East River beauty as breathtaking as West River

Farm Forum

If you see tourist information on South Dakota, West River attractions dominate.

Since Mount Rushmore is a national icon, it’s understandable, and since the Black Hills are rich in geographical and historical points of interest, it makes sense for the state to play up attractions there.

But South Dakota is “the land of infinite variety,” according to our state pledge, and East River is every bit as compelling as the land across the river.

I traveled up and down the eastern side of our state recently, first to Wessington Springs to visit the lovely, terraced Shakespeare Garden and later to the University of South Dakota campus in Vermillion.

I saw one stunning view after another on those trips.

We have magnificent, broad and varied skies. Montana is the Big Sky state, and it’s gorgeous, but as far as grandeur goes, eastern South Dakota’s sky is equally impressive.

In summer, we frequently enjoy a buffalo sky: Rows of puffs — in vague buffalo shapes — traverse the sky in a mighty stampede. The whole expanse is open (no obstructing trees or mountains), and, when conditions are right, herds of buffalo clouds seem to cross a giant, blue plain.

Even under the sky, East River overflows with beauty.

From blue pools rippling over lush, green meadows in the glacial lakes area, to soft, dancing hills further south, striped with rich rows of corn or soybeans, the land oozes natural wealth. You feel the extravagance of nature everywhere you look.

Sheep graze lazily in a dell, along a sparkling stream. Pheasants and blackbirds flutter along roads. Even wind farms fit into the landscape in silent, sleepy turnings. Contrasting hues of gold and green — hay bales and grass — may seem mundane to those who see them all the time, but for those who don’t, to those accustomed to urban life and cityscapes, the plush cylinders scattered in verdant fields refresh the soul.

Natural beauty, though plentiful, is not the only beauty East River. The dreams of visionaries add cultural depth to geography.

The dreams of East River visionaries were as impressive as Gutzon Borglum’s.

The vision of our own Father Haire was this: to take an unpolished community and burnish it with healthcare and education, to file down rough edges, clean up its vices and make it shine.

This one man was, in large measure, responsible for the start of Northern State University, St. Luke’s, Presentation College and Sacred Heart, as well as political reforms we take for granted today. A dreamer like this, who brings such impressive goals into being, is no less valiant than a visionary sculptor.

And even lesser dreams of people like Wessington Springs’ Emma Shay make up the contours of East River areas in deep and lasting ways.

Mrs. Shay borrowed $1,000 to take a trip to England — to explore literary roots and herbal seeds — and ended up not only finding ingenious ways to repay her loan, but building a replica of Anne Hathaway’s cottage and garden near her school.

Most East River communities have a local dreamer or two who brought about some lasting benefit. Their dreams outlive them and flourish, sometimes even beyond what they might have imagined in their lifetimes.

If you live East River, you should never feel inferior. It only takes a visit to a local museum or a little historical digging — or maybe just a road trip — to feel pride in your side.

Donna Marmorstein lives and writes in Aberdeen. You can contact her at