November 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).

Spiritual Lessons from Walking the Camino

By Duke Engel

It all started with my face. At 57 and a half, I started to be concerned about getting old, but I didn’t know why because it didn’t seem like anything had changed about my life. It took about six months before I realized the issue was my face. It was these bags under my eyes and these wrinkles. Regardless of how I felt inside, there was no escaping the reality that my face had changed and I was looking old. Once I had realized the change, I did the only logical thing I could think of… I felt sorry for myself. Self-pity got boring after a while, and then I got proactive. I decided that ages 60 to 80 were going to be the fourth quarter of my life. If I lived past 80, my life would go into overtime. If I lived into my late 80s, my life would go into sudden-death overtime.

The next question was, “What do I need to change about my lifestyle if I’m not just going to survive but thrive in the fourth quarter?” There were seven areas of my life that I identified that would need to change if I was going to enjoy my life in the fourth quarter, and each of these areas would need a major transition to mark the beginning of that change. The first change I wanted was to become a more spiritual person. The transition to mark that change was going to be to walk El Camino de Santiago, which is arguably the oldest and most famous walking pilgrimage in the world. Santiago de Compostela is a city in northwest Spain where legend states the remains of St. James were discovered in the eighth century. For 1,200 years Christians have been walking from all of Europe across northern Spain on a route called “The Camino” to reach the beautiful, huge cathedral in Santiago to see the tomb of St. James.


Unpublished Journal
Aug. 19, 1992

Most of the day was spent at Ashfall State Park and the drive there and back with Ed and Jane Dadey and the two resident artists, Ruth and Janet. Ten million years ago a volcanic eruption in what is now Idaho showered volcanic ash on an area that included northern Nebraska to a depth measured in feet, including a waterhole north and west of Royal, Neb., suffocating animals, mostly rhinos, and burying them in the ash, preserving their skeletons. Since the discovery, the waterhole area has been made into a state park and facilities built—visitors’ center, rhino barn enclosing the diggings, concrete walks, etc. The intention is to leave the fossil remains where they are, partially exposed and protected from the elements.

Wizards and Wealth: Who is influencing Nebraska Politics?

By Jan Gradwohl

Nebraska is at a crossroads in determining its political, economic and structural future. The state has become increasingly polarized over issues relating to treatment of minorities, particularly those who are perceived as immigrants, and by issues of homosexual rights. Nebraska history is littered with episodes of intervention by outside groups instilling a fear of others under the guise of maintaining law and order and the then-existing way of life. Blank checks authorized for PACs by the Citizens United case have exacerbated the influence of out-of-state interests edging into Nebraska politics. Again the mantra of xenophobian thought is achieving an audience and acceptance among many Nebraskans.

A suggestion of xenophobia in Nebraska politics is antithetical to iconic Nebraska values. The people of the state are outstanding for their courtesy and generosity to others. Letters to the editors extol the virtues of Nebraskans for welcoming opponents at athletic contests; news stories describe neighbors harvesting crops for an ailing farmer or generously donating time and resources to victims of tragedies. Yet many Nebraskans quickly accept political propaganda urging that the “Good Life” of the state is endangered. Rather than relishing the richness that is brought to the state by those of other views and cultures, a number of Nebraskans express concern about the erosion of the white majority, some characterizing themselves as “the Americans” or “the real Americans,” with those who are different remaining either invisible or scorned.

Social Security Helps Power Nebraska's Economy to the Tune of $7.2 Billion

By Bob Eppler

For all the talk in Washington about changing Social Security, one fact that doesn’t get much attention is the powerful role it plays as an engine of our economy.

We know that Social Security benefits do more than keep millions of American families afloat and help middle-class workers stay independent after decades of labor. Those payments also fuel a vast amount of economic activity in Nebraska and throughout the nation, providing a little-noted economic benefit that helps us all.

Indeed, Social Security’s $762 billion in benefits sparked almost $1.4 trillion in total spending last year, according to a new analysis by AARP’s Public Policy Institute—about $7.2 billion in Nebraska alone. Individuals made a multitude of purchases with their benefits, boosting sales for local retailers, small business, big corporations, the whole gamut of goods and services.

Colorado Front Range Flooding

Visitors wander Main Street in downtown Estes Park, Colo., on Sept. 12, 2013, as floodwaters from the Big Thompson River flow past numerous stores and shops. The river overflowed its banks after three days of solid rain. (milehightraveler/iStockPhoto)

By Dan Whipple

In Boulder, Colo., at the end of September, you could virtually map the contours of the floodplains by measuring the piles of household debris left on the curb for the trash man. On the top of a rise, the curb would be clear. Twenty yards down the hill, a battered bookcase, a cluster of soggy and soiled towels. As you walked farther down the street, larger piles would appear—sofas, box-spring mattresses, dolls and dollhouses, ruined stuffed animals. Piles and piles of them, the piles getting larger as you reach the base of one hill, then repeating the pattern in reverse as you climb the next one.

It started raining on Sept. 10, and then it kept up pretty much nonstop until the 13th. And it rained hard, reaching about 1.2 inches an hour on Sept. 12. An area that usually gets about 12 inches of precipitation in an entire year got nearly 17 inches in less than a week. According to an early report prepared by CIRES at the University of Colorado, “Boulder’s COOP weather station (since 1893) set records for one-day (9.08 inches), two-day (11.52 inches) and seven-day (16.9 inches) totals; the previous one-day record was 4.80 inches and previous one-month record was 9.59 inches.”

Sustainability: A Force for Innovation

By Joshua Skov

Sustainability—the challenge of aligning our economic systems with our social priorities and environmental constraints—is viewed in the mainstream as voluntary, do-gooder thinking. But increasingly corporations and government see its strategic value for fostering change.

For most of us these days, innovation is associated with technology, and technology means gadgets. We revere smartphones and tablet computers, or eyeglasses with built-in search engines. We think of change primarily in those areas where it’s the fastest and most conspicuous.

Even when we think about the overlap between sustainability and innovation, we’re likely to think first of things: solar panels, hybrid cars, energy-efficient buildings and eco-friendly products. We occasionally think about materials, like recycled tires transformed into chic handbags or key chains made from industrial cast-offs.

I Grid You Not: Wind Power and the Case of the Missing Market

By Johnathan Hladik

Wind energy displaces nearly 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Though impressive, that number is only a fraction of the 6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide produced annually in the U.S. Much of this is a result of electricity generation, the largest source of greenhouse gases nationwide.

By replacing the output of the dirtiest, least-efficient and oldest fossil-fired power plants, wind energy can play an outsized role in efforts to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions economy wide. But in order to do so, it’s imperative that transmission constraints—the biggest impediment to a growing wind-energy industry—are removed. Right now almost 300,000 MW of wind-energy projects are simply waiting for an opportunity to connect to the grid.


By Tonya Haigh

When the rain shut off in 2012, western Nebraska rancher Lynn Myers had a plan. Myers and his wife, Marlene, and children run a cow-calf and bred-heifer operation in western Nebraska, and they had received less than 5 inches of rain (less than a third of normal) between fall 2011 and June 2012. By mid-April Myers knew, by continuously monitoring his pastures, that it was time to make some decisions. He had a destocking plan in place that would get his animal numbers in line with the amount of forage he thought his pastures could produce. He knew the plan would help keep his rangelands and his business finances healthy during the drought because before drought, he had focused on building pasture root reserves, stockpiling extra grass and leaving enough litter on the ground to hold any moisture that might fall.

Sandhill Cranes and Waterfowl of the North Platte River Valley: Evaluation of Habitat Selection to Guide Conservation Delivery

By Jonas Davis

Throughout the Great Plains, riverine systems function as critical stopover sites for migratory waterbirds to refuel and prepare for their arrival on the breeding grounds. The North Platte River, with channels and associated wetlands that extend eastward more than 180 miles from the Nebraska /Wyoming state line, is an example of both the invaluable and imperiled nature of these systems. This river annually hosts hundreds of thousands of waterfowl, sandhill cranes and other grassland and waterbirds during their spring migration. Along the North Platte River, impoundments, diversions, altered hydrology, consumptive use, habitat conversion and invasive species have altered and degraded habitat conditions. Multiple government and nongovernment entities are working to implement conservation strategies to restore these habitats and benefit waterfowl, cranes and other priority species. However, crucial information to guide implementation and prioritize actions is lacking. There is little documentation on distribution of cranes and waterfowl and, more importantly, the habitat attributes that drive those selections. Without better information to target conservation strategies, current program delivery is reactive to opportunity, and conservation practitioners lack resources to deliver the most effective conservation actions in the most suitable areas to impact these species at a landscape-scale.

Dazzling Dragons of the Sky

By Paul A. Johnsgard

Probably every person who was lucky enough to spend part of his or her childhood playing in the countryside will recall seeing dragonflies flitting about, their long, shimmering and transparent wings supported by an array of graceful veins that resemble filigree of the finest jewelry. The amazing flying ability and extraordinary eyesight of dragonflies allows them to outmaneuver almost anyone with an insect net, making them almost invulnerable to capture. If successfully captured and held in the hand, one is attracted to their enormous bulbous eyes, which occupy about half of their head and often are as flawlessly green as the best Burmese emeralds. A dragonfly’s head is flexibly attached to a sturdy, iridescent thorax that often has a few diagonal “racing-stripe” markings and supports the four diaphanous wings. Behind the sturdy thorax is a long, pencil-shaped and often boldly patterned abdomen. The whole visual effect is one that is reminiscent of an enameled metal broach by Tiffany. Indeed, dragonflies provided much inspiration for the naturalistic jewelry and fabric designs during the Art Nouveau era of the early 1900s.

University of Nebraska Ag Innovations Help Feed a Global Population: A Look at Nebraska as the Epicenter of Global Beef Production

By Ronnie Green

Today’s agriculture is not what it once was; it cannot be. It is only through continual innovation that we can meet the challenge of growing food for the nine billion people who are expected to be on Earth by 2050 and, more importantly, growing that food with less land and water than we have today.

Innovations are being tested and implemented every day in the University of Nebraska’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR), innovations that focus on ways to provide people around the world with food and energy sustainably while caring for our precious natural resources.

Book Review: “Yellowstone Wildlife: Ecology and Natural History of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem” by Paul A. Johnsgard

Review by Mace Hack

“Yellowstone Wildlife: Ecology and Natural History of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem”
Author: Paul A. Johnsgard
Photographer: Thomas D. Mangelsen
Publisher: University Press of Colorado

Yellowstone National Park is a place of superlatives. It was the first national park in the United States, some claim first in the world, when it was established on March 1, 1872. The “supervolcano” lying beneath it is not only the largest in North America, but it also powers the regions iconic geysers, like Old Faithful, known worldwide, and Steamboat Geyser, the world’s largest still in action. Beyond its geological wonders, Yellowstone sits within one of the largest and most intact natural areas remaining in the continental United States. Few other places contain such a diversity of big mammals especially, like grizzly and black bears, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, pronghorn and wolves. The country’s largest and oldest public herd of bison live here as well. That the place and its wildlife persist at all is remarkable, even miraculous, after almost 200 years of development and environmental degradation elsewhere in the Northern Rockies.

"Anne & Emmett" Debuts in Midwest at The Haymarket Theatre

By Kwakiutl L. Dreher

Anne Frank. Emmett Till. Two icons from disparate times in American History. One is Jewish; the other is African-American. Anne Frank has carried the face of the Holocaust ever since the publication of her diary in 1947. Emmett Till and his lynching in Money, Miss., laid the cornerstones for the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Both came of age through death on distant shores. Anne died in 1945 of typhus in the Bergen-Belson Nazi concentration camp in Germany just three months before her sixteenth birthday. Till was murdered in 1955 by Southern racists, and the police found his body in the Tallahatchie River weighted down with a cotton gin fan tied around his neck. He was 14 years old.

Immigration in Nebraska

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