Wednesday, June 09, 2004

SEPTEMBER 13, 2003, cont'd

In September, 2003, I drove down through North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska, into Kansas; I drove from Rugby, North Dakota, site of the geographic center of the North American continent, to Smith County, Kansas, home of the geographic center of the lower 48 states; I drove along the western edge of the middle west, staying between the 99th and 100th Meredians. It was mostly backroads I drove, not the highways but the lowways, the by-ways. I wanted to see what the western spine of the middle west looks like. This is the fourth part of my report of the trip.

Eureka, South Dakota, is holding its own. The newspaper in town is the Northwest Blade, its office just across the street from the Luncheonette Cafe. Post 186 is the American Legion. The Luncheonette has competition right next door - Jan's Cafe. The Eureka High School has a football season going, according to a sign in the cafe. The cars and pick-ups parked along Main Street are new, some of them. There's a big supermarket.

I'm making notes in my car and when I look up I see the windshield speckled with raindrops; I can see blue sky through the pattern they make.

I drive south out of town - here there's an implement dealer, there a hospital, a tire center, a park along the lake, a big "Eureka Information" building where Highway 47 turns south.

Blackbirds fly above a cornfield, a tube of them a quarter-mile long.

A bleak farmstead - the house and barn and outbuildings left unpainted and exposed to their disgrace. Trees are broken. Tall grass. Roughness.

Off to the southwest, a real cloudburst. It is not raining here, not any longer, but very distinctly it's raining there. The land here is so big that I can see the entire rainstorm and a big sweep of the horizon to the left of it, and to the right. I can see the wind rippling the downpour as if it were a curtain; I don't think I have ever seen something like this before. The sun brightens part of the rainfall, the other part is in shadow.

Now some rain slaps my windshield, but only for an instant. The day shall never come again.

Oh, now it's steady rain coming at me. The soybeans to my left are nearly ready for harvest. I haven't seen anyone out here for miles and miles. I am alone at the far edge of the middle west. The rain stops. And now the road is dry.

Ducks on a mucky pot-hole. Other pot-holes are dried out; one has cows asleep in it.

Here's another desolate farmstead - tower of an old wind-mill, rusting; a shed getting indistinct in its lines; a break of trees, broken.

Cattle fill a feedlot. You can smell them. I'd say it was a "large" feedlot, except I've been to West Point, Nebraska, and have a standard for comparison. On the other side of the road, a pasture with cattle in it.

Another power-line headed northwest to southeast.

Enough wind to push me sideways. I reach Bowdle, South Dakota, pop. 571, and take the county road south out of town to Tolstoy, so I don't have to go seven miles west on Highway 47, then the same seven miles back east a little later. I'll re-join 47 a little farther south.

In the two fields of corn that have been harvested, four rows have been left standing down the middle of each. For pheasants? For deer?

Sign before the driveway to a gravel pit: "Trucks Hauling."

Is it white cattle or large rocks on a distant hillside? They would be Charlois. I see Charlois in a nearer pasture, too.

The car could drive itself down this long, straight streak of asphalt headed south, and I could write a book. The road is straighter than the track of a rain drop blown by high wind. The country is as lonely as a fugitive. All the side-roads are gravel.

Another farmstead, headed for desolation: house and barn, outbuildings, a few trees, palpable sadness.

A hayfield with large round bales in it, and a hundred large boulders like giant tortoises, just dug out of the ground. They wait for a stone boat to haul them away. That will be heavy work for some farmer's son.

A stand of evergreen trees around a tidy farmstead. A gash of stones along a dry creek bed.

Tolstoy has already come undone. There is not much left. It still has the "Compassionate Hands Massage Center." New Age here at the far reach of the middle west? Can it be these farmers believe a massage will help defeat their troubles? Or is the massage for the farmer's wife - a softness of hands, instead of the callused touch of her husband; a lingering measure instead of slam bam thank you ma'am?

I jog east seven miles on Highway 20: a sign for "German Zion Congregational Cemetery." It's so far off down a lane that I can't see it. I don't stop.

Sign: "Entering Faulk County."

A slough has dried out; it is baked white. Now I can se rain to the north of me, wind blasting the sheets of it.

I turn south again on County Road 3, I'm heading for Seneca. Ducks on water and grass on range-land, then the stubble of wheat and more round bales again.

A barn falling down. A new modular home.

Soy beans. A slough, still wet on one side of the road, dried up on the other.

The few people coming towards me down these roads are invariably driving pick-ups. Invariably they wave at me.

The grassland is full of stones.

Yes, the people I meet along these roads wave in passing. Life hangs on out here. I suppose you say "Hello, I'm alive" whenever you can.



You want to
Pay attention,
Ben says.

Even the rocks

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