Saturday, January 9, 2010

Population 50

I didn't make it to South Dakota this year. Halloween (read trick or treating with my kids) and a recession stepped in and kept me right here at home. The Halloween part I honestly don't mind, after all how many years will I actually have before they would rather throw eggs at houses and smash pumpkins? The recession I could do without.

This trip has always been good medicine for me. It's a different place at a different pace, and the place is SO big. Big in every direction, literally as far as the eye can see. Big views of big fields are a big change for a kid who grew up surrounded by trees. I'm sure there's a metaphysical existential explanation for the effect wide open spaces have on our brains. I can't explain it, but I can tell you it's real, real enough that I can't stop myself from just staring off into that bigness at times.

We hunt in a small town about halfway between Aberdeen and Sioux Falls, and by small I mean small. The sign at the edge of town says the population is 50, which means the head count surges 20% when we show up. Our hosts are a local farming family and once I asked the older son what it was like living in a town with 50 people and he said, "Well everyone knows everyone else's business, and nobody cares." Refreshing.

One immutable fact of life is that your perspective on things changes as you get older. I grew up in a town of about 50,000 and couldn't wait to get out - it was too small for this big-time cowboy. I left for college and mumbled sayonara and don't think I even checked the rear view. Graduated college (finally), moved to our nation's capital and basked in all that the big city had to offer. Two years, countless hours in traffic, and Lord knows how many parking tickets later I'd had enough. Been back here 19 years this April.

I got the big out of my system, at least in terms of cities, and found that the small was rooted very, very deep. It would be no effort at all adjusting to a place like Turton, SD. Sadly there would have to be compromises and sacrifices. My wife, for one, wouldn't consider moving there even if they built a Target on Main Street and that's a good thing, 'cause a Target would put a booger on the Picasso for me anyway. I'd miss all my boys at home, too, and would have to buy a plane so I could get back for the important stuff, but hey I need a reason to justify playing the Powerball anyway, right? For brevity's sake let's just say I could go on but there's no need. I'm not moving any time soon.

Which makes missing the trip this year all the more difficult. I'll most likely be back again in the fall to get my fix, my prescription filled with fine folks, an absence of traffic, food I can't get around here, and lots of big, open space.

And the pheasant hunting ain't bad either.