A man accidentally starts a fire in Lyman County while repairing a vehicle. He keeps working and drinking beer while the smoke rises behind him.
Christians find refuge from the hardships of life in a roadside abbey in Grant County, and a man finds paradise on Big Stone Lake.
A rancher threatens to sue the Fall River County Weed and Pest Board over a prairie dog infestation, which she also claims is not happening.
There is the wide sky, the vastness of the plains, the fertile life that only South Dakota can offer.
These are the stories, tributes, and reflections of South Dakota in Chris Vondracek’s new book, Rattlesnake Summer.
For years, Vondracek, a former Rapid City Journal reporter and a graduate of the University of South Dakota, wrote “Rattlesnake Summer,” a book of poetry highlighting all 66 counties in the state. The book was published last month and is available online.
Vondracek hopes the pieces will give the South Dakotans a sense of home as they trace the life of the South Dakotans and explore the landscapes of the state.
“Hopefully it will present South Dakota in a new way,” said Vondracek. “These are places we all know, or maybe we don’t know they are in our state … It’s the idea of putting these things in a new light.”
It took him less than a year to travel to each district between 2017 and 2018, but it was another two years before he had his poems revised and rewritten into what he believed was really the state in his view reflected.
Vondracek is a retired English professor and poet who traveled with Rock Garden Tour, a radio show and band from South Dakota. He also toured the state as a reporter for a legal intelligence service, drawing inspiration from court cases, court documents, and interviews he had as a journalist.
“Lawsuits are wonderful texts and documents, and I find that there is often a story of human drama hidden beneath legalistic language,” he said.
Vondracek grew up in Wells, Minnesota and has family ties in southeast South Dakota. While the 36-year-old poet now lives in urban Washington DC as a reporter for the Washington Times, he wanted to write poetry about rural areas “about places I really loved most,” he said.
The book is not just a tribute to South Dakota – not full of nostalgia or emotion. He originally planned to focus the poems on the 2017 drought, but changed them to be more representative of the entire state.
Some poems were written in the margin of his reporter’s notebook after a source was interviewed for an article. Some were about West River, others about East River. All revolved around South Dakota.
The title, “Rattlesnake Summer” is an inside joke, and while it’s a book of separate poems that can be read individually, it can also be read as a whole. It starts in summer and moves through the seasons with recurring characters, observations from Vondracek, and back to summer time in South Dakota a year later.
“I love the feeling of reading South Dakota Magazine, and that’s the same feeling I want people to read,” said Vondracek. “People will sink on the couch and read these poems and they will see themselves in this place and somehow find their experience of this state enriched.”