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Acerca de

“Up on the Roof”

Peril and Promise: Essays On Community in South Dakota and Beyond

ed. Charles Woodard, South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum Press, 2007

        When I heard that that the buildings had been burned, I was surprised by the grief that I felt, because I believed that I had long ago come to terms with the loss of the farm, and the accompanying pain of that loss.  I thought of the ashes left by the fire and how prairie winds would carry them away and the summer rains and winter snows would soak them into the soil until the ashes became the land itself. And in the end, I thought, not even the ashes will remain.

        And then one clear autumn day as I walked with my husband down a gravel road not far from our house, I heard the dry leaves of a cottonwood tree rustling over my head, a sound that struck me with the force of recognition. I thought of the many hours I had played beneath the cottonwood trees on the north dam, had watched the soft cotton fall around me like snow, had gathered it in my hands and carried it back to my room to make beds for my paperdolls.  I turned to him and said, “I remember when. . . .”. And I began to tell the story of the cottonwood trees, and the north dam, and the gartersnakes and toads I hunted in its muddy waters, and of the raft I sailed on fine summer days on a body of water that seemed as vast as an ocean to a small girl. And as I told my story, I realized that the buildings had not been the monument to my life on that place after all, for it is story that preserves life, that ensures that the past has a place in the future.  And my story is in those cottonwood trees and the plum trees in the north shelterbelt, and in the insects that crawl over cracked earth, and in the birds that cry overhead, and in the soft sighing of the prairie grass as the wind blows over it, and in the billowing white clouds that move across the vast expanse of blue prairie sky. The story of my place needs no marker because it is the story of that which is timeless.

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