We drove through the Rosebud area earlier this week, and I remarked at how much clover grew on the hillsides.
Things may be drying up a little in parts of South Dakota, but the central area remains green into late July. Were my mother alive, she'd mention that every time we spoke. Many years by this time, pastures are parched and earth tones dominate the landscape. The clover seems thicker than most years. In fact, I thought as I drove along, this may be the most clover I've ever seen.
At that point, I laughed. Here's a 70-year-old guy doing that "I've never seen it like this before'' routine, and probably there have been dozens of years just like this in my lifetime. I just don't remember them all. Besides, I haven't been places recently to drive through a lot of clover, so this could well be "the most ever.''
A newspaper reporter often runs into those "most ever'' or "worst/best in history'' comments on assignments that require extensive travel and frequent conversation. For example, I reported on several periods of drought in South Dakota during my time as a reporter. Invariably, someone would tell me a particular dry spell was worse than the Dirty Thirties.
I'd take the quote, and sometimes I'd use it. It was a good quote. It illustrated for readers how seriously dry conditions were being taken in the area I visited and how much the lack of rain and hot weather was impacting the people and their place. And if you're in a drought, it can be the worst in history. It certainly can be destructive, and several of the droughts I covered resulted in some landowners going under, many others hanging on by their fingertips and a stubborn refusal to let the land beat them.
My mom lived through the 1930s. She sometimes told stories of the way things were back then. When I was reporting on a recent series of dry years and its impact on South Dakota, I used to always talk to her about how things compared to the Depression-area dry weather she experienced as a young woman.
She may have been biased, the way people can be who lived through something terrible and will always believe their experience was more terrible than an experience anyone else might have. She was relatively realistic about conditions, though, and she was completely sympathetic to the farm and ranch families most impacted by dry weather.
When she described dust piling up outside the front door in drifts that appeared for all the world like snowdrifts left after a two-day blizzard, she seemed not to be exaggerating. And when she talked about stuffing rags and strips of paper into cracks along the window frames to keep the dirt from sifting through, she painted a most vivid image of a pretty terrible time.
She was also proud of having survived that time, as many of us, secretly or openly, are proud when we've faced adversity and come through it in one piece.
I couldn't always catch up with a "worst ever'' story, much as I tried. One year I went looking for the worst-ever grasshopper infestation. The reports, telephoned to the news desk by citizens who'd heard it first-hand from a neighbor, had me wandering north of Martin and south of Belvidere. The 'hoppers had eaten the paint completely off one side of a guy's house, one report said. The insects were so thick on one road that a tractor pulling a trailer just sat and spun on the grasshopper-covered blacktop on a steep grade, said another.
Each time I heard a report, I hurried to the scene. Each time, I was a day late. "Should have been here yesterday,'' the old-timer would say. "Worst I've ever seen, but they must have moved on today. That's how they are.''
The assignment desk was disappointed at missing the images, but I wasn't. I'd gotten a travel day somewhere in South Dakota, and assignments didn't get much better than that.
If I were still a reporter, I might go out and see if there's ever been a better year for clover.