Saturday, March 27, 2010
Sunday, March 14, 2010
THE IDES OF MARCH
The seer was right to warn us,
beware the ides of March.
It’s a dangerous time, peering
through iced windows at the jeweled
tease of crocus and daffodil.
We've weathered another season
of deep-freeze, locked up tight
in muscle and mind. We're tired
of winter’s grey and gritty leftovers.
But this is no time to get careless,
toss a floorboard heater through
the beveled glass and go out,
where Spring flashes her flannel petticoat
embroidered in pinks and greens,
leaves us gaping, breathless,
in air still cold as a knife blade,
stripping off the down.
Friday, March 12, 2010
We arrived at dusk. The Black Hills aren’t really hills; they’re mountains. They’re smallish mountains, foothills of the Rockies really, but compared to 0 feet above sea level at home, Lead/Deadwood’s 4500-5200 feet is certifiably mountainous, dangit. So as we drove through Rapid and started climbing that night it hit us—the unsettling transition that happens when flatlanders meet elevation. The curves and ascents/descents sent us into Acclimation Mode—a period usually lasting a day or two and marked by slight nausea, faint dizziness, shaky legs, and a sudden propensity for swearing. And if it’s winter, and if Jack Blizzard has been particularly puckish that winter, multiply the severity of symptoms by a bazillion.
The undulations of Rapid City itself are okay, because “civilization” can dim one’s awareness of elevation, but my son lives west and north, up and over, up and over, 10 miles from the city limits in a little hilly hamlet. And it isn’t the elevation itself, or even the constant swaying motion of side-to-side driving that does it; it’s the fact that we can’t see what’s ahead. Back home on the plains, we can See.For.Ever. We KNOW what’s coming. If a crazy driver suddenly veers into our lane, say, we can simply choose to ease off the road and let the foolish probably-texting-teen driver whoosh by. And if we slip off the road on ice or snow, we’ll glide gently, almost in slow motion, to rest in a snow-filled shallow ditch, where we can sit in our car, hold hands, and admire the expansive horizon until a kindly neighbor comes along to pull us out.
West river, every fifty feet of driving is a spine-tingling unknown. The “Falling Rock” and “Watch for Bighorn Sheep” signs don’t help, because now we have to navigate turns, avoid the plummet-to-your-death guardrails, pop our ears, pry our hands off the overhead hand-holds, dodge plummeting boulders, and veer around rutting rams (and possibly peacock-pilfering mountain lions)—all in the same split second: rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat. If we slip off the road in the snow or ice in the Hills, they will need the Jaws of Life to pull our mangled, unidentifiable bodies from our compacted car, and that’s only if they can see down far enough to find us, and only if we haven’t landed in a lake or creek. You know those “Why die?” cross signs along the Interstate? They line Black Hills roads like a picket fence.
Okay, slight exaggerations because I’m a total wuss. So Ray and I perfected our Annoying Old People Driving skills on this trip. By white-knuckle driving at a staggering 25 mph, and by calling out sweetly “slow the *&%# down!” whenever Ray was driving, we survived the daily drives to my son’s house, the obligatory Chubby Chipmunk chocolatier run (she now has a truffle vending machine out front—brilliant!) and a quick trip to the slot machines (won then lost $4) in Deadwood, dinner with friends in Spearfish, and the breathtaking drive through Spearfish Canyon, where we continued our family tradition by “baptizing” our new grandson Clyde in Spearfish Creek water.
The real flatland kicker, and a delicious irony, was that as we left the Hills behind and headed home, we found ourselves driving in near-blizzard conditions on I-90. This put the kibosh on our planned drive through the Badlands, and kept us swearing, sweating, and swerving for 7 or 8 hours. We counted a couple dozen cars, trucks, SUVs and semis in the ditches, flipped over, jackknifed, or hitched up to tow trucks between Rapid and Sioux Falls, and there were times when we weren’t sure we were still on the road. Still, I knew that if I could avoid other cars and they would avoid me, sliding would mean a fairly soft landing, and I would SEE it coming. From Sioux Falls to home, the dreary rain, the grey melting snow, and the withered brown corn stubble as far as the eye could see was the most beautiful vista I could imagine.
Don’t get me wrong—I love love love the Black Hills dressed in any color except white. I’ve been all over the country, and still, I once thought my dream life would be teaching English at Black Hills State in Spearfish and maybe living in a cabin on a creek up in the Hills. But I think I’m finally ready to admit that I’m a flatlander. I want that endless horizon. I want to squint and believe I’m looking at Wyoming. Like the song says, don’t fence me in…not even with the breathtaking beauty of the Black Hills.