Sanders: Prairie thoughts
What is it about living in the prairie that both pleases and repels? After all, we are part of the prairie; we don’t live on it, we live in it. We — the six generation of my family continuously residing within the borders of the same southwestern South Dakota county — have always worked in production agriculture. The prairie is not our God, yet we surely have been formed by it. A large part of prairie living is quietness.
Those of us accustomed to the silence, labor ferociously to protect it. Others, not used to the same silence find it deafening, even frightening, because it is different, new, and uncomfortable — the same reasons some of us are disturbed by unaccustomed noises on occasional forays into cities.
We cannot take the quiet space for granted. We find it impossible to relate how precious it is. We had a heavy haul freight railroad that wanted to build a new line a quarter mile from our house and obliterate our tranquil lifestyle. A portion of a report on the railroad project stated there are, “290 noise receptors” along most of the proposed new route. In our rural area, however, the same report gave this number of noise receptors: zero. That’s right. Because there are few of us, it is as if we don’t even exist.
This serenity can only be appreciated through the experience of living in a peaceful place year around, day in and day out. I don’t think it means absolute quiet. We live 60 miles from Ellsworth Air Force Base out of which B-1s fly regularly. I love hearing them and the silence of them not flying after 9/11 was more unnerving than I could have imagined. When air conditions are just right we can hear when the engines of several planes are started simultaneously and those are sounds in which I delight. These times conditions are good for these sound travels are brief and infrequent, yet heartening. I suppose it is because it represents a different type of peace.
Peaceful doesn’t have to mean solitude. I recently read a book in which the author claimed to have spent five years in solitude on a mountain ranch as a caretaker. It was a nice hook but the deeper I delved into the pages it was obvious the writer was surrounded by help and had friends, relatives and other company who came to the ranch, stayed and worked for extended periods during a great portion of those years of so-called “solitude.” When someone moves to a rural location from a city or good-sized town things are different than what they were used to, but I’m not so sure having a steady stream of guests fulfills the definitions of solitude.
Peaceful may mean that if we hear sounds, they are pleasant to our ears. When a diesel pickup sound signals that a loved one is home or the Eurasian Collared Doves that come and go from our yard are back and singing, those are welcome noises, even here on the prairie. ❖