SD rancher and writer Linda M. Hasselstrom on memory, support and building local communities – The South Dakota Standard
“We need to build the local economies of our communities and regions by adding value to local products and marketing them locally before looking for markets elsewhere.” –Wendell Berry, from his essay “Compromise, Hell! “, find in The way of ignorance and other trials. (Shoemaker & Hoard), 2005.
We have all been encouraged to think globally, and global thinking surely has its good points; it can broaden our views or remind us how lucky we are.
Yet the most visible representatives of the global economy are large stores where forklifts rearrange boxes of merchandise made outside of America and far from South Dakota. Shoppers wander the fast lanes full of plastic trash that may not last until we get them home.
I started looking for local experiences, bypassing malls in search of something more than mass production. A guide is the journal that we are still fortunate enough to have; in addition to offering a good dose of reality, it provides lists of activities ranging from art exhibitions to auctions, bowling bingo, days of theater and discovery, music and poetry, and a swarm of interest groups. Local writers seek out regional stories that send us to explore.
Some of our best experiences come when we just pick an unfamiliar area and go. One Remembrance Day we visited cemeteries in Hermosa, Black Hawk and Spearfish. In addition to honoring deceased relatives, we met family members we hadn’t seen in years, laughing as the younger generation fell among the gravestones.
In Edgemont, we discovered a gravestone with a crudely glued image of a black army corporal lost in World War II. A month later, we learned more about the history in a local history book, broadening our appreciation of the history and people of the city. The same cemetery sparkles with huge rose quartz gravestones, as well as concrete markers with the name of the deceased in marbles or shards of glass. After strolling and meditating, we had lunch next to the rusty water tower, listening to the murmur of dry grasses. We’ve been thinking about how we remember the dead and what you can’t say about a community by watching it. I could almost see my grandmother, with whom I often visited this cemetery where she now rests.
One day we took a winding gravel road that was too difficult for tourists to find and found a historic silver mining town where we exchanged nods and greetings with the current locals. We will be back with fishing rods on a spring weekend.
At Hot Springs, we found local hot water with saunas and a spa (The Red River Rock Resort) featuring hot sand, hot granite, massages, gorgeous rooms, and a delicious dinner. Down the street is an art gallery featuring a wide variety of art from Lakota artists, near an old hotel offering homemade soup with sandwiches too big for one person to eat.
For the quiet hours, we picked up books written and published by locals; we learned more about Sheriff Seth Bullock of Deadwood and found out that Sarah Campbell: The First White Woman of the Black Hills was African American. (Confused? Read South Dakota writer Lilah Morton Pengra’s book “The first white woman in the Black Hills was African American. “)
The local scratch and bump store, six miles away in Hermosa, always has homemade baked goods for sale over the counter. While an employee helps me find chilli flakes for a dollar, she tells me when city council meets and who’s making fuss about what this week. One Sunday night when we poked our noses at the door after closing time, the owner – inside counting the cash register – opened so that we could satisfy our craving for ice cream.
Eggs delivered by a neighbor carry messages: the date of their laying, and sometimes the name of the hen who rendered this personal service. When a friend noticed that the seals on the front axle of my car were leaking, I took him to a mechanic whose workshop I have been attending for thirty years. In his small, cluttered garage, he hoisted my car up, found nothing wrong, and loaded me – nothing! He will see my old Toyota again and again!
Pay attention to the local scene (as many South Dakotas do at the Black Hills Farmer’s Market, pictured above in an image by blackhillsfarmersmarket.org), we are always making new discoveries. In our local grocery store, we can buy kuchen made by a local man who makes them from his grandmother’s recipe. In a hardware store in Rapid City, we find honey that has a Hermosa address on it. When I call the phone number on the pot, the owner says yes, please bring the pots back to his farm. At the Hermosa branch library, the librarian gave me a container of her mint fondant for Christmas.
On a cold day, wanting to learn more about Sarah Campbell, that black woman who came to South Dakota before most of the white settlers, we drove an hour to a century-old schoolhouse preserved by locals for community events. Sipping coffee and munching on cookies baked by the inhabitants of this little glade in the woods, we listened to people tell stories about their school attendance fifty or sixty years ago. I was an outsider, but I could nod and smile, recalling my own experiences at a similar country school. Later, we all settled into the small old offices to learn more about the local history.
We think we found this local world fascinating because our minds are not cluttered with the global rubble of TV and online shopping. Cheap and fast are no longer our buying criteria. Our life in the present grows to include some of the best of the past, things that matter like food produced by people we know, face to face conversations, and a sense of history we can touch.
Wendell Berry, as usual, puts it very succinctly in an essay titled “The Way of Ignorance” from the book of the same title: We cannot preserve the fine arts for long if we neglect or destroy the domestic arts of the agriculture, forestry, cooking, clothing, construction, housework, community life and the local economy.
Linda M. Hasselstrom writes poetry and non-fiction and holds writing retreats at her ranch in South Dakota. His 16th book is “Write Now, Here’s How – Insights from Six Decades of Writing”. You can reach her at www.windbreakhouse.com or Facebook.com/Windbreakhouse