This is the third year my employer has held this conference, and my first opportunity to attend. It has been held every year in a conference facility called Lied (pronounced LEE-ed) Lodge, on the outskirts of Nebraska City, NE. This area of southeast Nebraska is where Arbor Day originated. It's in the middle of what once was the Great Plains shortgrass prairie, a place of very few trees. So, when J. Sterling Morton showed up here in the 1860's as a pioneer settler and editor of the Nebraska News in Nebraska City, he saw a treeless plain and imagined what it would look like with the addition of trees. He soon developed a life-long interest in agriculture and horticulture, and promoted the planting of trees in the area. This became the precursor for the first National Arbor Day in 1872, where a national effort was made to plant trees across the country; it's an annual holiday that continues to this day. The Arbor Day Foundation, too, is the founder of the Tree City program, of which my Town of Pinetop-Lakeside is a member. On a side note, Morton later became the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1893 through 1896, and promoted the restoration of forests and the planting of trees during his tenure.
|Back of Lied Lodge|
overlooking Arbor Day Farm
Lied Lodge overlooks Arbor Day Farm, a farm open to the public that celebrates Arbor Day and its roots, and which showcases agricultural practices, particularly fruit orchards, grapes/vines, and some forms of vegetable gardening. Large stands of woods, no doubt in existence due to Morton's vision and tree-planting activities, line creeks and drainages, with trails interspersed among the trees.
|A dose of spring; leafed-out mature oak|
Most of our conference sessions were held inside the Lodge, which was built with a focus on "green" architecture and operations (no new sheets and towels every day unless requested, water conservation infrastructure). The intent of Lied Lodge is to cater to conservation-oriented groups and gatherings, and we fit that bill.
|Inside Lied Lodge|
|Great Crested Flycatcher|
With binoculars in hand, I walked around the Lodge and Arbor Day Farm property as often as possible. Between my walks there, and on the shortgrass prairie preserve hike, I tallied a total of 26 species, with a number of memorable standouts. One of the first birds that took me completely by surprise was the Great Crested Flycatcher. Found hanging around the trees across the Lodge's parking lot making the distinctive flycatcher moves (perch, sally in the air for an insect, return to the same perch, repeat), I was amazed at how common this species was around here. My first sighting of this species occurred while slogging through a peat bog in northern Minnesota, with Mr. Peterson, our high school Conservation Club's field trip leader, being really excited to spot this particular bird. So, as I watched this old friend I hadn't seen in years, I recalled the smell and feel of walking through a bog, feet squishing on the soft peat below, while peering into gnarled cedar trees.
Old friends, these birds. Reminders of a great youth experiencing the outdoors, whether it be with school chums and our high school Conservation Club with Mr. Peterson hauling us hither and thither to peat bogs, savannahs, and wetlands, to lazy morning walks around Shell Lake with my father, pointing out birds, looking at bugs and frogs, and whatever may appear in our path.