Tag Archives: Traveling in South Dakota

He Who Owns Us

My Mini Tatanka, a treasure found at a favorite second hand shop in Belle Fourche.

My Mini Tatanka, a treasure found at a favorite second hand shop in Belle Fourche.

For the next few posts, I will be writing about my latest trip to South Dakota. Rather than start from the beginning, I have chosen to work backwards, so that in effect, the posts will read (hopefully) in chronological order once completed. I don’t know if this will actually make reading them more enjoyable, but since the return trip is freshest on my mind, I begin with this story.

It always seems to rain when it’s time to say good-bye.  I try to remember back to childhood.  Did it rain every time my grandparents finished their summer visit?  And there is a tradition in my family that no road trip to South Dakota would be complete without Mother Nature hurling her most creative weather concoctions at us as we rocket down the parched and patched roads.
My sister and I left Belle Fourche on a cloudy morning, my car so loaded with “treasures” that we could only see out the side mirrors.  Traveling this way makes some nervous, but we’ve done it so often that after looking at the pile of bags, coolers, boxes, and assorted furniture crammed into my SUV, we just shrugged, laughed, and started the ignition.  My parents were depressed to see us go, and as we prolonged our farewells, rain clouds stacked up in the sky.  I noted this but said nothing of my observation about rain and families splitting.  I volunteered to drive first so that I would be less likely to pout in the car.  I did not want to leave.  South Dakota had seeped into my bones and was coursing through my blood.  I burned with the fever of wanting to return to the dreamscape –Black Hills Spruce, impossible geography, and frosty creeks  hiding gold flecks — all muted the outside world.

 

The Al's Oasis sign at Oacoma, with the legendary buffalo mascot.

The Al’s Oasis sign at Oacoma, with the legendary buffalo mascot.

We made small talk in the car and let the conversation twist down whatever trail seemed appropriate.  On Interstate 90 east of Rapid City, I looked up into the sky to gauge the probability of a storm and saw an enormous bison in profile, charging majestically across his cloud prairie.  Tatanka, or He Who Owns Us, according to the Lakota language, demanded our full attention above the horizon.  The literal translation of Tatanka is buffalo bull, but the meaning of the name — He Who Owns Us — implies the Lakota’s great reverence for the king of the Plains. Legend and tradition ingrained through generations has made the bison a permanent central character defining life in South Dakota.  Symbolizing the sacredness and abundance of life on the Plains, the bison is not owned by any person.  Instead, we who walk the earth are owned by him, who has sustained us.

 

It was difficult to keep my eyes on the road; the Tatanka cloud was practically mesmerizing.  Within minutes it morphed into a smaller bison, maybe a cow, and soon it was strolling slowly with its humped back framed against a bluebird sky.  By the time we reached Wall, the cloud had changed once again, breaking apart to become the wispy face of an old bull, staring down as we passed the cemetery like a great sentinel watching over his vast domain.  Tatanka certainly owned us that day as we wallowed in the bittersweet memories of our adventure.

The next day we left South Dakota in the early afternoon.  It was raining.  As I said, it always rains when I have to say good-bye.  The clouds, a reflection of my breaking heart, streamed quiet wet tears down the canvas of the sky.  They swirled above and around, creating the impression that we were enclosed under a great inverted bowl of steel blue wool.  A few tears escaped from behind my sunglasses and I brushed them off my cheeks quickly.  Suddenly Tatanka appeared one last time, humped up and riding the cloud bank shot through with lightning, reminding me to keep my aching heart strong and wait for the next time I would return to South Dakota.  The question is, can I hold out?

~G

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So Things Got a Little Weird…

A trip to South Dakota usually involves some level of weirdness.  My family is pretty eccentric.  We do things differently and while it’s easy to predict that there will be weirdness happening during a visit back home, we just don’t know exactly what the weirdness will be.  So, I have compiled a list of  bizarre happenings during this year’s trip to South Dakota.

5.  Being on a week-long Prednisone regimen as a migraine preventative during the trip.  Nothing inherently strange about this, except that the major side effect was my insatiable urge to break into spontaneous song and dance in public locations, much like the Leland Palmer character in Twin Peaks.  I performed ABBA’s Dancing Queen using over-sized salt shakers and crispy corn dogs as microphones in roadside restaurants, and shimmied down grocery store aisles to Prince’s Little Red Corvette, much to the mortification of my children.  I’m fine now, absolutely NO urge to sing or dance now that the Prednisone is safely out of my system.

4.  Speaking of Twin Peaks: this totally random and un-staged reference to the show mesmerized me  in the guest room at my parents’ place.

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Paging Killer Bob…

3.  Speaking of random: A visit to the Porter Sculpture Park outside of Montrose, South Dakota.  The sculpture park is a remnant from my childhood.  Originally, sculptures were dreamed up and assembled in St. Lawrence, South Dakota.  As a small child, I would walk the two or three blocks on a loose gravel road from my grandparents’ house to the Porter workshop to stare in wonder at skeletal dragons delicately sniffing daisies and giant goldfish escaping a massive silver bowl.

 

IMG_0088My favorite was always The Ballerina, a naked woman made of tiny metal tiles, kneeling on a platform, scooping up some of her loose tiles with a little broom and dustpan.  There is something both wistful and majestic about her, like she is mourning her loose tiles.  Seeing her on the vast South Dakota prairie was incredible.

We also looked at the giant Bull Head, an amazing structure that hides some rather weird and mystical secrets inside.  Bats, snakes, and demons are assembled inside the enormous structure.  My husband commented as we strolled away, “Does it strike you as a bit Satanic?”  The artist is an interesting fellow — friendly and all about providing tourists with an unusual experience.  He accused my husband of being a Canadian when Van turned down a complimentary post tour Hershey’s Kiss, and he offered to perform a Gypsy blessing on our SUV.  It was the best tourist attraction we’ve ever visited!

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The Bull Head monument at the Porter Sculpture Park, Montrose, SD.

2.  Driving across a surreal South Dakota prairie, post October 2013 Blizzard.  I embraced the opportunity to spend time on some of South Dakota’s less known highways and found myself in areas devastated by last October’s blizzard, which killed tens of thousands of cattle.  I was simply in awe of what the weather left behind.  Instead of clear evidence of the devastation and death, there was nothing but rolling plain upon rolling plain of emerald green, yardstick tall grass, the likes of which I had never seen on the prairie in my years of living in South Dakota.  The cattle that had survived looked fat and slick as they grazed next to plump antelope.  Horses were up to their bellies in grasses, and they appeared to be swimming as they loped across pastures swaying like water.  The killing blizzard and harsh winter with heavy, lasting snows had left an abundance of  food and energy on the prairie for all that had survived, with no mention or apology for the price that had been paid for the shining beauty rolling before us.  It was a strange feeling to know and understand the harshness of the land.

1.  An early Father’s Day gift for Dad: a visit from the American Pickers!  Okay, so it wasn’t the actual Pickers, and I have no real proof of this happening.  But why would I make this up?  So a producer from the show American Pickers contacted me because last year I signed my parents up for a visit (you can do that on the show’s Website).  My parents are hoarders and they live in an 80 year old school = perfect material for the show.  Anyway, a producer from the show contacted me and said he wanted to visit the school to see what Dad had available for the guys to *pick*.  So, using my natural charm and communication skills, I did what I could to make things happen, and the crew (not the actual Pickers – sorry, I realize this is not as cool as I want it to sound) came to scope out the school and interview Dad.  I wasn’t actually there at the time.  I have no proof to back up my story.  I have nothing to indicate that anything exciting even happened, but Dad was really happy that he got to meet a friendly T.V. producer, give a tour of the school, and possibly have a return visit from the Pickers.  It made his day.

And these still weren’t the weirdest things that have ever happened during a trip to South Dakota.

— G

 

 

 

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