Bernie over at South Dakota Magazine recently asked readers if we like the browns of the South Dakota winter landscape.
I do, but it’s taken me awhile to get there. I can probably trace my growing fondness for the winter prairie palette to a January drive in 1996 or ’97. My first two years out of university, I traveled around the region, including about 3/4 of South Dakota, visiting high schools as an admissions counselor for SDSU. I vividly remember one afternoon heading out of Martin, SD. Where Highway 18 took a southwest curve, I was struck by the picture in the rearview mirror. The western sun was lighting up a golden field against a dramatic gray-blue northern sky.
I had a lot of those moments while driving across the state in the dead of winter. West River seems to be particularly good for finding interesting spots in the landscape–the ones everyone misses while whizzing by on 1-90 in a hurry to get through fly-over land. There’s that great spot on Highway 73 south of Kadoka, when you cross the border onto the Pine Ridge Reservation and the first crests of the Badlands break from the plains. If you’re there early enough in the morning, you’ll catch the east sun stiking the ridges. Then there’s that solitary BIA road somewhere northwest of Oglala–I forget exactly where now. I just remember a strange, beautiful, and intriguing countryside unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else. Winter seems to be an especially good time to see these places, when the light is thinner and the shadows are longer. It’s all a bit lonelier and more mysterious.
Of course, this is November. Talk to me again in March, and I’ll probably be good and ready for some green.