The Badlands – State Park – Bring on the Bacon
Dinosaurs were still on my mind as we packed our gear to hit the trail in the morning. Staying in Badlands National Park in a rustic cabin with a guest rabbit who visited every morning added charm to what proved to be a rugged climb up Saddle Pass. But I digress. One of the real treats during our stay came to us by way of the Cedar Pass Lodge diner. Breakfast is buffet all the way in the old West. While I normally don’t opt for pork, there was something compelling about the bacon. Bill conceded my point that the land still belonged to the dinosaurs “on average” pausing to bliss out on the best bacon either of us ever tasted. When I complimented the cook, who sat out back on a stump, he smiled through his handlebar mustache and said, “That makes me want to try a little harder next time.” The Tao of bacon; my first teaching of the day.
Lunar, Martian, frozen dinosaurs, ancient sea beds? The Badlands are eroding before our eyes, time rolling down the weathered, red and grey veined cliffs in little pebbles, the occasional boulder. Just another speck in the cosmos, I marveled at the vast, water carved history of the earth laid out before us, a living topographic map. Struggling up a steep, gravely trail called Saddle Pass, Bill and I emerged onto a prairie floor 1/4 mile above the other prairie below. The buttes were above us and below us with two prairies stretching in between. It was as if we emerged onto an African savannah through a narrow opening in the valley of time. I do not exaggerate, the dinosaurs will vouchsafe for me. Gave a little blood to the land, honored the ancestors and proceeded to the Buffalo Gap national grasslands, stopping at a lovely oasis along the way.
So came my second and most valuable lesson. The zen prairie dog who never blinked while I snapped several pictures from the window of the car was an elder in a town of chirping, cavorting, scuttling prairie dogs. There were always sentinels, looking out for the clan, who were very affectionate and frisky; a caring, lively community. There were miles of these towns along Sage Creek Rim road. But we were there to see the bison. It took us almost 7 miles to see a lone bull, standing under a tree and a few more miles to find several small herds, peacefully snacking on prairie grass. Parked on the dirt road in the middle of two hills of bison, we turned off the car and sat watching the herd. Bison are unlike cattle: their shapes, the look in their eyes, the grunting noises they make, the shaggy manes and little jumpy tails. While their rocking horse running gait was sort of comical, they seemed to glide along effortlessly when walking and grazing. The buffalo calves were goofy and played as comfortably with the big bulls as they did with the females and other youngsters, another peaceful, loving community in action. I wish I could describe the deep, noble feeling emanating from these large, soulful beings. White buffalo calf woman gave the American Indians the gift of the buffalo, which sustained them. The ancestors made their presence known. Again, I was humbled and deeply moved by the peace in the sound of the grass blowing in the wind. If human beings were as loving to one another as prairie dogs and bison are, our world would be renewed.