Thursday, April 7, 2011

Day Dreaming: The Next Big Adventure Destination

It's been a long year. Heck, it's been a long 18 months. Eighteen months ago, Sue packed up her things, took the dogs and moved from our home near the North Carolina coast to live with my parents so she could start a new job in Asheville. I stayed back to try to sell the house and keep my day job while looking for work opportunities in the western part of the state.

Those six months before the house sold weren't terribly fun. I was lonely. The housing market sucked. The job market sucked even more. Meanwhile, Sue was living out of her suitcases in a guest bedroom with her in-laws (who are awesome by the way) trying not to lose sight of the life we had envisioned for ourselves.

Finally, we got a legitimate offer on the house, two weeks after I had resigned from my job, pulled up stakes and moved in with Sue and my parents. I just couldn't take it anymore. Sue and I needed to be together for this next leap of faith.

It didn't get much better for awhile. I took a job teaching prep school marine biology outside Atlanta for two months. When I came "home" on weekends, we spent the daylight hours searching for a house to call our own. We had a contract on one that we loved and it fell through - more despair. We found another that we love and now we live here in Black Mountain, N.C.

But this tumultuous period isn't over yet. I'm still looking for permanent work and Sue is still getting comfortable in her career while coordinating a move that will bring her parents closer to us. There hasn't been a lot of "us" time and that's got us longing for a much-needed vacation when things settle down.

As a member of the Outdoor Blogger Network I get weekly writing prompts with topic suggestions that might help me and my fellow bloggers come up with some fresh content for our readers. Earlier this week, the proposed topic was to write a post about my dream outdoors destination. Perfect. It happens to be something I've been thinking about quite a bit these days, for those reasons I just explained. So here goes ...

The Bumbling Bushman's Dream Destination; Domestic

The Sandhills region of Nebraska. (Photo by Cory Ritterbusch)

When I was a transient field biologist during those half-dozen years after college, I spent a field season working with a guy named Stephen; a proud and native Nebraskan who practically insisted that I and some of our coworkers go with him on those odd weekends when he returned to his home in the Sandhills.

To say I had never given Nebraska much thought before that spring and summer would be an understatement. Nebraska? Why the hell would anyone want to go there? To be honest, the only reason I went along for the ride from our field station in central Missouri to Stephen's parents' place was for the promise of some home cooking. I was not prepared - no matter how glowingly Stephen had spoken of it - for the absolute raw beauty of Nebraska.

It helped that Stephen was a consummate guide, who knew his audience and showed us prairie pot holes on the sides of the road, where teal, shovelers, pintails, wigeon and even Wilson's phalaropes bobbed and weaved through their courtship displays. He showed us sharp-tailed grouse, pheasants and wild turkeys. There were pronghorn antelope and mule deer. When he took us to a Nature Conservancy property on the banks of the Niobrara River, we watched in awe as a herd of free-ranging bison encircled the truck.

The Niobrara River - a mile wide and an inch deep (Photo by Larry Mayer).
From our campsite one evening, we watched a line of storms roll across the grasslands. While most of us were thinking about battening down the hatches and preparing for the deluge, Stephen jumped up and ordered us into the truck. He drove like a madman; up out of the river valley to the top of the escarpment, where we watched the lightning flash across the sky. It was magical (and I don't throw that word around lightly).

From the river, we met the bulk of the sandhill crane migration as it passed on its way north. Tens of thousands of cranes, joined by tens of thousands of ducks and geese - it was more biomass than our minds could process. There was winged life virtually everywhere you looked.

I was a fisherman then, an avid birder and a lover of the outdoors, but I was no hunter. Now, as I consider Nebraska through my relatively new predator's eyes, I have to wipe away the tears of lost opportunity. Yes folks, if I could choose one destination to stretch my legs as a hunter, it is Nebraska. Stalking whitetails, mule deer and pronghorn antelope; trekking across a sea of grass for sharp-tailed grouse and ring-necked pheasants; jumping out of marsh blinds to draw a bead upon ducks and geese of every description, calling in the Merriams race of the wild turkey (the most beautiful one to my eyes) - it sounds even more like heaven to me.

I know there are other western states that offer all of those game animals and more, but I am no mountain man. Having lived and worked in several Rocky Mountain states in earlier days, I came to the reluctant conclusion that I am not the right person to soak in all of the beauty and majesty that comes with them. Those Rockies are awesome, too awesome for my Yankee eyes. I found that, after awhile, I became desensitized to the scenery surrounding me. It's everywhere. You can't get away from it. I found no comfort in them. But I did in those endless hills of Nebraska and I hope to again someday.

The Bumbling Bushman Dream Destination; Abroad

Orcas in the Sea of Cortez (Photo by ???)
Perhaps it was that one time I read Steinbeck's book, or the revisitation by Discover Magazine decades later. Maybe it's the occasional Nat Geo article and photo spread or the once-in-awhile nature programs that highlight it. All I know is, for a long time now, I have wanted to travel to Baja California and the Sea of Cortez.

Please don't correct me if I'm wrong. Maybe the crystalline waters aren't teeming with whales and dolphins, tunas and marlin, sea lions and manta rays like they do in my head. Maybe the magazine articles about catching Pacific sailfish from kayaks are stretching the truth. Perhaps the land is not so wild or wonderful, where the desert meets the sea, as I'm wanting to believe. It could be commercialized, "discovered," ruined. I hope not. Someday I will see it for myself and I'll let you know.
Photo by johnng650 (whoever you are)


  1. Hey Jaime! I didn't know you had a blog. Awesome :) Interestingly (or not), on all of my cross-country travels, I have n'er been through Nebraska. Sounds like I missed a special place! I've been to every surrounding state, however. But that's neither here nor there. I'd never heard of the Sea of Cortez, either. Unique places and a great blog! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I'm heading to the Sea of Cortez in August, Jamie. It's my third trip. Kat and I go down with my friend Dave and his wife, and we spend a week or so fishing from kayaks for dorado, tuna, and daydreaming about hooking a billfish. We have experienced manta rays getting air, a gray whale broaching on a dead calm morning, flying fish, and I can't think of what else.

    On our first trip, Kat and I booked a SCUBA trip to a little rock around the bend from our lodge. I expected a fished out, pollution bleached bottom, but I was happily, happily surprised. I can't imagine how awesome it was before commercial fishing came in and strained the blue water of life. The marine preserve system works, though, and life has come back in spades!

    Anyway... it's definitely a trip worth making. What's even better is that it's not really that expensive at all! The dollar still goes a long way there, as long as you stay away from the tourist destinations like Cabo, or the over-built resort areas. And the people... I can't say enough good things about the Mexican people I have met down there.

    Go man. Just go!

  3. Wull hullo there Bridge. So you've found your way over to my little blog have you? Great! I'm very happy to have a student of English and lover of the written word stopping by whenever you get the chance. Yep - Nebraska. Come back soon.
    Phillip - Dude, so it really exists? It's not a figment of my imagination? I'm in.

  4. It absolutely still exists, and while it may not be exactly what Steinbeck saw, a lot of it probably isn't much different. If you're seriously contemplating, shoot me an email and I'll let you know more info about the place we go.

  5. Jamie, the photo of the Orcas made me think of a video that a friend sent me last week of a group of guys who came across a pod off of Cape Hatteras while fishing for tuna. I was amazed when my wife and I came across a Harbor seal at the Cape Look Out National Seashore but the video of the Orcas is pretty amazing stuff.

  6. Phillip - incoming!
    Stephen - I saw that video. The Gulf Stream off Hatteras is a place I've spent a lot of time, but I never saw killer whales. I have, on two occasions, been fortunate to see small pods of false killer whales (pseudorca)there. They're like extremely athletic, fast, lethal pilot whales. It's the only time I've looked down into the water and figured if I fell overboard I'd be ripped to shreds. Seeing orcas in the wild would pretty much make my life.

  7. I am a Nebraskan, living in the mountains of Colorado, and wow you're right on -- "It's everywhere. You can't get away from it. I found no comfort in them. But I did in those endless hills of Nebraska and I hope to again someday."


    I love the sandhills. I love being above treeline in the high country because it reminds me of them.

    Hope you get your next big dream adventure soon!


  8. I am coming with you to the Sea of Cortez, end of story. jvp

  9. e.m.b. - I envy your roots. Thank you for your comments and well wishes.
    JVP - You can come with me anywhere beautiful. How about Charleston?