The Dakota countryside is beautiful in its open, lovely way, with rolling hills and buttes and huge, cloud-filled skies. The farms and farmhouses away from Bismarck are out there in the middle of nowhere. I always wonder what sort of personalities would choose this solitude. Having spent all my life living with the nighttime ambient light of cities, I can only imagine how dark the nights must be for these Dakota misanthropes and xenophobes, how brilliant the star field overhead. If you love your privacy and seclusion, then the country west of the Missouri River is the place for you.
Animal life along the way? Large herds of black angus cows, browns, multicoloreds, one small herd of buffalo, one antlered whitetail deer, an occasional ferruginous hawk in lazy, flapless hunting circles, meadow larks on fence posts. And not a single pheasant in the two hundred miles from and back to Bismarck. I can’t remember ever driving a South Dakota road without seeing at least one pheasant. How sadly odd if that’s an indication of declining numbers of this beautiful bird.
The only crop I could see was the occasional field of corn, not quite as high as an elephant’s eye in early July. More like knee-high. But there were hundreds or thousands of round hay bales. In the old days, hay was baled in rectangles light enough for one man to hoist into a pickup or truck. These round bales would weigh somewhere between one and two tons and would require a fork lift for moving. Although not a crop, one can see in the ditches multitudes of the South Dakota Highway Department’s “X Marks the Spot” signs, each sign marking the demise of each automobile fatality. With these reminders, most motorists slow down, not wanting to be another statistical X.
After we turned east from McLaughlin, it wasn’t long before I could see Rattlesnake Butte to the north. When I wrote Prairie View, I created a butte of my own devising that I called Rattlesnake Butte. Quite a few people in the Mobridge area scolded me for my descriptive error. The real butte is neither as steep nor as rocky as I made it. I tell my scolders that’s part of my poetic license. The real butte didn’t serve my purpose so I created one that did.
Then we passed the Grand River Casino and down the hill to the bridge that crosses the Big Water we now call the Oahe Reservoir. Then around the curve to the south and past the Klein Museum, that Mobridge gem housing a multitude of South Dakota artifacts. One could spend days and days exploring all that’s there. One of our reasons for returning to South Dakota was to give the museum two items we’d acquired from Bonnie and Dean Scott. Rosalie’s father, Bill Zimmer, had somehow been given some Sioux artifacts which he donated to the museum. But these two were then handed off to the Scotts and then to us—a redstone peace pipe and a stone-headed weapon about the size of a tomahawk. We had them for almost ten years until we Fedexed them to Mobridge to give to the museum. The odd thing is that we had them hanging one on each side of a large print of Sitting Bull. In ten years, no one ever mentioned that curious trio of Native America memorabilia. No one seemed to notice them, or were too embarrassed to ask about them. Or maybe no one knew what the hell they were. Now, at least, they’re finally in a place where museum visitors can appreciate them.
What other Mobridge curiosities did I notice? The evening behavior of the natives. Party time and dining time are late because of the late sundowns in July. Drive just three miles west and it’s an hour earlier. But in Mobridge there’s always light remaining as late as ten o’clock. How does the cost of living compare to other states? I was surprised that it was as high as or even higher than in Arizona. Gas was nearly twenty cent a gallon higher; groceries seem to be about 5% higher; and liquor prices are at least 50% higher. On one of our drives somewhere near the old Beadle school, I saw a reminder of the past, a basement house. Once upon a time there were quite a few in Mobridge, evidence of a time when people who couldn’t afford to build an entire house could dig a hole, insert concrete-block walls, throw on a roof, and there you had a living area waiting for something to grow on top. We also had a bedraggled robin visit our room at the Wrangler. I always remembered robins as having red, red breasts as they bobbed back and forth across lawns, searching for tasty angleworms. But this little fellow had a mottled orange breast and was most interested in eating tiny bugs near the door jambs of our room and rooms to each side. Rosalie brought home from the Windjammer a cracker that she crumpled and scattered at the base of our door. The next morning all crumbs were gone. I hope he appreciated Rosalie’s bird benevolence. One last curiosity not about Mobridge but about our flight on Allegiant Airlines. There was a small sign affixed to the partition between our seats and the flight attendant space: “Fasten seat belts whilst seated.” “Whilst?!” How could anyone in this day and age think that word would be appropriate? Did he or she think that made the sign more formal and fancy? Pretentious is more like it. But that’s the least of my complaints with Allegiant Airlines, which has seen the very last of us as fliers.
We both love Mobridge then and now, but we are also saying goodbye to it and will keep it in our memories for as long as we still have memories. So long, Mobridge. So long, Big Water. So long, rodeos and Fourth of Julys and class reunions. It’s been good to know ya.