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Woster: Traveling through scenic beauty in South Dakota

I don’t use breath-taking often, but that scene merited the term.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster
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I left home at sunrise last weekend to drive to Huron and was reminded again how lovely the scenery is in South Dakota for a person who takes time to look.

During my days of news reporting, I often found myself traveling long distances early in the mornings or late in the evenings. Those can be wonderful times to be out in the middle of this state. The traffic is light, almost non-existent in many of the places my reporting life took me.

The pre-dawn or post-dusk lighting can be exquisite. It is the sort of lighting a person doesn’t see if he travels through the countryside in the middle of the day. Mid-day lighting is often harsh and glaring. Early and late, the lighting is softer, with subtle shadings and shadowing.

And the landscape comes alive early and late in a way it doesn’t during, well, I guess you’d say during office hours. Tall grasses tinted purple by the slanting sunlight sway in the breeze. Small animals scurrying through the fireweed along the fence rows are ghostly images, although friendly, like Casper of the comic books. Flocks of birds are dots in the melon-colored sky as they lift from a sorghum field and wing their way to who knows where.

Nancy and I were on our way to a cross-country meet. In our retirement, we often arise before the sun, but we tend to sit with coffee and a news program for a while before we venture out. And we try to time return trips from other towns so that we are safely home before the sun sets. I still see quite well in good light, but the night shadows play tricks with my vision and my sense of the fog line at the edge of a highway. Better to have the car in the garage and the keys hanging near the back door well before the stars begin to show.

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The other morning, I could see quite nicely. As we turned the corner north of Chamberlain to take Highway 34 east, the sun was just above the horizon. I thought it might be difficult, driving into that sun. Nature had my back, though, with an artistic layer of pink and gray clouds that held back the rays but lit the land we traveled through.

Several miles onto 34, we came to a rise in the highway that gave entrance to a long, long valley. I remembered that spot from back in high school when, as a freshman heading for my first state track meet, I was asked by Coach Vance how far I thought it was to the other rim of the valley. Well, I had no idea, but I figured it had to be 10 or 12 miles. Coach laughed and checked his speedometer. It was less than a third of my guess. Funny what a kid remembers.

Last Saturday, a light fog covered that broad valley from rim to rim. The way the morning sun slipped through the clouds made the fog appear to be water, so the entire valley looked like a lake. I don’t use breath-taking often, but that scene merited the term. As we dropped into the valley and entered the fog, it parted just enough so we could see the highway ahead.

I was reminded, as we drove, of other trips I’d taken on news assignments. Once, somewhere north of Mud Butte as I took a shortcut from Highway 212 to Highway 20, I popped a ridge and saw as many as 200 antelope crossing the highway ahead of me. They simply floated over the fence, across the road and over the next fence, seemingly unaware of my existence.

Last week the highway led through a couple of sloughs, and I noticed they were covered with ducks, so many it looked as if the water were polka-dotted. It occurred to me that, had I traveled that way a couple of weeks later, I’d probably have passed a couple of duck hunters huddled in the damp weeds and mist.

I didn’t leave home that morning seeking beauty, but there it was, just waiting to be noticed.

More from columnist Terry Woster...
Sometimes when my newspaper and the governor’s office were at odds over our coverage, I’d be unable to get formal interviews.

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Opinion by Terry Woster
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