Greetings again! For those of you that caught the last picture on the map tracking us, you may be curious about our three day jaunt across South Dakota. No, we did not bicycle nearly 400 miles in three days. No, the “mystery spot” is not a portal to other “cosmic points of interest” around the country, though wouldn’t that be fun. Rather, we “hitchhiked” with my father and grandmother traveling to meet us in Rapid City. Our window for meeting a close friend in Wyoming for camping was closing rapidly, and to catch a ride across South Dakota would perhaps give us just enough time to make that happen. So we’ve spent the last four and a half days in Rapid City, exploring the Black Hills and their two billion year old granite splendor, letting loose a rush of childlike fervor down the hotel water slide, discovering a peak disc golf course in Custer, and found combustion for reminiscence on a steam engine train where the loving light of memory buds in stark illumination against the backdrop of the Black Hills, like the violet Dame’s Rocket standing stout with it’s purple petals bursting out. Thank you Dad and Grandma for visiting us and sharing in the carving of our own monumental memories. Your presence was as significant as a president’s face etched into a mountainside.
Apart from driving across South Dakota, another substantial deviation forked our trajectory. Due to schedules, budgets, and a crucially convenient mode of transportation, Evan and Nick are on their way home as well. These brothers of mine have more adventures on the horizon and to pass up on a ride now ran the risk of jeopardizing the next thing. “Do the next thing!” prodded Monsignor Darcy, mentor to protagonist Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise. This sagely advice has been a rolling discussion of ours (forgive me for lacking literary context here, it’s worth the read anyways, make it your “next thing”) and the current circumstance was a ripe and timely opportunity for my brothers to head back. The 41 inseparable days we shared were absolutely magnificent, and I shall miss their presence. Any grief from their leaving is quickly diminished by the thought of a horse on hind legs rolling around on a large beach ball, continuously proclaiming his name, “Jaaaaaaaames Baxter,” the long A of his first name cascading with a neigh.* Truthfully though, the lament of their departure is real and incompletely realized, but it is coupled with enthusiasm and eagerness to dwell in a solitude that I’ve never known before. I will be listening to my heart intently, as I’m certain my emotions will fluctuate and flutter as much as the landscape before me. Admittedly, there’s also a lace of fear threading through me. As excited as I am for this unprecedented solitude, it is not without that fear of the unknown, the unfamiliar, of being vulnerable. But the opportunity that lies before me is far too radiant to be shadowed by fear and doubt.
My own Monsignor Darcy recently wrote to me, and in the context of forward looking character shaping, offered a series of penetrating questions, including, “Who are you when no one is looking at you?” I shall delve into questions like this whether I like it or not, kindling a fire of pondering within the burnt bark Ponderosa Pines which give the Black Hills their name. I feel confident in Alexander Supertramp’s poignant climactic assertion that happiness is only true when shared (See Into the Wild), and as such, I do not plan to walk into the woods and burn my money and phone. My community is even more important to me now, and your prayers, communication, and encouragement are coveted. Furthermore, updating regularly will now be imperative for any concern of safety as well. In my solitude, I commit to stay in touch.
I leave you today with the same question offered to me: Who are you when no one is looking? I challenge you to explore those facets of our character that reveal themselves in such times. During this age of constant contact and communication, when someone is always looking at our virtual displays that we can’t even turn off, it’s clear that we often put overwhelming effort into how our facades are perceived by others. A decisive amount of our character is formed in the spotlight of others. What do you see when it’s only your own spotlight shining on yourself? I pray for clarity in this introspection, that we are confidently encouraged by what we find, and that we have the strength and audacity to make meaningful, slow-working commitments to ourselves to realize any necessary changes to our inscape. Like a landscape is gradually and subtly altered, so is the process of developing one’s inscape. I pray that we may nurture this slow growth and avoid listlessness during our quest.
Tomorrow night I’ll be sleeping below Bear Butte, a sacred geographic site where Lakota, Cheyenne, and other American Indians have and still visit regularly. These tribes see Bear Butte as a place where their creator communicates with them through visions and prayer. If you’ve seen The Simpson’s Movie, I can’t help but remember the scene where an Alaskan Shaman induces Homer into an intense vision toward an epiphany of resolving ramifications. I don’t expect such a revelation, but if I do, you’ll be the first to know. In all seriousness though, I’m spiritually excited to breathe and break bread beneath Bear Butte.
And with that, I find it appropriate to leave you with a poem that has been meaningful to me on this trip, and will be exceptionally important to me in the coming weeks. Enjoy:
As Kingfishers Catch Fire
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
I’ll be in touch in a couple days,