Who Am I? Why Am I Here?
A bit of background. I’m a Midwestern girl through and through, born in Nebraska and raised in Brookings, South Dakota. I’ve made brief sojourns to a few places—a college trip to Spain, a few months on Long Island, and a year of grad school in Vancouver, British Columbia, as well as trips to about half of the 50 U.S. states. I always keep coming back to the plains, though. Despite an intense affection for various mountainous areas, the prairie is definitely home.
While I grew up in the most agricultural state in the country, I had a limited connection to the land. It wasn’t until college at South Dakota State University that I began thinking more deeply about the environment and the biblical mandate to care for it. That all came about through a special topics class, “Philosophy of the Land,” taught by Dr. David Nelson, for which Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America was our primary text. I wrestled terribly with Berry (future posts may describe more) but, in the end, found most of what he said in that book to be right and, consequently, found myself with a new set of convictions about earth-keeping.
Almost a decade ago I took a brief break from South Dakota to spend a few months working temp jobs on Long Island, NY. I remember a particular moment one fall day when I was debating just what to do next in life and where to do it. Stay in New York? Go home? Go somewhere else? It dawned on me that I actually did care about South Dakota—its people and its landscape—and that no one else around me at that moment did. After all, it probably took someone growing up in South Dakota, knowing both its beauties and foibles, to truly care for it. I figured that South Dakota might actually need me (and maybe I needed South Dakota). So, I moved back.
I described that realization to my husband while we were on our honeymoon in 2002. We took a leisurely road trip out west and ended up in Taos, New Mexico, new territory for both of us. We immediately fell in love with Taos with its artsy culture and beautiful landscape. While we ate dinner one evening and contemplated living in a place like Taos or Boulder or Moab, I recounted my New York moment to Cory. We both instantly understood that we had to stay in South Dakota. We loved it, cared for it, and our work was there. Of course, that wasn’t much of a stretch for Cory, who grew up at Lake Herman and had almost every intention of staying there forever. After that conversation, though, we were both certain.
Together we took another short break from South Dakota while I groveled at the feet of some excellent theologians at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. We’ve been back home since April 2005. After having a baby and building a house, we’ve settled in on a couple acres just uphill from the shores of Lake Herman.
Deciding to let our roots continue to grow here is both frightening and liberating. Living here is not easy on a number of levels. Madison has its share of problems. The job market isn’t spectacular, and there’s a fair bit of typical small town politics. But our decision is also incredibly liberating. We have dreams of an organic demonstration garden, some market gardening or a CSA, a straw bale greenhouse, a straw bale art studio, and maybe even a small intentional community. We’d love to open a café someday in Madison supplied with food produced as locally as possible (think the Farmer’s Diner), maybe even some from our own garden. Will we accomplish all this? Probably not. But staying here for the long haul means we have the freedom to think about plans like this. Acting on those plans means caring more and more about our place and our community each day.
When I expressed similar sentiments to my friend David W. last year, he responded with this:
In your e-mail you wrote: “we intend to be here for the rest of our lives.” Reading that reflexively made me sigh a sigh of rest and peace and home. I’m so glad that you are doing something and speaking something–being rooted–that is so important in our mobile, disconnected, fragmented, homeless world. The very fact that you say “we intend to be here for the rest of our lives” oozes hospitality.
(Originally blogged 13 March 2007)