South Dakota – No Place I’d Rather Be

I have been awoken by lightning. Great, powerful flashes of it, flickering in an asynchronous beat all around me, in every imaginable rhythm, in every possible direction. It is as if the heavens have decided to let down their giant disco ball and are twirling it around the gods’ roller rink in celebration of summer.

I am sleeping in the parking lot of a casino just over the border of South Dakota. Technically I am on Sioux land; the flag flying in the wind by the casino door tells me so.

The sky was threatening to storm, all day, it seemed, not because of storm clouds gathering, or because of darkness overhead, but because of the heaviness in the air. You can feel a thunderstorm brewing long before you can see it. It assails the subconscious long before the senses.

The rain washes in torrents down my truck window. I have to go to the bathroom, but I’ll wait. That is the beauty of thunderstorms; what seems to differentiate them from ordinary rainstorms, which can last all day; the way they release their tension, and then travel down the road, to threaten some other town, or some other open prairie. They are like motorists, in that way; you rarely have to wait long for them to pass.

It has been about ten minutes now, and the rain has settled into a drizzle. The lightning flashes have grown fainter, and farther away; the party has moved on to another scene, another venue.

I climb out of the truck and walk down the road a ways to the nearby truck stop. It’s warm outside, very warm. It smells wonderful, like fresh rain on fresh grass. It smells like New England. It feels like New England, too; that heat of summer that never seems to let go, even in the night. It clings to your body, your bed, your home. To the earth itself.

It’s one of the aspects of the Bay Area to which I’ve never grown accustomed. How cold it is at night, even in summer. It never feels natural to me, the chill that descends in the evening, making you question whether it’s really July or August or September. How I’ve missed those warm, sometimes even scorching summer nights. How, even all these years later, I still long for them.

This heat, this midnight warmth speaks to me. The rain speaks to me. The lightning, yes, even the thunder and the lightning speak to me. They speak to me of home, of security, of comfort. My heart – in spite of itself – speaks back.

I am walking back across the parking lot to my truck. I feel as wonderful as the air smells. It is one-thirty in the morning, local time. I have slept for about three hours. I am almost tempted to move on, I feel so awake, so alive now.

But I won’t. I feel at home here, in the back of my truck, in the parking lot of an American Indian casino, in a largely uninhabited portion of South Dakota. It feels natural to me, being here, cuddling up in my little bed and sleeping here. This is where I wanted to be all along. I knew it, without knowing why. I still don’t know why. I only know that it suits my mood. It suits me.

I almost wish I could stay here for a while. I wouldn’t mind finding a little place to hole up in, and enjoying the rest of a truly rural, truly traditional – to my mind – summer, while it lasts. There would be plenty for me to do, plenty for me to enjoy. I could sit and watch the rain, then watch the sun dry it up. Sit and smell the grass; smell the rain feeding it, the sun feeding it, too. Let them feed my soul and feed my spirit, the sun and the rain. Let them fill me up, too; let them warm and wet me, watch me revive under their nourishment, watch me grow.

But I know I can’t. I shouldn’t. I’ve got to be moving on. While there’s still time.

Here there doesn’t seem to be any time. Only the sun, and the rain, and the never-ending growth of new grass.

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11 thoughts on “South Dakota – No Place I’d Rather Be

  1. Charli Mills

    Don’t know what the return trip plan is, but if you swing north to go through Glacier then head west on HWY 2 and catch HWY 95 south to Spokane and then the Pacific Northwest coast, I’m on the route and you are welcome to stay–real bed, shower, huckleberries and I grill most every night!

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      Ooh, sounds tempting! Haven’t quite figured out which way I’m going yet, though. Most likely I’m going to avoid the coast and save that for next year when I finally make my Alaska trip. Maybe I’ll see you then! :)

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  2. Charli Mills

    Such a beautiful piece of writing, your heart pouring out on the page. I’m reading and cheering for you to stay. I know what you mean about nights in the opposite way. Having grown up in northern CA and lived in various mountainous states, I love how summer nights cool off! In ’98 we moved to IA (for a brief stint because the flatness and corn freaked me out) then to MN and I could never reconcile those humid nights in summer. Now I’m in Idaho, loving the cool that comes with darkness! I think this has to be the best experiential description of a thunderstorm I’ve read!

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  3. jan

    A very lovely bit of writing. I felt like I was there with you all the way. My father was raised in South and North Dakota – the winters can be pretty nasty! Travel safe!

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    1. lorilschafer Post author

      Yup – the weather’s already starting to turn. Got under my comforters the other night in my sweatshirt and sweatpants and still woke up cold. The cattle still seem perfectly comfortable, though ;)

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