Monday, April 21, 2008

Last Weekend

My wife and I spent last weekend celebrating our anniversary in Watertown, which for those of you who don't know, is the fourth largest city in South Dakota (pop. 20,000!) . You may ask why; many here did. The main motivator was my wife's desire to visit the Terry Redlin museum, which I didn't mind, although I'm not a big art enthusiast in general and in particular can only look at so many paintings of wildlife/rural scenes before they blur into a giant mass of deer/birds/farms/fish/small towns.

Looking at the paintings inspired by rural images of Redlin's youth after driving 190 miles through the same area did offer an interesting contrast. There are still many echoes of that time in the current countryside. Some are rundown or rusting, others haven't changed much at all. I've noticed the same thing at other South Dakota museums, sometimes coming across "museum pieces" that my wife and I recall seeing in daily use (cue here for old age comments) . It's a reminder that South Dakota is a a young state.

It also occurred to me when we planned this trip that Watertown was the only major South Dakota city (meaning population of 10,000+) that I had never visited. I had driven by it on I-29, but hadn't actually been in town since 1977, when my church youth group saw the Star Wars premiere (more old age comments). It's big enough to have attractions such as a small zoo, decent waterpark,etc. but small enough that these attractions are relatively cheap and accessible. It's also a commercial center for that area.

The trip pointed out the evolving demographics of South Dakota; a few cities prospering while much of the countryside is depopulating. The railroads had created towns every 10 miles or so. Now many of these towns are slowly withering away (some not so slowly). In a way things are reverting to the past. As schools close or consolidate, the distances rural children have to travel increases, and busing becomes more scarce. My mother stayed with a family in town when she went to high school. I can imagine this coming back.

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