The Fourth Year

I missed the day by three weeks, but I couldn’t let this month go by without writing something. Four years and three weeks ago, this little cabin in the Hills became my home. Home. What a beautiful word!

It looked crazy to pretty much everyone who knew us, but the family decision to relocate to South Dakota is a decision I will never regret. God in His love and goodness satisfied a dream that had lived inside me since I was a child, but for years was forgotten. He didn’t need to do that, but He did. God in His goodness radically changed the direction I was headed, starting me in a new direction that hasn’t ceased to amaze me and bring me joy.
Winter beautyThese four years have been some of the most challenging of my life, and some of the richest. God has been stripping me of some heart idols, growing me spiritually, humbling me, teaching me about purpose and meaning and joy and adventure and delight and community and faith and courage. If you had told 20-year-old me what I’d be doing at 28, I would have laughed in your face. I wouldn’t have recognized me. And I probably would have been angry that the little wicked heart idols I was working on at 20 never went anywhere, and that 28 year old me doesn’t even miss them. Thank God for His patience and for the process of sanctification.

This place has gotten into my blood. The rocks and canyons and red dirt trails, the pines and spruces, the resiny air, the wildflowers and shenanigans, the mud and sweat and laughter.Sarah took this picture of me a few days ago while we were doing our Needles Highway hike. This is how the Hills make me feel. I wish I could throw my arms around all the goodness and joy and delight the last four years have brought. What a place. What a wonderful, amazing four years it has been.

Hiking | Mount Baldy

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.IMG_5022eIMG_5029eMoss 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. IMG_4922eIMG_4967eIMG_5016eIMG_5007eIMG_4972eIMG_4971eI’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.
IMG_4956eIMG_4953eIMG_4942eWe 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!

Hiking | Poet’s Table

I always love a new hike. Yesterday, I hiked to a hidden gem of the Black Hills – The Poet’s Table. And since it is an unmarked trail, it is pretty easy to keep it somewhat secret. I went with people who had been there before, which really is the best way to go in the case of the hike like this one, since it would be pretty hard to find it without a guide, even with directions.  The hike is a good scramble in places, not an easy hike, in spite of the short distance. From the trailhead to the Table only takes about 20 minutes, but it involves climbing a crevasse or two and some steep inclines.IMG_5723eWe started at Little Devil’s Tower Trailhead, which would be the most direct route. Since Little Devil’s Tower Trail is part of the Harney Peak Trail System, and the Poet’s Table trail is a spur or loop off the main trail, one could easily incorporate Poet’s Table into a longer hike. If you decide to do this, do Poet’s Table at the beginning when you’re fresh. Not at the end when you’re already tired and footsore.
IMG_5689eIt really is a delightful location, well-hidden, sheltered, and quiet. People who argue that the Black Hills aren’t mountains haven’t seen places like this. Soaring rock spires conceal this spot, and mountains fall away in the distance. A table and chairs and a cabinet filled with notebooks furnish the nook. People have signed their names on the walls, painted pictures, written poetry in the notebooks, and someone even left a bottle of Jack Daniels. There were remnants of an old campfire, and other odds and ends of trinkets and oddities left by previous passers-by. IMG_5672e We meant to eat a camping lunch up there, since I had missed out on the camping trip due to being sick, but a thunder storm rolled through just south of us, barely touching where we were. We could hear the thunder, so we debated for roughly twenty minutes about whether or not it was foolhardy to be sitting up on rocky cliffs with a thunder storm going on (the answer being “yes”, of course), until the storm basically blew by. By then, we weren’t really hungry and dinner was getting close anyway. IMG_5697ePack a picnic lunch. And enjoy the hike and the accompanying pristine views. The Black Hills at their best.

 

Ghost towns

After our short trek to the unnamed ghost town or homestead site on Sunday, and having our visit shortened by rain, we knew we wanted to spend some more time looking around there. We picked Tuesday as the day of choice, little knowing that we would end up enjoying all the variety of Black Hills weather in one day! Not that that would have deterred us, of course! Living in the Hills, one really does get used to very rapid changes in weather, sometimes rapid changes in one area, other times rapid changes due to, for instance, driving over the mountains. IMG_5178Sarah and I took Playhouse Road into Custer, partly for the scenery, partly because it actually is quicker than going over Mt. Rushmore, and the higher the elevation, the snowier it got. Boy, were the trees lovely to see! We met up with a friend in Custer, and drove down towards Pringle, seemingly leaving the snow behind. We poked around in the ruins for an hour or so, turning up pieces of a child’s skate, the top deal of a hand-cranked ice cream maker, the lid of a pressure canner, and lots of blue glass insulators. As much as I would have loved to “collect” them, we dutifully left them behind. I love blue insulators. But a $20,000 fine is a pretty good deterrent. However, it is too bad that cows and elk and weather don’t leave the artifacts alone, evidenced by the shards of glass everywhere. In another ten years of cows, elk, and weather, the artifacts will be all but gone.IMG_5261eWe examined the root cellar more closely, and realized that glass jars and bottles were built into the walls. Some of the bottles were identical to ones I found in our junk piles. Not sure the purpose of building bottles into the walls, but that is something we want to learn about. IMG_5239eWhen rummaging in the remnants of long-gone ghost towns and homes, it can be easy to compartmentalize those locations as being purely “historical.” As if the historical artifacts just planted themselves there, and weren’t put there by a living person. It is so easy to forget that these were places that were bubbling with life. These were homes, busy homes, built by people who knew the meaning of the word “work.” Whether dating to the first gold rush or the homestead and mining years of the early to mid 1900s, these people were true pioneers and adventurers, in ways we can’t even comprehend now.
IMG_5213eWe stayed for about an hour, findings other odds and ends, guessing what the structures might have been, marveling at a giant spreading aspen, so wizened that the bark on the lower trunk looked like an oak or cottonwood. I wonder how much smaller that tree was, when the homestead was being lived on.  The trees down the valley turned grey with approaching snow, and the squall blew in. Rain on Sunday, snow on Tuesday.
IMG_5280eIMG_5282eAs we drove down to our family property south of Pringle, near Argyle, it was still snowing in quite a winterly fashion, but cleared up when we headed west to the property. How variable the weather can be, from place to place and hour to hour! The following two pictures were taken the same afternoon, the first on our hike in to the Box Canyon, and the second on the hike back out, just a couple hours apart.
IMG_5313eIMG_5552eWe enjoyed the scenery, the history, the warm sun, the pasque flowers (well, I did, anyway), and Jake flew his drone over the Box Canyon and Spring-on-Hills Stage Stop. The stage stop dates back to the gold rush days, and was only in use for 2-3 years. IMG_5434eIMG_5336eThis stop would have fallen out of use as a regular stage stop when the entire route was re-routed west of Custer, due to dangerous conditions in this area. It probably continued to be used by immigrants and adventurers who chose to pass this way, but the stage itself was routed further west. All that is left are some foundations and a caving-in dugout. I remember the dugout being intact when I was a kid, but the heavy rain we had a couple of summers ago in particular brought the roof down. There are still old jars inside – Perhaps someone at sometime lived in the dugout, or maybe it was only ever used as a cellar. Who knows.
IMG_5334eThe clouds cleared off and the wind picked up a bit as well, making the drone flying some tricky business. On our hike back out, we saw a herd of antelope in the distance, which for me is always fun, since we don’t have antelope in the Hills. There was also a crazy coyote running around, and lots of bluebirds. I was also fortunate enough to find a patch of Easter daisies, one of the flowers I was hoping to see, since now is their time of year!
IMG_5518eIMG_5573eWe made one last stop on our way back to Custer, to explore some old cabins near the side of the road. We hit the valley right as the sun was getting low in the sky. Furniture and shoes still mouldered in the houses, and swallows had taken up residence. The pump still pumped water. Coat hooks still hung on the walls. A bedframe gleamed in the light from a window. How the past lingers, even as time marches on.
IMG_5595eIMG_5619eIt is rare that we are able to slate a whole day for hiking and exploration. Time marches on. But sometimes you just have to take a whole day to enjoy it.

Slow Rain and Relics

The sun and blue sky of Sunday morning had turned into lowering clouds. The sound of raindrops began to hush around us as we followed an old forest service road towards our destination. Before long at all, everyone else was far ahead and out of sight, while I was hunkered down in the wet grass and pine needles taking pictures of spring’s first flowers. What sweetness! We had temperatures in the 40s, and those of us who had properly layered were plenty warm, even with the gentle rain.IMG_5097eWe were hiking in an area of past burn, south and east of Pringle a couple of miles. Before the trail wove down into a valley, distant hilltops could be seen glowing gently under the grey sky, and even scattered blue sky could be seen off to the south east. We saw ample evidence of elk, but not a glimpse of the majestic creatures themselves. No deer, few birds – It was quiet out in the woods. But in amongst the fallen trees and blackened stumps, the purple of pasque flowers could be seen. Life from death. Beauty from ashes. In areas of previous devastating fire, new life springs up with determination.IMG_5059eThe trail took us to the historical remains we had hoped to find. Old foundations, remnants of walls and chimneys, a water pump, a tumbled-in root cellar, sparkling pieces of colored glass, shards of rusted metal, miscellaneous kitchen items, ancient stoves, door knobs, coffee cans – All relics of the homestead or town site that once stood there and the lives that had previously been lived there. We don’t know its name, or who lived there, or whom they knew, or what they did, or where they came from, but someone had a life in that beautiful little valley. What will I leave behind when I’m gone? It is an interesting thought.IMG_5113eIMG_5105eThe raindrops plinked and pattered on a heap of twisted metal, sounding like the rush of a distant, faraway stream. We poked around in the ruins, and could have spent a lot longer there. We only left reluctantly when we figured we should catch up with the rest of the group, who had already gone back to the truck to keep from getting wetter. IMG_5132eIMG_5129The rain picked up, but that hardly mattered. It is spring, and rain is expected! Sarah pointed out how vivid the colors are in the rain, and she is right. It’s as if the rain washes away a layer of dust, leaving everything clean and fresh with the color plainly seen.IMG_5146eIMG_5173eTime and again we extend our Sunday fellowship through the afternoon with hiking. And time and again, I think how perfect a way that is to end a Sunday. Spending time in God’s glorious creation is refreshing any day of the week, but there is something fitting about it on a Sunday – it seems to me that we are in a way extending the sanctuary of worship into the broader realm of His created handiwork. His handiwork and His attributes are proclaimed in the beauty of the landscape, the intricacies of flowers and plant and animal life, the perfect way this earth holds together and flourishes year after year and century after century. When we marvel at and revel in the natural world, we are marveling at and reveling in the works of God’s hands. What a privilege. IMG_5174eWe headed home in a slow drizzle and stopped at Three Forks to get coffee. Beautiful weather. A beautiful day.

 

The Second Year

March 1st is an exciting day on my calendar, and marks an epoch in my life. Two years ago today we crossed the Missouri River into western South Dakota, for the first time with no departure date in the future. Two years ago today we saw the Rapid City lights flickering in the winter night, welcoming that sight as those coming home after a long journey. Two years ago today we drove south on Hwy. 79, and finally – finally! – saw the familiar flashing light marking the small town of Hermosa, marking now the nearness of home. I watched for that light every time we came to the Hills, and I still get a sense of nostalgia when I am driving home after dark and see that light blinking in the distance. Two years ago today we pulled down the long, red dirt driveway into what had always been home for us. Two years ago today we came “back home,” although no one but Dad had actually ever lived here. Two years ago today. How fast time flies.
IMG_9878Our second year in the Hills felt like our tenth year in the Hills – Nothing about it doesn’t feel like home. We have truly settled in. Our church has  become family, and the closeness hasn’t diminished, but increased. The days and weeks are marked by time spent with family and friends, spent outside in God’s glorious Creation, exciting hikes to new places, teaching piano, fellowship over meals, experiencing a close-knitness with my church family of welcoming and being welcomed into one another’s lives.
IMG_8490The last year hasn’t been without its struggles. There have been plenty. Grandma’s health issues, personal health issues, trials of various kinds, fears, struggles with the general busyness of life and the snug living arrangements. But in all those things, God shows Himself to be faithful. He always provides. And the trials He gives are actually gifts, just like the things we readily perceive to be blessings.

On to Year Three. We will see what God brings!

Laura Elizabeth