Lalley: Growth and development from a precarious point of view
The wisdom and folly of east-side squirrels. Or, how I learned to love the crane.
SIOUX FALLS — A black squirrel clutched the high branches of a leafless maple tree in downtown Sioux Falls, somewhere just east of the Big Sioux River, nibbling at the few nutritious buds left from fall.
The sky held the sullen gray of winter. A chill breeze was building from the northwest as a monstrous military transport plane rumbled low over the city before pulling up and banking left for another practice round.
The squirrel slid further out on the branch, introducing a bit more chance to the day’s equation.
South Dakota squirrels are a cautious bunch by nature, but the general scarcity of winter requires more risk than one may generally be comfortable.
They also tend to be more fatalistic than expected.
“Could be worse,” the squirrel thought, as he took in the current circumstances. “Could be worse.”
Suddenly, there came a rustling from below, the unmistakable skittering of sharp claws on frozen bark.
A familiar orange face poked into the space where two branches broke from the trunk of the big maple.
“Hey George!” the orange squirrel chattered from below.
“Huh boy,” the black squirrel said to himself. “It just got worse.”
It’s not that George didn’t like Billy. It’s just that he was so — how to say it — enthusiastic.
“Hey buddy. What a day, huh?” Billy said, pulling himself up to a nearby branch, as it bobbed up and down slowly from the added 12 ounces dangling on the end.
“Could be worse,” George said, trying not to engage too fully.
“Would you look at that,” said Billy.
“Look at what?”
“All those cranes. It’s amazing how much construction there is downtown.”
George had been looking east, out over the modest homes and narrow streets of the city. He was thinking about warmer, greener days. Simple pleasures of sun and seeds and nuts. Of leafy protection of a summer canopy.
“It’s a lot,” he said, looking over his shoulder at the condos, offices and parking ramps lifting up from the river bank, tower cranes casting an eerie, mechanical silhouette against the dull sky.
“Sioux Falls is such a great place to live, so much growth and prosperity,” Billy continued. “Did you hear the news about all the growth last year? Almost $2 billion in building permits and another 6,000 residents. Amazing?
“I don’t know Billy. Growth for growth’s sake isn’t necessarily a good thing. It can all implode, driven by larger macro-economic forces and geopolitical realities. Inflation at home. War in Europe.”
“You’re such a pessimist.”
“I’m a realist.”
“Well, the reality is that if you aren’t growing you’re dying, George. Don’t you remember what it was like down here 20 years ago?”
“No. Squirrels don’t live that long.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, yeah. I read.”
“Look at this place,” Billy said, waving his little orange arm in a purposeful gesture that suggested grandeur.
“Yes, I see it. Construction. What a miracle.”
“Seriously, why do you hate life?”
“I don’t hate life. But I worry. This city is great and I really like it here. But one of its great benefits is that it’s stable. Maybe it’s the general isolation or the sensibility of its people, but we don’t get the boom and bust. This looks like a boom, which makes me worry about the bust.”
“That’s just economics. The natural rise and fall. The invisible hand and all that.”
“Sometimes the invisible hand punches you in the face.”
Billy thought about what George said, his little orange face scrunched up in thought.
The two squirrels hung in the silence of the moment.
The military transport came in low for another run. “That’s not Adam Smith,” Billy said after the rumbling passed. “Who said that?”
“I think it was Mike Tyson.”