Why I Love History, part 2!

The second post from an SDSHS Press author using the statement “Why I Love History” as its inspiration comes from Jerry Wilson. Jerry wrote Waiting for Coyote’s Call: An Eco-memoir from the Missouri River Bluff. He has actually twisted the original “Why I Love History” to “Why We Need History,” but it fits perfectly, so read on!

“A people without history is like the wind on buffalo grass,” a wise Lakota said. Yet “history never embraces more than a small part of reality,” observed La Rochefoucauld. Even in high school I suspected that between the United States’ endless wars, something important must have happened; yet it didn’t occur to me that I was living history the night a black friend and I went to the skating rink and he couldn’t get in, or that the Supreme Court had thrown us together in school instead of keeping us apart. I shed tears with an army buddy when Martin Luther King was assassinated, but I am inspired by his dream. I was saddened when I learned how Lakota people were gunned down at Wounded Knee, but I’m glad they kept truth alive. History must be more than the propaganda of the victors. If we are to learn and grow, we must have honest history, a wide-open window on our present and our past.

In the United States, historical amnesia is a national disease. How soon we forgot the lessons of Vietnam, so another generation was thrown into an equally absurd war in Iraq. We set aside the memories of grandparents who survived the Great Depression, so we deregulated Wall Street and greed dragged the nation down once more. In two decades we have forgotten that foreign companies strip-mined the Black Hills and walked away, so leaders embrace a new round of mountain destruction for a momentary boom. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” History is the story of who we have been, but if our eyes are open, it also lights the path to what we might become.


Green living in South Dakota

The South Dakota State Historical Society Press is located in Pierre, the capital of the state. This little community (second smallest state capital in the country) is in the midst of some exciting times with various events and programs taking place that made me think of some of our books.

We’re all trying to be more green at the moment. In fact, the SDSHS Press is in the process of ensuring our use of sustainable materials in the production of our books, just as an example. Pierre is really taking the task to hand; the city is currently focusing on being more green and tidying up the public areas of the community. Such acts seem small when considered as isolated items, but as Jerry Wilson demonstrates in Waiting for Coyote’s Call: An Eco-memoir from the Missouri River Bluff the small acts of environmental friendliness will build into a better world for all of us.

The second thing going on in the capital city is the build up to the weekend-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of the state capitol. You can find out a lot more information on all the events taking place June 19 at this website, but you might also like to check out The South Dakota State Capitol: The First Century by Marshall Damgaard.

Authors and illustrators at SD Festival of Books

10 SDSHS Press authors and illustrators will be presenting at the 2009 South Dakota Book Festival in Deadwood.

Carolyn Digby Conahan, James D. McLaird, Mark Meierhenry, John E. Miller, Donald F. Montileaux, S.D. Nelson, Susan Turnbull, David Volk, Jerry Wilson, and David A. Wolff, are all on the schedule of events for the festival, talking about their books and their profession.

The festival runs October 2-4 in Deadwood.

Below is a list of times and locations for each author’s presentations:

October 3
9-9:45am – Mark Meierhenry and David Volk – Deadwood Elementary School Auditorium
10-10:45am – Carolyn Digby Conahan, S.D. Nelson, and Susan Turnbull – Deadwood Elementary School Gym
11-11:45am – Donald F. Montileaux – Deadwood Elementary School Auditorium
11-11:45am – Jerry Wilson – Franklin Hotel Emerald Room
11-11:45am – James D. McLaird and David A. Wolff – St. Ambrose Catholic Parish
2-2:45pm – Jerry Wilson – Masonic Temple Main Floor
2-2:45pm – John E. Miller – Adams Museum Pioneer Room
3-3:45pm – Carolyn Digby Conahan – Deadwood Elementary School Auditorium
4-4:45pm – John E. Miller and David A. Wolff – St. Ambrose Catholic Parish
5-5:45pm – James D. McLaird – Masonic Temple Main Floor

All authors and illustrators will be signing books in the Deadwood Pavilion from 12:30-2:00pm

Sunday 4
9:00-11:00am – Donald F. Montileaux, S.D. Nelson, and Susan Turnbull – Tatanka: Story of the Bison


Living with Irony


I should pitch my tent in the woods, or maybe go live in a cave. Something to reduce my negative impact on the ecosystem of which I am part. But in the woods I’d likely have to kill animals to eat, and in the cave I’d disturb the life ways of bats. It seems that however hard we try, we humans can’t escape being a liability on Earth, a negative force on fellow creatures.


Today as I worked at my desk, a sharp thud reached my ears. What was that, I vaguely wondered, but turned back to the task at hand. Only later when I went outside did I find the fine long body of a black-billed cuckoo, lying dead on the lawn. The thud was the bird flying smack into our solar-fronted house. Apparently it saw the reflection of trees and flew full speed into a death trap of glass. It was the only black-billed cuckoo I’ve ever seen in our yard.

The human impact on the ecosystem—especially in advanced industrial countries such as ours—derives principally from the mechanical and technological innovations which make our lives comfortable and convenient. For example, we power climate-controlled homes, modern transportation and all the high-tech wonders of modern life principally by burning fossil fuel, even though we know we are altering our climate and polluting our planet in perhaps irreconcilable ways. But even solar homes require energy and resources to build, and they too can harm other life.


Our negative impact on fellow animals is driven partly by our evolved position in the food chain. As omnivores, humans have always eaten other creatures as well as plants to survive. It’s such a part of our history that the writer of Genesis attributes to God the injunction that we are entitled to “dominion” over fellow creatures. Some of us now reject that “God-given right,” believing as American Indians traditionally believed that we are all related—that we have ethical obligations to fellow creatures, even if we choose to eat them. Others eschew the very act of eating animals, choosing to nourish their bodies solely with fruits, vegetables and other plants.


I have not evolved past my inherited position as an omnivore. I still eat meat with my vegetables. But I do respect fellow creatures, and it pains me when, through carelessness or through some action of mine, another living thing needlessly dies. I remember the birds and mammals I shot as a youthful hunter. I grieve for the birds, mammals and butterflies I’ve accidentally struck with my car. But in fact, every lifestyle choice, even building a geo-solar house, has repercussions for other species.

I wish I could restore life to the black-billed cuckoo, hear its long descending cackle once more, let it return to its life work of consuming insects and worms. But this beautiful bird has fallen victim to my effort to reduce my negative impact on Earth. That’s an irony from which I see no escape. 




Read more of Jerry’s thoughts about birds and other wildlife in his book, Waiting for Coyote’s Call: An Eco-memoir from the Missouri River Bluff.

Waiting for Coyote’s Call

Have you read any of Jerry Wilson’s musings on his Waiting for Coyote’s Call blog?

If not, you should really think about checking him out, but in the meantime, just as a teaser, here is latest post on this blog instead.

Norma and I have spent the last week in San Antonio, where the average afternoon temperature has hit at least 100 degrees in the shade. Obviously our timing is bad; the time for a South Dakotan to head south is January, not July. Yes, we strolled down the San Antonio River Walk one night, and last night we enjoyed Tejano, the periodic Latino festival of music, food and drink in Market Square. But mostly we are here to work, not to play.

Our son Walter and his wife Lizzy have bought their first home. The 90-year-old house is on the fringe of the historic King William neighborhood, near the River Walk south of downtown. When the elderly owner died, her daughters couldn’t agree to sell the house, so it stood empty for eight years. Fortunately the roof was good, so there was no water damage inside. But pretty much everything needed rehabilitation, from the ground up.

When we arrived, the foundation was repaired, and Walt and his hired handyman, Silver, had gutted the interior and restored drywall to the 11-foot ceilings. Over the next few days, Walt, Silver and I sheet rocked the walls, and soon they’ll be ready for paint.

There were floor boards to replace and holes to fill, and floors will soon be ready for sanding and finishing. Electrical wiring has been replaced, and major plumbing repair lies ahead. Cabinets arrived today, which we will install after the kitchen is painted. And that’s just the interior; when we are shivering in South Dakota next winter, Walt will scrape and paint the exterior in comfortable San Antonio weather.

Why would anybody undertake such a project? We ask ourselves that question every day. But the answers are evident. First, the price of a restored house in this historic neighborhood—even a two-bedroom house such as this one—would be prohibitive for a young couple like Walt and Lizzy. Restoring the house to its original grandeur is a good investment that will pay off in the long run. But more important, the house will be a lovely place to live, grand on a small scale, with its large, high ceilinged rooms, columned wrap around porch and mansard roof. And perhaps most important, restoring an old house instead of tearing it down and throwing up a cheap modern replacement with inferior materials is an act of sustainability—not unlike our own work back home to restore damaged soil and native prairie.

Our 10-hour days in sweltering heat aren’t exactly fun, but they are satisfying, seeing at the end of each day a few more steps toward restoration. It’s also rewarding to see that our son has learned the values of maintenance and repair, of conservation and sustainability.