Shouldn't the Great Plains be completely dark? This is some of the most sparsely populated areas in the United States. No one around. There are all the semis on I-80, of course. But the semis seems like machines. Not even human. You feel like the only person in the world then. No one's talking, but the car radio is humming. Some old sixties tune, or another country ballad. But still, you feel so alone.

In all directions, on your left, on your right: there are the lights. How could there be so many? No one lives out here in Nebraska. Yet, every movement of the eye reveals another garage light. No one lives out here, but you know people do. The lights are just my imagination, not a habit of security for the slumbering farmers. The whole world is dead.

Does anyone else in the world think about Nebraskans at two in the morning? I think of them all sleeping, the breeze of a November night whispering at their windows. It certainly is a massive burden to be the only person on the earth that remembers the Nebraskans.

Kearney approaches on the highway. The town seems to be coming for me, not me to the town. We have to gas up. It's late, or early. Actual people attend to the cash registers at the gas station. But still, it's a different world than the world of the day. Everyone's quiet, secure. No one would dare disturb the night's dominance. My dad pays for the fuel. It's eerie seeing a human and thinking that she is not of this world.

We return to the road, and I doze off intermittently. The radio's AM quality seems so proper. The hiss and static of the signal. It makes the night seem right. The desolation in the land and the signal. I fight off the distractions to sleep.

Welcome to South Dakota. Daylight is far away: it is still late November. But this state isn't the same. Maybe it's a mental game I play with myself. I do know that we will go through Nebraska again though.

Those lights are the farmers' sole companions against the night.

It is difficult to understand their meaning when you drive by them. Try flying over them.

Nebraska, from the air, is a quilt of squares of soybeans, corn, and maybe a little alfalfa. At night, you see those same lights, but you see them in their context.

When I last saw them, it was during a long midwestern winter, so the fields glowed blue with the snow in the moonlight as I stared out my little porthole of a window. You can tell the farmers' lights by their color -- a more neon blue than the countryside itself, contrasting with the orange lights of the city. And they dot the countryside, a little bright dot of blue along each of the patchwork squares...stretching into the distance.

So you see, in those lights, a quiet network of lonely families and aging farmers and the land that supports them, spread out with geometrical uniformity over a wild and unforgiving land...well, not so wild any's a land where solitude flows as deep as the aquifer, which fuels the state.

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