I got up, dressed, tip-toed down the creaky wooden stairs of the Stroppel Hotel and strolled down the rain-soaked main street. Midland was quiet at 630am although there were orioles singing, House Sparrows chirruping, Killdeers calling from near the railroad track and a couple of dogs barked as I passed by. It didn’t take long to get to the edge of town, and back again, but the stroll was pleasant and the air was fresh.
A few male-driven flat-back trucks drove past – everyone gave me a look but also a friendly wave. It felt a bit like the far north of Scotland in a way. Not much here, not much happening, but a friendly atmosphere. And no midges either.
I just stood in the street for a while and then two men left the Stroppel and headed for Just Tammy’s, I guess for breakfast, and they said ‘Morning’ as they talked about the price they could get for calves ($400) and their plans for grazing a particular stretch of ground.
Heading back into the Hotel I paused to look at the row of plastic Uncle Sams outside, and by the front door a notice setting out the events of Monday’s Memorial Day – a service, a potluck lunch, entertainment by the Haakon County Crooners and proceeds going to help to defray Mary Parquet’s medical expenses – right next to a sign saying ‘Cancer cures smoking’. Inside, the words to the ‘Star-spangled Banner’ were on the wall below a mounted elk head and next to a drawing of President GW Bush, and then I met up with the lady in charge who had been absent last night. As I settled the bill she told me that she had been in Pierre because her daughter’s place there was in danger of flooding and they had been moving stuff – including the grand-daughter who was running around.
The Missouri River was very high she said and it just kept raining. She’d heard that they’d had snow in Yellowstone last week and there was still meltwater coming off the Rockies as well as all this rain. But although the forecast said rain for today she was hopeful of fine weather.
Her grandparents had set up the Hotel and when she grew up, Midland had had 350 occupants and there were now 120. There were no jobs and nothing to keep young people here. But she herself had a beauty shop down the road in Philip, about 20 miles, and she didn’t really want to move out. She liked the quiet life and Midland was home to her.
You won’t find the Stroppel Spa Hotel in the guidebooks and you’ll struggle to find Midland, South Dakota on the maps, and South Dakota usually gets a mention for the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore alone, but I’m glad I stayed at the Stroppel. It’s not that small town America is in any way more real than New York or San Francisco but it is just as real. And stepping off the tourist route is often much cheaper and much more interesting than staying on it.
Midland has attracted some new residents though. As I walked, I heard and then saw Collared Doves. Sibley’s distribution map doesn’t show them here, but here they are. I wonder when they arrived; probably in the last decade, maybe they moved in on a day when a resident family moved out.