Nebraska

IMG_4795.JPGDriving from Kansas City to Sioux Falls  on I-29, the road is in the Missouri River Valley. One side of road is flat floodplain, very fertile land. There are fields of corn, silos, and granaries. The other side of the highway has river bluffs and large farms. Even though it is very flat, there are few windmills, unlike Kansas. As the song says, “I can see for miles and miles and miles.”

The area has a lot of history and at least 10 different Native American tribes have inhabited it, living on the once plentiful buffalo. Lewis and Clark explored the area when exploring the Missouri River. It became part of the USA with the Louisiana purchase. Pioneers came in covered wagons and the land is now mostly agricultural. Farm animals are notably absent.

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Westward Ho

Well, actually it is not “Westward Ho,” it’s “Northward Ho.” The first leg of our journey took us north from Nashville to St. Louis. The trip was pretty uneventful unless you count almost missing our exit. My sister lives north of the city, so we were supposed to exit at 255. I thought Mo knew the way, and I had mentioned getting off there previously. It isn’t as if we have not made the exact same trip dozens of times. Anyhow, we ended up crossing over two highway mediums to get into the right lane and made the exit without being killed.

We spent the night at my sister’s house and she will leave us at this point and stay in St. Louis. This morning we will head west to Kansas City and then north again to Sioux City or Sioux Falls. I can’t remember which. I will dust off my new GPS so we can get step-by step directions and I hope we will not miss any more exits.

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The Eclipsed Eclipse

IMG_4793.JPGWe were all ready for the big event. We had our glasses, sunscreen, sun hats, lawn chairs, and cold drinks. We knew exactly what time to go outside. Best of all, we didn’t have to go anywhere else to view it. We were in the path of totality. The solar eclipse was coming to us. My sister had come to visit and view it with us.

It was a beautiful day. The sky was blue with a few puffy clouds. We could hardly wait for the once-in-a-lifetime event. It started right on time. We were hot sweaty and sticky with sunscreen, but it was worth it.

We made jokes about the dragon eating the sun. First it was a three-quarters sun, then a half sun, next only a quarter of the sun was visible. Finally, only a tiny sliver was visible. Then the sun went out. “Awesome” I screamed.

But wait, where was the corona? I removed my glasses and found that a small cloud had drifted in front of the sun at the very split second of totality. We could scarcely believe it. It became dark and quiet. We waited for the cloud to drift away and the sun to return. It  did, but not until the shadow had moved on past the full eclipse. We saw the entire sun slowly reappearing.

I suppose it could have been worse. At least we got to see most of it, which was more than some people saw. I am glad I did not travel a long distance or pay $500 for a prime viewing spot. Apparently, not everyone in the area was under a cloud. I got to read on Facebook about how moving, inspiring, and wonderful it was. I am happy for them. But I am only now recovered enough to be able to write about it.

Maybe we should not have made jokes about the sun-eating dragon,

 

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Jack Daniels

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It was on a Tuesday that we decided to visit Jack Daniels Distillery. Jack Daniels, in case you have never heard of him, was a whiskey maker back in the day. He learned his skill when he left home while still a child and was put in the care of a preacher who ran a still on the side. He taught Jack everything he knew about whiskey making.

The church flock discovered the preacher’s sideline and did not approve, to put it mildly. They gave him a choice, give up whiskey making or give up preaching. Luckily for Jack, the preacher chose the church, and Jack bought his whiskey business as a teenager.

The whiskey business flourished in the hills of Tennessee, survived Prohibition, and is now one of the largest distilleries in the world. All Jack Daniels whiskey is made in the small town of Lynchburg, Tennessee, and distributed worldwide.

Now, less you think otherwise, I must admit that I am not a whiskey drinker. Not to worry, one can also take a dry tour. “Why would anyone who is not interested in drinking whiskey want to tour a distillery?” you may wonder. Actually, we were looking for things to do while my sister was visiting from out of town, and the distillery is a popular tourist attraction.

We had a choice of different tours of the facility, prices depending on how many different whiskeys you were interested in tasting. I might have indulged, however, the premium tours were longer and involved much more walking. My sister cannot get around too well, and I’m no sprinter myself. So we had to select the modified tour which was shorter, had fewer stairs to climb, and was also dry. So much for temptation.

We were first shown the building where charcoal is made for filtering and mellowing the whiskey. Different grains are mixed and allowed to ferment. I don’t know the exact combination of grains, but it doesn’t matter anyhow unless you are planning to run off a batch of your own. The fermented whiskey is distilled and drips out completely clear —  white lightening. The amber color comes from aging it in wooden barrels.

The distillery makes their own barrels and they are used only once. We saw the barrel house where whiskey is stored to age. The barrel house had racks and rows of aging whiskey stacked to the roof. A whiskey master draws off a taste of each whiskey barrel and knows when it is ready to bottle.

The bottling house was automated and quite interesting. Bottles were fed into a machine, filled, and went down a conveyer belt to be inspected. It reminded me of an “I Love Lucy” show where Lucy and Ethyl were working in a candy factory. I could imagine Lucy drinking bottles, shoving extra bottles in her blouse, and hiding them in her pants. The lady inspector at Jack Daniels, however, simple sat staring at the bottles. I don’t know  what she was looking for or how she stayed awake.

We saw the cave where the limestone spring water used to make Jack Daniels comes from. It supposedly is what makes Jack Daniels whiskey so good. We then were rushed through the tasting room without a whiff. As I said, we showed great restraint and did not partake. However, they did serve us a sample of Jack Daniels lemonade, which was delicious. While we were enjoying our lemonade, though, it started pouring rain outside, so we sat on the visitor center’s porch and rocked until the shower was over.

And that’s the story of how we spent the day at a whiskey distillery and stayed completely sober. You can believe it or not.

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The Great American Eclipse

The main topic of discussion these days is the solar eclipse, probably because we are in that blue stripe on the weather map that indicates the area of total blackout. We have been aware of this since at least the beginning of the year and attending public lectures about what an eclipse is, i.e. the moon passing between the earth and the sun so that it blocks out the light, partially for most, completely for a lucky few on the path between Oregon and South Carolina.

They say that it is called the American Eclipse because the U.S. is the only place this particular eclipse will be seen in totality. I thought it would surely pass over Africa or Australia too, which shows how much I knew about heavenly phenomena.

We were warned about not looking at the sun directly less our eyes get burned out, not to take pictures, or our camera or iPhone will be damaged permanently. “If you want to take pictures, you need to buy a special lens for your camera,” we were warned. We purchased viewing glasses months ago, “in case they run out.”

Fill up your gas tank and buy bread and milk.”  The signs on the Interstates that usually announce traffic jams or accidents blocking traffic, now display flashing warnings about heavy traffic on Monday. Some predict a solar-mageddon.

The disaster, however, could be that the rest of the U.S. is trying to squeeze into the narrow 70 mile wide band where the sun will be blacked out. It seemed like a good thing at first to be in the right place. We delayed the start of our vacation to stay at home.

The tourists are already coming. LP Field is sold out to eclipse chasers. Universities all over the south are sending bus loads of students from other schools to MTSU as it is the closest university with an astronomy department and is designated an official viewing site by NASA.

Other places, such as National Parks and Battlefields, will provide viewing space, but some plan to close when parking lots are full. Sort of reminds me of Disney World. There is advice about the best places to be for the best view. Entrepreneurs are charging premium prices for prime viewing spots so people can pay to see something that is free.

We are told to expect a profound terrestrial experience unlike anything we have ever known. The temperature will drop 10 degrees and the stars can be seen. The sun shining through the leaves of trees will provide dancing shadows of the eclipse. It will be a life-changing experience. All of this seems a bit too philosophical to my way of thinking.

Since ancient times, people have feared this event, thinking it is a sign that the gods are angry with us or is a dark prediction of things to come. In China they thought the sun was being eaten by a dragon. Even in our enlightened times, there are those that try to give the eclipse spiritual significance rather than seeing it as simply a scientific event.

School kids have already been educated about the sun show and provided protective glasses. Working people hope to take a break to see at least part of it. I guess the eclipse chasers can fight it out with each other. My plans are to stay home, grill burgers and watch the eclipse from my backyard.

The best advice I’ve heard is to relax and enjoy the experience rather than looking at it through the lens of a cell phone.  I’ll let you know what happens — unless the world ends, that is.

Copyright 2017 Sheila Moss

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The Trip Begins August 23

eclipseOur vacation trip officially begins on August 23. We wanted to stay home in Tennessee for the solar eclipse on August 21 as we are in the direct path of the complete eclipse, a once in a life-time event.

August 22, the pets go to sitters and we pick up a rental car. My sister from St. Louis will join us on the first leg of the trip as she will be visiting to see the eclipse and take in a few activities in our area.  Early on August 23, the car will be packed and we will head north to start our adventure.

 

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