When I first moved to South Dakota, I felt physically oppressed by the landscape. Gravity felt somehow stronger here. The wide open space was a weight on my shoulders.
I could literally see for miles, and I didn’t like it. I felt nervous, exposed. The land was vast and empty. The vegetation was brown and yellow, shades of ugly.
I missed trees, their shades of green, their shade, their smell. South Dakota smelled dry. Sometimes you could see the dust in the air.
I missed the way I felt within the trees. Hidden. Protected. The world seemed small, and I felt large within it. The world seemed full, and I never felt alone.
I don’t remember when the shift happened, when this landscape that felt anxious gave me peace. I don’t remember when I realized how beautiful it is where I live. But I know the shift that had to happen first in me. I had to learn how to look, how to see.
I drive sixty miles across prairie to work each day. The landscape I used to find flat and empty is extraordinarily varied and busy. Any morning I may spot bald eagles, coyotes, antelope, wild turkeys, hawks, elk. There are always deer. Once, there was a badger.
The ground swells and dips, rises and curves. Now I can see it for what it is: an ancient seabed. If you dig for fossils, you may find seashells.