Between The Lines: The three seasons (and I’m being generous)

This is supposed to be the time of the year when it all becomes worthwhile.

Life on the plains of South Dakota isn�t easy. It never has been, and people who choose to live here accept that.

To live here, it�s mandatory, for most of the year, to prepare for battle.

It�s become a custom among us shortly after we awake, as we down our morning breakfast, or take part in the mandatory bathing, grooming and other morning habitual preparations. For most of the year, we arm ourselves, physically, with coats and gloves and warm headgear, before heading out to face another day.

We get our psyche in check, too, to prepare for anything � a blast of cold rain in the face, a car that won�t start because of the cold, a driveway that needs to be cleared from the snow that fell the night before, an endless, freezing gale from the north.

We put up with all of this because we know that someday June will arrive. And when June arrives, we can count on the snow that turned from white to a dirty gray on our lawns to be replaced with a blanket of green that we�ll gladly mow in the warm sunshine.

We�ll dig in our gardens, we�ll break out the golf clubs and hit the links, we�ll pull our campers to our favorite weekend getaway spot. Some of us hop in our boats, with rod and reel and tackle in hand, hoping to land a big walleye.

Many of us revel in June, watching newly tilled crops grow in the field, or calves that survived a frigid March birthing as they frolic in rolling pastures carpeted with grass and wildflowers.

June is when we South Dakotans are supposed to welcome summer � that brief time each year that somehow justifies the cold winter we had just endured and makes the sometimes harsh existence here invaluable.

Thousands of our state�s citizens will not enjoy the long-anticipated respite that summer brings to us. A great many of us already were thinking a couple months ago that we were robbed of most of our spring. The sun seemed particularly weak in March, and in early April, we were still shoveling the last remains of a freakish snowstorm from our sidewalks.

There was no way to know, back then, how June would be so much different, that the Missouri River, normally somewhat calm and under control, would suffer a psychotic breakdown. The news was a bit difficult to comprehend at first � the normally arid South Dakota, we were told, was hemorrhaging water big time.

The reservoirs in our state weren�t enough to stop the bleeding; Mother Nature, we have all learned by now, still dominates even when we put up four dams in South Dakota alone in our mortal attempt to control our world.

Many South Dakotans likely will remember 2011 as the year summer was robbed from them, replaced by worry and days of physical and mental anguish as sandbags are filled and stacked, furniture and possessions are moved to higher ground, and � perhaps worst of all � the waiting game begins. It likely may be August before floodwaters start to recede. For the owners of property in harm�s way, this is a season worth forgetting; a season that may end in heartache and loss.

It is difficult to reflect on what possibly may be a silver lining to all of this. Perhaps, though, in a day and age when the dwindling number of the oldest among us are the ones who remember life during the Great Depression, we can benefit in some way. Some of our elders remember those tough times, and how they persevered.

Perhaps it�s time for all of us, through personal experience, to redefine what the pioneer spirit � that sense of personal drive that brought people to the Great Plains nearly two centuries ago � is all about.

Our overly romanticized notion of the pioneers and their indomitable spirit conjures up visions of settlers struggling through a long journey to eventually reach Dakota Territory and its seemingly unlimited resources.

Upon arriving, the settlers began taming and developing the countryside as they believed it was their destiny to do. They staked out land claims, started building towns and cities and began enjoying the abundant resources the land offered.

Today, it�s easy to wonder if perhaps we�ve fooled ourselves and have painfully discovered we are not in as much control of the land and its resources as we thought.

In his 1981 book, �The Ultimate Resource,� Julian Simon wrote, �The main fuel to speed the world�s progress is the stock of human knowledge. And the ultimate resource is skilled, spirited, hopeful people, exerting their wills and imaginations to provide for themselves and their families, thereby inevitably contributing to the benefit of every one.�

Simon believes utterly that the ultimate resource on the planet was and is human ingenuity, which is perhaps another way of describing pioneer spirit.

It is this spirit, this vital principle that we all possess, that will get us through a year different from anything we�ve ever experienced � a year when the summer we so cherish became a mere afterthought as we instinctually concentrate on mere survival.

It is as if summer didn�t arrive.

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