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SoDakLand July 14, 2007

Posted by prairiewoman in Chatterboard, SoDakLand Trail.

 Knocking down the Habitat


I heard the birds screaming outside my back door early this morning. It is July in Texas, and despite the recent soaking rains and horrific flooding it had been bright and sunny for the past three days.  It’s 7:00 a.m.  The usual noise at this time would be the steady drone of commuter traffic winding its way to downtown Dallas 50 miles to the east. The sound didn’t match this usual morning background. As a retired police lieutenant, job experience had taught me to look and listen for the unexpected — the tip-off, the clue. When I stepped out onto the concrete patio attached to the rear of my rental house, I knew immediately something was different and so very wrong. A large stand of soaring old growth trees stood sentry behind my wooden fence.  In the year I had been in my current residence, I was delighted to see that this wild assortment of emerald beauties held birds of all types. Cardinals, hawks, blue jays and martins and the occasional morning doves would visit my backyard oasis.   Sometimes an exotic little number from one of the parks surrounding Joe Pool Lake happened by for a visit.  In May, hundreds of fluttery butterflies painted shades of pale yellow and soft white decided to take up residence in my backyard.  I noticed they floated down from those same trees, most probably to snag a drink from my sprinkler-soaked lawn. I just knew they had all come to see me. My chocolate red poodle Rookie sidled up to a few extending a wet nose to sniff the strange critters. Somehow Rookie knew they were friendly frequent fliers and left them to do what butterflies do. He wasn’t too keen on the birds though. They dive-bombed ‘his’ two bird baths. Poodles are generous souls though and he allowed them their space. This time was different. Rookie’s dismay sent him into a barking frenzy. A bright yellow bulldozer was at work on the trees. It was an ugly sight.  Trees are no match for machines with teeth. As the front bucket of the dozer pushed up against a knobby trunk, it shuddered before toppling to the ground.  A second mechanical beast came from behind forcing the remnants into a large splintered mass on the ground.  When the crew parked for lunch, the sound of a dying forest grew loud. Birds perched on the dead pile. They called out to their babies and searched for missing nests. I was wrong about the screaming. They were crying. Our local home owners association knew about the apartments being built behind our quiet little neighborhood. I had only been here a year but the home owners had fought to keep the developers at bay.  Well, we all know how those stories end.  It still didn’t stop me from taking pictures and video.  Somehow I thought emailing them to my best friend and next-door neighbor Chris would make me feel a little better. “I’ve closed the blinds. I can’t take it anymore” I wrote him.  Being the home owners association president and always on top of things, he sent me a copy of the email he force-fed the Mansfield City Council. Of course, outrageous indignation almost never works. It would take them a day and a half to knock down the suburban wildlife retreat in my little part of the world. Developers did not have to do this. It was just a little buffer zone of green. They just did not want to maintain it. A line from Joni Mitchell’s 70s song Big Yellow Taxi comes to mind. “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” Joni sang in that great tune. Remnants of nature’s majesty now lie gutted and broken in a mound as tall as a two-story house and stretching the length of two city blocks.  There is now a clear path to the highway. Great, so now I can not only hear rush hour traffic, I can see and smell it.  Future apartment dwellers will be ecstatic to have such easy access to a million-plus populated Dallas metropolis.  Will they enjoy looking down into my humble little backyard, admiring the yard art and drought-tolerant plants?   I’m from South Dakota. Born and raised in SoDakLand (my favorite term of endearment) until the Army and the Dallas Police Department kept me otherwise occupied for well over 35 years. On July 4th, I returned from a monthlong visit to my birthplace in Martin, a town of 1200 situated between the Lakota’s Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations. My town is filled with aunties, uncles, cousins, and high school friends. Prior to this extended visit, my time there had been limited to an annual trek of a one-week fly-in to the Rapid City airport, then 120 miles east by car with my parents crossing Badlands and back roads. This trip was different. Rookie & I drove north a thousand miles to camp out in my sister Connie’s basement. For an entire month I breathed in small town life. Funny, when I was 18, I couldn’t wait to get out.  Bruce Springsteen’s ‘My Home Town’ aches with those dynamics. There are no traffic jams here — unless you consider those at the Fresh Start lunch counter. Traits of life I appreciate: minimal crime, baseball games with neighboring Nebraskans, immense stretches of prairie grasses, grazing cows, and friendly familiar faces. In the center of town is a jewel of a Heritage Center and on the outskirts an American Legion facility that would make any veteran stand up and salute.  A nice lady working at the tiny local post office, who moved to Martin after 20 years in Fort Worth, told me with a conspiratorial air, “The best kept secret is right here. Shhhhhhh.”  I celebrated my Mother’s birthday, read the Lakota Country Times, watched my niece on the softball field, spent money at the Triple Z Bookstore and Martin Mercantile, ate an Indian taco at the café inside the livestock sale barn, took family to a volunteer Fire Department fund raising dinner, and bought ice cream at Bingos. Then, leaving my heart behind, I drove back to Texas.

Now a week later I witness deforestation. An omen for the eventual overbuilding, concrete parking lots and crowded masses to come.  I left somewhere in the middle of all that, returning with a load of brown moving boxes stuffed in the back of my rig (Texas lingo for truck)  and felt a tad bit better. After all, in two short months I move to my new home. In my own town. Martin, South Dakota.  And there are trees in my yard there that no one can knock down.  Rookie will like that.

Another Habitat Destroyed



1. Chris Clark - July 14, 2007

The whole apartment thing does have all of us who live in the neighborhood a little rattled. It was something we just didn’t expect. You can follow the incident and our ongoing battle at http://www.lowesfarmhoa.com .

2. Anna Haynes - July 21, 2007

Such a sad story, brought tears to my eyes!
So sounds like you may be writing some for the Lakota Times!!! I think your sis has back up if she needs a break!!!

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