Mount Baldy is behind Mount Rushmore. Old Baldy is near Spearfish. However, some maps have Mount Baldy labeled as Old Baldy. And the register box at the top of Mount Baldy says “Old Baldy.” Someone got their wires crossed, somewhere along the line. Anyway, it was a beautiful day for a hike, and to Mount Baldy we went. We had a group of thirteen, I think, trekking cheerily through the springing afternoon. The trails and sights in the Mount Rushmore area are truly stunning. The granite spires pierce from the ground towards the sky. Large boulders perch precariously on top of larger boulders, which is essentially what Mount Baldy is. A very, very large boulder pile.Moss and kinnikinnick provided lush ground cover, and stands of stately aspen caught the sunlight in their white branches. They, too, will be green soon. Cairns were stacked carefully at intervals along the less-visible part of the trail. They were few enough that not seeing them didn’t mean we weren’t on the right trail, but seeing them suggested that we were. I’m not going to attempt to provide any sense of direction for this hike, or what trails to take, other than to say that the trailhead is at the Wrinkled Rock climbing area, the segment of the trail we did was only about 3.5 or 4 miles round trip, and the right direction is up. If you can go higher, you’re not there yet. It is an exhilarating chore to get to the top. A fair amount of elevation gain is packed into a relatively short hike. The last 20 or so minutes to the top is nothing short of a rough scramble, finding foot and hand holds on steep rock faces, squirming up narrow and deep crevasses. I’ve never been much for scrambling. Perhaps I’ve taken too many falls on level ground, and had one too many close calls on the ladder up to our loft bedroom. Clumsiness creates some paranoia. But I have to say, it was great fun. And the views from the top were unbelievably beautiful.
We didn’t linger at the top, since a freezing gale was blowing up there and we’d left the warmth a few levels down. We admired the views, signed the register, snapped some pictures, and scrambled and slid back down the way we had come. The sun was just getting low when we got back to the trailhead. A great afternoon hike. The perfect hike to kick off the spring hiking season!
Just behind our cabin and against an old gate grows a stand of slender aspen trees. No one knows why Grandpa planted them against the gate, but that’s where he planted them, and that’s where they’re flourishing. They’re placed just so, so that when seen from the cabin in the morning hours in the summer, the leaves glow and flicker and glint like little green flames. And in the spring when their catkins are blooming, when the morning sunlight catches in the little hairs in just the right way, the aspens and their grey and pink catkins become a pale cloud of silvery, shimmering lights. The effect is breathtaking, startling, and a slightest change in the light breaks the spell.
How often that is the case! Something of exquisite beauty cuts us to the soul, and fades as quickly as it appeared. I think that is part of God’s goodness, to show us glimpses of breathtaking beauty, but then, as if to remind us that we aren’t meant for this world, He leaves us with the only memory of it and a desire for more. Perhaps that is one reason I love photography – I can try to capture that memory and hold it dear a little longer, a little nearer, and remember it a little clearer. What delight!
During and after the Legion Lake Fire, a lot of tears were shed (figuratively and literally) over the devastation wreaked upon the beautiful landscape of Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. Of course wildfire is devastating, and it is terrible and terrifying when it threatens human habitation, but it is a natural process necessary to the health of the wilderness ecosystem. No, the landscape will not be the same. Yes, it will be changed. Yes, the land will bear the scars of that devastation for years to come. And this picture is glorious proof of the renewal that comes from that same devastation, mere months after the fact.
It is a uniquely human desire for things to “never change.” What is there in this life that “never changes?” Nothing. Change is a good thing. Yet we cling to the familiar, and instinctively react to change as if it was an evil, when in reality that change, though painful, may be God’s way of strengthening us, renewing us, shaping us, and making us more like His Son.
The black is greening up. And one thing is certain…the buffalo and other critters eating that tender, young grass are definitely not complaining. So drive through the Parks and make mental note, and then drive them again later this spring, and summer, and next year. God has equipped them to be renewed. So in a strange, haunting way, even the burned areas are beautiful.
One year (plus a little) ago, Anna gifted me with the sweetest gift anyone has ever given me, the little cat, Ember. The spontaneity is part of what made the gift so sweet. But Ember was a creature Anna knew I would love. And she was so right.
When she first became mine, she was a flighty, timid little thing that I doubted would ever be a house pet. She was scared of everything, scared of the dogs, scared of the ordeal of getting past the dogs to come into the house, scared of any sudden movement, etc., etc., etc. So I also doubted that she would ever be my cat, in the sense that she would respond particularly to me. Now, cats aren’t exactly lauded for their human bonds and really have kind of a reputation in the other direction, but over the months, Ember has become very specifically my cat. Enough so that she went on a hunger strike while I was in Alaska over the summer, and the tiny cat became the emaciated cat. She’s better now.
What a transformation little Ember has undergone! She went from being a stand-off-ish, aloof creature, to being a lively member of our small household. I love waking up to find her curled up in a little ball in the crook of my knees, or sleeping right on my chest. Frequently she is awake before I am, but as soon as she hears me moving around, she comes up the ladder into the loft, talking and chattering, and begs for attention. She has become a study buddy for some online classes I’ve been taking, and a movie-watching buddy on sister night. She keeps me company when I’m folding laundry, or cooking, or reading, and has her favorite places she likes to hide. She comes to her name, loves to talk, and if she happens to be inside when I get home, she greets me eagerly. What a darling.
People who don’t like cats just haven’t met the right one.
After several days of tantalizingly springlike weather, winter decided it wasn’t moving out just yet. Which is just fine with me. “No travel” advisories were issued, and I hunkered down at home to read, edit pictures, and play in the snow. It was a beautiful, still, gentle snowstorm, with areas in the Hills receiving a foot or more of snow. We received a delightful 7 or 8 inches. And it was a wet snow! Wildflower season is coming up!
As always, Trixie, our snowdog, was positively invigorated and raced around insanely, with a giant goofy grin on her funny little face. I walked up to Grandma’s to get vanilla for snow ice cream, and along the way Trixie found herself a treasure – a deer leg, perfectly intact. She carried it around and gnawed on the nasty thing. She tried to avoid me, since she doesn’t trust us not to take her treasures away, apparently, and finally resorted to burying it.
Over the last few weeks, the birds have really started to sing again, and the birdfeeder up at Grandma’s house is routinely covered with a host of the feathered things. Little bird footprints mark the snow beneath the feeder. The tiny creatures hardly seem to feel the cold. Spring is just around the corner. But for now, I’ll enjoy another rush of winter.
Whenever it occurs to me that I’m actually living in the Black Hills, my heart skips a beat. I think of where I was 3 years ago and where I am now, and there is something delightfully surreal about it. When I drive to work in Rapid City and drive through Keystone, or over the mountains to Custer, passing beneath the granite spires and over bits of road precariously perched on a cliffside, I just smile. This is home.
Because three years ago, March 1, 2015, my family arrived (finally) in our new home. So March is a special month.
How quickly the last three years have gone, in some regards. Yet there has been a delightful slowness about the passage of time as well. I love to feel that I’m actually tasting the time, savoring it, and can remember it. The memories are good. Even the sad or difficult memories are good. Because God is good, and He is the author of this story, and the giver of good gifts. And this gift of moving to the Hills shook up my life, shook up my soul.
I can’t imagine where I’d be if we hadn’t moved here. I know if God hadn’t had it in His plan for us to move here, He would be fulfilling His plan for me in some equally good way. But I am so thankful that His plan involved the Black Hills. I’m thankful for my church, for the work opportunities I’ve had, for God’s glorious creation that I am drawn into more and more, for the ways God has brought me places that had never even occurred to me, for the adventures, for the normalness, for the joys and sorrows, for the beauty and the struggles and the sweet moments.
And so I smile, and I thank the LORD. This is home. This is home.