The sun had just dropped behind the river bluff on the west edge of Lower Brule a week ago Friday evening when the spiders began to drop from the top of the arbor around the pow-wow grounds. I'd been admiring the quiet evening, with the moon just beginning to rise over toward the east from the general direction of Big Bend Dam. You couldn't have special-ordered a better temperature if you'd been best friends with the producer of The Weather Channel, and the pow-wow circle filled with dancers each time a drum group began a song.
Years ago when people were working with souls who had drinking problems, they sometimes used this example to point out the craziness of repeating dangerous behaviors. If a person stepped into a busy street without waiting for a signal or checking for traffic, got hit by a car and broke his leg, wouldn't it be a little crazy if he repeated that experience again once he got out of the hospital and out of the cast? And wouldn't it be more than a little crazy if he stepped into the street without checking for traffic a third time or fourth time?
It could be that the best thing about growing older and having the kids graduate and move away is not worrying about rushing away from work to catch a child's activity. That's something, I suppose, but it doesn't begin to offset the worst thing about having the kids gone. The worst thing is just that -- the kids are gone. They aren't around, even if when they were it meant a steady stream of basketball and tennis, concerts and recitals, plays and parent-teacher conferences.
Back in 1976, while covering covered the Democratic National Convention for the Associated Press, I met a cab driver who absolutely brightened when I told him I was from South Dakota. That was the time I made a most disastrous choice from a hot-news standpoint. It was a marvelous decision, though, from a "see a major city for a week with expenses paid" perspective. Here's how that decision came about: The lead reporter in Bismarck, N.D., and I were to cover the two national nominating conventions that year. I was senior, so I got first choice.
For a spell when I was in high school, I tried to stay in good physical condition in the summer. That's an odd concept for a farm kid. Everyday life is one big workout. I worked about 10 times as hard in the summer as any other time during the year, what with stacking hay and shoveling grain and digging post holes by hand. A couple of my classmates lifted a few weights in the morning and lounged around the city swimming pool in the afternoon. They developed impressive shoulders and biceps.
My 3-year-old granddaughter climbed Bear Butte with her mom and dad during a camping trip in the Black Hills earlier this summer. Reports from the field say the little ball of energy made it all the way to the top of the winding trail on her own power. Her folks sent a file of pictures to prove it, and the child seems to be smiling in just about every image. Apparently she needed a little help at least some of the time during the trip back down the trail to the bottom of the mountain. Hey, I'm not going to hold that against her.
My first electric guitar was a Sears knock-off of the popular Fender Telecaster. I bought it in 1960, I believe, for about $29. I played it in the Chamberlain High School dance band, learning to read music charts of standards from the 1920s and 1930s and halfway mastering the business of twisting the fingers of my left hand into all sorts of contorted shapes to form the fascinating but challenging chords that went with that style of music. But this isn't about guitar playing or even my first guitar.
Sometimes I think the best thing about being a newspaper reporter was getting up every morning with absolutely no idea what the work day would bring. I know. If a person stops to consider it, we all get up every morning with absolutely no idea what the next moment will bring. We have our plans and our short-and long-range goals. Most of the time, most of us move a day closer to those plans and goals, but not all of us, not all of the time. On a smaller scale, being a newspaper reporter was like that.
Last Sunday wasn't a particularly pleasant day to be staggering around between a rented house and a rental truck. Even at mid-morning in Brookings that day, the combination of temperature and humidity settled on the shoulders like a heavy wool coat. Frequent references to "heat index" on the broadcast news programs and the Weather Channel only made things worse. (I've never liked "wind chill," not as a concept and not as a measure of the effective level of coldness on a frigid winter day. The only wind chill I have tolerated was in the title of a book by Thomas Gifford. I read it years ago.
Two of my favorite histories of South Dakota -- books I've used countless times over the years -- were written during the 1970s. I'm not saying they are the best histories of the state. In the past, there have been some fine histories of South Dakota, although not enough of them have been updated to detail the last couple of decades. But history books aren't supposed to be current events.