Photo: My family’s farm
“Language here still clings to its local shading and is not yet totally corrupted by the bland usage of mass media. We also treasure our world-champion slow talkers, people who speak as if God has given them only so many words to use in a lifetime, and having said them they will die.” ~ Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography (p. 20)
Last weekend, on the first leg of my plane trip home from the South Dakota Festival of Books, I overheard an interesting conversation between a couple of business travelers. They were talking about going home to the distracted and frenzied culture of their company, and how much they appreciate the reminder of a slower pace of life in Sioux Falls. They didn’t seem to feel they have much a choice to adopt a slower life themselves, but they definitely appreciated a few days of living life at the pace of, well, life.
South Dakota, once known mainly for its tourism and agriculture, has now also become quite a hub of both national and international activity. Who would guess, for example, that the global main repository of satellite and aerial images (EROS Data Center) is just outside Sioux Falls, where it hosted an global meeting September 24-28 to discuss the Landsat satellite program, with attendees expected from twenty-five countries? Or that just a few of the financial service centers who make their home in Sioux Falls are Wells Fargo, Citigroup. and Capital One? In the years since I left the state to go to college, Sioux Falls’s population nearly doubled.
While South Dakotans themselves may notice that their largest city (and “East River” in general, as opposed to “West River” on the other side of the Missouri River, which slices neatly through the middle of the state) has a faster, more “city-like” pace than other areas, visitors definitely notice that Sioux Falls is still on Great Plains time. And rather than look down their noses at a more primitive lifestyle, many of them recognize a missing piece to their lives that is danger of being lost. As Kathleen Norris, author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, writes of her experience of moving from New York to her grandparents’ South Dakota farm, “As living on the Plains has nudged me into a quieter life, I’ve discovered that this is what I wanted.”
My college freshmen composition students are currently reading Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, by William Powers. Powers writes of the underlying philosophy of our digital age: “It’s good to be connected, and it’s bad to be unconnected.” One of the challenges is to figure out what we mean by “connected,” and this brings me back to the Book Festival, where authors flew in from all over the country to read from and talk about and celebrate words on a page. No matter where they were from, presenters and participants left their Energizer Bunny costumes at home and fell into step with a reading and writing life, a Great Plains life. Again, Kathleen Norris:
“Reading is a solitary act, one in keeping with the silence of the Plains, but it’s also paradoxically public, as it deepens my connections with the larger world. All of this reflects a truth Thomas Merton once related about his life as a Trappist monk: ‘It is in deep solitude and silence that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brother and sister.'”
What is your inner pace of life? How do you honor it and keep it from being overwhelmed by today’s distractions, digital and otherwise? Or, if you are a natural Energizer Bunny, how do you slow down when your body needs you to?