Too much of a good thing

DSCN0392.1You know, in a week or so when it dries out, or later this summer when it isn’t raining anymore, we’ll all be wishing for more of this weather. And I know, I know–In comparison with the flooding down south, in Texas and Oklahoma, I’ve got nothin’ to complain about. We are now in a record-breaking June, as far as precipitation is concerned.

DSCN0391.1A thunderstorm rolled over the Hills this afternoon and dumped 1.4 inches on us in about an hour. The ground is already saturated and before too long the ditches were all churning with muddy water. A nearby practice arena was a lake, and a dam on our driveway that never has water in it probably had at least four feet of water!

DSCN0384.1I drove in from work, noticing all the water along the driveway, but was shocked to find that two of our huge cottonwood trees had snapped off. One of them completely blew down, leaving ten feet or so of trunk, and the other lost half of its bulk when one of the trunks broke off.

DSCN0371There was hail, smaller than pea-sized, piled on the mat in front of the door and I immediately wondered if we’d have a little water on the floor inside, since the seal around the door isn’t very tight. I was greeted with a mess. Water was everywhere, and I couldn’t figure out where it had come from! It was splashed about on the table, a rug by the hallway was soaking wet, the floor was puddled, and the dry erase boards on the refrigerator had smeared and dripped.

DSCN0381.1Then I realized the windows were open. We have a five- or six-foot overhang on our roof, so usually the open windows are fine during a storm, but the same straight-line winds that toppled trees and bent over some garden stakes blew straight in our kitchen window and soaked everything, including the refrigerator across the room. Jars with silverware in them had a good half-inch of water in the bottoms, the chair cushions were damp or soaked, and I’m sure the kittens were terrified. What a mess!

Amazingly, nothing much was permanently damaged, and we were able to dry the kitchen out. And the tree by the Miner’s Cabin miraculously didn’t topple on the cabin itself! We have a few more rock slides along the driveway, or the slides are getting bigger, but all’s well and safe. Two hours later, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the birds were singing again.

Laura Elizabeth

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New Project

DSCN0332.1Given that my portfolio of wildflower photographs is growing in leaps and bounds, I thought it was time to start a wildflower identification project, partly for my own reference, partly for anyone else who is interested in wildflowers. These will be mostly flowers from the Black Hills, but I have a fair number of Illinois flowers in my portfolio as well that I’ll probably include in this project.

So my new page on this website is called Botanical Reference, and will be precisely that: a reference for wildflowers and, as I expand my photographic portfolio, pictures of their leaves, fruits, and notes on their growing locations, etc. This might be a little ambitious, but it is worth being a long-term project.

Enjoy!
Laura Elizabeth

Blooming June

DSCN0262.1The Black Hills are dressed in their best and most glorious finery. Wildflowers are sprinkled, sometimes lavishly, on hillsides and in valleys, the creeks are full to overflowing, and everything is green and lush and fragrant. It is always fun to see the Black Hills through the eyes of a visitor. Even though I’ve only lived here for four months, this has always been our home away from home, and consequently seeing it sometimes becomes, well, daily life. There is nothing like a new pair of eyes to renew my own love of this region.DSCN0310.1

Mom’s cousin Russel, his wife, and their three daughters have been staying with us since Sunday. I’d never met any of them, so it was fun to get to know my second-cousins from Texas! We all went down to the Mountain Lion Cave last night (or as close as we could get without crossing Battle Creek), and this morning my second cousin Julie and I headed out on an excursion. The rest of her family and Anna were going to Reptile Gardens and, as fascinating as I am sure it is, neither of us was particularly interested in spending hours there.

DSCN0324.1So out we went to Spokane and haunted the ghost town for a few hours, drove Iron Mountain Road, and visited Little Falls. The flowers were beautiful, and any little hollows or depressions were full of water, frogs, and mosquitoes. The thistles were becoming the prize-winning sort, and mushrooms were in abundance.

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Violet and creeping wood sorrels flashed little glints of color in the shorter grass, their heart-shaped leaves green and moist and plentiful. Wild roses and geranium, blue-eyed grass and purple clover, asters and dandelions, all were tucked under trees and nestled into hillsides, along paths, thriving. The flowers and berries were peeking daintily from the Solomon’s Seal, and the lichen was thick on fallen branches and damp wood.

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DSCN0258.1While on first glance not much had changed (it is a ghost town, after all…), when I looked closer there were dozens of new forms of botanical life, flowers that hadn’t been in bloom on our first visit, overgrown and flooded paths, and new clusters of mushrooms growing in the rich layer of decaying leaves and pine needles.

DSCN0187.1The house looked pretty much the same as before–the broken windows, rusted hinges, rotted floorboards, and the swallow’s nest in the stovepipe–but when on the hunt for details, I suddenly noticed many things that had escaped my eye before, such as the remnants of wallpaper in the house, or the lichen-encrusted nails on the windowsill, or the broken blue Mason jar and the scrap of blue and white wallpaper. DSCN0191.1The nest had a swallow in it this time, and little plants were growing in the moist earth where floorboards were missing. I noticed “love notices”, where boys and girls had written their names together on the walls. What an old-fashioned and romantic little spot. DSCN0220.1

Outside one of the windows, there was a layer of shattered glass. My camera is a bit finicky, and after taking one properly-focused picture, it suddenly stopped focusing on the glass. Instead, it was focusing on the reflections of the trees in the glass. The effect was enchanting! DSCN0232.1

DSCN0266.1Beauty may be subtle and well-hidden, even when in plain sight. It is hard to see beauty in the mundane when one is only looking for the mundane, or when one is overburdened with the world.  A certain optimism is required for seeing exquisite beauty in the drabness of rotting wood or broken glass. Optimism is not my natural state, but I find it exceedingly difficult to be pessimistic when I am surrounded by God’s beauty, and his little gifts. I passionately think we should nourish the vision to see those beautiful details. The world is a bleak place, but there are so many tiny joys and gifts given to us each day by a loving Creator, if we have the eyes to see them.

Laura Elizabeth

The smell of work

I’m sweaty, covered in chaff and grass and bug bits and residual sunscreen. In spite of the sunscreen, I’m probably burned. I’m thistle-pricked and my eyes feel gritty. There’s dirt under my nails and motor oil on my jeans. I’m tired and I smell like work. And I feel refreshed and rested at a deep soul level.

The soul needs cleansing from the rush and maze of life, and after many consecutive days working in a little tourist town, I was simply aching for the outdoors! A few weeks ago, I took a second job in Hill City, so now I work morning and early afternoon at the Mercantile and at 3:00 I head over to the Farmer’s Daughter and work there until 7:00 or 8:00. Don’t get me wrong, I am very thankful for the work that God has provided so quickly in our new life here. But I am a dedicated introvert. Being around people that long drains me. And I mean drains me.

DSCN0072.1So yesterday, I was only scheduled at the Mercantile and made my plans accordingly. All day long, I looked forward to getting home, catching the horses and going out on a ride. So that is exactly what I did. In case you might think I’m just an out-and-out cowgirl now, I need to clarify–Horses are a fear I’m working on conquering. I love the animals. I love the feel of a good ride. The smell of horse, the sway and movement of the saddle, and the rush of energy while riding a working cow pony, when the animal gets eager and excited to be doing work. But horses are big. They are independently-thinking creatures who really have no good reason to let a human being climb on their back, must less to remain there. Maybe I just have a good appreciation for that fact right there–If this 1000 pound animal suddenly ceased wanting me on its back, it could remove me. And quickly, too.

DSCN0098.1However, yesterday I managed to make steps in conquering my trepidations and took Frosty out on a ride. Jimmy came, too–Can’t let his girlfriend leave without him! And I do believe the horses enjoyed it. And Frosty loves to run. I’m too cautious of a rider to just let her go full throttle…Not to mention, she has a stubborn streak and has tried to buck me off, once-upon-a-time. If she had really wanted to buck me, she could have, but she bucked hard enough to make me a little careful with her. But either way, there are just too many trees, holes, fences, rocks, even when in an open meadow, to let her go full tilt, but she got some of her energy out. And it was a beautiful afternoon for it. We weren’t out that long, maybe forty five minutes, but when I started hearing thunder I thought it wise to head back. There were other places I wanted to go, but Frosty is a tall horse and is a little hard to mount if she isn’t standing quite still. Which she usually is not. Too many fences to open and close. I decided to leave further exploring for another day. Anyway, it was a good way to end my afternoon.

DSCN0107.1A short photographic excursion followed the ride…It has been so wet lately, the cow pies are all sprouting mushrooms. And they are surprisingly pretty mushrooms, especially considering the mundane nature of their host…And it just keeps getting wetter–We had an inch of rain last night, some hail, and a marvelous thunder storm. Starting to wonder where all the water will go.

DSCN0105.1There is a shack out in the corrals that is mostly tumbled down now, but the remnants of a dirt-moving business are left piled inside. Old dynamite casings. I was actually able to get a good picture of them–In the last month or so, one of the walls fell in, so it is actually possible to climb in without bringing the whole shack tumbling down on top of you!

Finally, today I headed to Jack’s to mow. He’s got a big place, and the mowing took me a solid five hours, and I weeded for another hour or so. It was warm, but there was intermittent cloud cover and a gentle breeze. Not to mention, the breeze while riding a zero turn mower keeps a body pretty cool! Sometimes I still get a chuckle over my radical shift in direction. I never would have thought three years ago that I’d be graduated college and mowing for a local rancher. Just wouldn’t have occurred to me.

DSCN0128.1When I came home this afternoon from Jack’s, I passed a vehicle pulled off to the side of the road with the flashers on. I turned around and came back to see if they were having car problems. No car trouble. Just a photo shoot. They were apparently tourists getting pictures of the beautiful scenery. There was a little rush of delight when I realized it–This is the view they were enjoying, a view of the Adrian ranch. It brought back all the excitement of moving out here, the excitement that has almost become normal. It reminded me just how glad (it seems too drab a word to use) I am to be out here. It reminded me that God knows our hearts and, while he doesn’t answer every dream or prayer in the way we think he should, he does, I believe, give us desires for reasons, and I was struck once again by how amazing it is that a little girl’s dream of South Dakota should become a reality fifteen years later. God is good.

DSCN0058.1After five and a half years of college, five and a half years of working my brain, hard work feels good. The smell of work is sweet. And I’m realizing in many ways that my soul truly feels cleansed when I am surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation, exhausted by blessed hard work, sore and dirt-covered, and breathing the fresh air of wide open spaces.

Laura Elizabeth

Signed, sealed, and delivered

DSCN0027This lovely surprise was waiting on the cabin porch when I got home from Rapid today. I had just started wondering if it would ever come, if I would ever manage to be an official college graduate, and it finally arrived! A second surprise was waiting–Instead of cum laude written on the diploma, magna cum laude was inscribed there, an exciting flourish with which to end my undergraduate career.

It is good to actually be finished. College is hard for everyone, or for everyone who takes college seriously. For different reasons, too, no doubt. Mine was difficult because my transfer to EIU came at a particularly challenging time in my life, shortly after which my family decided to move to South Dakota. To be confronted with that answer to prayer and fulfillment of dreams but still to have a minimum of two years left in school made it difficult to focus or to put my creative energies where they needed to be. Not to mention, such a radical change of life direction also changed my feelings towards having a college degree, or this particular college degree. I began to peel back layer upon layer of priority and started to realize that, in spite of my love of music and the performing arts, there was a deeper hunger and desire that had been necessarily quieted because of where I was in life. Little notes I found in old journals and schoolwork, like “When I grow up, I want to have horses and live in South Dakota,” started to resonate with so much more meaning. DSCN0607That was 9-year-old Laura talking, and the part of me that had dreamt that as a little girl began to wake up again. Imagine what a challenge it was, then, to be so close to something so dear, but two years away! Or perhaps you can imagine it, and you wonder what the big deal is. Fair enough.

But then the college work itself–After failing a recital preview, struggling with vocal technique, and failing a skills test over a single mistake, I began to wonder if it was possible for me to even finish, or if I’d have to change my degree. After successfully finishing my junior recital, I felt better about graduating, but then right in the middle of a fantastic last semester and one month before my senior recital preview, I found out I needed surgery. In some ways, I recovered quickly, but my stamina was completely sapped. All the comfort I’d felt with my literature was suddenly gone, and I struggled just to get through a phrase of music.

DSCN3434We were supposed to move out here to the Black Hills in December, but my recital wasn’t finished–There were some annoying acrobatics to accomplish related to scheduling the recital, but it was eventually scheduled–Just as it was looking impossible, my review was passed. Recital was given. Degree complete. God is good.

God is faithful. That is one of the biggest things I’ve learned through my whole college experience. He allowed me to go to college, to earn my degree, and to finish up without a cent of debt. What a blessing! I can’t even begin to describe how free I feel, or how grateful I am to God for helping me to do that. Even being directed into music, even some of the dissatisfaction I felt while working towards my bachelors degree, I can see now how God used those things to prepare me for this major transition in life, moving to South Dakota. If I had been completely in love with my music at EIU, the same way I was at Parkland College, I would have been tragically torn over this move to South Dakota. In fact, I might never have made it at all. My intent was graduate school, but that changed pretty quickly when we decided to move.  If I had found all the creative fulfillment I craved pursuing my music, my love of writing might not have been rekindled. My love of textile work might not have been rekindled. laura034And my dreaming self might have been content to simply ride one wave after another of creative satisfaction in music. But I think God obviously had/has other plans. Music will be a part of those plans, somehow, somewhere, sometime, but it won’t be the pursuit I imagined it would be, five years ago.

concertchoir_headerGod allowed me to work alongside some fascinating and wonderful musicians. Working alongside them, both the professors and the students, I realized that I didn’t have the drive or determination or do-or-die mentality they had in relation to music. Music is a brutal field. You need all of those things to survive in it. You must have a conviction that that is where you belong to survive in it. Or you must have a love for music that can’t be tarnished by judgement, criticism, exhaustion, or fear. I lacked a number of those things, at least in relation to my music. I find that they are present in other areas of my life and interactions, but often lacking in my musical life. I realized that my colleagues got excited about music in ways that often didn’t move me. Taking some non-music classes, I realized I was fascinated in other ways and by other things: research, history, and…pirates, to name a few.

Yet, many of those fears, fears of judgement or criticism, fear of failure, many of those things confronted me head-on at EIU, and I think I grew a lot in those areas. Some of it was simply by letting go of my identity as a “musician.” This is something I’m still working on, but my ultimate identity should always be “Child of God,” not “musician” or “seamstress” or whatever other title I can give myself. As human beings, I think each of us has a desire to be known for our accomplishments, to be something, to have significance, to be known, or known as something in particular. That something in particular will be what is most central to our life, and that thing most central to our life should always be our faith. Sadly, it isn’t always. Our love of God is overshadowed by worldly pursuits, by the cares of the world, by busyness and exhaustion and stress. But when we do let something else become our identity, we need to ask God for forgiveness and acknowledge and affirm that he is our King, our Head, and our Identity. Anything less is idolatry.

DSCN3462.1Anyway, I’m an official college graduate, and I just praise God that he brought me through to where I am now! Thanks to so many people at EIU who supported me, from Jerry Daniels, my voice teacher, to Jerri Hinton, a dear friend in the music department, to people outside of the department who blessed me in so many ways: April Lee, who mentored me, Dan Hagen, who taught me to love journalism, and Charles Foy, who fascinated me with pirates. Thanks to all my classmates and friends who inspired me and gave color to my college career. And of course, much, much love to my family, who was always there for me, putting up with my emotional swings, frustrations, and exuberances, and to whom I could always come home at the end of the day.

Laura Elizabeth

 

Sunday Adventures

DSCN0001.1The express purpose of our adventure was to see the water gushing through Hole-in-the-Wall. That may seem a little drab, as far as an evening excursion goes, but if you could see Hole-in-the-Wall with water gushing through it, you would make a spontaneous trip there to see it, too. Guarantee it. In spite of mosquitoes, ticks, and a trail partly underwater. You’d go. So with this goal in mind, Sarah and I and a family from church set out to explore Hole-in-the-Wall.

Because of all the rain we’ve gotten, Battle Creek is, for the time being, no longer a dry creek bed on our place or the neighbor’s place. In fact, it is a rushing, roaring river, with intimidating rapids, an unfordable current (we discovered this yesterday), and the loveliest scent of damp earth and rocks.

The road to Hole-in-the-Wall is nothing more than a jeep trail, two well-worn ruts wending their way between hills and through gullies, following a dry creek bed for most of the way to the Battle Creek crossing. Right now, the grass is pretty short, but this summer the grass will be shoulder-height and singing with insects. In dry weather, the trail goes over two dry forks of Battle Creek and continues on up the other side of the canyon or gully, along the top and down the other side into a lovely, open, tree-bound meadow. Looking across the meadow, the miner’s cabin is barely visible in the treeline on the far side, tucked under the protective shadow of Hole-in-the-Wall. Hole-in-the-Wall is a man-made tunnel cut straight through this ridge, when miners for mining purposes took it upon themselves to redirect Battle Creek, about 100 years ago.

DSCN0003.1But I get ahead of myself. In dry weather, we cross Battle Creek at the crossing. However, yesterday, at Battle Creek crossing we followed Battle Creek downstream, finally climbing a ridge and following the ridge until it crossed over Hole-in-the-Wall. The ridge above Hole-in-the-Wall afforded a lovely view of Battle Creek, the meadow, and a distant glimpse of what is left of the mining camp. We followed the ridge over, took a scramble down the other side, and reveled in the mist and coolness of downstream Hole-in-the-Wall. When we came to the back of the ridge, we left the sunlight behind–I wonder if there would have been rainbows in the mist during the day. We kicked off our shoes and waded in the rushing water, watching the foam churn and froth in the pool under the ridge.

When we had had enough of that delight, we continued on, following the ridge further and assuming it would eventually slope into a gentle enough hill that we could scramble down it into the meadow and have a look at the miner’s cabin. We had never been to the meadow by the back way before, and found another mining pit with the remnants of mining equipment and some things that looked like rockers or sluice boxes. Remnants of a bygone era.

DSCN0006.1Sure enough, the ridge met the ground and we came out into the meadow, not far from the miner’s cabin. This old shack enchants me. The glassless windows, the doorless doorframes, the leaking roof, and old whitewashed walls, the weathered wood and the rusted nails–I wonder what the miners thought each day as they looked out on the beauty around them. Perhaps the beauty was marred by the hardship, or perhaps their young, supple bodies took to their tasks gladly. Perhaps some of both.

DSCN0014.1Phlox was flowering deep and purple in the shadows by the cabin. Mounds and mounds of it, spread in a rich carpet around the dilapidated cabin. I had never seen phlox there before, since this is my first spring here. The sun was almost gone behind the hills, but the light lasts a long time, a diffuse, ethereal sort of light. I couldn’t resist a few more pictures of the same interior of the same cabin. So enchanting. People lived here, worked here, slept here–Back when the roof was whole and the doors were on their hinges. And it is interesting to me that there is beauty, even in fragmented, decayed relics of yesterday.

DSCN0010.1Our hike took us through the meadow and down to the Battle Creek crossing from the other side. We were so close, we though we might as well see if it was possible to cross the creek on the underwater jeep trail. We attempted to cross it–or rather, the two men did– but when they were up to their waists in rushing water and not even halfway across the first of the two forks, we decided to backtrack. We looked for another place to cross, but no luck. Back we went through the meadow, up one side of the ridge, over Hole-in-the-Wall, and down the other side, back down the jeep trail to home, tired and sweaty, bug-bitten and thirsty. And we would have done it again in a heartbeat.

Laura Elizabeth