Day 7 – Birds in the Black Hills

This is, I think, the closest to nature I have ever come. We had to test my outdoor skills a little to get here. But now I am standing happily next to a gigantic boulder, just around the corner from Sylvan Lake, in the middle of a green meadow, surrounded by a light birch forest. The tall grass is gently swaying all around me, a tiny and agile chipmunk is jumping from branch to branch and from bush to bush, nibbling on small red berries on the way. On my left a pair of what probably are Lark Buntings are calling to each other & eating the same berries as the chipmunk. But their flight from branch to branch looks much more awkward than the chipmunk’s. And when they take off to fly to the next tree you wonder whether they will make it there with their desperately flapping small wings that appear too small for their rather heavy bodies. On my right, instead, there is a couple of (Downy?) woodpeckers. Tiny creatures who nonetheless can make a lot of noise while extracting insects from the tall, dead & apparently very hollow tree standing in the middle of the clearing.

I again feel out of place amongst all these small creatures with their warm bodies and beating hearts. In my next life I want to be reborn as a bird. A bird who can take off, who is not bound to any roads & who can still go wherever he wants.

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Days 5 & 6 – Prairies

Corn. As far as the eye can see. Minnesota is corn. With some soybean in between. Does your society live of nothing else than corn?

Wait, did I just say corn fields ‘as far as the eye can see’? In Minnesota there are at least some farmhouses surrounded by wood lots that brake up the monotony of the landscape. In South Dakota there are only fields. Fields of corn, wheat, some soy, pastures & hay fields. Literally as far as the eye can see. And as there are no hills or mountains to obscure the view, this means probably close to 100km in every direction. But where do the people live who farm these lands? There are almost no farmhouses or villages to be seen anywhere. Just gigantic tractors driving through gigantic wheat fields with gigantic clouds of wheat dust in their wake. The most entertaining part of the landscape are the huge billboards lining the highway, luring you to visit Wall Drug (“a national treasure”) or telling you that “For everything that is wrong, Jesus is right”.

But wait. We are crossing the Missouri river. Did I just really just say ‘as far as the eye can see’? I have to be careful with my words, otherwise none will be left to describe the really grand things. The boring farming country is suddenly replaced by something entirely different. This landscape takes the breath out of you. It is difficult to describe the effect, as the individual elements by themselves do not appear that special. Just dry grassland. Everywhere. But the combination of grasslands and nothing but grasslands stretching until the horizon creates a similar feeling as standing on top of a mountain. Not that I ever stood on a mountain myself but I have stood on mountain passes & I’ve heard my passengers tell about this experience that, from what I understand & imagine, is one of the most amazing feelings in the world. You feel your own insignificance & smallness. And you can only marvel at this big & wonderful world. It is epic & majestic. Standing in the middle of these grasslands, where the hot wind makes the grasses dance & where the sky appears like just a slightly different continuation of the earth, the horizon a subtle line dividing two different phases of the same solution.