Settled In


The past two months have brought many changes–from terminating my position at a well-respected sustainable food and farming non-profit, to leaving my second marriage, my little farm and gardens and flocks, the rural food co-op I tried to help steer out of rocky financial waters for the [second? third?] time, to exiting Minnesota–the state I called home for over five years.

I’ve come back to Southeast South Dakota, to a community I’ve called home more often than not over the past two decades, and specifically to a site I came to know while tending market gardens for my CSA and farmers market customers.

It took a couple of years to exorcise my feelings for this farm after I moved away: I wept more than once–occasionally, to my embarrassment, in front of complete strangers–while describing the process of leaving. Now, I’m embarrassed to reveal how little I knew it, having in the past weeks taken a fuller measure of its acres of bluffs and ravines on long jaunts with the dog, and hours spent cutting invasive cedars and searching for the skeletons of remnant prairie forbs poking through the thick mat of brome. Then, I only had eyes for the few acres of soil I turned and tended.

Since the announcement of my impending return, a number of friends and acquaintances have expressed their pleasure over the fact, and have suggested that we get together when I am “settled in.” Granted, I have been on the road frequently, and back up in Minnesota almost every week (last week more than once) to retrieve my belongings and tie up loose ends. On Super Tuesday, I left in the mid-afternoon, drove the three and a half hours up to the old farm, filled the car with art and houseplants (and enjoyed a convivial glass of wine with my ex), then headed to Clinton to caucus before turning south again–arriving back where I’d started an hour before that day turned to the next.

My landing here is potentially temporary, so “settled in,” to me, is approximately where I am now. Not quite all my possessions are relocated, but the dog and cats are with me, and my houseplants sitting in front of a sunny window. My tractor and most of the garden tools still need fetching,. and I’m trying to figure the logistics of transporting the greenhouse spans. I don’t have a job yet, but I offered myself up for a few shifts at a little fair trade shop in town, after sensing from the ladies who work there the same friendly tension I felt as manager of the primarily volunteer-run co-op I left in Minnesota: How soon is too soon to pounce on a potential new volunteer?

One of the volunteers I trained before I left, who had recently moved back to the area after many years away, shared that the transition had been more difficult than she’d imagined. Sure, she knew a lot of people from her youth, and even people who, like her, had gone off to the Cities to pursue careers and then returned–to retire, to care for aging parents, to settle the farm affairs. But, weaving herself back into the fabric of life in that small rural community, where relationships and social circles and guest lists were so, well, settled in, was difficult.

She ended up finding more comfort in the new relationships she kindled than in the ones she’d counted on from the past. It turned out for her that settling in meant something very different than she’d envisioned–letting go of those who had built up a surfeit of rich relationships without her, and creating a vibrant new network of people who, like her, wanted to share ideas and experiences they’d gained while away.

Armed with that experience, and others like it (while not implying any disingenuousness on the part of friends), it occurs to me that settling in can function counter to expectations–the more “settled” a person is, the less likely they are to form or re-kindle relationships, and the more likely they  have established new patterns that exclude. For that reason, and my tendency toward restiveness, I am determined to avoid settling in for as long as possible.

To wit: a recently planned excursion to the New Mexico/Arizona border area to visit a few ecological restoration organizations and projects–on a route that crosses paths with the Sandhill Crane migration in progress, and near the lekking grounds of Greater Prairie Chickens. More than the grand vistas of the canyons and deserts (which are exciting in themselves), these moments of witness, and of connecting with people who are working to heal and protect the environment are what I yearn for most of all.

But, of course, I’ll be returning to my South Dakota roost from that adventure (and others, I hope)–not to settle necessarily, but to seek out new connections, new understanding, and a deeper knowledge of this place I once believed I knew so well.

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