Saturday, September 10, 2011

a huge storm appeared to be coming in, with lines of thunder lasting a whole minute, and lightning in the west that would set the dry grasses and woods on fire, if it were to land before it rained, and i stayed inside rather than risk it, gladly anyway since i've been sick a few days, but it never really rained, it just kind of teased us, with a few drops here and there landing on the sizzling grass and gardens. it's cooled off; leaves are falling; it's definitely turned, if not completely, it's at least started. and that's a refreshing change.

so the nearby town, county seat of about three thousand people, compared to our twenty thousand, had a house blow up today that immediately got everyone talking and set a couple of nearby houses on fire also. of course everyone said it was a meth lab, and who knows, they're probably right. people are all into that out in the country, there aren't any jobs, they can't seem to get on at the local wal-mart, and even if they did they wouldn't have insurance. it's a hard and bitter world and it appears that turning to trouble is a common way for lots of folks but trouble is, they don't know what they're doing and they blow whole houses up. everyone says that right away but we'll find out in the news eventually.

way out in harding county south dakota they've lost population steadily for a hundred years to the point that the entire county only has twelve hundred, a quarter of what it started out at the beginning of the century. you'd think when four thousand settled there, back in the cowboy days, it wouldn't take them long to figure out that it was hard to make a living, and head back to gentler land where it's easier to farm. either that or it just became easier to raise a thousand head of cattle with a single guy, as long as he had a helicopter, 4 x 4 and binoculars, so they didn't need the help anymore. whatever, the county seat, town of buffalo, only has three hundred some, and the natural wonders, slim butte and the cave hills, stand out like sore thumbs. if it's 97% white, that means there's maybe twenty or thirty that aren't.

one place that caught my interest was sky ranch for boys, which was 40 years old in january of this year when it closed down, or said it would. what they said was that they only had twenty boys, down from forty, and counties weren't funding boys like they used to, that was a trend that wasn't turning around, so they were shutting their doors. the concept was simple; get wayward boys out onto the open prairie with a horse, a fire and the wide blue sky and that will straighten them out quick, and apparently it worked well, for forty years. we could point to it as one of the bright spots of our culture that we'd think of such a thing, but as i thumb through the pictures of custer national forest and the history of the area i begin seeing it through the eyes of the native americans who mostly got run out of the place, and i can practically hear them saying, yeah, good idea, taking a boy away from his family and original environment, and putting him out here where he probably should have been right from the start. i wonder how they tend to look at the fracking that has made the dakotas the only place left in the lower forty eight that still has jobs. it has jobs because people are willing to dig down a ways and then blow the beshpungus out of the rock in every direction sideways, until the whole thing is undermined. and they wouldn't mind doing it to sky ranch, slim butte and the cave hills, i'm sure.

so i got a letter from the guy who i share this three hundred twenty acres with, if we'd split it i'd have eighty, and he wants to be sure my dad deeded it over to me, which he did, and that makes me rightful owner of eighty acres of wide-open prairie, or some such thing, somewhere in harding county, if i can figure out where. and there's no telling if i could have my pick of which eighty, out of the three twenty, i'd want, or if there was anything anyone could do with any of it. harding county is in the far northwest corner of the state, up by montana and north dakota, north even of the wyoming line, west of the two big reservations, and the big river coming down through the state that seems to divide the arable land (where it's settled, with farms and such) and the wide open grassland. some pictures show roads going off into wide flat spaces, going on forever, but google maps shows gouges and cut valleys, some woodland, dry hills, more like badlands. it could be a combination of both, what do i know?

so here's my plan. this place, sky ranch for boys, obviously needs saving; it needs someone who will move in, use it for its proper value, and revive it. it could be a quaker school (sky ranch was originally heavily funded by the alcohol industry, which is not to say they wouldn't still fund a similar venture), could be a university, could be just about anything. perhaps they've thought of it. i'm not sure why i care all of a sudden.

it was sioux country; the sioux were a wild and free people who still harbor great resentment and probably see even the name "custer national forest" as ironic; i remember passing through southwest south dakota thirty years or so ago, and thinking, there's more racism here than i'm used to, and there were definitely hard feelings on both sides. the hot wind blew from the west, never a cloud in the sky, it seemed; it dried you right up and you'd go for shade and where there was sure water. down there in the south, where there are trees, river valleys, and lots of people, they have rapid city, a town of more like fifty or sixty thousand, and sturgis, deadwood, spearfish, and belle fourche, a whole passel of towns which are all there presumably because it's beautiful, or at least tolerable. who knows what it's like straight north, up in the corner, but my guess is that it's beautiful in its own way, and kind of scary in others. it hasn't voted 20% democrat in, say, about twenty years.

but hey, things aren't perfect down here either, folks are wondering if it'll ever turn around, and if job-man perry comes 'round then obama will have to quick create a couple of thousand jobs just to get reelected. but it won't solve the problem, which is that we sunk half a trillion into afghanistan, another trillion into iraq and airport security, and we can't get it back, and smart money is heading out where people have a little better sense. these south dakota ranchers are the ones out there voting for these stooges, but it doesn't matter, we voted a peace candidate in and he's still mired in it, billions a minute, because he can't figure out how to get out. meanwhile we're back here trying to decide whether to pay firefighters or teachers, or flip a coin, or just eliminate another pension. you can't have everything. and, if you blow the beshungus out of the ground beneath you, it might just cave in someday, i've seen that too, when this tiny town on route 66 way down in the other corner of kansas, just caved in. it makes you wonder, especially when you live in coal country, and there's a history, and nobody talks about it much, 'cause the people who made all the money took off for better horizons, and the only folks left are the descendants of the ones who had no place better to go.

i will say this about the nine-eleven tragedies, though, and that is that it was a huge tragedy, a terrible thing, and all the trillions in the world wouldn't take that away, or even ease the pain, and i'm not even sure we could have avoided throwing a few trillion around in our rage and anger, an entirely natural need for vengeance and closure, but it was truly futile lashing out on our part, didn't help at all; i don't recall feeling any better, even after they grabbed bin laden and dumped him in the sea. i still feel sick about the whole thing, i feel related to the whole city of new york, worldly that they are, and any random terrorist fatality, whether it's in pennsylvania, new york, or gaza, is entirely tragic and unnecessary. and the worst thing about it was, on that day ten years ago, and for about a week following, it was clear and blue, absolutely stunningly gorgeous fall weather. nobody wants to mention that, but it's true, i remember it clearly. and that's proof, if anything, that the weather is just that, it's not related to anything, it just comes along, and maybe it rains, and maybe it doesn't.

so playing the bog, the usual suspects come up: pseudonym, jack grace, onion dip (the longest running one to my knowledge), laxo, fort worth tom. but one contestant wins a single game and disappears: it is what it is. i'm not sure that has to do with anything either. but i'm here to tell you: it was a winner. just once.


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