The Dakotas

For all of you who may never have been to the Dakotas, I’d like to sing their praises. I’ve just returned from Sioux Falls in South Dakota, and I’ve crisscrossed the state several times this year, stopping in Pine Ridge and Rosebud and visiting Rapid City, Spearfish, Sturgis, and the western Black Hills/Badlands country. As to North Dakota, I visit it frequently because it is a short 120 miles west of my home, and I drive to it and through it constantly for any number of reasons. Both states have a hypnotic power that is intoxicating and addicting.

Folks in the rest of the country tend to make jokes about the Dakotas or else ignore them completely. Mount Rushmore may make a mild blip on the consciousness, and the word “Dakota” may raise a vague thought about Lewis and Clark. But, beyond those, the states blend as one in people’s minds and quickly disappear into a hazy cartoon of endless flatness and utter boredom.

What a pity. These are fascinating places, each very different and each very powerful.

There is no place in the United States. with the possible exception of New Mexico and Arizona, where the Native American presence is such a strong spiritual force as in South Dakota; the South Dakota Badlands are perhaps America’s most lunar landscape; the Black Hills/Paha Sapa rise miraculously, almost spiritually, like an outcropping of small, pine-covered mountains and stone spires; the buffalo grasslands roll and echo with the hoof beats of a former time when our country was young, naive, and a land of conflicts and dreams.

Move into North Dakota and you feel an uncanny sense of lonely peace. The winds of the north blow down upon you; you sense the presence of the great Canadian prairies. The forces of nature loom large here, coming from great distances and carrying intimations of power on every cloud and wind and sunset. When those forces bring peace, it is enveloping and amniotic; when they bring intimations of storms or oncoming winter, they close you in upon yourself with a feeling of insignificance and dread. More than any other state in the lower 48, North Dakota turns your mind and heart to the weather. And any time you are called to an awareness of great natural forces, you are turned toward the spiritual.

So these two states reverberate with spiritual forces. Anyone wishing to remove him or herself from the tiny and jangled concerns of urban angles and corners could do far worse than considering a trip into the Dakotas. They do not have the grandeur of Montana or the drama of Wyoming’s space and mountains. But they speak quietly and directly to the spirit, and the echoes of the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota peoples, as well as the distant whispers of the hardiest of America’s pioneer settlers, are present in every sunrise and rustle of the wind.

I, personally, love the Dakotas. I go there every chance I get. There is a singularity to their experience that focuses the attention, and they have a spiritual complexity born of geography, geology, culture, and history. They are like a quiet, deeply spiritual friend who has a reservoir of depth that no one knows or notices.

I am happy I have gotten to know that friend. I hope you all have the same opportunity someday. It will be a measure of your spiritual acuity and a lesson in learning to listen to the deeper forces of the land.

5 thoughts on “The Dakotas”

  1. THANK YOU. I lived in SD for 14 years (10 in Sioux Falls) and grew up in NE, on the border. SD is one of the best kept secrets of this country. For the past 6 years, I’ve made my home in Nashville… and I do love it here… but SD has it’s claws in me. I miss the people and the empowering spirit all around.

  2. “I long for you Dakota, smell of sweetgrass on the plains…” (Floy Red Crow Westerman)

    I grew up in Michigan, live in Massachusetts, travel to south dakota at least 3 times a year and long for it whenever away from the rolling, pine lined hills and buttes and prairie grasses. The spirituality of the place lingers like the smudge smoke burning sage. The stars in that big sky at night are bigger and brighter than anywhere else on earth.

    if anyone out there would like to see another side of life in south dakota, with the Lakota Sioux, please check out my dvd ” The Warriors Ride” all shot on a five day ceremonial ride in honor of Crazy Horse. All proceeds go to helping Lakota youth on the Pine Ridge Reservation. First up is starting a school where only Lakota is spoken. Order a copy and help us out!!
    there is a clip on youtube and google video as well.

    thx for the letting plug it kent!!


  3. Nerb, No amount of words can thoroughly explain how much better off I am for having gotten to know you way back when – you touch the lives of everyone who either reads your work or has the chance to get to meet and get to know you… keep it up – we’re always listening…

  4. I am from South Dakota ( Wall and Rapid area) My family for generations have lived in the Dakota’s clear back from the pioneer days. My great grandfather had three ranches outside of Wall. I now live in Arizona, but my heart and soul are in the Dakota’s. It is so nice to hear someone who loves that area as much as I do. I still have family in South Dakota, but I have not been back for years. I hope to very soon. Once you understand the pull of the Dakota’s it never leaves you.
    Also I would like to say to Jim how wonderful I think that your goal of starting a school for the Lakota where they only speak Lakota Souix. That is one of the best idea’s I have heard in a long time. I am going to check out your dvd. I would love to contribute to such a goal. Good Luck, I know your dream will be fullfilled!

  5. We face a similar problem in Australia with the Aboriginal tribes & lands. They have such beauty & meaning yet everything is clouded by the Political & Cultural difference to see it. Sad times.

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