert worthwhile—even those who drive from Lincoln and Omaha to attend.

Book Review: "Inferno" by Dan Brown

Review by Francis Moul

Author: Dan Brown
Publisher: Doubleday

It takes place mostly in one day, with quick travels from Florence and Venice in Italy to Istanbul, and eventually to Geneva. There are flashbacks to earlier times and situations, but the typical Dan Brown frenzied activity is pretty well contained in 24 hours in his latest book.

And what a jam-packed day it is. Robert Langford, Brown’s erstwhile hero in hugely popular books (see “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons”), is here caught up in Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, “The Divine Comedy.” This is another blockbuster novel by Brown, sure to leap atop the best-seller list.

Sonny's Corner: Debating the Death Penalty - Again, Part Three

By Fran Kaye

There were new people this year, testifying against the death penalty. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty sent out a jaunty email, titled “Not Just for Liberals and Democrats” to recruit conservatives against capital punishment. Stacy Anderson, the current executive director of Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (the old name, Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty having been deemed too negative), comes from an evangelical religious tradition that in the past has entered the debate mostly to remind us, sternly, that their Bible demanded an eye for an eye.

Immigration in Nebraska

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