Friday, July 24, 2009

The Badlands

Have you seen the wilderness on this trip? Where? When? How did you know it was wilderness? What is and is not "wild," and how do you know?

I know I've blogged about the Badlands a time or two already, but I think it warrants another mention. Of all the things that surprised me on this trip, this might have been the place that caught me off guard the most.

When we set out to see Mt. Rushmore that morning, I had no idea that before nightfall I would have seen half of the state of South Dakota. Driving from Rapid City all the way down to the Lakota reservation (that borders Nebraska) and back, I had a lot of quiet time to observe the scenery. We literally drove hours without seeing anything. Nothing at all. It was when we started to see buffalo that I really thought, "Wow, this is the wilderness."

It wasn't the wilderness I was used to. I'm familiar with mountain ranges that seem to never end, evergreens for as far as you can see, and lakes that appear to be oceans. But looking out at grass and rolling hills with nothing to obstruct my view, seldom even a tree, I felt an overwhelming sense of vulnerability.


If I were to be lost in a forest, I feel like I would be able to survive for a few days on my own. Though I can't name many of them, I'm familiar with the different types of shrubbery in the Pacific Northwest, and I can easily identify materials that would be useful in building a hut. I know how to find berries, and to identify some of the poisonous ones. I know how to look for protein (aka bugs and worms) under rocks and could probably even catch a fish.

What I don't know is what I would do if I were stranded in the badlands. Buffalo are pretty much the only form of life I saw there, and catching one of those? Not plausible. How would I get out of the weather? No trees = no shade. Would I have to dig a cave?

It seems that my definition of wild is somewhat subjective. Someday the Badlands might not be wild to me anymore, in the same way that the forests of the Pacific Northwest aren't wild to me. Wildness hinges on familiarity.



PS - I didn't take these photos...my Badlands photos are still MIA :(

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