I went to my hometown, a south-central Nebraska farming community of 350 people, Friday evening for a pre-funeral visitation for the mother of one of my Wilcox High School classmates. Carol Jean, my twin sister Lisa and I were the three girls (out of five) in the class of 1974 who had been together since kindergarten.

The funeral home in the next bigger town has a storefront auxiliary location on the Wilcox main street. People with other things to do during the Saturday morning funeral at St. John’s Lutheran Church, including harvesing corn and soybeans, could pay their respects Friday evening.

When you come from a tiny town and even a smaller farming community 11 miles from town, there’s a comfort level in going home that is impossible to explain to people who have not had that experience.

I’ve lived in Kearney for 29 years, compared to 18 years on our farm and then three college years spent between campus and the new home my parents built in town a block west of the Wilcox bank as Lisa and I headed to college.

Still, I tell other people from Nebraska that I’m from Wilcox.

Such a environment can make people clannish, even if we weren’t all truly related to each other, so extra care is needed to welcome new folks.

We have those same discussions at NFPW and Nebraska Press Women conferences. No matter how excited we are to see our longtime friends from across the state or around the country, we won’t reach our goals to attract and keep new members unless we treat them with the same welcoming attitudes.

We’ve had some incredibly perfect fall days recently, so I enjoyed the drive to Wilcox and made stops on my way in the late afternoon and also when heading back to Kearney at sunset to take harvest photos. If there is an iconic fall image of Nebraska, it is of combines, tractors, grain carts and trucks harvesting corn and soybean crops that will be a year’s income for the small family businesses that make up 90-plus percent of our farms.

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Break-even may be the best many can hope for in a year when the inputs and growing season costs remain high and the commodity market prices are low.

I don’t know who lives in every home in Wilcox anymore, although I once did, along with everyone in K-12 and all their families.

The now consolidated Wilcox-Hildreth school looks the same on the outside. I’m excited along with a lot of other Wilcox people that a much needed new ag-education building will go up soon across from the main building at the site where a nasty June 2014 windstrom blew down the bus barn.

There were a lot of cars in the parking lot because the six-man football team had an away game Friday night in far southwest Nebraska. That left the streets pretty empty too, as community residents not picking corn were on the road to the football game.

Had it been a home game, I probably would have stayed at least through the first half.

I also had comfortable familiar feelings Saturday morning at Fort Kearny State Historical Park that were tied to past and recent NFPW events.

Nebraskans continuing to grow several varieties of Pawnee corn and other crops to help the Pawnee Nation in Oklahoma rebuild their seed bank are gathering their 2015 harvest.

NFPW members on the 2011 Nebraska pre-tour met the project leader Ronnie O’Brien who then worked at The Archway museum over I-80 just east of Kearney. She let NFPW members remove the husks from some of her Pawnee corn that year.

The most sacred and depleted variety, eagle corn, was down to a handful of old kernels used mostly for ceremonial purposes. So the final hope was to try to grow it again in central Nebraska, the ancestral home of the Pawnee.

On Friday, Ronnie and three other growers will take the Nebraska-grown corn, watermelons, two kinds of beans and squash to Pawnee, Okla. There will again be a few dozen ears of the unique corn with white kernels and purple splotches resembling an eagle’s wings.

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I did not see eagles as I walked the Fort Kearny Hike-Bike Trail later Saturday morning, but I was serenaded by several dozen sandhill cranes taking a rest and getting a bite to eat in an adjacent harvested cornfield.

In the fall, the cranes mostly spend a night and keep flying on south to the Gulf Coast of Texas. In the spring, more than 500,000 of them will spend six weeks in the Platte Valley, which is about half-way from Texas to their breeding grounds in northern Canada and Alaska. They need to eat and build up their weight to be in condition to continue their journey and have babies.

We were disappointed last month during the NFPW conference pre-tour in Alaska to arrive at Creamer’s Field near Fairbanks, one of those nesting grounds, only to learn that those sandhill cranes had started flying south a few days earlier.

So it really was a treat to see some flying and hear them talking to each other on Saturday. I can’t confirm that they were some of the Alaska cranes, but I like to think they were.

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