Like change in headlights

As I was getting into my car today after work, something caught my eye – a deer, bounding through the residential area, past the neighboring spa and through several back yards. There were no antlers, so I assume it was female. It looked frightened, yet free – as if it was escaping the humdrum of suburban life, frantically running from television and pavement and man-made lakes.

It ran north through several more yards, crossed 69th Street, and faded into a new development.

It made me think. Just five years ago, most of the land south of 69th Street was fields. Farm land or, better yet, the pure plains that existed before any of us did. It was the dead outskirts of town, the bare minimum of civilization; worms, birds, grass and deer.

Now, it’s city. It’s the center of growth in one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. We aren’t seeing the end of Sioux Falls at 69th Street anymore – we’re looking out to 85th. And beyond.

For some of us, it’s natural. We’re a bustling city, expanding at will, devouring the land around us like a flesh-eating virus. There’s no need to move up when we can just as easily move out – bigger, wider, further away from the center of town and, in essence, further away from the town we used to be.

Sioux Falls is a city, though, not a town. At least, now it is. Our growth has been beneficial, but the stretch marks remain – the scar of no cross-town route through our city’s center, the increase in crime, the bleak forecast for north-central Sioux Falls and the ugly thoroughfares that have been driven into disrepair. For every Southeastern Drive there’s a bleak, over power-lined Cliff Avenue; for every Phillips to the Falls there’s seven empty downtown buildings.

We look around and realize that our city is no longer what we thought it was. Classes are becoming more divided, neighbors more disconnected. Traffic worse, life faster, commutes longer and businesses more competitive.

When I think of how much Sioux Falls has grown around me in my short 28-year stay, I can’t imagine what someone who settled here in the 1950s thinks. For better or worse, this is no longer the town they arrived at. These aren’t the same streets. The same values. The same friendly wave across the way. Life has progressed, and Sioux Falls has progressed with it. It happens everywhere; this is no different.

Sioux Falls is still a great city. It’s clean, it’s respectful, and while it’s set back in it’s thinking, it’s still varied and somewhat diverse, considering the area of the country we’re in.

But it’s hard to think of that deer and not commiserate with her, staring around at what was once familiar, bounding away, discovering that the place you grew up is no longer the same. You lose yourself in trying to find your way back, until the realization alights: the way back is no longer there. And when that happens, the only thing we can do is hope we haven’t gotten so lost we can’t find our way back to the present.

This was lovingly handwritten on November 21st, 2007