Saturday, August 20, 2011

Prairie Morning

            There is nothing quite like stepping out in a prairie morning after a night of thunderstorms. The songs of meadow larks ring bright; everything smells clean; and diffuse, cool light makes the grasslands glow.

Cultivated sunflowers near Pine Ridge SD

            Yesterday we drove south and east out of Custer State Park in the Black Hills, destination Badlands National Park. It was a day of car touring across one of the most contested landscapes in post-civil-war history – the Lakota Sioux lands of Pine Ridge. We stopped for lunch in the town of Pine Ridge and spent major time at Wounded Knee. And while a long discourse on the genocide that unfolded there is not my topic today, I urge folks to Google “Wounded Knee” and read for themselves.

            It was a cool and windy day – so cool it was difficult to sit outside more than 20 minutes. Sooty clouds accompanied the entire drive, which in a way was unfortunate, since I’m trying to dry a stack of bolete slices in the car. But the light was gorgeous. East of the Black Hills the land shifts to rolling prairie alternatively cultivated and wild, and the soft blue light turned the panoply of greens, yellows and tans delicious.

Badlands scene

            We got to Badlands in the late afternoon, had one of those meals that makes you think, “Must be tough to have Celiac out here,”  then made a short hike while watching a vast storm circle, pause and pass to the east.

            Methinks this park is not on most visitors’ overnight radar. Accommodations are limited, the campground seems less than 1/2 full and the access roads were quiet all night. If you’re driving to or from the charismatic places – like Yellowstone – you could “do” Badlands as a just-off-I-90 loop, which is, I suspect, the profile of a visitor. Yet the park is a perfect respite for Eastern Urbanites: spacious, quiet and utterly exposed to the sky.
Sunset, Badlands National Park

            It is this last element that defines the prairie for me, the constant, huge and overarching sky. Here we are at the utter mercy of weather. What is up there comes down at us without impediment or consciousness. We must be subjugated by nature, there is no hope of subduing her.

            But enough – the day is cool and bright again and the larks invite me. Enjoy your day, and tune in again (does anybody still know what that idiom means?) soon!

The sky, always the sky.

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