A place to breathe.
I was 13 the first time I saw South Dakota. My family arrived in Murdo mid November for my dad to candidate at a small church. We arrived at night and drove out to a ranch home down on Horse Creek, just up from the White River, that hosted us for the weekend.
At the time, my family lived in central Wisconsin, surrounded by trees and dairy farms.
The next morning, when I woke up and looked out the window from the loft of the ranch home I was utterly amazed! The ranch sits in a deep creek bottom and the bare rolling hills extended like mountains towards the sky. The deep brown of the fall grasses highlighted by the morning sun was like nothing I had ever seen.
A spark was lit that morning.
We ended up moving to Murdo, where I graduated from high school in 2000. Influenced by both parents in photography, my desire was either to attend Brooks Institute of Photography in CA, or the Art Institute in Chicago. With family roots in the Windy City I moved there, working in a photography studio and saving for school. Life doesn’t always work out how we plan and I ended up as a receptionist for a private school and attended community college for the basics of photography.
Photography was my desired career choice, but I also had others. I spent three weeks in Germany as a missionary, a summer working at a Bible camp in Wisconsin and 10 months in a leadership development program at a camp in Ontario.
The prairies of western South Dakota stayed with me all those years away. I hadn’t learned to truly appreciate them in high school and a longing for the open plains was growing, almost like I was missing home and not realizing where that was.
In 2005, I moved back to Jones County when I married Marty, a long time friend and cattle rancher in the tiny town of Okaton, near Murdo.
Becoming a ranchers wife had its challenges, but thankfully my husband is a patient man who loves this land. The area gradually became familiar to me as I discovered the best places to watch the sunset and notice how the snow would drift in certain areas.
Though the prairie was becoming dear to me, it didn’t truly feel like home until my second child, a daughter, was born. Up until that point, I was always anxious to go back east, never truly settled or appreciating what I had on my ranch home.
My mother-in-law once shared with me about a mare she had who always ran away. Then she had a foal and was content to stay home. I don’t know what it was about my daughter’s birth but it has changed me in many ways,physically and mentally. Through these changes I found my voice in photography. The colors, lines and shadows of the prairie have taken on a new meaning for me.
I have discovered deep lines in the contrast of shadows, vibrant skies in the
wide open spaces, and rich landscapes no matter the season.
There is a song in the wind, harmony in the waving prairie grasses and the
grand percussion of sunrise to sunset. The clouds are big and full of life, the
storms so close you can reach out and feel the heat.
Photography has given me a medium I was comfortable with, to express what I feel through the beauty of the prairie-this amazing and often overlooked landscape. South Dakota is more than Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills and even the Badlands. Beautiful and intricate as they are, the peaceful and yet raging expanse of wide open space has brought comfort to my soul. Not only has it become familiar, but I also know the One who created it and that brings me the most joy.