“People live in each other’s shelter.” —Irish Proverb
I’ve always been drawn to remoteness, old farmhouses and a chill in the air. My recent visit to my childhood home in Burke, South Dakota offered it all up for me. A blizzard, below zero temps and a borrowed four-wheel drive vehicle to venture anywhere I dared.
Around Burke, South Dakota—January 2020
Thank you Willa for being my photographic partner in crime.
“Trees were so rare in that country, and they had to make such a hard fight to grow, that we used to feel anxious about them, and visit them as if they were persons.”
―Willa Cather, My Ántonia
I’m staying in my childhood home in Burke, South Dakota. Today I got up very early to write. I made coffee and stepped out on the porch for some fresh air. I was dumbstruck by the beauty of the sunrise and the moonset in unison over the east-facing field.
Left: today’s sunrise/moonset Right: last night’s sunset.
The moon was so seductive to me that I actually felt a little “witchy”. I hopped in my rental and headed east on gravel roads to get closer to the moon. Deer. Stars. A light wind. Birds chirping. Lovely.
NOTE: Speaking of “witchy”, I was born with an extra finger on my left hand (as was my daughter, Lucy). I’ve been told that it’s the sign of a witch, although from what I’ve read, it was mostly the patriarchy and the churches afraid of women who used herbs and other methods of healing. Oh, men, always so threatened by powerful women.
Once thought to be a sign of witchcraft, extra digits are actually the most common developmental abnormality found at birth. About two children in a thousand have extra fingers or toes.
Marilyn Monroe didn’t have extra digits, urban legends notwithstanding, but Anne Boleyn and Winston Churchill both did. And Atlanta Braves pitcher Antonio “The Octopus” Alfonseca was born with six fingers and six toes.https://www.futilitycloset.com/2005/02/10/a-great-big-hand/
I don’t have a telephoto lens or the patience for long exposure images, but I was able to capture these images. A perfect October experience in South Dakota…chasing a waning crescent moon.
My mother always told me that I looked a lot like Winston Churchill as a baby. Now, I know why—Lucy and I share a rather unique trait with him.
At fifty-two, I feel betwixt and between, no longer young and not yet old. Looking back I can see my life as remarkably valuable training and experience. To hell with regrets. I can’t change a damn thing. I know myself much better in midlife and that’s truly a gift. I also know I still have a lot to learn.
Like my prairie ancestors, I have an inherent longing now to settle or “prove up” one hundred and sixty acres. A sort of cognitive Homestead Act of my midlife psyche. A bit of a gamble, rife with elements of uncertainty, the heady buzz of adventure and the resilience to know I can handle whatever comes my way.
Funny to think about cognitive growth using these terms. However, metaphorically, it works pretty well. Claim my section. Select the crop. Prep the land. Plant the seeds. Irrigate. Fertilize. Monitor growth. Harvest. Review.
These 3 simple questions help me often and perhaps might’ve helped my prairie ancestors as well. The trick is being able to actually answer them.
Homestead Act of 1982 “…and that such an application is made for his or her exclusive use and benefit, and that said entry is made for the purpose of actual settlement and cultivation, and not either directly or indirectly for the use of any other person or persons whomsoever…he or she shall thereupon be permitted to enter the quantity of land specified.”
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.
to my VIDA collection. I hope you like these as much I loved creating them.
Here’s the link to my page.
PRAIRIE MEMORIES and HEADING WEST
SHE KNOWS WHAT TO DO and LOVE OF THE ROAD
“WE BELIEVE IT’S TIME TO REBUILD COMMERCE – FOR THE MINDFUL, GLOBAL CITIZENS OF THE MODERN WORLD.” —VIDA
Last week I had the pleasure of watching the American Masters documentary on PBS about one of my heroes, Great Depression photographer Dorthea Lange. Her work has greatly influenced my abandoned farmhouse hunting and photography whenever I visit my family in South Dakota. Dorthea’s compassion and unyielding desire to tell the tragic and heroic stories of our nation’s poor, interned and displaced through photography woke our nation up. Dorthea’s images prompted more action than print alone could possibly ever have conveyed.
I’ve always found great beauty among the ruins in all forms. Things that are new just don’t give me much creative juice. I like to see everything worn out, faded, distressed and destroyed. To me there’s always a lot more stories among the ruins.
“It is not enough to photograph the obviously picturesque.”
“Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion… the subject must be something you truly love or truly hate.”
You can watch the American Masters documentary online or look on demand from your local listings.
These images I shot with my niece south of Burke, South Dakota in January. I’m guessing someone will recognize the house, my sincere apologies for trespassing. The pull to see what was inside was just too much for us to resist.
There are links to Dorthea’s biography and images if you scroll down.