- Day 91: August 13, 2016
- Hike 27
- Location: Hike to the Old Bridge over the Big Sioux River
- Distance: 4.2 miles
- Cumulative Distance (Hikes and Other Short Walks): 210.58 miles
Rivers have always fascinated me more than lakes. Lakes seem confined by their shores and destined to remain in one location forever, or for as long as they continue to exist. On the other hand, rivers are continuously moving, reacting to events upstream, changing with the seasons, and flowing downstream to affect the land along their banks and influence the wildlife and people they encounter. When you are standing on the bank of a river, each time you close your eyes and reopen them, you see a different river. Never again will you see the same water—it has moved on, the same light—it has shifted, or the same objects floating in the current—they have gone downstream—that you saw before. Continual change is the nature of a river.
Many years ago as a young adult, I lived on a farm in eastern South Dakota south of the town of Brookings. In that flat farm country, finding a place to go on an interesting hike might have seemed problematic. In every direction there were miles of farm fields with little variation in the topography of the land. Although the crops growing in the fields were different from year to year, and the appearance of the fields changed with the seasons, there were no majestic mountain vistas, waterfalls, or tranquil lakes nearby to fill the role of “scenery.” However, about 2 miles down a country road to the west of our farm home, there was an old, one-lane bridge that crossed over the Big Sioux River. Once I discovered the bridge, it became a favored hiking destination.
Standing on the wooden planks of the bridge and looking upstream to the north, I could imagine the many miles that this slow moving river had already traveled. Looking to the south, I could envision the water gradually flowing downstream into the Missouri River and then on to the Gulf of Mexico. In the spring, when the Big Sioux was swollen with snowmelt and overflowed its banks, hiking to the bridge wasn’t feasible until the water receded. Nevertheless, most of the year, this was an easily accessible destination. Once there, I could sit on the bridge and watch the river come and go beneath me. I daydreamed about the Native Americans, the explorers, the pioneers, and the early homesteaders who depended on this river. I also wondered who would visit this river and sit where I was sitting in the future when I could no longer do so.
While I was in Brookings taking care of my grandchildren recently, I had an opportunity to hike to this old bridge with Ransom, one of our Australian shepherds. I was not expecting some of the emotions I felt while sitting on the bridge looking down into the water. Memories of long ago came to the surface. After each of my three children was born, one of the first outings I took with the new arrival was a hike to the bridge. Of course, my children were infants at the time and rode in strollers and likely do not remember their first hikes. However, to me, this first hike with each child was important. I wanted to share this experience with them as a reminder to me not to restrict them by my own expectations but rather to give them room to grow in whatever direction their lives took them. It was here that I committed to each child to let go when the time was right. On this warm August day in 2016, tears flowed down my cheeks as I remembered the small children whose hands I once held on this bridge. They were not sad tears, but rather the tears of nostalgia that parents sometimes feel when reminiscing about the years when their children were small. After a few minutes, I gradually released my memories and let them flow gently downstream with my tears.
All of my children are grown up now with families of their own. Each has taken his or her own path, and I am proud of the individual choices they have made, the wonderful adults they have become, and the ways that they are now raising their own children. Before leaving the bridge, I looked upstream and wondered about the future. I do not know what is coming down the stream, but I am looking forward to this unknown adventure with anticipation.