Pine Ridge

Posted on 3 min read 65 views

There are two parts to the Badlands. A North and a South. The North is full of trails and has the infrastructure of a typical national park. The south is in the Pine Ridge Reservation, and there are no trails. The last Ghost Dance took place in a basin there, and you’re free to cut your way to it. There is a road called Sheep Mt. Rd. that ascends to the top of a bluff, which you can use to hike down into the Southern part of the Badlands.

I spend a long part of the afternoon on top of Sheep Mt. I write a little, and there are tall grasses growing and I run my hands through them as I walk along the edge of the cliffs. I was told there are fossils visible, giant tortoise shells, if you know where to look. And that they dissolve in the weather, like the rest of the rock, because they are now rock. But I don’t know how to look, and I don’t find them.

After I leave Sheep Mt. I head south, deeper into the Reservation. The change is immediate. There’s no cattle, and it’s either fallow grassland, or what looks like small scale hemp production. The land is hilly, remnants of the Badlands tracing it south, and then becoming lush.

The buildings are few and far between. When I do see one it is either a small church, an abandoned church, or a double wide with 15-20 cars parked out front. I pass through several small villages before entering Wounded Knee.

The experience of Wounded Knee isn’t the Massacre site, but everything that surrounds it. There’s no exaggeration in saying it’s a surrealist nightmare. It looks like the tragedy just happened. The town of Wounded Knee is easily one of the most impoverished places I have ever been in my life (the only thing coming close are the new Amazonian cities in Peru). To then have to reconcile it’s existence inside the geographical United States is nearly impossible.

The town is devoid of infrastructure outside of churches and a US Post Office with a large American Flag flying outside. The houses themselves are crumbling and the paint has peeled off. From what I can tell there are no stores: not a gas station or grocery store or restaurant. It’s not clear why it exists. There’s a level of discomfort that is so palatable that I keep moving despite wanting to examine it further.

The spot of the Massacre is nondescript, lying in a large grassy plain. There’s a sign that explains what happened, and a small cemetery at the mass grave site on top of a neighboring hill. Two boarded up churches are near the grave site.

I buy overpriced sage from children who walk with me through the graveyard.

“What are you going to do when you grow up?” I ask.

“The army,” they both say.

The visitors center is a looted burnt-out husk of a building sitting below the graveyard. I walk down to it and peer inside. I can sense people behind me and back away from the entrance. I go back to my car, feeling alive and present, and not able to articulate why.

Driving North-East through the Reservation things improve slightly. I pass the Oglala Lakota College and there are schools and some new building frames visible. I stop by Kyle to eat dinner at what I’ve been told is the only restaurant in the north of the county. Agriculture here seems more consistent, with large bails drying in the fields. It’s getting dark by the time I leave the reservation, and the distinctions as I enter Interior are not as pronounced as they were before.

That night I tell someone I went into the reservation.

They look shocked. “You drove that car into the reservation?” they ask.

When I get to my room I look up the Pine Ridge Reservation: it is the poorest place in the US, the life expectancy is the lowest in the Western Hemisphere, unemployment is 80%, alcoholism is 80%, there is almost no industry. And then I look up the town of Wounded Knee and see that the average income of Wounded Knee is half that of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

These are facts beyond my comprehension.


Posted on 2 min read 64 views

I was told the Badlands erode an inch every year. That’s a lot when you think about it. It’s a foot since I was last here. Measurable difference in a human lifetime. The Black Hills next door erodes 10,000 times slower. The Badlands are only 500,000 years old, and in another 100,000 – 500,000 years they will be gone.

That’s one of the things that I love about this place. The impermanence. I always found the Rockies so foreboding. Like the ocean they felt primordial. But they were a dominating prescience. They cast a constant shadow.

The Badlands are beautiful and temporary. And yes, extend the line out far enough, and everything is temporary. But they feel temporary. And they feel alien. A “moonscape” is the word used by the South Dakota tourist website. Otherworldly is what I would use. You can feel it in the ground and in the air. It doesn’t hurt that by September it’s mostly deserted.

I came out here to try and finish this fucking novel before starting a new job (I won’t finish it, but I guess I already knew that). I picked here because I have childhood memories of driving through the Badlands on the annual summer pilgrimage to Colorado. Most of the trip bled into my Gameboy screen. But not the badlands. We would stop and having a picnic by the highway. The canyons beneath us cutting away into the distance, uninhabitable and foreign. It seemed unlike anything else I had seen in real life or read about in my fantasy novels. It still does. It cuts away beneath you and rises up in front of you, the colors constantly shifting with the light. I lose track of whether I’m up, down or sideways.

Dissolution of the Mirror

Posted on 1 min read 40 views

I’ve never been able to get used to a mirror. Some of my ex’s might scoff at that. But I’ve never been sure what I will see staring back at me.

This is what I look like?

I can never seem to remember. It’s a continual reacquaintance with a childhood friend, often older, sometimes younger, then I remember. Lately skinnier: the stress and Shigella induced dysentery from the trip to Peru have taken pounds off me, deepened my cheeks, thinned my face. It’s a fight to get it back. Now I feel, more than I have in a very long time, the urge to know the guy.

This time I won’t forget. I see you now.

But I do forget. Lately, the amnesia has morphed into something else entirely. Unlike before, I carry a mostly clear image in my head of who I will see, however when I actually look in the mirror, the dissolution begins. I can force it, strain, and bring it back into focus for a moment, before I seem to blur in front of myself. What does look back at me seems transient. Borrowed skin and bones. Most of the time I don’t panic. Sometimes I feel gratitude.

Denver, Asylum

Posted on 1 min read 39 views

There’s comfort to being back in the regularity of Denver.

I never thought that the job, the board meetings, and this city would be a comfort in my life. But that’s what it’s become. I don’t believe it’s the regularity of the days or the ease of the city. What I like are the people I see, and the way that I waste my days.

The Day After

Posted on 2 min read 32 views

I woke up hoping to find a new perspective, that things would seem more optimistic with sleep and the light of morning. Instead the mental vomit continues, now seeping into my extremities. I knock over a carton of milk, and walked into a doorway, my body refusing to work. There’s static in all of me: my mind, my fingers, and I’m so exhausted, but I can’t fall asleep.

At the Munich airport I try to board a flight to New York. They tell me I’m at the wrong gate. I stare at them glazed, on the verge of tears, until I realize what they’ve said. I run across the gates until I reach the Denver flight. No one is there. I hold my ticket up to the machine and the doors slide open. I run through, bounce off of a glass wall, and nearly fall down the escalators as they restart their movement under my feet. At the base of the jetway, the last people are boarding the flight. I walk past my seat and then double back to it. It might be the last open seat on the plane.

I felt so strong in the morning before court. I took my time: meditated, worked out, ate breakfast, reviewed the documents, took my time, arrived early. By the time I got home I couldn’t even think straight. I couldn’t even watch a movie or read a book. A high-speed fly apart of someone’s psyche.

It’s nothing bad so to speak. More of the same with small concessions. But I’m the one that wants change, that’s why I’m there. And so more of the same feels like suffocating. I knew things could go well today or they could go poorly, but my blind spot has been stasis. You cross your chest and tell yourself you’re prepared for whatever comes, only to find that nothing coming is a devastation you hadn’t prepared for.

There are some mistakes you carry around with you for a long time. And yeah you can learn from them, and you don’t have to call them regret if that makes you feel better. But in your heart you know if you could go back you would do it differently. Letting my daughter leave Denver without a formal custody agreement is that unequivocally.