Leslie C. Lewis
Sometimes, though, thunderheads
loom in the west, and my heart leaps as
those mountains of rain roll across the
fertile plain. Once there was an ocean
here, stretching from the Arctic to the
Gulf of Mexico. Behemoths, now extinct,
left their bones in the ill-named Badlands
a few hours to the west.
From the sky, Sioux Falls looks flat, but
it would be better to say the land undulates: it is as if the land remembers the
ancient ocean and now, as if in memory,
rises and falls, wavelike. The people here
have also come in waves. Waves of Native
Americans, most recently the Lakota, preceded waves of immigrants from farther
away. Norwegians and Dutch predominated for a while. They are frugal and
neighborly, and their churches and music
are everywhere. Lutheran Social Services
and other aid agencies have more recently
welcomed refugees from eighty or so
other countries, and now, in school hallways, lilting Midwestern accents mix with
Serbian and Dinka and Arabic.
When I moved here, the place seemed
empty. But learning what Thoreau called
“the art of walking” changed my view.
Nestled in an oxbow of the Big Sioux River
is a quiet greenbelt where kingfishers and
green herons, deer and mink, and the
occasional cougar, live as our very near
neighbors. We may have no great heights
here, but the prairie feels ocean-deep,
hushed by the slow roll of wind and water
over quartzite falls.
There are mountains here, and slowly I
am learning to see them.
ON MOST DAYS the sky over Logan, Utah, is blue as a mountain blue-
bird and bright as a jewel. This is the most
beautiful place I’ve ever lived. There are
ten-thousand-foot peaks on either side of
the valley and, in the spring, the green
WE’VE WALKED two blocks from our house to see the surreal
spectacle of a roiling lake occupying
several square miles of houses, office
buildings, manufacturing facilities,
a brewery, and the best restaurant in
town. My daughter’s elderly crossing
guard is at the edge of the lake, looking
at her partially submerged home and
crying. I’ve had nasty thoughts about
her over the years, the way she hesi-
tantly waddles into the intersection, too
cautious to stop the aggressive drivers
and making us one minute later than
we need to be.
“Margaret, how are you?” I ask, my
bad feelings dispersed at the sight of
“I’m so stressed, so stressed,” she
replies, then leans into me.
I embrace her fully, and tell her she
can stay in our extra bedroom if she
needs to. My redemption, bittersweet
as it comes at the expense of someone
else’s serenity, feels startlingly good.
It’s like this all the time now, dealing
with the aftermath of The Flood, as it
will be known for generations to
come. Two of my daughter’s class-
mates lost their houses, and everyone
asks them interminably, “Is there any-
thing we can do?” Feeling privileged
and helpless, we who live on high
ground relate to the displaced in a
swirl of survivor’s guilt, giving things
away left and right in an attempt to
bring about justice.
When crisis comes, I have to find
something to organize or else I’ll go
crazy, so I mobilize my local chapter
of Spellbinders, a national network of
oral storytellers, to go and share stories
with the children at the evacuation cen-
ter. On the second night we are there, I
convince a girl who is clearly distressed
to follow me to our corner of the room.
Soon, the storyteller’s words have us
howling like wolves, barking like dogs,
and squeaking like mice. After a few
happy endings, the girl moves toward
the teller, lost in worlds that don’t re-
semble her own.