A River Runs through It

Last night on the road. My. Last. Night.

I’m just about half an hour outside of Missoula Montana, and it is as beautiful as you can imagine. Route 90 pipes down and winds along the Clark Fork river and the mountains are close and sagey, soft looking. Even though there are still hours of light, I pulled off before 6:00 at the Bear Creek State Park and grabbed a site before I got to that point of perpetual-motion sickness I felt last night. There are just under seven hours to go tomorrow, which is a good three or more less than I’ve been averaging.

I can still hear the highway, but I don’t really care. I have earplugs and that white noise has been ever present day in and out since I set out four days ago. And it might slack off over night.

This morning, I woke at dawn, and it was windy and cold as it had been all night. As I was about half an hour from Devil’s Tower, I decided to get on the road right away and check it out. I am completely in love with that place!

It says a lot about this culture that anyone would name that place Devil’s anything. It is a compellingly majestic and benevolent structure. She–for surely it is a She, a manifestation of Panchamama, Gaia, Mother Earth–rises up into view as you drive west on route 14, appearing and disappearing with each turn if the road. She has one face going west and another going east.

I stopped on the road and took Her picture from each angle and in the rapidly changing light, first under drizzly clouds, later against deep blue with a backdrop of cumulus. None of them captures her exquisite beauty. At Her feet are furrowed fields in alternating arcs of green and brown or pastures blazing with fragrant yellow ground cover.

I felt, gazing upon Her on my eastbound trip back to the highway the way I’d felt in Peru. As if I was under Her spell and could have sat on the grassy golden roadside at Her feet all day.

Native people have many names for Her, and She is a sacred site marking a variety of ceremonial uses. The local tribes ask climbers to refrain from scaling her 1267 feet in the month of June when many sacred ceremonies are held such as vision quests and the Lakota Sun Dance on the solstice. I felt especially blessed to receive Her benediction on this last day of June at the end of my own journey into renewal.

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Devil’s Tower, Divine Grace

I’m sitting at a picnic table at Reuter’s Campground in Sundance Wyoming, a short distance from Devil’s Tower (of Close Encounters’ fame) and about 11 hours from Austin MN which I left at 8:00 this morning.

I was seduced again by the slipping backward of the clock one hour somewhere in South Dakota. That and the bright sunlight that said “too early to stop,” so I kept on, waiting for a clear sign to call it a day.

Despite the first stand alone Starbucks the exit past Mt Rushmore that felt like a long lost friend and where I cashed in on a free drink, a grande latte with an extra shot, my body mind connection was decidedly starting to misfire. It’s a funny thing how it starts to go, I could and did continue driving, but talking on the phone, once to a new work colleague and once to a job candidate showed me the cracks.

My desire to avoid another night in a motel and resistance to commercial RV campgrounds pushed me on. At the sign for Sundance, with its historical and pop culture resonance, I pulled into a rest area, parked under a tree and sat on the grass with my phone and the fairly useless Michelin atlas I bought on Amazon Prime back in PA. Between them, I found the Black Hills National Forest with its tiny tent symbols on the map and the Web page on my phone that listed Reuter’s Campground. Google Maps said it was 17 minutes away and was first come, first served. I set out with a prayer on my lips.

I pulled in behind a large camper bearing a D for Deutschland sticker on its bumper and waited for the host, Laura, to register me and collect my ten bucks. I was so grateful that I literally had tears in my eyes.

It’s good to land somewhere, and when it’s below a lupine and pine covered slope with the sun slanting through on its way down to the other side of the world, cool and quiet and only marginally populated, that is a blessing.

There’s a whole other post about passing through South Dakota and this bit of Wyoming, the great grasslands and the badlands with their shameful commodification and negation of the First People’s history and obliteration. Custer this and cowboy that. I saw the great nation in my mind’s eye, the great hoop of Black Elk’s vision as the land rolled out in the four directions and above and below without end.