GEOGRAPHY. SUMMER. 2012. Chapter THREE: Heat

Sioux Falls, South Dakota. 7:11 AM. 85°. A summer of record-breaking temperatures on the Great Plains. It is 1055 miles and 19 hours from Albuquerque to Sioux Falls—my way. Google says it is 1131miles and 17 ½ hours their way.

I meandered, not setting wheel on any form of freeway from Trinidad, Colorado to 829 North Van Eps in Sioux Falls. No radio or book tape, just driving and looking and thinking about starvation and global warming as I passed the dying corn and observing how many roads there are with no traffic and how nicely Highway 14 in Nebraska balances the 405 between San Diego and Los Angeles at rush hour. If you write the ‘who we are as a people’ articles you need to know both. Red State, Blue State!

Out on the Great Plains a mirage of smoky Indian villages and racing ponies and buffalo and battles between tribes, and between the natives and the interlopers is always shimmering just ahead and overhead and underfoot. Of course this whole continent is “Indian Country” but it feels especially present in this central emptiness. In New Mexico Native America is real and down the road and at the store and part of our everyday culture. Here on the prairies it was America’s manifest destiny to drive the native cultures underground—often literally—so you must envision the dancing running fighting Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet, Cree, Cheyenne, Arapahos, Apache, Comanche and so many others across the sky.

The dying corn is with me all of the way from eastern Colorado into South Dakota, but nowhere is it so drastic as along the Kansas roads I traveled. I stop often to tromp around on the edge of fields and take pictures. We had big garden and planted fields of alfalfa on the Minnesota farm when I was a kid but they never died from a hot killer sun. Reports from the drought-stricken corners of the African continent always include photos of the brown wilted plants and the extended empty bellies of the babies that are the effect. Here in the U.S. the cause and effect are distant from each other, barely linked in fact. The corn is dying and according to the web site of the National Corn Growers Association nearly everything good and warm and homey in our lives contains corn. That link is pretty clear. Dead corn; our favorite sweets are history! Unfortunately it is now pretty clear that the high-fructose corn syrup that makes all of these fields so profitable is as deadly as it is tasty. And then there is ethanol—good product, bad product?  Corn is a complicated plant. Best reserved for tortillas.

My driving thoughts are more about what it is like to watch the live things you planted from seeds and waited to sprout and are depending on for food and/or income wither and brown and droop and die.

Finally, across the wide Missouri near Springfield, South Dakota. What wild and beautiful country—the spirits of Lewis and Clark accompany me.

Journeys officially begin at the first state line.

On both sides.

Hotter going north. That’s not right.

The Platte River

Dune buggies on the river bottom. 102°  119°  113°  107°

 

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