Years ago I remember my Mom telling me about a moment in her life -- it was one of those "Just now, right now" moments of breathless reality. She was out horseback riding to gather in the cattle. There was still a lot of unfenced range and she had to go a ways to get them in for her Dad. She described how she put the horse into a gallop. As she was flying along with the horse, her thought was, "This is the life for me." It was total freedom.
I had some of that same feeling yesterday. I was out north of town visiting some dear friends. We have known each other for many years. She was my high school English teacher and he was a member of my congregation when I was pastoring. We always have good visits and I think there is a genuine bond between us.
We talk around the counter with a cup of coffee or tea in our hands and the subjects range from politics to history to what it was like to live years ago on the prairies. I can share stories my parents told me and he enjoys them because he lived those days.
We are all into politics (and fortunately we agree) so that is a subject we discuss and books and just concerns about life. I always come away energized. It is food for the mind and the soul. Good conversation, i.e., civil discourse, is a little hard to find these days.
As I left their place and headed back to town the sun was setting. It was late afternoon, that time in the winter when the days are still growing shorter. This year our winter on the range has been mild. No snow or moisture of any kind, temperatures in the 30s, 40s and even 50s, some wind, but much blue sky and sunshine. When the sun sets the wind gets cold, but it is still unbelievable. Right now folks are hoping for Christmas travels to be bare and dry at least until everyone gets home safely.
Driving the gravel road that connects with the highway the deer were coming out in the fields. Eight here, six over there. They did not pay much attention to me. Where the sun was hitting the hilltops the land was golden. Beneath that line it was shadow and grays and purples and blues. I just drank it all in. More food for the soul.
We had talked a little about the need we had for open spaces. I know my philosophy of life has been shaped by the big blue skies and the places where you can see for miles in any direction. As I crested the ridge and followed the road down to the pavement I could view the Yellowstone Valley in all its beauty. In that moment I thought of my mother and understood what she meant.
This is a travel blog today as well as just a musing on the fact that it is Memorial Day and I've just had a visit home. Not home, home in Glendive, but rather my ancestral home and a place I spent many happy times with my family.
My mother grew up on a ranch in north western South Dakota, west river country, Perkins County. Her parents were homesteaders from Wisconsin arriving in October of 1912. Mom was the only one of the five children to be born on the ranch. She was schooled in the country schools in the area, attended the church her parents helped to found, was confirmed there and at last married there.
She also taught rural schools for many years in the area so whenever I am out in that country I keep thinking that I am seeing what she saw every day of her young life and what vistas my grandparents had from the time they settled until they died in 1959 and 1965.
It is not barren country. It is open country and there is a big difference between those two words.
After driving from Glendive to Miles City to Broadus where I visited a friend, then along Highway 212 east to Belle Fourche was my journey yesterday. Today I left Belle and headed east toward Faith SD, turning north at a little bump in the road called Mud Butte, SD. There used to be a gas station and small store, now it is a couple of microwave towers.
At Mud Butte you turn north, hit gravel and have seventeen miles to Zeona SD which used to be a store, a gas pump, post office and a place to get some friendly conversation.
Today the church remains. Some years ago the congregation hooked their phone up to the new fiber optics that came through. After years of paying a bill for a phone they never used, they took it out, saying most folks have cell phones now anyway. They leave the church unlocked for passersby who might need shelter. It is a long way between places on the Zeona Road.
My cousin's son and wife, scion of 10 children, have a buffalo ranch further north up the road. Three of their eldest children have formed a singing group called "Zeona Road". They are building a good following in Nashville and around the South Dakota Area. The youngest daughter of the family was named Quilla Zeona, so the name lives on.
I was about an hour early for church so I enjoyed the song of the prairies -- the wind, the birds and the sighing through the grass by the side of the road.
With the wind accompanying me, I walked among the graves for a bit. Beloved and loving, faithful grandparents, two aunts who married two brothers, (the third sister and her husband, also a brother are buried in Spearfish SD), a bachelor cousin, and a bachelor uncle. All precious.
After being welcomed by the church members which included another cousin, we worshiped together, prayed, sang and heard God's word besides sharing the news of the neighborhood -- who was sick, whose funeral was upcoming, who had a new grandchild.
I drove back to Belle, stopping at a roadside cafe in Newell SD -- roast beef sandwich, cottage cheese, and brownie delight ice cream! Also ran into some rain. Much needed this Spring on the prairies.