Woster: South Dakota's paradise that brought mom peace
Other than children and grandchildren, mom had no deeper, more abiding affection than for the land that nurtured her.
Cruising in a boat on the Missouri River between Chamberlain and Oacoma last Sunday, I found myself wishing my mom were along for the ride.
That would never have happened, of course, not even if she were alive and in her prime. With the possible exception of an airplane flying through the clouds, nothing had less appeal to her than a boat on water. She rode a ferry across one of the Great Lakes exactly once, on a family vacation. She liked paved highways and city streets just fine, whether she was walking or driving her aging Chevrolet sedan across the bridge to Al’s Oasis for coffee and pie.
She flew in an airplane once in her life. That was when she had the heart attack and had to be airlifted to Sioux Falls. And when the initial crisis had passed and she was safely tucked into a hospital bed, she really didn’t like the fact that her family had loaded her into an airplane without her consent. “Who decided you could do that?’’ she demanded to know.
So, yes, I know she’d never have been riding in a boat with me. I still wish she had been. She’d have loved Sunday. The afternoon was pleasant, with just enough breeze to make the 80-plus degree temperature enjoyable. The sun shining on the water created ribbons of sparkling diamonds in the wakes of other boats. And the hills were alive with some of the brightest, liveliest green colors you’ll ever see in this part of the country.
The area around Chamberlain is its own Paradise this time of year when rain has fallen in the spring. The moisture brings the grasses and wild flowers to life on the bluffs that rise from the river’s shoreline. The cottonwood and elm trees that line the shore and climb the bluffs are brilliant with mid-green leaves so vivid it appears as if they still moist with morning dew. The cedars, bushes and shrubs and trees in the draws and atop the ridges are a darker green, nearly black when the sun strikes them just right. And, as if to keep the palette of greens from overwhelming the senses, here and there are scattered the soft greys of Russian olives. It’s enough to make a person believe that, perhaps, an unseen master artist has been at work.
I don’t care whether you’re a resident who has lived here for a lifetime or one of the weekend and holiday visitors who keep their boats in the marinas and the burgeoning number of boat-storage units along the river. You have to be impressed by the Missouri River valley when the soil is rich with moisture and the colors shine from every plant and tree and blade of grass. If I didn’t already live here, I’d move here just for moments such as Sunday’s cruise.
It was one of the things my mom loved most about this home country. Other than children and grandchildren, she had no deeper, more abiding affection than for the land that nurtured her. She would leap at the opportunity any old day to take a drive through the Chamberlain hills and the Lyman County fields and pastures. Even in the dry times, she enjoyed the ride, although she’d murmur several times, “It sure could stand a good rain.’’
Once in a while, returning from a trip to the newsroom in Sioux Falls, I’d swing by, pick her up and spend an hour on the back roads. Once she passed, 18 years ago now, I regretted that I hadn’t done that more often. How little to give back to someone who willingly gave everything she had.
When the countryside was green, as it is now, my mom would gaze out the car window and tell how the lush green countryside reminded her of Ireland, where her family originated. She’d never seen Ireland, of course. That would have required an ocean crossing by airplane or ship. She had picture books of the place, though, and the images of the Emerald Island pleased her. So did drives in the country here at home.
I wish she could have seen the place on Sunday.