Tumbleweeds are a farmer’s Pokemon

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Farm Forum

Editor’s note: Farm Forum contributor John Papendick is spending his summer and fall helping on the family farm in Faulk County. He is writing about his adventures in a series of columns.

A recent windy day on the farm blew in a memory.

I had forgotten about tumbleweeds. We had them when I was a 1960s child growing up on a farm. And they still exist today in places such as Faulk County, where I have been spending time as a fake farmer.

Tumbleweeds especially show up after the harvest when snow has stayed away. These dried-up plants, mostly weeds such as South Dakota’s ever-prevalent Russian thistles, detach from their root systems and tumble away in the wind.

You have seen them along fence lines, in the sloughs or fields and in a rural ditch near you, among other places.

Tumbleweeds are like a farmer’s Pokemon.

Just as thousands around the world are chasing and collecting virtual reality characters from the game Pokemon Go, farmers are collecting tumbleweeds.

Farmers, however, don’t have to chase them and can’t turn them off. The uninvited weeds tumble to them.

Although in black and white and not nearly as distinctive as Pokemon characters, with no electronic device needed to view them, tumbleweeds come in different shapes, sizes and shades of what I would call brown.

(Warning: Just as I am a fake farmer, I am just as much of a fake when it comes to my abilities with a color palette).

And South Dakota tumbleweeds are famous worldwide, thanks to Mobridge. In 1989, Mobridge was overtaken by tumbleweeds.

It made worldwide news (New York Times, CBS News, Paul Harvey radio and etc.). It generated stupid puns: “Weed all about it.” It made for amazing pictures like the one in the American News of a snowplow pushing tumbleweeds out of a Mobridge alley.

People laughed, but it was no laughing matter in Mobridge.

Houses were completely buried, alleys plugged and streets blocked. Town officials had the tumbleweeds — a major fire hazard — baled and removed.

Thirty tons, they estimated, at a cost of $8,500, according to news reports. All for strong west winds and thousands of weeds produced in the drought-stricken, exposed bottom of Lake Oahe that is right at the doorstep of Mobridge.

It was an unbelievable phenomenon, just as the tumbleweeds themselves. Watching them tumble around the prairie on a windy day is quite a sight.

You city folk may have your fancy, antennaless TVs that pick up more than three channels, but out in the country, we have tumbleweeds. Just one of the thousands of channels we can watch each day when we step outside.

Longtime South Dakota journalist John Papendick is a freelance writer, public speaker and seeker of new life experiences. Email papendickjohn@gmail.com.