The Beautiful Black Hills

September 9, 2011 § 2 Comments

So we went to the Black Hills. This family vacation had been talked about for probably two or three years before we were able to make it happen. We missed each other so much this time around – especially me, stranded way out here in the Wild West – so my sister and mother and I started talking about it in mid-winter and with great determination and schedule-manipulating succeeded in gathering the family for a week of fun. Hooray!

All Midwest kids, it seems, go to see The Four Faces at some point. It’s a classic family vacation. We went when I was about ten, all us kids leggy and curious and adventurous. We were all at getting-along ages and we remembered it as The Best Vacation Ever. So what would it be like now that we’re all adults?

It turned out to be fabulous.

(Note: my sis and her husband John get the credit for all these photos, since I’d let my battery die half the time and failed to live up to my tentative new photographer identity. Thanks, Elena and John! You are stars.)

One of the days was wonderfully cool and overcast, so it was a good day for driving through Custer State Park. Everyone fell in love with the place. I felt somehow both giddy and content, wearing a fleece and drinking coffee and wandering around when we stopped to explore, as we tend to do.

We made friends with the buffalo (I know, bison, but nobody says that).

We made even better friends with the “beggin’ burros.” Everyone else seemed afraid to get out of the car. We weren’t. The burros liked us a lot.

We climbed and climbed and climbed on rocks! Needles Highway was especially exciting.

One of the days we went to Bear Country USA, which I didn’t remember as having so many animals, and especially so many bears, and best of all, baby bears wrestling to their hearts’ content. I wanted to cuddle one. Like a lot. Dad said to my sister and me, “That’s why these rails are really here. It’s not to keep the cubs in – it’s to keep people like you out!” Yeah . . . good point.

Part of me always feels a little uncomfortable with wild animals in human-controlled spaces, a.k.a. captivity, but here’s a fact I learned while there: the life expectancy of a bear doubles in captivity (20-40 years) as opposed to in the wild (10-20 years). Wow.

Then there was Crazy Horse, and of course Mount Rushmore – it is awesome how close they let you get to Mount Rushmore now.

I have to admit that part of me isn’t totally sure about all this business of  humans manipulating nature (with dynamite!) to make what we perceive as important art. I can’t help it – I studied these sorts of things in college. Still, we humans also manipulate nature to grow food, to plant flower gardens and orchards, to make towns and cities and recreation areas, which are other perhaps more benign yet also, in their own way, artistic projects, many of them good. I don’t have a stance to take, but it’s something to consider: what is our right as human beings in this place? What is the right of the place itself?

At both of the mountain carvings, I find myself nudged towards contemplation: about the past, about politics, about purpose and perception. Something to visit, for sure! Dare to think. Conclude what you will.

Some days, we were just content hanging out at the campgrounds. We loved our locations (we stayed at two different places), our tent site, our cabin, the pool, and the view. And oh, boy, especially the bounce pad at the second campground! Usually tiny little kids were all over it, but one afternoon it happened to be empty and our family of grown-ups had a grand old time. 

Of course, we ate splendidly. But that will get a post all its own. Stay tuned.

The best of all of this, of course, was being with each other. It felt like each minute had to be hung onto, fully savored, noted in the mind and heart. Family. We are not perfect but we belong with each other, we love each other, and things are just better when we are close by.

The second best thing was the beauty of that country. It somehow felt familiar and yet wild. In so many places the trees and the rocks made shadow and quiet, the way they came together on the landscape. The open meadows had us all catching our breath, and then breathing more deeply, that clean air and the wind all in our ears. “How beautiful. It’s just so beautiful,” my mother kept saying.

It was.

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