In this inaugural issue of Dakotafire, our editor shares her story of homecoming.
When I was growing up on this farm in Savo Township, rural Frederick, South Dakota, I was quite certain I was going off to college and not coming back.
I knew, at least, that I didn’t want to come back here to farm life. Farming seemed stressful—money was often tight, and it seemed like we were always “making do” in ways some of my friends didn’t have to. I have clear memories of choice words drifting across the farmyard when the combine that should have been in the field was instead parked and in pieces. I wanted a life that was easier than all that.
Then I actually left. I loved college—the new friends, and the ideas and the wide world it opened up to me. But I also remember how good and somehow right it felt to be home for weekends. When I searched for topics to write about in my English classes, stories about my family’s connection to this piece of land came to mind most easily.
But I made plans that led in other directions—when I graduated, I followed my future husband to North Carolina, where he was getting his undergraduate degree, and then to Iowa, where he was born and where he pursued his master’s degree. I was validated in my choice of a career in those years, as I found I loved journalism. But, as much as I loved aspects of both North Carolina and Iowa, I did not plant my roots very deep in either place. When I started thinking about serving in my community, I had a feeling that though there were a number of things that would be good for me to do, none of them were the right things for me to do. The actions were right, but the setting was not.
My husband (a country kid at heart) and I discussed the possibility of moving to my homeplace many times and always seemed to get stuck on the same issues: How would we make a living? How would we afford health insurance? From the security of two incomes with benefits, moving to the country seemed very risky. It also seemed like giving up on success for ourselves—we would no longer be climbing the career ladder.
There are, then, two great themes in rural writing: the theme of departure and the theme of return.”
— David R. Pichaske, introduction to Late Harvest: Rural American Writing
Then the scales tipped in South Dakota’s favor: My husband got a job in his field, right down the road in Ellendale, North Dakota. Two months later, we packed up and hit the road, about 11 and a half years after I’d first left.
We were happy, though also more than a little nervous. We were trying to sell a house in Iowa, converting a granary into a house in South Dakota, and living with my parents in the meantime, and I was expecting our second child—all stressful events for us personally. And as we got involved with the community (in a way that I hadn’t as a high school student), I saw that the community was under stress as well. The local grocery store was balancing on a knife’s edge between black and red. The gas station and restaurant were both closed for a while. All volunteer organizations struggled to find enough people to fill their boards and committees. My home church voted to drop the number of council members from seven to five, and then to four. The closest farms in any direction are either abandoned or lived in only seasonally.
One day when I went to a bigger town, I was suddenly envious of these people who just lived their lives and drove home, participating in community life if they cared to, or not if they didn’t. Community responsibilities didn’t seem to sit as heavily on them as they do on those in our struggling small towns and countryside.
And yet, there is a rightness in my being here that is very satisfying, despite the challenges of rural life. I remember going to hear Wendell Berry (one of my favorite authors) speak in Iowa the year before we moved, and one quote from him stayed with me. He was discussing the “unadapted people” that resulted when so many people moved from farms to cities and the problems that caused for society. “Not only don’t they belong where they are, they don’t belong anywhere,” he said. “That’s not a snide remark. I take the term ‘belong’ very seriously.”
It occurred to me then that where I belonged was back in rural South Dakota. That’s where my fight, my purpose, my meaning lay. Dakotafire is for me an extension of that sense of fighting the right fight—the worlds of both journalism and rural America are being shaken now, but I am pleased to be able to do work that might in some way help them both.
As I look out the window from our new granary home, I see lots of work to be done, both in our farmyard (where we are, despite my earlier sentiments, doing some farming) and far beyond it. An “easier life” it isn’t. But I also feel a great sense of peace that I am right where I belong.
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Click on “Contact Us,” or write to Dakotafire Media, P.O. Box 603, Frederick, SD 57441.
You can also contact Editor Heidi Marttila-Losure directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 605-290-3335.