Today, the sun shone all day and the birds came out and it was great.
I occasionally renewed my friendship with I90 heading West but mostly I stuck to smaller parallel roads that took me out of the homely and friendly Sioux Falls and through a mainly arable, mainly flat landscape broken up with wetlands and woods.
Having done little birding for a few days I suddenly picked up a bunch of new species – many of them Western species. Birds such as Western Meadowlarks were now sitting on fence posts and Western Kingbirds were on the fencelines. Amazing Red-winged Blackbirds were joined in the marshes by lovely and gorgeous Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
The marshes had familiar Shoveler, Mallard, Pintail and Gadwall alongside slightly less familiar Green Heron, American Coot, Blue-winged Teal, White Pelicans, Marbled Godwit, Black Duck and American Avocet.
It was good birding and lovely weather. I stopped at a place marked on the map which you could miss if you blinked – Aurora. The Central Store sold a few candy bars and drinks so I bought a Mound Bar – as similar to a British Bounty as the Great Blue Heron is to the Grey Heron – pretty similar but noticeably different. This Mound Bar was different though – it was covered in dust and when I came to bite into it I realised it was past its best – probably by a year or two, or more. How many customers did the Aurora Central Store have? And do they all know to swerve the ancient Mound Bars? Have they been waiting for a stranger like me to stop by so that the 5-year old Mound Bars can be brought out to replace the 10-year old ones?
I didn’ t ask the old man behind the counter that, after all the purchase was just an excuse for a break and a talk. He wanted to know where I came from and when I said, he wanted to know why I was in South Dakota. Mount Rushmore always seems a better answer than Yellow-headed Blackbirds so that was what he got. I said how great the weather was and he agreed, but told me there were three days rain ahead – oh no! We talked about tornadoes and he said there hadn’t been one here since the 1940s – but then the new Mound Bars may have arrived about the same time.
I got on with my travel towards the Missouri River and he got on with cutting his lawn.
I really like my sunglasses that I bought in Charleston an age ago. I have once or twice thought of writing that it is unusual for me to keep a pair of sunglasses for this long without breaking, losing or scratching them. Today I almost lost them – in fact I did for a while, but then just as a smiley farmer’s wife was asking me what was wrong – I was parked by her gateway – I found them. I moved my tank of a car as her husband drove an enormous tractor over where my sunglasses had just been found – I told you it was close. She wanted to know where I was from and was amazed that anyone from England would turn up here, and she, too, wanted to know why I was here. My explanation of birdwatching – you can lie to the old men but not to the young women – was received with polite surprise but she probably put it down to the English being a bit odd. I checked the way to the Missouri River and then turned down the offer of a soda. I’ve been kicking myself ever since as the chance to talk farming would have been really interesting. It’s that English politeness – I didn’t want to intrude.
Americans do not show some of the outward signs of politeness that would be expected in the UK – it’s just their way. I noticed at breakfast in Sioux Falls this morning that two well-dressed men in the diner ordered and received their meals with no pleases and no thank yous. It’s just their way.
I stopped at the Missouri River to look at the view and to put back my timepieces by another hour. If anything, crossing the Missouri was more impressive than crossing the Mississippi – maybe the better weather had something to do with it but also the Missouri marks more of a natural barrier.
The land changes quite abruptly to rolling hills with cattle and some deep gorges. There is a lot of grass. Many say this is where the West really begins so I am now scratching its surface.
I am now hotelled-up in the Stroppel Inn in Midland, SD. A spa hotel where you run the hot tap for minutes to allow the naturally occurring hot water to find its way through the plumbing. The owners were out and grandpa, sporting a WWII Veteran’s baseball cap (and it is Memorial Day on Monday) wasn’t totally au fait with how things work. The light bulb on the stairs doesn’t work, we tried one bedroom but found it already occupied by Frank and he’s trusting me to pay tomorrow morning rather than cash in advance. But it’s a friendly tacky place with lots of things with stars and stripes on them, messages written on the wooden walls (eg Delighted you are here), natural hot water at 110F in the basement and, most of all, a very genuine and warm welcome.
Chimney Swifts and Killdeers called over head as I walked across the street to Just Tammy’s bar which does food. I would have had steak or maybe fish but each is seasonal and is only available June-August – I couldn’t wait that long so I had a burger with fries, salad and my first alcohol for a week – a cold Coors beer.
Tammy’s was large, and largely empty apart from Tammy and her daughters. Two elderly ladies came in, had a Coke each, had a chat and then left looking at me slightly suspiciously. I headed back to the Stroppel – this time in the pouring rain. Maybe I won’t need those sunglasses after all – but I have enjoyed my day in the sun.