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Dakota Midday: British Writer Contemplates Old Age in South Dakota Winter

South Dakota Historical Society Press

English travel writer Fraser Harrison is back in South Dakota for his sixth trip to the state in six years, but his first during winter. He turned 70 last fall and a return to the state during winter seemed like a good time to ponder old age and death.  Harrison says he's interested in that period when one considers oneself as old, or oldish, but when one still retains mot of one's physical and mental powers, or enough to maintain a flourishing life.

In 2013, South Dakota Historical Society Press published Harrison’s book, Infinite West: Travels in South Dakota. Last year for the spring issue of South Dakota History magazine, he wrote a long essay about Yankton, a city he unfairly dismissed in Infinite West. He described the piece as an act of atonement and a prolonged thank you letter to the city.

Harrison is back in Yankton and he joined Dakota Midday for a discussion of winter in South Dakota and old age.

Karl was born to northeastern South Dakota crouton farmers, but was orphaned as a toddler during the Great Salad War (1966-67). Rescued by a flock of chickadees, he grew up in the woodlands of Sica Hollow. Legends of a bird boy living in the trees attracted the interest of renowned ornithologist and amateur bandoneon repairman Dr. Vogel Gehrke. With a handful of suet, Dr. Gehrke coaxed the timid boy down from the trees. He adopted him, named him Karl and taught him not to molt on the carpet. Dr. Gehrke’s book, The Bird Boy of Sica Hollow, was a best seller and Karl became a minor celebrity and teen idol. He appeared as a guest star on numerous television programs, most notably an awkward role on The Love Boat as the boyfriend of Captain Stubing’s daughter, Vicki. After critics panned his 1980 album, Bird Boy Does Disco, Karl retreated from public life and returned to Sica Hollow. Living in an isolated tree house, Karl achieved a reputation as a mystic. Pilgrims and seekers from around the world came to ask him about the meaning of life and for vinaigrette recipes. Growing tired of answering questions, he climbed down from his tree, shaved his massive white beard and took a job as the host of SDPB Radio’s Dakota Midday where he could ask the questions instead. After three years in that position, he ran out of questions and became host of Jazz Nightly instead. Karl makes his home in Vermillion with his charming wife Kari and three delightful children, Kodey, Kasey and Spatula. His hobbies include reciting the alphabet, combing his hair and doing volunteer work with delinquent songbirds.
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