Dakota: 1st in a series


I haven’t written in a while because I’ve been thinking about what I wanted this site to be.  It is an outlet, to write.   It seems natural, then, to explore the places I’ve been, the places  I’ve lived.   Somehow the search for self is also reflected in our geography, and for me, that also means that geography, wherever I’ve been, is also a spiritual geography.

Dakota is a place, where I heard it said, it is easy to find God because there isn’t all that much else out there.  Sweeping prairies are accented by an ever changing expressive sky.


The sky is ever changing and it became clear to me that here in this Dakota sky, God truly shows Himself to be an artist. One moment the sky can be the clearest blue with no clouds; and then the sky will darken and ominous clouds come from nowhere, and the wind, which never stops blowing, will suddenly barrel out of oblivion carrying with it hailstones the size of apples, driving rains that make driving impossible, showing Mother Nature at her moodiest self.   Then the sky at night with the stars so numerous, so bright and so close it is as if you could reach up and touch God Himself:


(photo taken by Randy Halverson)

It is moody, it is ostentatious, it is powerful, it is serenely beautiful.   It is empty, yet full of life. I saw my first bald eagle in Dakota. There are antelope, white tailed deer, mule deer, elk, and hawks. The state bird is the meadowlark, which has a song like no other. The prairie reflects emptiness like a reflection of my lowest moments. Stars like diamonds fill the emptiness like my most joyous moments.  Sunsets like the light that is my soul; so many colors, none the same.

The prairie changes colors in the fall.  It was a surprise to me, this land with few trees; I was surprised the first time I noticed.  I was used to the ostentatious display of color in my native Minnesota. The prairie puts on quite a show. Green fades to reds, fades to gold, fades to yellow, fades to brown.   Laura Ingalls Wilder once said that the prairie and the sky constantly changes; no day is the same, and she was right.   Although she and I had to leave to write about it, because for me, I could never get used to the isolation, there is something about Dakota that gets into your heart and stays there.  Kathleen Norris in her book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography put it like this:

A monk does not speak lightly of the soul, and Kardong finds in the Plains the stimulus to develop an inner geography.  “A monk isn’t supposed to need all kinds of flashy surroundings.  We’re supposed to have a beautiful inner landscape. Watching a storm pass from horizon to horizon fills your soul with reverence. It makes your soul expand to fill the sky.”

To Dakotans, weather is everything.  Especially rain. When is it going to rain? is the most asked question.  Rain is integral to everything–water for the cows, water for the grass that feeds the cows, water for the crops.  Drought years, which can span 3-5 years in the worst, spawns a kind of hopelessness and the land becomes as rough and lined as the ranchers’ faces who have survived there for generations.   I worked in a ranch supply store for a year and when it rained, we couldn’t keep rain gauges in stock.   Constant talk about the rain fueled many conversations between the cowboys who hang out socializing while they shop for fence and ranch supplies.   These are tough people, good hearted people who don’t take crap from anybody, who are suspicious of newcomers, who have an insecurity about where they live and this explains the suspicion when someone from somewhere else moves in.  What are they doing here? is the natural question.  If you’re a professional, like a teacher, the general thought is why would you come all the way out here?  If you were any good, you’d be living in the city.   Gossip reigns supreme in the small town, and more than once I heard about the exciting life I was living when in reality I was really not living such an exciting life at all.

The Natives form another color on the prairie; a people of such beauty and generosity I was never more honored to be around.  They embody so much more than the “poverty porn” that is shown to the world.  There are gatherings, give-aways, done a year after someone passes to honor their life.  Whenever I went to a gathering on Rosebud, there was always a lot of food, laughter and conversation.  Music, and dancing.  The first week I was there some of them put on a dance demonstration for the new teachers. I remember sitting there hearing the steady beat of the drum feeling the emotion well up in my heart I knew not from where.  They are belonging;they are the stewards of the land, they are the ones we ignore; we are the colonizers, they the colonized–but there is a spirit that lives among them that has never died.


Dakota.  I think about it on days when the city becomes too crowded, when people push in too closely; I crave the isolation at times, when I seek the face of God.  This great ocean of grass that shines and ripples in the wind, that has a whispering music of its own, where land is joined to sky in a marriage that is tempestuous and where neither could not be separated from each other like soulmates.  This is my Dakota.

We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” 
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods







Darkness creeps down over the passage of years




I stand in a vision in choking darkness

staring at a never healed wound

in the soul of this country

Civil war whispers out of the past

and I see a flash of red out of the corner

of my eye

the blood of thousands marches out of the

mists murmuring unrest and hate

Then I see them.

Faintly at first like candlelight they follow

the procession of the dead

orange glow flickering firelight

the hopeless and the angry full of false equivalencies walk in lockstep muted unreasoned fury in restraint

waiting to be unleashed

a river of fire wending endlessly a snake of fire

heavy passions twisted into patriotism

Boldly hate is unmasked

Done are they waiting for the answer

they have come as Death’s minions armed with clubs and guns and fire and fury

vigilantes for liberty of the white race

They have come to save us from extinction

You see.

They are heroes waiting ruthlessly to die for their country

to be made into statues like the heroes

of a lost cause long ago who have stared into the future with the alacrity of a sleeping dragon

There is no shame in their hatred of Other

Darkness seeps into light at last and there is none to stop them

only victorious leaders watching silently

as their napalm atomic vision of victory over the enemies that have watered down and delayed their being

grows closer to resurrection

Out of the darkness hurtles Death and her dark demons follow after her gleefully applauding bodies flying into the air

they have shed first blood

they are soldiers on the front lines where truth is inverted and lies are truth and freedom isn’t freedom and we are the enemy and following after

this tiki torch parade

follows demonic faces with swastikas carved into them and Evil wrapping

blackness into a cloak daring

God and Peace and Love and Truth to

stop it

Ravens pick at the dead and the storm


Passing through

In the valley are dips and swells and
as I walk slowly through sometimes on top
thinking I see everything
sometimes below thinking I see nothing
sometimes with my soul singing I think
I go on forever with the Lord of Hosts
arm and arm journeying in the darkness
I need no friends then for all is well with my soul
sometimes like today
perhaps there is nothing to me except empty intentions and insincerity perhaps
this is all there is and I die alone surrounded by trees and hills and plateaus where no one will find me
they call this a dark night of the soul
I lamblike, bleat my way through the brambles
calling for


Sun sets.

Poem of the day: A Blessing by James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.

And the eyes of those two Indian ponies

Darken with kindness.

They have come gladly out of the willows

To welcome my friend and me.

We step over the barbed wire into the pasture

Where they have been grazing all day, alone.

They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness

That we have come.

They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.

There is no loneliness like theirs.

At home once more,

They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.

I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,

For she has walked over to me

And nuzzled my left hand.

She is black and white,

Her mane falls wild on her forehead,

And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear

That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.

Suddenly I realize

That if I stepped out of my body I would break

Into blossom.

Poem of the day: Miracles by Walt Whitman

Why, who makes much of a miracle?

As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,

Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,

Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,

Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,

Or stand under trees in the woods,

Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night

with any one I love,

Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,

Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,

Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,

Or animals feeding in the fields,

Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,

Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet

and bright,

Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;

These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,

The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.


To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,

Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,

Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,

Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,

The fishes that swim–the rocks–the motion of the waves–the

ships with men in them,

What stranger miracles are there?


i am swept up in grace

No longer myself but a vision I once had

briefly a flash of light you created anew

the stars know

as does all of creation that you move among us soundlessly the gardener in his garden pronouncing everything good

you are the artist painting rainbows across the sky the blue jay brushes against the sky blue look close

In the blackness of the raven you hide subtle rainbows shown by sunlight

you are not in the thunder but in the poetry of silence; in the sound that raindrops make or the hushed glorious way that sunbeams touch the earth at end of day

in the feather softness of wings in upward rushing flight listen

the music of the spheres

symphony into the aurora borealis transformed

dancing here below

You are

the graceful muted movement of deer steps in the woods you


the soundless, steady movement of color weaving through the trees in autumn the low music water makes journeying ever downriver

You are.


your still silent voice is louder to me than crashing thunder profound in its depth and tenor


the wind whispers you everywhere

you are

I am

I am

the leading

The stars blanket the night symphony playing

The sharp notes of late summer. 

The white streak across the sky a swathing

Path to eternity.

I wonder where it goes my eyes following into nothingness at horizon’s edge my dreams run before it into


Butterflies dance glorying in sunlight

Their brief lives playing out before my eyes swallows dip and dive over my head flashing overwater telling me shore is in sight

Journey’s end

This long journey spanning lifetimes and I sit

Lakeside winging my way geese-like overland looking for a place to land

My heart already gone

Already home.



Rain falls all around



Me, I am in a lighted room listening a


all around me in

Muted fashion the rat-a-tat dripping drops

Rhythmically my tin rooftop echoes dancing faster

downwards like cushioned toe shoes ballet-like drip-dropping dribble plop splash drizzle pour





Recording time

I don’t see distances slipping and sliding through time

month by month it increases, thunderheads in the sky

sun tinged.

There is something about the bigness of our souls now,

the way lovers embrace or knots are tied,

or how fish cannot live without the ocean, or

deeply rooted trees

the mystery of long dead stars shining in the night sky–

I walk on. Always east, always towards the rising sun,

bending, sweeping shining, rippling prairie grasses witness metamorphosis.

God is in every one of them, hairs on the head of earth, knowing them all, knowing each hawk perching on telephone poles, each flight, each plummet

where the roots of each rainbow lay in span of years

still I see that quiet shy boy, wearing maturity like an oversized shirt, speaking of future-dreams, my whole life in your eyes we coasted on years sometimes rudderless,

adrift on seas of time and consequence

love wrote us, writes us still