Dignity of Earth and Sky

When we lived in South Dakota, especially in the first fifteen years or so, we used to attend a lot of church meetings that involved people from all over the state of South Dakota. Our Church Conference was defined by the borders of the state and members of the various churches served on committees that planned and carried out the programs of the conference. Both Susan and I served on many different committees and worked hard at maintaining the connections between our congregation and the other congregations of the Conference. During that time, the most common place for a Conference meeting was Chamberlain. Chamberlain is a community that is located right where Interstate 90 crosses the Missouri River. The Missouri River was the original line between Mountain and Central Time Zones in both North and South Dakota. There are a few places where the time zone is not the same as the river these days, but Chamberlain, on the east side the river has always been in the Central Time Zone, along with Sioux Falls, the largest city in the state. Rapid City, on the other hand is in Mountain Time. I used to say that Chamberlain was the perfect place to hold statewide meetings because the folks from Rapid City would travel 210 miles for the meeting, the people from Sioux Falls would travel 140 miles for the meeting and the people from Sioux Falls would believe that they had come half way. The folks from Rapid City would have to leave home 4 hours before the meeting to allow for travel time and the change in time zones. The folks from Sioux Falls would have to leave home 2 hours before the meeting. Once again, the people from Sioux Falls would believe that they had made an equal effort to participate int he meeting.

I served for 42 years as a United Church of Christ pastor. I served in three different Conferences. Each of the congregations I served was in the Mountain Time Zone. I never served a congregation that was in the same time zone as the Conference office. For ten of those years, I served where the Conference Office was in the Pacific Time Zone. The other years I served where the Conference Office was in Central Time Zone. I became very used to driving in order to participate in meetings and I got used to the changes in time zones. However, the first time I attended a meeting in Pacific Time, after having served where our Conference Office was in Central Time, I did arrive for a meeting two hours early because I mistakenly computed the time difference in the wrong direction. I had traveled 425 miles for that meeting, so it involved an overnight stay and the mistake ended up not being serious.

Chamberlain is an interesting place to visit. There is quite a bit of flat land in eastern South Dakota and for a person who grew up in the Mountains, the Black Hills are a very important geographical feature. I loved living in the hills and have always felt that the Rapid City area is one of the most beautiful parts of the state. However, the bluffs that fall away into the Missouri River basin are interesting and varied. Right at Chamberlain, the bluffs on the eastern side of the river are covered with a juniper forest. Junipers are of the same plant order as cedars and people often refer to the trees growing alongside the Missouri in South Dakota as cedars. The trees are much shorter than the cedar trees in western Washington where we now live, and they are twisted and don’t produce very good lumber for structural building. They do, however, produce fence posts that are resistant to rot and good for a few other building projects.

Yesterday on our drive across the state we stopped in Chamberlain. The traditional stop for many people from Rapid City when traveling to Sioux Falls has been Al’s Oasis, located on Oacoma, on the west side of the Missouri across from Chamberlain. The Oasis features fuel, a good restaurant, a grocery store and lots of souvenir items. It is a good place to meet people form all over the state and we often would find folks we knew when we stopped for a meal. In recent years, however, we have preferred to stop at the rest area at the top of the east side of the river. It is a good place to get views of the river and bridge below and take a short walk into the juniper forest. It is generally windy in that location and on a hot summer day it can be a bit cooler than some other places. Importantly, however, we love to look at the large sculpture that is located at that rest area. Dignity is a huge sculpture of a Lakota Woman standing with her back to the prevailing wind, her arms outstretched, and a star quilt across her back. The quilt is adorned with pieces of colored metal that flutter in the wind. It is a magnificent celebration of the history and culture of the region. The sculpture, created by artist Dale Lamphere, was erected in 2016 and is a gift of Norm and Eunabel McKie from Rapid City. Whenever we are visiting with anyone who will be driving across the state of South Dakota, we recommend that they make a stop to see Dignity. The stop made a good lunch break for us as we arrive at around noon Central Time, a bit early for lunch by the time we got up, but a good time to take a break, a short walk and begin to adjust to the new time zone. In addition to seeing the sculpture once again, we could once again duck our heads beneath the branches of the juniper trees and admire their resilience, growing up in the constant wind, and their tenacity, clinging to the river bluffs where the soil is often washed down in the rain and snow melt.

A drive across South Dakota is a good way to get a feel for the size and diversity of the state and our drive yesterday was a good reminder of the years we served in this state and our love for its many different people and places.

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