Looking for space in a completely unpopulated area, I drive out of town at a speedy pace. I descend the minor bluff demarcating upper Vermillion. In lower Vermillion, I look around and picture the area over a century before when the big flood came. After the Missouri River, or “Mighty Mo” as it is affectionately called, changed course and merged a piece of Nebraska with the rest of South Dakota, authorities could not decide which state should claim the estranged land. Amidst the confusion, gamblers, prostitutes, and thieves moved into the area. This space does not retain its history well. Cornfields cover its past now. North Dakota Street turns into South Dakota Street as I loll my head out the window like a dog and cherish the strong wind in my face.
Two natural phenomena stand out about Vermillion, SD, ones that, unlike state borders, have not have changed much over human time: The wind and the sky. The wind, on a good day, fans my hair. On the average day, it strongly reminds me of its presence, picking up my skirt or cartwheeling beer cans and cottonwood seeds down the street.
The sky is vast. I can see far from the top of Spirit Mound—a small hill that dominates the subtle landscape of the plains. Looking up and across the seemingly endless sky fuels unrestricted fantasies. But after this momentary liberation, I quickly realize how clearly the horizon encircles the sky, cutting it off. The flat land below my feet reveals to me that even the sky has limits.
How could I feel claustrophobic in a place with such a huge, dome-shaped sky? But sometimes this sky looms. It constantly reminds me of its presence. The whole place, embraced by this blue and white mesh, feels a bit contained. I cherish the times I am able to drive for miles and miles until I see geographical change, a tree line in Minnesota or the badlands West River, but then, inevitably, I drive back and get lost in the sky again.