Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reflections Sitting Alone in the Root Cellar

For two years and two months home was a shack on the prairie, one small room, four permeable plank walls, living a simple life. Two growing seasons, two harvests, and two months. Meditation comes easy in the root cellar, your perch an empty wooden crate, upturned on the packed dirt floor. Meditation comes easy when you have no distractions, when the space around you is empty. When you realize the time for panic is past.

Come to Jesus time. You can wish all you want, but wishes never filled a root cellar. You can regret until the tears fall, but will your tears ease the hunger cramping your belly when the snow sifts through the cracks between the planks of your shack? An empty root cellar is nothing more than a hole in the ground.

The time for panic is past.

Facts are facts. You are meditating in your root cellar, a colorful October turning into a grey November, with only the tardy realization for company that you are not surrounded by a boastful surplus put by for winter. Your root cellar should be lined by glass jars filled to the brim with jewel-like red tomatoes and beets, green peas and beans, orange carrots, and the yellow nibs of corn reminding you of the glory of summertime corn on the cob. You should be stumbling over crates and baskets piled high with potatoes layered with the early issues of the Govert Advance that I wish I had available to read today.* Looking past the potatoes, your eyes should fall on the crates of turnips, and crates of the excess carrots and beets all layered with sand. And winter squash piled here and piled there, filling every last available space. Without this kind of preparation in the early decades of the twentieth century, winter in Govert, South Dakota, could be terrifying.

That the drifting snow and icy winds of Harding County will soon overtake you is a certainty. That you may suffer this freezing winter in hunger becomes increasingly apparent without the bounty of a well-stocked root cellar. Panic may have been useful two months ago, but now all that remains is to calculate what you are going to do next. Is wintering over in Govert even an option?

How did this happen anyway? What happened to make your situation so desperate? Were you one of those homesteaders whose enthusiasm was underscored by an unfortunate lack of knowledge about farming or livestock? So what was it? Not enough rain? Plant too early? Too late? Hail? Pests? Prairie fire? Didn't have the tools you needed? A bad plan? Brutal working conditions? When was it that you realized Govert, South Dakota, was not Waldon Pond?

Face facts. Come to Jesus. When do you give up the dream and face a different kind of reality?

How many homesteaders are lost in the fringes of history? How many once hopeful men and optimistic women abandoned their quarter section of prairie before shaking the hand of the census taker? How many never told their children of this amazing adventure upon which they once embarked?

Men and women sought out 160 acres of prairie for as many reasons as you can imagine, and they left for reasons, as many and as varied as you have yet to consider. Remembering those who were just passing through ... the homesteaders who relinquished their claims, the hired hands who stopped for a season or two, the families seeking a safe place to be between here and there ... remembering, not judging them ... is our responsibility as prairie historians. For a while they called Govert home.

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

*Mr. Laflin's archive of the early issues of the Govert Advance were lost in a flue fire in his attic in the late 1920s. Later editions are available on microfilm at the South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre, South Dakota, and also at the public library in Belle Fourche. Fragile paper copies may be viewed at the School House Museum in Buffalo, South Dakota.