“This must be what heaven looks like.”
“This looks like how you would describe heaven.”
The land rolled out like an ocean all around and in the center as we followed 18/385, first pale cerulean, then steely blue gray, and finally a mass of shadowy sentinels against the stormy sky loomed the Black Hills. Here the land is older than us, all of us that are and were, less so literally than something beyond understandable. They stand finite to our vision field yet infinite, going on and on into somewhere unseen, somewhere too vast to grasp, that place in the half awake, the place that makes no logical sense upon waking but seems just as real if not more so than the awake world. They are distinctly older than creation and will be here long after.
Living and breathing, the hills stand indifferent to us, watching with a note of knowing curiosity but otherwise existing separately and in spite of the people there. The small towns of Hot Springs, Custer, and Deadwood are wonderful, but it is the spirit living in the rocky crags, wide valleys and clusters of pines surrounding them that make the Black Hills beautiful. Spirits from before the plains tribes, the Sioux, spirits from before the settlers, the outlaws, the gold miners. And those latter spirits are there as well, as this is no place you separate from once your fiber becomes intertwined with its, like some great cosmic vine branching in and taking a permanent hold in the foundation you don’t realize makes you in the whole of things. This is a place natural and beyond the natural, a place for spirits and trees, the spiritual and the unseen. A place where every night my dreams came vivid and imbued with heavy symbolism, some understandable, some out of reach, a place where I dreamed of killing a buck with my bare hands and an arrow and he told me as he died It would all be as It should be.
In the bright sunshine, the hills seem formidable and in the hanging fog of an overcast day, ghostly. Silhouetted and preternatural, the hills talked amongst themselves without concern for the invaders, the elk rose their magnificent heads to watch us pass and the bison ignored us completely, all but one. The air hung heavy with spring earthiness and the road rolled with the land, through tunnels, down the pigtail bridges. The light drizzle alternated with the fog and the overwhelming fleetingness of “us” was more apparent than ever as it is in places so infinite. And we were hushed with awe.
And when the day came to leave the Black Hills behind, my heart physically hurt. For all my moves and travels only one place in my life has ever made me tear up when I go for fear I would never see her again and leave me soaked in homesickness before I’m even out of her boundary lines. Thus it came as something of a shock to be overcome with that same heartache leaving a place I’d only seen this once and only briefly, a place that felt irrationally on the surface yet logically deep down like home. And so I found myself craning around as far as possible to look back on a place I’d always wanted to see for myself, a place that has drawn me in since first ever heard of it, and a place so far from here as I write this but no less here at heart.