I am DONE, South Dakota! No more “one-finger waves”!!!

Country "one-finger wave"

A photo of me giving my LAST one-finger wave as a truck goes by. NEVER AGAIN SOUTH DAKOTA!! YOU ARE NOT WORTHY!!!

We’re nice in South Dakota and the Midwest in general.  We’re polite! We’re neighborly! We’re friendly and approachable!! We’re not like those big-city folk, people who won’t look you in the eye when they pass you on the street. Heck no!! We’re GOOD folk!!

There’s definitely anecdotal evidence of that friendliness. It generally is true, when you’re in a store, a restaurant, etc., people are usually relatively polite and friendly.  It even manifests itself while driving.  Ever since I grew up and started driving in southern Nebraska, I’ve been a steady practitioner of the “one-finger wave”, the acknowledgement of a passing car with a quick raised finger.  It’s not expected while driving in the big city…you know…intimidating, scary places like Sioux Falls.  However, I drive a lot of gravel roads, and when you approach a car on a country road, the one-finger wave is almost obligatory.

We’re GOOD people in Nebraska and up here in South Dakota! That’s what people like to tell themselves anyway.  In reality? Not so much.  Yes, there’s a thin veneer of politeness, a fragile shell of general friendliness that perhaps you don’t find as much in a New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles.  But that’s all it is…a veneer, a facade, covering up the same human flaws that are found no matter where you go. In fact, it’s pretty obvious to me that there’s a level of hate, of bigotry, of intolerance that goes beyond anything I felt while living in Washington DC.  It’s pretty obvious that the veneer of “Midwestern nice” does NOT extend beyond the superficial, to anything that actually benefits society as a whole.

Let’s face it, where I grew up in Nebraska, and now living in South Dakota, where we’ve been for 24 years, the political climate is very “red”. It’s conservative as hell, with Congressional reps who are conservative Republicans, Governors who are conservative, state legislatures that are conservative. There are some more liberal pockets within the likes of Lincoln, Omaha, or Sioux Falls, but overall? They’re not even states where politicians really even have to campaign.  If you have “Republican” after your name, you’re going to win here, period.  I’m as liberal as can be, and we just had a Senate and House race this past November.  To be completely honest, I don’t remember the NAMES of the two Democratic candidates that ran in those races. Why? They’re irrelevant.  They’re just a formality, but there’s no real chance they’d win.

It’s the long-standing political climate which is why I say the politeness, that “Midwestern nice”, is all a facade.  To put it more succinctly, it’s complete bullshit.  It’s VERY evident from a political standpoint, in terms of who people vote for, what side of an issue they support, the crap that’s written every day in the local “voices” section of the local paper.  That niceness?  It ONLY is offered in superficial, meaningless situations…such as when passing someone on a country road. The reality is much uglier.  What do those who are “Midwestern nice” really stand for?  Intolerance, selfishness, and greed certainly are given much higher priority than any real, meaningful level of “nice”, of caring for your fellow man.  Let’s take Obamacare and what’s happening in Washington right now with the effort to “repeal and replace”.

In a state like South Dakota, a program like Obamacare isn’t viewed from the standpoint of how it helps the sick and the poor.  It’s not measured in terms of lives saved. No, when discussed in a state like South Dakota, the ONLY thing that matters is 1) the fact that the federal government has some role to play in it, and 2) the cost to a taxpayer and government taking “their” money. Because it’s a government program, it’s inherently bad…period. Just like in other red states, even when a “freebie” comes along like the offered Medicaid expansion from Obamacare several years back, it’s turned down without a second thought by our Republican state government, simply based on ideology.  Never mind the fact that THOUSANDS of poor and sick South Dakotans could have been covered.  No, it’s a government program, and even worse it was a government program offered under a liberal (black!!) President.

I’m done, South Dakota.  I’m done helping to perpetuate the myth of Midwestern “nice”. For a region that wraps themselves up in a warm, fuzzy facade of religious belief, conservatism, and friendliness, your actions certainly speak otherwise.  You can’t consider yourself Midwestern “nice”, yet throw a fit when government dares to tax you for programs that benefit society as a whole.  You can’t can’t be Midwestern “nice”, yet express your bigotry and racism towards anyone who’s not a white, Midwestern “Christian”. You can’t be Midwestern “nice”, yet place your own greed and selfishness above helping the sick, the poor, the needy.

Confederate Flag in South Dakota

My now MODIFIED “one-finger waves” are reserved ONLY for people like this, the wonderful, “Midwestern nice” house I pass on the way home from work. You will DEFINITELY get a very special, one-fingered wave every day I drive by. As for the rest of South Dakotans I pass by? You’ll get no such “kindness” any more.

In short, you can’t consider yourselves to be Midwestern “nice”, but ACT the way that South Dakotans typically act. What’s become ABUNDANTLY evidently over the last few months since the election is just exactly WHO South Dakotans are, and it sure as hell isn’t Midwestern “nice”.

I’m done with the one-finger wave on a country road.  Sorry, dude driving that pickup towards me, with your shotgun in the backseat, your “Make America Great” bumper sticker, your barely concealed hatred and bigotry…you will no longer receive any such kindness from me.  I now reserve my “special” one-finger waves for very special circumstances, such as the “good Midwestern folk” who live in this house I pass every day on my way home from work (photo on the left). At least you’re not hiding what you are!  More than most people I meet around here, you are VERY open in representing what Midwestern “nice” really means.


Goat Heaven

Mountain Goat - Oreamnos americanus

One of the larger Mountain Goats, moving through the heavily flowered alpine meadows above Logan Pass in Glacier National Park. Click on this or any other photo for a closer view.

I’m still catching up on processing photos from the summer, including some from our vacation time in Glacier National Park in August. Glacier was busy, so busy that frankly it lessened my enjoyment of the Park.  The Going-to-the-Sun Road is certainly a huge attraction in Glacier, and deservedly so, given the spectacular views along its winding path.  However, there’s so much traffic on a busy summer day that it’s very difficult to find a place to pull over and park.  Most of the roadside stops were full, limiting opportunities to get out and hike. When we reached Logan Pass, a high point in the middle of the route with a visitor’s center and hikes, the entire lot was full, and cars were parked along the side of the road for at least half a mile in either direction from the parking lot.  We were admittedly a bit dejected trying to find a place to park, when we decided we were going to ‘reboot’ the day, drive down to the east end of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and take one of the shuttle buses back to the Logan Pass area.

It was a very good decision.  The shuttles can be a bit unreliable (as we found when trying to go back down to our car, having to wait for almost an  hour for a shuttle), but they freed us from any worries about having to park.  At Logan Pass there are a few hiking options, and one we decided to do went up through a beautiful alpine meadow. There’s a boardwalk that goes up for much of the length of the trail, and given the madhouse at the visitor’s center itself, we were expecting a trail that was elbow-to-elbow in tourists.  However, one thing we’ve learned in all our visits to National Parks…people are lazy!  A short stroll off the beaten path can often give you some solitude.  This wasn’t solitude, but it was manageable in terms of jostling with other tourists.

Logan Pass, Glacier National Park

A view of one of the alpine meadows at Logan Pass. The flowers were truly incredible, although in some spots the dark burgundy flowers were being thinned out by the grazing goats!

The walk itself was incredibly beautiful. The high alpine meadows were packed with blooming flowers of several different kinds.  Combined with the lush greenery and spectacular mountain views, and it was truly one of our favorite hikes on the vacation.  The trail was somewhat open-ended, with no “must see” destination that marked the end of the trail, so we just kept walking until we started to get tired.

After quite some time heading up the trail, we looked up the path and in the distance, saw some hikers seemingly moving off the path to make way for…something.  At first it was hard to tell because of the distance, but soon the small, distant white blobs on the path became recognizable…Mountain Goats!  There was a small group of about 8 Mountain Goats that were headed down the mountain towards the flowered fields, and they were bound and determined to take the path of least resistance…literally!  The goats seemingly put their heads down and kept coming down the path, hikers-be-damned.  They were still quite a ways up the path from us when the moved into the flowery fields and began to feed.

Mountain Goat - Oreamnos americanus

The youngest of the small herd of Mountain Goats, pausing to sniff the flowers. Well, actually, right after this he ate all the flowers off this plant.

We continued up the path until we were in very close proximity.  They weren’t shy, obviously being quite used to hikers on the path.  They were feeding heavily in the gorgeous alpine meadows, and seemed to especially have an affinity for a plant with deep red flowers (that’s about as far as my flower identification skills take me!).  The small group included a couple of young goats that were obviously just born that year, as well as a pair of larger adults that appeared to be dominant. The goats peacefully fed while the handful of hikers that were at that height stood or sat on the path, thrilled to see them at such close range.

As with the previous post about the Grizzly Bears of Banff, it was the Mountain Goats of Glacier that were another true highlight of the trip!

Mountain Goat - Oreamnos americanusMountain Goat - Oreamnos americanusMountain Goat - Oreamnos americanus

Banff Grizzly Bears

Grizzly Bear - Ursus arctos horribilis

A big Grizzly near the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff National Park. This was actually a rarity, where one of the bears we saw would look towards us on the road. For the most part, they were too busy feeding on berries to worry about observers. Click on this photo or any other photo on this post to see a larger photo version.

In continuing the theme of “summer vacation pics”…the end point of our driving vacation this summer was Banff and the surrounding area in Alberta.  My wife and I had been there once before, but we’d never been there as a family. We spent several days stationed in Banff itself, with day trips to several spots in Banff National Park, and a trip up towards Jasper on the Icefields Parkway.  The highlight of the the trip, however?

Grizzly Bears!  We’ve been in Yellowstone several times.  We’ve been to Glacier National Park two times now (after this trip).  As a family we have vacationed in Alaska, and I myself have been in Alaska several other times.  In all these trips, we’ve on occasion seen bears. One on this trip, maybe one or even two on another trip, etc.  Coming across a bear, be it a Black Bear or Grizzly Bear, is a treat even in these areas that are known for bears. They’re just not very common to begin with, and seeing one during the day in visible range is a special treat.  That’s what made our trip to Banff so special.  We saw SO many bears that on one day in particular, we almost were expecting to see bears around every bend!

On our last trip to Banff many years ago, we saw wildlife (Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Elk, etc.), but no bears.  However, we knew this year might be different, as before leaving on vacation, we had read many stories about the banner year around Banff for buffalo berries.  Buffalo berries are a favorite for bears, and tend to grow at forest edges and clearings…including along roadways in Banff National Park. We had read that the bears in the area were all down in the lowlands, gorging on berries, and that we might have a good chance of seeing one.

Grizzly Bear - Ursus arctos horribilis

Berry time! A good view of another Grizzly, and the berries that had them so far down in the lowlands of the park.

We saw one!  Then two…then three…then four…until we had seen seven bears in one day!!  Seven bears on August 2nd, all along the Bow Valley Parkway near Banff. The Bow Valley Parkway itself is a really pretty drive, going through dense forest and also occasionally giving you a good view of the mountains. The day before, we had been in the Lake Louise area, and had a wonderful time on a long, 6- mile hike up from the lake to a rustic teahouse.  A beautiful day on August 1st, but WOW, the people!  In the heart of summer, it’s very difficult to even find a parking spot near Lake Louise, and the area around the lake and hotel itself are incredibly busy.  Thus, when starting out on the Bow Valley Parkway on August 2nd, we expected quite a few people.  We were wrong.  The parkway was relatively quiet, so we drove very slow, scanning the forest edges for wildlife.  The edge of the forest next to the road had many fruiting buffalo berry bushes, and it certainly SEEMED like the perfect place to find browsing bears.

It was.  It didn’t take long before we saw a mini “bear jam” up ahead.  Given the quiet traffic that day, the “bear jams” typically only consisted of a car or two, and much of the time we also were by ourselves as we watched a bear.  As we slowly approached the first two cars we had seen pulled over on the edge of the road, we wondered…is it a Grizzly?  A Black Bear? Or something else?

The first bear we saw was a beautiful, large grizzly.  At first, he was perhaps 10 yards back in the forest, making it difficult to see him well, even with binoculars that we had.  It didn’t take long before the binoculars were relegated to the back seat for most of the rest of the day though, as soon the first Grizzly strolled out of the forest and started gorging on buffalo berries, just 15 yards away or so.  With all our previous vacations in “bear country”, this was by far our closest, best look at a Grizzly, so we pulled over and enjoyed watching him feed for a while.  Finally we reluctantly pulled back onto the road to continue our journey up Bow Valley Parkway.

Grizzly Bear - Ursus arctos horribilis

Slurp! Often we’d just see a bear plopped down on his back haunches while he/she gorged on berries.

It wasn’t a long journey!  After a mere 200 yards or so, we saw movement in the brush on the side of the road.  Another Grizzly!  For the most part the Grizzlies we saw were totally oblivious to activity on the road. They would walk up to a loaded buffalo berry bush, strip the berries with their snouts in big bunches, and pretty much strip the entire bush before moving to the next one.  On occasion they would glance over towards the road, but they had one thing on their minds…berries!  Their close proximity and casual attitude towards observers led to some great photo opportunities.

In one stretch of less than a mile, we ended up seeing 4 different Grizzly Bears.  As we continued up Bow Valley Parkway, we found two more Grizzlies, and one Black Bear who had a couple of cubs.  We also found a couple of Grizzly Bears the next day, with at least one of the two being a “repeat” from the day before.  Some of the Grizzlies had ear tags, and Bear 134 is one that we came across multiple times during our stay in Banff. It was enjoyable not only seeing and photographing the bears from close range, but also looking them up on the internet!  A search of terms like “Bear 134 Banff” would often lead to stories of an individual bear’s exploits, either during the 2016 season, or in previous seasons.

It was a special trip.  We were definitely spoiled in terms of seeing bears, and I truly doubt that we’ll ever experience so many wild bears in one day again.

Grizzly Bear - Ursus arctos horribilisGrizzly Bear - Ursus arctos horribilisGrizzly Bear - Ursus arctos horribilisGrizzly Bear - Ursus arctos horribilisGrizzly Bear - Ursus arctos horribilis


Tree Nazis strike again in South Dakota

Tree cutting - South Dakota roadsides

Another one of my (former) favorite birding spots, hit by the South Dakota Tree Nazis. If they have their way, no habitat of any kind will be left in the state, and we’ll have a nice homogeneous landscape of corn and soybeans.

Sigh…this is getting old.  I went out this morning to do a bit of birding, and thought I’d try “Ditch Road” north of Sioux Falls.  It’s a spot I like to go to in the mornings.  Ditch road has a ditch that often holds water, with thick trees and shrubs on either side.  The stretch I like to bird is on the west side of the road, so there’s some nice light as I drive it in the morning.

As soon as I turned the corner on to Ditch Road, my heart fell.  Yet another of my favorite birding habitats in the area has fallen prey to the South Dakota Tree Nazis.  If you haven’t heard of the group, they’re an evil underground effort to ensure that all of South Dakota is homogeneous corn and soybeans, and that every little bit of remaining bird habitat is removed.  “Spook Road”, another favorite birding spot just east of my home town of Brandon, has also fallen prey to the Tree Nazis.

In both cases, thick shrubs and trees lining the road have been completely removed.  From the rumors I’ve heard, it’s local and county government efforts to satisfy new insurance requirements.  I’m not sure if it’s true, but I had heard that due to an accident involving someone becoming injured or killed in a vehicle strike on roadside woody vegetation, insurance companies pressured local governments to remove woody vegetation that’s anywhere close to a roadway.

Trees aren’t exactly widespread on the South Dakota plains.  Urban areas certainly have plenty of trees, but otherwise they are typically restricted to riparian areas and fencelines.  In the case of the aforementioned Spook Road, there’s about a 3 mile stretch where a small creek intermittently crosses the road, and it’s the thick riparian/roadside trees and shrubs that were removed.  In the case of Ditch Road, it truly is a very thin strip of tree and shrub habitat, perhaps 30 yards wide in total, but it’s always been a very productive birding location for me, particularly in spring when migrant passerines move through.

And now, like many of my other favorite birding locations, the Tree Nazis have destroyed it.  As the photo above shows, ALL vegetation on the side of the ditch closest to the road has been removed.  I guess I should be thankful the Tree Nazis were feeling gracious, and left the vegetation on the far side of the ditch. It’s a far too common site though in the area, with trees along fencelines, shelter belts, and other roadside trees being removed at an incredible rate.

The South Dakota Tree Nazis have many splinter groups operating in the state as well, including the South Dakota Wetland Destroyers who have been incredibly active in the last couple of years, drain-tiling and destroying every tiny remaining spot of wetland in the area.  For an area that historically was chock-full of little wetlands, I now have to drive a ways to find a functional wetland with any kind of decent birding.

I’ve got a LOT of photos on my main website that were taken on Ditch Road. After what I saw today, all of those photos may now just be a remembrance of a time when Ditch Road had decent birding, before the Tree Nazis did their work…

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