Sunday, October 10, 2010

Write of Passage - Day 12

August 13, 2009: Billings, Montana - Chamberlain, South Dakota (660 miles)

"Eastbound and down, loaded up and truckin'. We gonna do what they say can't be done." ~ Jerry Reid, Smokey and the Bandit, 1977

Today we put the hammer down and gave it hell. By the end of the day, Cote and I had put well over 600 miles between us and Yellowstone. This is not to say, however, that we were in a hurry to get home. No, not yet. There was still a lot for us to do, still much for us to discover about our world and ourselves. Cote's rite of passage (and mine?) was in full effect. It's just that when we woke up this morning, we had to face the fact that this was our 12th day gone from home. When we took into consideration that the past 26 hours had been spent traipsing around Yellowstone, Cote and I knew it was time to put some miles behind us. So we loaded up the car, and turned our attention east.
We set our sights on Mount Rushmore and the black hills of South Dakota. I hadn't been to this area in over 30 years, not since I was a young child, riding in the back seat of my parent's Oldsmobile. I tried to share some of my memories of Mount Rushmore with Cote while we drove during the early morning hours, but most of the images that surfaced were sketchy and faded, dulled by the passage of time. Only two memories remained detailed enough for me to describe.......the intense heat and a concrete wall. It was extremely hot the day we visited back in 1978. Sweltering. And, other than the four famous faces carved upon the mountainside, the only other image I could recall was of a waist-high, concrete wall. Thirty years ago it was what we had stood behind to view the national monument.
Turning off the highway at Rapid City, exiting to take the 2-lane road to Mount Rushmore, I somehow misread the map that informed us it would be another 27 miles before we would reach our destination. What the heck!?! I thought this was going to be a quick easy-off, easy-on, stop and look tourist attraction. Instead, our little "adventure" ended up being a 3-hour, unexpected mini-detour right smack in the middle of our day. It was early afternoon when Cote and I pulled up to the national monument, and the car thermostat registered 100 degrees when we shut off the engine. We climbed the seven concrete steps, and walked across the concrete courtyard, all devoid of any protective covering against the sun's intensive rays. We made our way "london-bridge style" under the stoic row of state flags, stopping long enough to find Michigan's and snap its waving picture. Then Cote and I finally approached the concrete wall that had been cemented in my childhood memories. Mount Rushmore, high above us, was still a sight to behold, it’s craftsmanship a work of art. Surprisingly however, after just two short minutes, Cote and I had a confession to make……we were both slightly unimpressed. Maybe it was the heat. Or maybe it was the “man-made-sculptureness” of it all.....but we both admitted to feeling a little let down. Looking back, I think what threw us the most was the contrast of landscapes we had experienced within a short 24 hours. Standing in front of the calculated carving of Mount Rushmore, we couldn't help but subconsciously compare it to all the “natural beauty” we had seen in  Yellowstone. And after being a part of such untouched wilderness, it was hard now to feel connected with the national monument looming before us. In many ways, Mount Rushmore just seemed a bit too distant, a little too designed. 
“Huh. What do you think?”
“It’s ok.”
“Yeah. Hmmmm. Well, are you ready to go?”
“Yep, ready when you are.”
So, with that we headed back to the car. We stopped to read some of the historical facts about Mount Rushmore etched into the concrete columns on our way out, trying to respect and pay tribute to those who dedicated so many years of their lives to this great endeavor. But as far as lingering any longer, Cote and I didn’t have the heart.
As we pulled to the end of the driveway, we were faced with yet another decision on this rite of passage. Should we turn back and make a beeline for I-90, concentrating our efforts to make up lost time, or should we keep going deeper into the black hills of South Dakota and check out one more monument.......the Native American legend, Crazy Horse?
"Let's go see it, Mom."
"But Cote, it's 17 more miles out of our way. It will be late by the time we start heading east again."
"So what......we're right here. If we don't go now, we might never get back this way again."
Of course the girl was right. After all, it had been 30 years since the last time I walked these hills, it could very well be another 30 before she did. And by then I might not be around to hear about it. So, once again I tucked my rational thinking away, and allowed the call of adventure to lead our way.
Seventeen, curving miles later, we pulled in. I hardly recognized the place, the grounds had changed so much since 1978. Thirty years ago, (if memory served me right), there had been only a short dirt driving leading to a ram-shackled visitor's center. The mountain "sculpture" was only a crude cutting of rock, a shaved 90-degree ledge which would eventually become the arm of Crazy Horse pointing towards the distant horizon. This was all I could remember, all there was to see.
Now, as Cote and I drove up the smoothly paved driveway, Crazy Horse mountain was at first blocked from our view. Beautiful buildings of various design, large log-style structures, dotted the landscape. People were milling all over, sipping drinks, looking at pamphlets, wandering the grounds. Besides the new wooden Welcome Center, timber-framed with huge plate glass windows, there was a souvenir-stuffed gift shop, a sit down restaurant, an open-air viewing deck, and a larger than life Native American museum. My excitement level jumped three notches when I realized what all this must mean! The work to bring Crazy Horse to "life" must be over! 
I could hardly believe that after 30 years I was going to get to see the finished product. The images from my childhood, tucked away so long ago, would today be replaced with new and sharply detailed pictures of the great monument in full formation.  And I would become one of those lucky enough to have witnessed the "before" and "after."
Walking out to the viewing deck, I had no idea how wrong I was going to be.
Crazy Horse was no where near being done. Not even close. Actually, after reading through our own pamphlets, Cote and I discovered that the monument didn't even have a projected completion date. Crazy Horse, which began in 1948, is a completely non-profit venture, the entire memorial is being funded only through goodwill donations. No federal monies have ever been accepted, nor ever will be, to help pay for its carving. This is all in order to keep the validity of the project in tact. Thus, progress has been slow. Very slow. Money, weather, and mountain engineering all contribute to the challenge of bringing this sculpture to life. Crazy Horse's arm is still one long, straight, horizontal ledge with no more noticeable detail that it had 30 years ago. The horse upon which this North American legend will someday ride, still has no shape or form beneath him. The only difference, (which is huge I will admit), is that now Crazy Horse has a face.....a solid, profound, and detailed face..........with eyes that I was surprised to find, could provoke a prickling of tears in my own. The facial features cut over time and with great determination from the coarse rock on this lonely mountainside, reflected hardship and pain.......yet also hope and strength and fortitude. 
Cote and I explored all the sights at Crazy Horse, and especially took time to linger inside the massive museum. We were overcome by the history alive before us, the resolve to remember, and the whisper of forgiveness echoing softly from the pine-covered walls. We gazed through glass showcases at natural artifacts made from leather and beads, wood and stone. We ducked inside an authentic tipi, and we each made a donation after carefully choosing a rock from the famous "rock box" filled with stones brought down from the top of this legend-in-the-making mountain. We lost all track of time, for somehow on these Native American-inspired grounds, current time ceased to exist within us. Instead of being in a hurry, we felt a need to remember a time not-so-long ago. As we walked about, Cote spoke of her own Pottawatomie heritage and her desire now to research deeper into its history when we returned home. Strange as it may seem, we both felt a more profound connection here than we did just 17 miles up the road. 
When we finally left Crazy Horse, I couldn't help but think about how anxious I had been to see the finished product when we first arrived. Now, as I drove away I thought about how my perspective had slowly changed while I spent time gazing upon this mountainous project. The work being done on Crazy Horse in many ways epitomizes the way life should be valued and the way life should be lived. Real life is a journey......a journey that must unfold in its own time, in its own way, in order to retain a true sense of authenticity. As much as we might look forward to seeing the fruits of our labor accomplished today, or push to reach the "prize" at the end of some hard-won race, we must resist the urge to place all our focus, all our longing, all our attention on that goal out upon the horizon, or wish for that day of achievement to come more quickly than it should. For life is about the stories being written in the smaller moments of every day. The essence of our lives comes more from the times we tend to overlook, than from those we often view as most critical. As I took one last look back at Crazy Horse, I thought of the people who have and who are dedicating their lives to making this work of art come to life. So many of them will never see the fruits of their labor......their eyes will never gaze upon the final image they are carving piece by piece ......yet they work on......knowing that someday, generations to come will behold a masterpiece unlike any other. And I have to believe that in their work lies a hope that these future generations will appreciate the sweat, the tears, the joy, and the determination that made this mountain masterpiece a reality. 
Each of us could on some level say the same. We all sweat, we all cry, we all laugh, and we all push on.......every day, in our own way. We fight our own battles and face our own challenges, to reach our triumphs, and overcome our setbacks. We work to make a difference, big and the lives of those we touch. And we are forever changed by the lives of those who touch us. Each of us has an untold story written deep inside our hearts, and I believe most of us are trying in some way to tell it, to share it, to have it carved into our own little piece of mountain. My hope is for Cote to tell her story, and that I might set an example by telling mine. For if we do, we'll add dimension, depth, and detail to our every day living........and in turn, we'll contribute our own unique and essential piece of puzzle to the whole big picture called Life.
Cote and I didn't immediately skirt back to Interstate 90 after leaving Crazy Horse. Instead we took a remote route east that would lead us through the heart of South Dakota's infamous Badlands. The road we chose was deserted, dry, desolate. The landscape was barren, eerie, yet captivating and beautiful in its own simple and monochromatic way. It was different than any road we had traveled so far. Our lonely stretch of highway went on for miles, through a land that time itself seemed to have forgotten.
We drove until 9pm, finally pulling over in Chamberlain, South Dakota at a Super 8 motel. Cote and I washed up and readied ourselves for bed, exhausted, but content with how we had spent our day. We ordered a small pizza from a local restaurant across the street, which tasted so bad I think the cardboard box it came in would have offered more flavor. But it didn't matter. Not tonight. There was a quietness in the air between us. I think Cote and I were both settling in with the idea that we were almost home. For another hour, she "Face-booked" while I journaled. After I closed my notebook, I spread the map out before me and found we were only about 50 miles from Mitchell, South Dakota, the town famous for its great Corn Palace. This was yet another childhood memory tucked away some 30 years ago, and now, after all this time, it would be the next stop on our continued rite of passage. 

1 comment:

  1. very excellelantaa (excelanty?) i love love love your blog keep up the good work mama! and apparently so do people from all over like syria was it? dont waste just write :]


Powerful Words

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable. ~Kahlil Gibran