On the whole, our circumstances here at the South Dakota State Historical Society Press are not much like those of Laura Ingalls. We do, it’s true, work in a building cut into the side of a hill, and oxen could easily wander over the roof, supposing there were any oxen around. But we all felt a little closer to her two weeks ago, when we experienced our very own prairie fire.
As you can see, our parking lot is being rebuilt, and the fire began with some sparks from a machine cutting metal. From its humble beginnings the fire took off downwind, devouring the drought-parched natural prairie grasses that make up our front lawn. (While we evacuated the building, the statue, Dale Lamphere’s Citadel, regarded the threat with more or less equanimity.)
As Ma says with relief in On the Banks of Plum Creek (p. 275), “there is nothing in the world so good as good neighbors,” and presently our good neighbors arrived in the form of the Pierre Volunteer Fire Department.
They extinguished the fire in a few minutes. It did no damage to the stone face of our building but scarred the earth impressively. And yet only two weeks later, green shoots are in evidence on the burned ground. Even so late in the season, the miniature prairie ecosystem is working to restore itself.
It’s a sight that might have given Laura Ingalls, and all those who have experienced danger and disappointment on the prairie, hope for the future.
But we’re keeping an eye out for grasshoppers just the same.