I am hoping when I say "Dakota" by Kathleen Norris most of you know what I am talking about. When her book came out in 1993 it was a 'must read' for everyone who lived out here on the prairies. Norris went on to write many more books that dealt with spiritual matters that came out of the time she spent with the Benedictine monks at Richardton ND and at Collegeville MN. She equated the prairie life with the solitary life of the monastics and she wasn't far wrong.
She lived for a number of years with her husband in Lemmon SD which is part of the territory of my families in South Dakota. Her book mentions Bison where Dad grew up and also many of the little post offices in the surrounding area -- Meadow, Chance, Thunder Hawk. A friend of mine who grew up in Lemmon when Norris was living there said people spoke of her with some skepticism because even though her grandmother had lived there for years and her mother and even she herself had visited there from time to time, she was not part of the life of the community. She was always an outsider. Having grown up in Hawaii and New York City her realm of reality was far different than the folks in Lemmon. They always wondered about her and her husband.
Norris is a poet and so much of her writing of prose sounds more like poetry. Her description of the cold weather in February -- "I walk downtown, wearing a good many of the clothes I own, keeping my head down and breathing through several thicknesses of a wool scarf. A day so cold it hurts to breathe. Spring seems far off, impossible, but it is coming." In her book she also explores the culture of small towns. Writing at the time of the farm crisis, she describes the pain the ranching families have gone through and something of the unreality of the idea that if they work hard enough they can make their life succeed. Her words make you feel the pain of the rural families and their struggle to survive.
There is also the pain of knowing you can never belong in that place. It takes several generations of living there before you can really be a part. She mentions how professional people like teachers, doctors, pastors and others are always labeled and the line is, "I wonder how long they will stay here." Our sense being that if they were really good at what they did they wouldn't want to stay here in this place we call home.
Her understanding of the pain we prairie dwellers feel, the isolation we experience, and the sense of insecurity are all intertwined with the resilience, the strength and the great love we all feel for the land.
DAKOTA is a book to be read slowly, to be savored, and
then perhaps read again to grasp the poetry and the depth of the author's understanding of the prairies.
We have had an abundance of rain this month. July and August are predicted to be hot and dry so we will soak up all we can right now. Enjoy the view.
For years my mother’s favorite picture has hung in our home — “The Prairie is my Garden” by South Dakota artist Harvey Dunn. The painting is of a prairie wife outside their sod house, her two children playing at her feet, and her arms are full of wild flowers. Growing up on the western prairies of South Dakota, my mother, a rancher’s daughter, would gather wild flowers for the rural cemeteries in their neighborhood and place them on the graves of neighbors, family and friends. When we were growing up she taught us to watch for the crocus to come in the early spring and then later identified the gumbo lilies and the blossoms on the prickly pear.
Today (June 8th) I was out in Makoshika Park. Because of the abundant rains we have enjoyed, the prairies are alive with delicate wild flowers — yellows, whites, purple, blue and the prairie rose which figured in the narratives of Lewis and Clark. You must not miss this Spring in the park. The flowers will not stay around long.
Dr. Bob Hiatt, long time Makoshika scholar, mentored many of the community in the hidden glories of our park. The wild flowers were one such glory. He documented over thirty years of varieties of birds and flowers. He often said that rain would make the difference in what you would see over the years. Some flowers seem to store their seeds. In dry years the flowers would not grow, but give them a little rain and they will come forth in their best colors.
When I was out today I noticed the buzzards riding high on the air currents. The last time I saw them was last summer sitting in a couple of trees in the Dawson County Cemetery. That was a bit eerie, but I have pictures to prove it.
Buzzard Day has been celebrated in Glendive a long time and is a special way to get out in the Park and enjoy its beauties. As children, when our families would picnic in the park, it was a time to hike down the coulees, across the flats and imagine all kinds of wonderful adventures. In those early days when part of the Park was still BLM land we would find an occasional cattle herd grazing quietly. The McCarty cabin, now being refurbished, has a wonderful view down the coulee and across to town.
Obviously I can’t climb around like I once did, but it is a joy to hear other young folks talk about the badlands, hiking, picnicking and just enjoying listening to the wind blow through the pine trees. I do appreciate the fact that more and more people are enjoying the park and even traveling just to visit it. Even more to me is that thought that it has been here for millions of years. Paleo-anthropologists have found evidence of early man in this region as well as the dinosaurs. And if the dinosaurs had never been here, we would still have a place of quiet and peace on our doorstep.
Make the prairie your garden this year.
It was a good week-end and I am just coming down off the high of great-niece's graduation -- Abigail from Central High School in Cheyenne Wyoming. What a treat from beginning to end -- I started off with lunch with high school friend, Judy Haas Broeder. We talked and talked some more and covered everything from politics to health, to religion, to family and laughed and loved all over again as we do each time we get together. Friday evening after graduation Margy and Cole hosted a picnic for us at the park in Cheyenne (Abby's folks). The wind did not cooperate, but we had time for visits and pictures and much love passed between us all. Then breakfast with Paul and Karen Everett. Paul and I worked together for 9 years at Zion Lutheran in Glendive. Besides being a good friend, a co-worker in ministry, he was my mentor in the faith and taught me all the basics of what it means to be a pastor "to the flock". Iced tea on the front porch at cousin Lisa's was more laughter and love. Her dad is my cousin and the "patriarch" of the family. She, her husband and kids all have a good friendship with Cole and Margy.
The prairies from Glendive to Cheyenne were "golf course" green and the temperature was sublime. Margy saw the Yiddish Food Festival was at the Synagogue in Cheyenne on Sunday so we went over. The food, especially pastries were wonderful, then there was a clyzmer band which was straight out of "Fiddler on the Roof" and then some classic folk dances.
Abby had members of both her families there so that was fun as well. On Sunday we worshiped at Ascension Lutheran Church in Cheyenne. They had a coffee for graduates so Abby was one of the guests. It was good to see the family as they are a part of the worshiping congregation and the Pastor, Wes Aardahl, is an old friend from Zion in Glendive where he grew up and our parents were friends. Small world.
Now some pictures: