Trying to explain our rural life to urban dwellers who have never lived in a rural area may be met with skepticism, to put it mildly. As a trustee with the South Dakota State Historical Society I travel 214 miles to the state capitol in Pierre, S.D., a few times per year for meetings. On my last trip while returning home on a state highway for the first 115 miles I saw five other cars, including one behind mine. It was a mid-Friday afternoon, good weather, no reason to not have more traffic — except few people live here.
The 2010 official census gives 814,180 as the population of the entire state. That is approximately the same number of people who live in San Francisco. To look at it another way, there are only 13 cities in the U.S. with a population of 800,000 or more (including New York, New York with well over 8 million people and the largest of all). South Dakota must be seen to believed, especially by city dwellers. I realize many readers live in rural areas and understand, yet it may be implausible even to some of them.
With no street signs — because there are no streets — country people give directions using common landmarks. When directions to a ranch include things like turn at the corner of the old, abandoned drilling outfit and the osprey nest, you know you are going to a remote place. Two cautions about that are when things change, remember to include that in your instructions. Our name was on our rural mailbox for 35 years. Since we live a quarter of a mile from the mailbox that helped our visitors. Once the rural emergency address signs were put in place, and just by chance and our number fit right over the top of our mailbox, we removed the name plate from the box. I did it. I knew it. But I forgot and gave the same directions I always had. After my visitor arrived she told me the name was not there. Oops! Lesson learned.
The second necessity of giving instructions is not to rely on landmarks that are no longer in place. If you refer to “Lulu’s Corner,” but LuLu’s house was removed some 30 years ago, and the corner is a section in a cow pasture, it is not helpful. Hot Springs, S.D., was referred to as a one-stoplight town for years. Directions were given with that light as a mark. Then one day a second stoplight was installed and it threw everyone off. Little things can make a big difference for visitors and newcomers. For the rest of us, we need to heed changes though we recognize that old habits are difficult to break.
Peggy cherishes her rural life yet is glad to be connected to the world via her internet latchstring, Peggy@PeggySanders.com. ❖