I visited the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It was Spring, and I was on a solo-trip to Montana.
Surprisingly, the park had very few visitors that day. I was alone.
I drove, I parked, and I walked, and all the while I listened to the silence that echoed throughout the Hills.. The wind whistled on occasion. It played a tune to court my thoughts and together they danced.
They waltzed me to the middle of the road and there I lie between the yellow lines, outstretched and alone with the wind and my thoughts.
It was freeing and invigorating because who does that? Who lies in the road not to die but to live?
The pads of my fingertips clung to the pavement like a prairie vole to the grass as its gripped by the talons of a hawk.
I wanted to survive life. To see how its done. To take notes from those who do it well.
There I lay, taking lessons from the buttes and the spires—to change form over time, To rise from violent movement beneath them only to erode and to rise again. They knew how to survive.
By this time, my thoughts turned to a sound. I lifted my upper body and sat still to listen more closely. It was the sound of horse hooves on pavement.
I stood tall and looked around the bend. They came toward me. Slowly. Four maybe five, one behind the other atop the painted yellow lines in the road. But they weren’t horses. They were bighorn sheep, young rams and ewes.
They stopped all at once when they saw me. We exchanged glances and it was decided that it would be me who step off the yellow line to allow them to pass comfortably.
Each ewe led her young around me. I watched curiously as did they. I imagined each lowering her head in a nod as she passed, nodding in return.
Another lesson was learned that day.
Even bighorn sheep come down from the safety of their steep cliffs and ledges, exposing themselves to the dangers of the environment, to survive.
“Without question, without curiosity, without passion, we are without life.” –J. Mortenson
At some point in life,we begin to question the world and our place in it. For some, it may build with time as an uncomfortable heaviness that seeps in slowly. For others, it may come more quickly in the form of an epiphany—awakened from a deep sleep—knowing instantly the question in need of an answer.
For me, it was the gradual escape out from the belly of the whale. Survival instincts took over my youth by way of mutiny to steer my consciousness away from immediate danger. An inner heroine leapt from the jaws of the whale, swimming instinctively in an indiscernible direction.
Without a breath, the surface came upon me with little recollection of the burning that filled my lungs, and of emotional tumult already numb with scar tissue. Thus, the inquisition began once I was jolted back into my consciousness, suddenly acutely aware.
I questioned the stars, the sun, the moon; I questioned the tides, and even the salt content in the seawater that kept me buoyant. I questioned the direction the tide was taking me as I drifted along the shore; always parallel, yet never reaching land.
I continued to drift, though on occasion silt beneath my feet rose up to steady my weakened extremities allowing for rest on a shallow sandbar. Often, I remember wishing my legs would grow to become one, patterned with iridescent scales that shimmered brilliantly in the sun’s rays: a tail, perfect, to propel me forth, swiftly to meet my destination sooner.
However, Triton failed to carry my message to Poseidon to beg on my behalf to grant me such a fantastic tail. But when my body began to shake from exhaustion, and then numb from the ocean’s frigid embrace, I wished the tide change direction to carry me away from the illusion of safety, the one I could always see, but never feel. I again beckoned to Triton, to reach for me; to force my body into metamorphism; to grow gills; to breathe the seawater with reluctant acceptance; to unite with the creatures of the icy depths to which I had become acquainted. Again, the great God denied my request.
Today, the importance of my journey has yet to become clear. I continue to collect fragmented answers; and although I have yet to reach land, I continue to swim to build strength in my core, my mind, and my spirit. When all of the fragments are collected to spell out the answer that I have been searching, I will finally rest upon the sandy shore—with a tale to span generations.
” Slowly, I am becoming acquainted with myself, and quite frankly, it is a pleasure getting to know me.” – J. Mortenson