Racing along Wyoming grasslands and South Dakota forest boundary with sun setting to my left, the full moon rising to my right, breaking over multiple, distant grass covered, raised earthen shelves and sand cliffs; fence posts, and glistening barbed wire. Stopped abruptly to capture the moon on digital film, another car on the other side stopped to watch the sun set, clouds on fire on the horizon, burning yellow, orange, and eventually deep red.
Winding up and round into the Black Hills, North bound on HW85. Peaked at more than 6,000 feet, the temperature quickly dropped from the high fifties to 43F. The scent of pine entering my car through the fresh air laden vents. A camp fire at canyon bottom, river side camp ground invoked a smile as I assumed someone was also melting chocolate and marsh mellows between graham crackers.
Twisting round and round, down the canyon, the trees rising higher, split only for moments by white sand cliffs and small open fields whose condensation touched blades of grass reflected the full moon light. I raced by in my Subaru pulling hard around corners, remembering to accelerate, not brake. A good challenge, to program a physiological response to the opposite of that which is autonomous and seemingly logical.
At the intersection of HW85 and Alt14 which splits left to Spearfish, my birth place, and right to Lead, I noticed a hand painted, carved wooden sign showcasing cabins and tent sites. Were it not for anti-lock breaks, I would have enjoyed a brief spin as I turned hard to the left and applied ample pressure to the brake pedal, returning to the cabin property and entry. I dimmed my headlights and drove nearly silently deeper into the compound, in search of the camp host.
At the very back, where a single mercury vapor yard lamp illuminated a small portion of the property, I noted an open interior door through which the screen door cast warmer yellow light to the walkway. Inside, I tripped over a pair of sandals, entry rug, and nearly fell on to the dog who was too tired (or old) to take notice. The woman at the counter seemed pleased to rent a cabin at that late hour and I was thrilled to find something so perfectly situated at the bottom of the canyon where I was born, on the creek whose unique babble I believe I can recognize from any other in the world. Shallow, even, crisp, and over large, moss covered and smooth fist to head-sized boulders which dislodge once in a while and tumble just once or twice, emitting the deep reverberation of a small underwater collision.
The single room cabin greeted me with the flicker of a flame in the corner gas stove and the wonderful smell of untreated pine. Not one square inch was left without raw wood. The ceiling too covered in tongue-n-groove. I pressed my thumbnail into a piece to demonstrate that it was neither preserved with lacquer, stain, nor even water seal. Just pine. I could not help but smile, for the aroma of that wonderful wood has that effect on me.
I walked to the other side of the drive, plastic fork and kung-pow tofu delight from Wild Oats in hand, purchased in Fort Collins five hours earlier. I erected an overturned lawn chair just inches from the edge of Spearfish Creek, tightened my fleece jacket, and ate.
And then I listened and watched. Even at 10 pm, by the light of the single yard lamp mixed with the rising moon (which just broke the tree tops of the canyon walls, given me the opportunity to watch it rise twice in one night), I could easily enjoy both the surface and submerged features of the creek. Sticks, leaves, and other natural debris swiftly moved by.
I was briefly reminded of Siddhartha’s exploration of his world and the man who lived by the river, surviving, even thriving on what it randomly delivered. I wondered how long I would sit there before the river would bring something to me.
And then I felt more than I did hear something move behind me. When I turned, two white tail deer had crossed half of the yard, now perfectly and fully illuminated by the yard lamp. The lead deer stared at me, attempting to determine who or what I was, its ears moving as radar dishes concerned for enemy approach.
I retracted my eye contact and slowly turned away again, hoping it would not panic. To my surprise, the deer sneezed, it’s head bobbed vertically. It stopped, moved its front hoof forward and then back again, and sneezed even louder. At this, the both turned and bounded back to the roadside.
It appears they are not interested in my zesty tofu.