Montana to North Dakota
Western North Dakota and Eastern Montana look painfully similar; the barren glacier scraped landscapes are the same moment playing out again and again against dull colored, flat, treeless fields. A gray sky, wind, rain, and snow made it seem like I was being pulled backward into winter, leaving my place in the sun. I think of the Palouse: rich and alive with green warmth and sun; the unreal blowing grasses so vibrant a sweet taste comes into your mouth just looking at them; the tulips, the blossoming trees along the streets, the daffodils—I’ve seen no such sweetness yet. But there have been fleeting moments of paradise. In North Dakota nowhere land, I found Native American singing, chanting, and drumming on the FM dial. It sounded like an echo from the fields; it was the only living thing coming from the land.
A huge billboard with a Bald Eagle and an American flag on it said: “God Bless America,” only someone had torn away, “America,” and spray painted in black, “The World.”
83 was spray painted in large green numbers on the road—for the year of my birth—I saw it as I turned away from Stump Lake, where I thought to camp, but after pulling up to the site and seeing abandoned trailers, picnic benches turned up against white birch trees, and deer fading amongst ghostly trunks, the word “Stump,” made me think of severed limbs. A starch white church house and barn sat outside Stump Lake Recreational Park: “A historical county farm;” blood water from the lake overflowing up onto its road.
I passed up Devil’s Lake too. Seeing Devil’s Lake as not just a name on the map, the coal blue waters white capped by severe winds became the Devil’s body. Driving by it, I saw people walking over its waters; two dark figures bending over then moving fast. I saw people on lakeside benches in the cold, and in fields where there were only water fowl and heavenly white birds I had no names for. Huge, majestic white birds.
The wind outside continues to sound like a train crashing, but it’s nowhere near as powerful as last night.
Here, I felt cursed by the fate of a green grass car lot camping site, until walking into the Arboretum on its edge, that asked “Please Close the Gate.” I was Alice in Wonderland, stumbling into a mysterious paradise after hundreds of miles of nothingness. Walking through its twilight peacefulness, its willows and birches, I was reminded of sacred walks with Max through Moscow botanical gardens, and I didn’t feel homesick; I felt the gentleness of all the earth, the preciousness of all life.
I asked the frayed voiced North Dakota cashier kid at the gas station, “Is it always this windy in North Dakota.”
And he answered, “Yes, the wind never stops blowing. It has ground all the living into dirt.”
I asked the grocery store clerk, “Do you really have no beer or wine for sale?”
And she told me, “Yes, it really is so straight in Lakota, North Dakota.”
And I went outside to bury myself in the fields.
Tomorrow I’ll be in Minnesota where Bob Dylan was born—the heart of America according to him. I think I hear the heart beating most in all the places where the Natives used to live; I think I hear the heart all across the Northlands.