Saturday, May 24, 2014

It's 6:31 p.m. Do you know where your wheat geneticist is?

If corn is king of Nebraska and soybeans in rotation is his queen, then wheat is the clever princess, waiting to ascend the throne when the groundwater runs out. And at this time of year, when corn and soybean fields are brown expanses of prickly stubble, a wheat field rolls out lush and green like the biggest lawn you've ever seen. It's all you can do to keep from wading in barefoot, flopping down, and wriggling back and forth like a dog off its leash. But I wouldn't recommend this, unless you're the farmer who planted it. In that case, knock yourself out!

I found it hard to resist running through this lush wheat field near Wilbur, Nebraska.

This past Monday, I trailed after my husband Bob Graybosch as he traveled the state "looking at wheat." As a wheat geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, this business of "looking at wheat" is a part of his job, which involves improving quality through selective breeding. He looks for and selects for traits that make wheat disease resistant and bread tastier and more nutritious, both here and in countries around the world.

But no matter how amazing these traits are, if the wheat variety can't hack it in the field, farmers won't grow it. So this past Monday, he was out looking for the winners and losers in locations near Wilbur, Clay Center, and North Platte.

Taking notes on winners and losers in wheat plots near Clay Center Nebraska.

By the way, if you're puzzling over how in May a wheat field is so far ahead of corn and soybeans, this is hard winter wheat, that clever princess that establishes herself over the harsh Nebraska winter while these other fields lie fallow. Then in midsummer, when corn and soybeans are desperately waiting to get a drink from the center pivot, winter wheat has already matured and is ready for harvest!

Only at North Platte did we see wheat heading. Look closely and you will see the wheat flowers peeking out!

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's 10:36 p.m. Do you know where your cafe is?

This morning I headed to the Mill in College View, ordered a slice of Beaver Crossing asparagus quiche, a mug of Brazilian coffee, and installed myself  at a little table along the brick wall in the narrow western room. I opened my journal, and then stared out the window at Conroy's Bakery across the street (ah Conroy's donuts, I hardly knew ye before my cholesterol rose) and savored that killer quiche and perfectly brewed coffee.

Almost every time my husband Bob and I sit together in a cafe like this, he poses the following question: What did people do before the proliferation of cafes? I know he doesn't mean  those greasy spoons that call themselves something like "The Roadside Cafe." (I suppose no one would eat at a place called the "Roadside Greasy Spoon" except maybe dishwasher salesmen.) I also don't mean those upscale restaurants that call themselves cafes, like the now defunct French Cafe in the Omaha Old Market. No, I mean the cozy cousins of Starbucks, the locally owned, espresso compressing, milk steaming, all generational watering holes like the College View Mill (yes, yes, I know the Haymarket Mill, but this one is my Mill.)

Here in this narrow space, the wheezing of the cappuccinos being born and the unidentifiable heavy metal music are thankfully muted. I see four young people on laptops, a middle aged guy in the back with headphones on, as glued to his laptop as the kids are, and a senior citizen couple right in front of me absorbed in a card game. (The card playing woman just said to her husband, "I  didn't mean for it to be easy for you." Wow, she wants to mop the floor with him.)

We could all be doing this stuff at home. But it's not the same, is it? So what is it about sitting here in this place that is other than home, where the music and chatter and card shuffling and laughter make us feel more productive, more creative, more social, more introspective, and for the lady at the next table, more competitive?

I still don't have an answer, so I'll throw the question  out to you. Time to put my plate, mug, and fork into the plastic bin and move on. Now if I can just get back to my car without crossing the street to Conroy's...