AMY KIRK: South Dakotans not so different from their distant neighbors
I recently attended a week-long writer’s retreat in Florida and learned a great deal about the South; mostly that they all say their words funny (they thought the same about me), but I did notice similarities between northern Florida and home.
To me it seemed odd that Florida had places like Miami, Tampa and Orlando, which are places known for Disney World, sandy beaches, colorful homes so bright they could take your eye out, and then see random stuff like palm trees and pine trees in the same area, bear crossing signs and roadside stands selling boiled peanuts. Floridians will veer off the road for boiled peanuts like South Dakotans do for sweet corn. Southerners also love their cheese grits the way we love mashed potatoes.
Back home, mountain lions are the resident animals that can be a threat to human life, but Florida’s are alligators. I learned the Everglades is not the only place to see alligators. Thankfully, the ones I saw were at a safe distance.
Some of the things about Florida reminded me of home, but with a Floridian twist. It turns out Florida has rednecks too, but they’re called bubbas. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet a bubba in person, probably because it was deer-hunting season when I was there.
There were big-game crossing signs that had been defaced just like the signs back home. Florida had bear-crossing signs instead of deer-crossing signs and some of them had a permanent marker-drawn horn on the bear head to look like a rhinoceros.
Sharing a habitat with alligators and manatees in Florida is like having buffalo in Custer State Park. The locals tend to ignore them and aren’t as fascinated by them the way visitors are, and like buffalo, gators are best viewed from afar.
I always visualized Florida as being beachy and Ft. Lauderdale-like, but the countryside I saw wasn’t even close to a beach atmosphere until I got to St. George Island. The highway on the drive to the retreat was lined with densely wooded areas of 20 foot high cypress and white pine trees and reminded me of South Dakota’s highways when lined with tall cornfields.
I also noticed that at home, I perpetually deal with hay everywhere. It gets in coat and pants pockets, shoes, and pants cuffs. I find hay bits in blankets and on pillows, and it’s frequently scattered on the floor. At the retreat, it was obvious that Floridians have sand to deal with on a regular basis. I had it in my socks, shoes, pockets, bags, in my bed sheets, and felt it on the tile floor everytime I walked around barefoot.
The vastness of Florida’s Emerald Coast is similar to the wide open prairielands of South Dakota. In Florida, residents have to adapt to hurricanes, whereas South Dakotans have to adapt to snowstorms. Sea shells are just like pine cones are around my home. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, yet visitors pick up both as keepsakes. Seagulls are a part of that ocean vastness the way prairie dogs are to open range lands and the residents of both states consider such neighbors a nuisance.
The biggest similarity I learned was that Floridians love their college football the way farmers and ranchers love their tractors. Florida college football fans and farmers and ranchers all show off who they support by the hats, coats, and shirts they wear and coffee mugs they drink out of.
The only difference between Florida and South Dakota that I noticed was best described by another retreater, Susan, who told me she has a sign in her house that says, “We speak Southern.”
— Amy Kirk and her husband raise their two kids on a fourth-generation cow/calf operation near Pringle. She blogs at ranchwifeslant.areavoices.com.