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Rural Decay or Handy Tree Shelter?
May 10, 2012
A bunch of us South Dakota Magaziners were talking about the recent New York Times article “Amid Rural Decay, Trees Take Root in Silos,” which hints at the failure of farm life on the Great Plains by using phrases like “the landscape of rural abandonment” and “a region laden with leaning, crumbling reminders of more vibrant days.”
The article admits that times have changed, and so have farming methods. It's true. My family still farms, but they no longer store hay or shelter livestock in the barn that my great-great grandfather built shortly after coming to South Dakota in 1869. The old chicken coop is full — not of poultry, but of objects that might come in handy for something someday. Why tear down a structure when you might think of a new use for it? Saving what looks obsolete may be Depression-era thinking, but I come from a long line of jury-riggers, experts at finding a use for a discarded object decades after it first hit the storage shed.
The author of the Times piece, A. G. Sulzberger, cited cost as one reason why abandoned silos still stood. We wondered if he’d ever attempted to knock one down. Bernie Hunhoff told us about his experience at an attempted silo demolition near Gayville. The farmers had read that a few well-aimed blasts from a high-powered rifle could knock out a brick or two and cause the whole structure to tumble. An intense hail of bullets was unleashed and many beers were consumed, but at the end of the day, the silo stood. It’s still standing today.
Rather than view rural ruins as a sign that our prairie civilization is falling apart, I choose to admire nature’s ability to repurpose and reclaim that which we no longer use. There’s a reason why South Dakota photographers love taking shots of ghost towns and old farmsteads. Those abandoned structures have a poignant beauty. They encourage us to think about those who came before us, of the lives they lived and the dreams they had, and perhaps make us a little more aware of the fleetingness of our own time here. But that’s life. It’s nothing to get too worked up about. Here today, gone tomorrow. Unless you’re a silo, that is.