I’m holed up in my apartment with the trusty cat. I made a decision not to see anyone because of the pandemic that has been raging here in South Dakota. We’re so close. The vaccination has already made its way to frontline medical staff, and soon enough, maybe the spring/summer, we should all be vaccinated.
I figured I could just pretend this Christmas was not happening. Kind of delete it from my calendar.
I didn’t buy a tree.
I didn’t make cookies, or put up lights, or any kind of decorations.
I’m not even listening to Christmas music.
I’m just in denial about the holiday.
This morning, when I walked out from the bedroom, I noticed nature had decorated for me. There is a beautiful pine tree outside my window in my living room. The artful way the frost framed the window with the sun shining through the branches just made me smile.
I tried to photograph it. It looks better in person. Wish you were here to enjoy it with me.
When my international and coastal elite friends ask me why I’m in South Dakota, I start by telling them the story of how my brother and sister wound up here. So, that family is here seems like a logical reason why I’d be here.
But, if you’ve been casually paying attention to this blog and my Instagram, you know it’s something else. For me, this part of the country is a petri dish for the changes that are taking root in other areas of the world.
I was drawn to stay here in South Dakota because of the landscapes. The incredible scenery. These scenes are teaching me about myself, about our society, and about America’s place in the pantheon of world history.
Tomorrow concludes voting in the U.S. Presidential Election. Early voting records are suggesting this will be the highest turnout ever in the country’s history. There have even been early voting lines here in South Dakota.
In August, when I was driving down one of the state’s beautiful country highways, I spotted this line of dead trees to my right out in a field. On my mind was the concern that America was careening toward autocracy and a full-on dictatorship. It was likely I was listening to a podcast at that moment. But suddenly, those trees spoke to me in a loud voice.
I pulled the car over, grabbed my camera, and started shooting.
Later, I posted this on Instagram:
“I posted about these trees on other social media. I called them, “Dance of the Dead.” I will say more about them here. These dead trees slay me. Their stark presence on the lush landscape is pure poetry. Proud, resilient, transcendent, beautiful in their post-relevance— I love them dancing in rebellion. Refusing to lay down and die. I stood on the edge of the highway taking photo after photo of them, thinking about how maybe they’re a metaphor for America today. The rest of the world may be mocking us, writing us off for dead, irrelevant, a failed experiment. But these dead trees that populate the expanse of the frontier out here hold the ghosts of the pioneer spirit. I am praying I stole their souls by capturing their images with my camera. It emboldens me to fight for democracy. If even with a camera, and a metaphor in a field.”
Now, in the fall of 2020, I’ve been working on a campaign for a Native American and his family. I’ve learned more about how sacred these lands are for the people who once had the luxury of living here without us. That pioneer spirit I mentioned above murdered a lot of innocent people here so that white Europeans could colonize this beautiful countryside.
I still have a lot to learn about our country’s history.
Tomorrow, American voters will determine our path. People who dare to hope diverse communities can begin to understand each other, live peacefully together, respect one another, and rebuild America in a new image are hopeful for a reset. The current administration has surfaced with unflinching clarity the ugliness embedded in our society.
The American experiment is still new. Still morphing. We must forgive ourselves our trespasses. I’m hopeful our resilience will save us all, and lay the foundation for the next generation/s to seed a more perfect union.
I returned to South Dakota in May. Found a dreamy apartment nestled above a used book store in a corner of the city. For a few months now, until my lease runs out, I can still hop in the car and visit with my siblings out in the country.
I’ve already been on a photography binge, taking in the beauty of the summer landscape. I secured a small writing gig, and today I got word that I am going to receive a small grant I applied for a few weeks ago.
The grant is the big news in this post. I was uneasy about applying for it because of course there is that monster within telling me I’m not good enough, clever enough, talented enough to consider myself an artist.
Fuck that monster.
I applied and I got the grant.
A government agency has recognized me as an artist.