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Real Runners: Being “The Runner” In Rural South Dakota

Wildlife Awareness

The things that scared me were not human. I almost stepped on a rattlesnake once. I stumbled across many a bull that had escaped from its pasture. One time I saw a mountain lion cross the road. I carried mace for the packs of dogs. In 2014, an 8-year-old girl died from a dog attack in Pine Ridge. A year later, a 49-year-old woman from the neighboring Rosebud Reservation died from a feral pack attack.

But there were nice dogs, too. One time a dog followed from a house at which I had stopped for water and went on to trail me for 8 miles. Worried that the dog wouldn’t be able to find his way back home, my roommate and I drove him back to the house and watched him leap out of the car and race toward the front porch. The next day, the dog was sitting on our porch when we returned from work. We drove him back home. He came back the next day. We drove him back. After a week of this, we knocked on the door of the farmhouse.

“We brought your dog back,” we said. “But he keeps coming back to our house.”

“My dog?” the man who answered the door said. “That’s your dog. I keep driving him to your house, but he keeps coming back!”

The man who drove “my” dog back, the man who took me home when I had heat exhaustion, the people who offered me water–they all extended kindness and cautious invitations to help me continue my pursuit, however strange it seemed to them. My little town bucked the stereotypes associated with rurality—when faced with newness, they adjusted.

Cultures shift and grow, and the Lakota culture has shown a remarkable ability to persist, in both unforgiving times and climates. I’d like to believe that there is a generation of children who have grown up watching “that runner” pass by every day, rain or shine; the same children whose parents allowed them to roll down the car windows and cheer for me.

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