Last week I was in South Dakota for a funeral and a wedding. In between those emotional events I found some time to drive back roads with my husband, see the stunning late August countryside and find some much needed quiet. I’m always reminded of how much the prairie landscape resides in my cells, bones and heart.
This landscape gives me clarity, helps me understand my choices and guides me back to my personal True North when I get off course a bit.
South Dakota is my interior geography, no matter where I am in the world.
Recently, I had to draw a compass at Courage Camp in Bristol, Rhode Island. I laughed at myself because the way I still figure out directions is to imagine I’m standing on the front porch of my childhood home. It’s there that I’m most confident in knowing my directions. (photo below)
Standing on the porch I know which direction the sun sets and how to get to Nebraska. With that knowledge, I can find my way most places.
I often think of my intrepid ancestral homesteaders who ventured West, uncertain of what they would find in the Dakota Territories. However, and more importantly, perhaps they knew they could handle whatever the prairie offered them.
I understand that now, at the tender age of 50, in a way I didn’t when I was younger. I don’t know what’s next, but I know I can count on my interior geography to help guide my way.
The photograph of HWY 18, a South Dakota two-lane hasn’t let me go yet. My apologies if you’ve had enough. Actually, not really. I write and create art for me and my hope is that something I write maybe resonates for you too. If not, well, that’s OK.
I created this series while thinking that the imagery of the road is both going AWAY from somewhere and TOWARD someplace else. For the early part of my life the road represented away from someplace and now it’s shifting. This image is my childhood home in Burke, South Dakota.
When I started working on these images I was trying to tell a lot of different stories. Why kids leave small towns. Why they should go back (I’ll still write about that). Why I left South Dakota. Why, at fifty-years-old, I would now consider going back to South Dakota. How small towns or wherever our upbringing was shaped us as adults. I’ve created so many images all telling different stories. I had to narrow my message. So, I decided to get more personal and less about rural development.
I’ve lived in Vermont since New Year’s Day 1990. I moved to Burlington with a friend, Melissa from my Sioux Falls College days. Three weeks later I met my husband, Jeff. Now, almost twenty-seven years later I’m deeply rooted here in New England. I never expected to be here this long. If had put a limit on my time in Vermont, well, it wouldn’t have worked. I was in love and adaptable. Isn’t life wonderfully unpredictable?
I’m longing for spaciousness, freedom and simplicity. I crave all of this more now in middle age. As the poet e. e. cummings wrote, “it takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”. I had to allow myself to get quiet enough to listen to my inner voice. As a younger partner, mother and artist, I wasn’t such a good listener. I’m grateful the prairie won’t let me go now, she clearly has a lot to say lately and I’m listening.
This image is the backyard of my home in Burlington, Vermont. We’ve lived in this house since August 1991. It holds many memories and has been through numerous renovations. I love the house, but I’m restless. I desire some change.
This piece is layered with one of my paintings. My need for change isn’t always easy on my family. I’m trying to be more understanding about how they feel. They are trying to do the same. Inevitably though, things will change and we will all adapt just fine. I know that my work is to keep listening and trying to understand what messages I’m receiving.
The week before Thanksgiving I was in South Dakota visiting my family. I had an afternoon to drive around and shoot some photos. I headed to Herrick, just east of Burke, listening to korn country 92.1. I love Keith Urban’s song; Blue Ain’t Your Color. If you don’t know this song, it’s a damn shame. Here’s the video.
I spent a lot of time in Herrick growing up. I “worked bees” two summers. That was highly educational, messy and sometimes painful work. I got stung 17 times one day (my forearms looked like Popeye’s). I played softball in the field behind the truck. I think I might’ve even knocked back a few beers at parties in the outfield on occasion. I had a friend who lived on a farm in Herrick and since I was a “city kid” riding the bus to Anita’s farm was a grand adventure. We could drive at fourteen. We didn’t have to ride the bus too long. So, I had a blast driving around Herrick in beautiful, autumn, late afternoon light and thinking about my Herrick Days.
Next time, perhaps a whole series of photos devoted to Bernie’s Inn, the historic watering hole in Herrick. Would that be a possibility? Let me know.
1. HWY 10 in CALIFORNIA (Phoenix to Palm Springs)
2. TOWN NECK BEACH approach, Sandwich, Mass
1 & 2. An abandoned farmhouse somewhere in Gregory County, South Dakota.