The Wide Angle: Thoughts from a lonely county road

Published 6:22 am Saturday, October 27, 2018

Being a photographer for a small town newspaper often times requires a lot of travel on lonely roads.

This is not to say that photographers in bigger cities don’t travel, but they are usually left to toil through clogged roads of complicated interstate jams. They are … unlucky.

My jobs have largely consisted of, well, three papers and they have been smaller cities. I’ve spoken at length of my time in Huron, South Dakota, my first job that wasn’t an internship. Even the smallest trip seemed like a cross-country journey.

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Little Harrold was the furthest of these journeys and actually sat closer to Pierre than Huron. I didn’t go to Harrold that often, but if I did I often thought it was the closest thing to traveling the Oregon Trail, without the dysentery or being swept down a river of course.

At first, traveling these roads seemed like an exercise in mental fortitude. The fields rolled and rolled and rolled … and rolled.

They seemed endless and I constantly questioned the state of my car because to be stuck on any of our area’s county roads suddenly meant a lean toward a survival kind of thinking.

Any time the check engine light came on I felt like Mad Max in a race for the Juice.


After a while, however, a change began to happen. The open fields offered a fine opportunity to let a mind roam, touching on thoughts of the day and ranging to the obscure.

And with me, these thoughts could be pretty obscure thanks in large part to the healthy imagination I had cultivated throughout my life. Being an only child requires a certain level of  openess of allowing any kind of thought free range.

Oh, it’s not that I didn’t have friends. I had plenty in fact, it’s just they weren’t always available and we didn’t have portable calling boxes like we all have these days.

Point of fact: I had a cell phone during this time in Huron. It was a large contraption that felt like a brick in the pocket. Often, though, even having the phone didn’t matter because during those days I had a personal theory that there was only one tower in all of South Dakota.

Which felt about right when my signal dropped out roughly 10 meters out of Huron.

Still, these trips offered an opportunity to explore random thoughts which come, well, randomly. It’s awfully convenient of random thoughts don’t you think?

These ideas came back to me Tuesday night when I was heading to Grand Meadow and Adams for some playoff football.

While not the lengthy, endless trips to Harrold, it was the same type of feeling as night covered the world and traffic was whittled to nearly nothing, particularly coming out of Grand Meadow on County Road 8.

County Road 8 is the definition of a straight shot. There isn’t a bend in it’s convenient geographical design until you get to Highway 56 when there is a slight jog, interest-heightening west-like crook to where the stop sign conveniently tells you to stop.

During the stretch on Tuesday it was me and the road and a unique drive inherent to flat stretches of asphalt. On this night the full moon was well on its way across the night sky, backlighting the towering wind turbines.

In the fields, farmers were working well into the night. Beams of light stabbed through the dusty dark as combines gobbled up beans still in the field.

With the right kind of music, the night became a perfect time for the thoughts that make longer trips much shorter.

And what a time we live in for thinking. There is a renewed argument that the Earth is flat, people believe the government is spraying us with chemicals from jets in the form of contrails, 9-11 was an inside job and bigfoot is running for elected office.

Okay, I made that last part up. I got caught up in the moment of believing baseless ideas. Kind of fun imagining how bigfoot would handle a trade dispute.

In reality, I’ve figured a lot of things out over the years on these trips. On this night I didn’t figure out anything in particular, but I did enjoy the world around me.

And this is what this roundabout jog of words has really been about. Enjoy the world around you for once. Put the digital convenience slab down just for a little bit and appreciate those empty fields that you pass by.

This life only happens once, unless you believe in reincarnation, and then I guess it happens more often.

Appreciating the world as it passes you by is a simple way to reconnect.

Take in the corn and bean fields and let your mind roam. You might actually find a new connection to a world we’ve all left behind for cat memes.

And vote Bigfoot in 2020.