Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.
Monday, January 29, 2018
Saturday Morning Catch--Making use of the Big Sioux River
The first matter of business when white folks came into the region was roughing out lot lines so that all knew where each of the others were about to put down roots. Once that was done, some of ye olde pioneers cut paths to the rivers. Think of those paths as life lines, because it was not at all difficult to get lost at sea in an ocean of grass. Those paths helped them remember where they were.
Back then, a place like this--a river bank--was its own kind of refuge. If you were going to meet any other human being at all, you'd meet 'em here, along the rivers, the only thoroughfares in the region. The first Hollanders set down roots along the Floyd, just to be safe. Transportation and commerce?--it was all happening on the rivers.
No more. Today, the river banks are cluttered with dozens of dead cottonwoods the spring floods take out, then leave carelessly upended behind, the discarded limbs of unimaginable creatures, a junk yard of huge spare parts.
Makes the place seem a ghost town, really. In January especially, there's no reason to be here, no ice fishing, and not much at all in the line of bird-watching, maybe a couple of lousy sputsies, a crow or two, and, if you're lucky, a red-tailed hawk. But most of them are perched on fence posts or in trees along highways waiting for road kill. There's little here, really. It's quiet too; the river is frozen; the water has nothing to say.
There some drumming from an optimistic woodpecker, and, once in a while, a pick-up passes by. Otherwise, the river silence is profound.
I'm a half-dozen miles north from the bank on the Big Sioux where the first county commissioners (that's what the yokels called themselves) put up a shack and called it a courthouse; and three or four south, maybe, from the place where a couple dozen people in log houses called their first Sioux County settlement "Calliope."
Visitors were few in 1861, but had they thrown together a sod house twenty miles east, where sits Orange City today, they'd have likely seen no visitors at all. Here, human beings occasionally passed by in canoes and on foot on land. Back then, to call the river an interstate would have been a stretch, but a place like this was the only quarter in the region where things were happening.
No more. Today, on a cold January morning, the river bank is a ghost town--a bunch of turkeys maybe, three or four deer if you sit tight.
Nobody's here. Some few four-legged residents kindly leave tracks, a reminder that this spot isn't as desolate as you might want to think.
In fact, the river may well be more of an interstate today. I'm standing in South Dakota, after all. There's proof left in the river's snowy quilt that more than a few of the locals determined at one time or another to visit Iowa, right over there on the other side.
But in all truth, there's no reason to be here, nothing to be done here, no money to be made. Even now, early in the morning, there's no one with whom to have coffee. Let's just say it this way: there's no real use to be here. Just like there's no real use to beauty.
Nothing happening, nothing going on, after all.
But then, there's certainly not nothing to see.
Even in January, with no one around and nothing but silence, there's history and story and sheer awe because, lo and behold, even in the cold, it's still my Father's world.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:14 AM
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