The Horizon Line

Storm clouds moving in, taken on the road this summer along I-90 somewhere in Wyoming

Storm clouds moving in, taken on the road this summer along I-90 somewhere in Wyoming

Early last week I headed up the road to Brookings, South Dakota on a day when the winds were buffeting the car at 30-40 miles an hour. I’d had an appointment in Sioux Falls, which is an hour north of us and there was an exhibition I wanted to see at the State Art Museum in Brookings, located on the campus of South Dakota State University, which is another hour straight north of Sioux Falls. Despite the winds and the two-hands-firmly-on-the-steering-wheel at all times, it was a wonderful drive, filled with expansive views and gorgeous sunlight casting a warm glow on the already saffron yellow of the trees and the contrasting fields of dry corn and soybeans awaiting harvest.

Autumn soybean field adjacent to the Missouri River, Burbank, SD

Autumn soybean field adjacent to the Missouri River, Burbank, SD

This fly-over part of the country has a reputation for being flat and dull, but here in eastern South Dakota, the land is rolling with gentle rises and expansive views for miles in all directions. We love the landscape and the drive up I-29, especially between Sioux Falls and Brookings, is good for the soul and moments of contemplation.  Our more mundane drive between Vermillion and Sioux Falls is probably equally beautiful, but it is so much more familiar and alas, more taken for granted.

Looking South, Cornfields hedge rows, photo by Krishna Mastel

Looking South, Cornfields hedge rows, photo by Krishna Mastel

That hour-long drive had me yearning to be a landscape painter or a photographer and yet it wasn’t really a depiction of that landscape I wanted to capture exactly. I’m fascinated by the patterns in the land, the juxtaposition of luscious colors and by the notion of the horizon. I got to thinking about the horizon line…the place where the land meets the sky and just how visible it is everywhere you look out here. I came to realize in looking out across the land that I live in a horizontal world.

Harvest Field, photo by Krishna Mastel

Harvest Field, photo by Krishna Mastel

I began to wonder about the difference between living in a horizontal world as I do, one with so few verticals, and living in a vertical world, where the orientation is up and down and the horizontal views are minimal. On the plains, we have wide-open spaces, farmland, prairies (what little is left of them) and rivers. The highest building in the state of South Dakota is the 11-story Century Link tower in Sioux Falls (per my internet investigation) and in North Dakota it’s the State Capitol in Bismarck.  In South Dakota we do have the Black Hills, the mountains in the western part of the state, which are surely vertical, but they rise up from the plains somewhat suddenly, not like in the east where folks might live in the foothills of a mountain range. When I think of the notion of vertical out here, I think of the roots of the prairie grasses that reached down 8-14 feet into the earth. Those grasses held the land in place for thousands of years until we dug them all up to turn the place into farmland. My orientation is truly horizontal and I'm happier in wide open spaces. The daily view I have of the Missouri River outside my window, flowing horizontally right to left on its way to meet the Mississippi, anchors me to the ground.

Missouri River view, October

Missouri River view, October

This post is filled with views of a horizontal world that I thought I’d just share with you, along with my recent musings. Since I couldn't bring myself to get out the car on that horrendously windy day to photograph the landscape, I combed through some of the photos I’ve taken over the last few months. And then I got in touch with my friend Krishna Mastel who takes some truly gorgeous photographs of the rural landscape in the area where she lives outside of Vermillion. The more breathtaking photos are hers, as revealed in the captions. I’m happy to introduce Krishna to you, as she also has a daily practice that I’ve been tuning into. We’ll do an interview with Krishna in one of our next posts about the abstract photographs that she posts each day. Stay tuned for that! 

In the meantime, would love to hear your comments about this notion of a horizontal or vertical view. Feel free to share any stories about where you live and how that affects the way you see the world. 

Sunrise, photo by Krishna Mastel

Sunrise, photo by Krishna Mastel