Thursday, July 13, 2017

Lost and Found

I was disappointed to find out that a map to my favorite secret place in the Black Hills has been published. It's not a good map. Kind of vague and not very detailed. But, combined with many social media references, as well as some well worn paths, the Poet's Table is not much of a secret any more.

That "leaning birch tree" mentioned in the directions is obviously an outdated reference. Here is what's left of it -

I do remember when it was a significant landmark. Not so much these days.

The pictures I have seen lately show the actual table completely carved up with names and initials of visitors to this unique and contemplative place. So I decided to make another trek up there to see for myself how bad it is. It's bad. Not only is the table itself in terrible condition, so is the cabinet containing all sorts of writings, books, trinkets and various forms of art and personal expression. One of the chairs is broken. The rock walls all around have also been scarred and covered with names. Why? What is it that causes so many people, including Alan, Kip, Paige, Max and Willie G to feel a desire to do such damage? Is it some misguided attempt at immortality? A need to feed the ego? Underlying tendencies toward creating mischief? Whatever the temptations may be, there certainly are a lot of people giving in.

The hike up there still provides many visual delights. Unusual and interesting rock formations -

Twisted and odd shaped trees and remains of trees -

 I always take the long way when I go up. It takes me to this well hidden place about 400 feet away (as the crow flies) from the Poet's Table location but invisible from any trail -

Judging from it's mostly pristine condition, I don't think many people know about it. Yet. Great views. Quiet. A good spot to just be still.

Overall I was slightly disappointed with my recent visit to the Poet's Table. Something has been lost. It could be simply that the mystery is not as deep as before since it has become so well known. And seeing the graffiti and damage was discouraging. But, the day was saved by two was the arrival of two hikers who just seemed happy to be there. Especially the little guy. He couldn't wait to put pen to paper and begin writing. I kind of wish I would have stayed to see what he wrote. 

I do get some enjoyment out of seeing others I encounter here and on the trail smiling and enjoying these Black Hills that I love so much. 
The other positive event was when I found a simple painting buried beneath a pile of random pages. A watercolor that I felt came truly from the heart of the artist. If people can be so inspired by this place, then who am I to complain about its physical appearance?

So, as with life in general...usually when something is lost, something is found. It's a balance. And I guess all we can do is try to maintain that balance, make art in whatever form suits you, take care of each other, do good work and enjoy nature. Wherever and however we find it.

Roger O'Dea     7/13/2017

Sunday, April 30, 2017


"In schools we keep teaching that history is divided into American history and Chinese history and Russian history and Australian history....we're teaching kids that they are divided into tribes. We're failing to teach them that we also, as human beings, share problems that we need to work on together."   David Christian
No man is an island…
"But without a tribe, that’s exactly what you are: a loner, a rebel. Not a pioneer, a vagrant. As poetic as it may seem to go it alone, you need people to help you accomplish your vision (whatever it may be)."  Seth Godin

So which is it? Tribe or no tribe? I've been thinking about that lately. Maybe because the word seems to be popping up more often. Not in relation to Native American tribes in this country, or African tribes, or primitive tribes in the Amazon, but tribes as defined by the writer Jeff Goins -
"...existing groups of people formed around very specific interests and passions."
As examples he listed Vegans, J.K. Rowling readers and the Southern Baptist Convention. You get the idea. I've even used the word myself, in the context of talking about like minded people I have as friends or that I get to hang out with once in a while and that I wish were my friends. I am also wondering if you can be part of and have allegiance to more than one tribe.
I like being around people like this -

 And also these guys -


Can I be part of both? Can being in a tribe (or tribes) cut me off from others? Or cause me to give up on people who are not part of my tribe? 
I guess it probably comes down to whether or not you only associate with others in your same tribe. That would not be a good thing. You would be too sheltered, and possibly lured into a false sense of security, never being confronted with a reality check. If everyone around you thinks and acts and even looks like you, there are no challenges to be met. We all need to be challenged occasionally. 
The other side is that without a tribe to call your own, will you feel like an outcast and alone to make your own way without regard for the welfare of others? I've known people like that, too. The ones who say, "Leave me alone. I don't need anybody. I'm fine on my own." That's as sad as someone taking refuge within a tribe, under their protection, and never venturing beyond those boundaries. I don't know the answer, or even if there actually is an answer. And, if there is an answer to these questions, it is most likely different for each individual asking. 

It's kind of funny (frustrating? ironic?) that even after all this talk about tribes, I'm still not sure how to measure their value. I'm not even sure I'm actually a part of one. Maybe I'm that one mentioned above...the loner, the rebel. Yeah, that's me. The bad boy rebel loner. Right. Well, I do have a leather jacket and a motorcycle. And I do value my alone time. However, I wouldn't last very long without what I consider my tribe. It's small, but it's awesome. New members are always welcome. No application required and there's no initiation fee. Feel free to join up. Anywhere. Any time. 

Roger O'Dea     4/30/2017    

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mixed Feelings (and finding a fort)

There was a post on social media the other day about construction of a new observation deck at Little Spearfish Falls. I did not know about that plan, which is surprising because I try to keep up on the news about development in Spearfish Canyon. It's the area managed by the State Department of Game, Fish and Parks so they have every legal right to make "improvements." This, however, does not strike me as much of an improvement. There was already a fence to safely allow viewers to look over the top of the Falls. This will extend the viewing area somewhat, but at the expense of those viewing the Falls from below. Upon completion the folks at the bottom will now be looking up at the top of the falls where the water begins its cascade down to the creek below...while also looking at all the spectators on the new platform at the top. Seems like it will kind of ruin the view from both perspectives.

It's actually a mess up there right now. Lots of signs.

The other disturbing sight I saw on my recent hike in that area was the considerable cutting of tree limbs. I'm not a forester, but I can't imagine how cutting so many branches can actually have that much of a positive effect. I'm sure the trees don't like it. I saw so many trees attempting to heal themselves. There was some evidence of success, but most remain terribly scarred.

Fresh cut - the healing begins

Rare example of a mostly successful healing

I'm conflicted by the current development and the proposed state park plan (supposedly shelved...for now) because, while I understand the need for easier access for those who are less mobile due to illness, injury or age, I prefer the more primitive areas. I'm afraid those will disappear. There should be a way to find a balance, but often when development starts - it doesn't stop. All the trails are groomed, all the roads are paved, parking is limited to spaces between the lines, and access is denied. Even when I'm too old to hike the backwoods and rocky trails at higher elevations, I wouldn't want those things to no longer be available to persons who can still enjoy them just to accommodate me.

Perhaps most of all I worry about people not being able to build secret forts.  Like this one -

It's a place I've been hiking to for many years. I can't tell you the exact location. That would not be cool. It would "out" my fellow travelers who have been responsible for so much activity there. I have seen structures of varied sophistication come and go through the years. Some resembling a sweat lodge, others dark and kind of creepy, others open and colorful like the one there now. The builders of the current digs call it their fort. How I know is by reading their note in the small journal they placed in a plastic bag and tied to a rock outcropping. They also asked, "please don't destroy our fort." I've never seen any activity there that could be considered vandalism, so I think the fort is safe. Until someone else comes along and decides to remodel. 
Funny thing, though, I have never met or encountered any others during my many visits. That's probably because if I see other vehicles parked anywhere near the partially concealed starting point of the trail - I don't stop. Others probably make the same decision when they see my vehicle. It's like an unwritten rule. An understanding between denizens of the canyon. I don't bother them and they don't bother me. And if ever our paths do cross words may not be spoken, but a smile and knowing nod will surely be shared as we go about our way.
And you know what? There has never been any need for our merry band of hikers and fort builders to erect a barricade with the words "Keep Out" or to post a sign saying "No Trespassing." Sometimes...most of the time...the honor system works just fine. It's called trust. Let's try that more often. I, for one, promise to never ever destroy your fort. And I will be thankful for the opportunity to visit once in a while.

Roger O'Dea     4/15/2017

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Pretty Good Weekend

It wasn't just the opening of my photography show that made this past weekend so special. The staff at the gallery is great...every one of them. Very professional and very cool. The good vibes and positive energy they maintain at that place are incredible. But the big takeaway for me was the realization that in addition to my family I constantly find myself surrounded by an amazing circle of friends, peers, colleagues and collaborators. Some of those categories overlap, but whatever title or description may apply, I am so lucky to know these people. I was nearly overwhelmed by the number who showed up to see the exhibit Friday night and Saturday. Larry, Ellen, Linda, Bruce, Nancy and Doug, Billy and Karin, Mike and Michelle, D'anna and Dean, Sarah, Bill, Rex and Joanne, Steve and Molly, and the woman who told me a wonderful story about one of my photos on display. I had no idea.

It's worth repeating - I am so lucky to know these people. And it was wonderful to see some of their family members, a few whom I know and one or two I had never met. I've thought about this before, but now is a good time to say it...treasure all of the people in your life, including the ones you don't see often or have much interaction with on a regular or even an occasional basis. Think about them right now. Say their names out loud. The ones who have had a positive impact on your life. The ones who have inspired you. The ones who have helped you grow and learn and live. The ones who have been there for you, including the ones who were there only in spirit...but still they were there nonetheless.
This is not meant to be a lesson or a lecture. It's just a reminder, because sometimes we forget what's important and what we should be thankful for. Sometimes I forgot. Or at least, didn't give it much thought. That changed for me this weekend. It has finally sunk in. I will never take my tribe for granted again. And will try to remember to thank God and the Universe every day for the blessings I have received, not the least of which are the good people I am privileged to know.

Roger O'Dea     2/6/2017

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016: Serial Killer

The title of this post was taken from a comment by my friend, Crystal. The description is accurate. The death toll for the year 2016 is staggering, and each of us was touched in some way.

Muhammad Ali. He truly was "The Greatest"

Keith Emerson and Greg Lake. I loved that band "from the beginning."

Arnold Palmer. "The King"

Garry Shandling. Told a joke once about cows on the Tonight Show that I still laugh about.

Alan Rickman. Professor Snape. But also Harry, a foolish and flawed man very well played in the movie Love Actually.

David Bowie. "Far above the moon Planet Earth is blue, and there's nothing I can do."

Prince. "I only wanted to be some kind of friend. It's a shame our friendship had to end."

John Glenn. When asked what his job was he could answer "Astronaut."  How many people can say that?

Gene Wilder. You may remember him as Willy Wonka. I remember him best in Blazing Saddles. His name was Jim, but most people just called him...Jim.

George Kennedy. Dragline in Cool Hand Luke. Forget Naked Gun and Airport, watch Cool Hand Luke.

Merle Haggard. "Mama tried to raise me better..."

Leonard Cohen. You know his poetry and music, but did you know he became a Zen Buddhist Monk at age 62? He resumed writing and recording after living in seclusion for nearly five years.

We also lost R2-D2 (Kenny Roberts) and Carrie Fisher. Princess Leia. And just today, her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

There were more. I won't mention them all. And there were others who were not famous. Those are the ones that hit us on a more personal level. One of them I will mention. SaCressa Fleming. She wasn't famous or a celebrity...well...wait a minute. I just looked up synonyms for 'famous' and found these: important, influential, memorable, remarkable, extraordinary. The word notorious was also listed. I guess she may have been a little of that, too. But only in a most wonderful and magnificent way. So I guess she really was famous. And she is the one I miss most of all.

Roger O'Dea      12/28/2016 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Ghosts of Christmas Past

"Ghosts" is probably not the right word. I don't believe in ghosts. At least not the kind that rattle chains and have white hair. These ghosts are more like memories - they linger, but don't haunt me. Although some of them may be a little scary. Like the Christmas I had an ear infection so bad that I eventually ended up in the hospital. I was only three years old, maybe four, and remember being in terrible pain laying on the couch with my head on my grandmother's lap while she was reading to me. A Bing Crosby Christmas record was playing in the background. I knew I was sick. I just didn't know how bad it was at the time.
Another vague childhood memory is of living in a big two-story house on the edge of a very small town. The two-story description is relevent because Santa gave me a toy guitar that year. I took it to my upstairs bedroom and tossed it out of the window. My motives were unclear at the time and still remain a mystery to this day.  It wasn't until I was in junior high or maybe a freshman in high school that I was given another guitar. I practiced on that one for hours and hours and finally was able to play Catch the Wind and Michael Row the Boat Ashore with some proficiency. But that was the problem - I never learned to read music, just how to memorize chords and play songs. So it wasn't too long before I lost interest. At least we were only living in a one story house then.
As I look back, I can't recall a "bad" Christmas. We didn't have a lot when I was growing up but we always had a nice Christmas. Sometimes I wonder how my folks pulled it off, but they always did.

There was a close call when one year in mid December I had a heart attack, but was able to recover quick enough to be home in time for Christmas. Other than that, I am glad to say we've been fortunate over the years to have avoided any major holiday trauma. It's funny how I remember specific gifts I have received over the years. Those guitars, a slot car race track, G.I. Joe, a chemistry there anybody who did not get a chemistry set at one time or another? Then there was that awful game called "Operation." I remember getting so mad and throwing the tweezers down when I touched the side causing that buzzer to go off. Man, that was irritating! Pigmania was always fun, though. Anybody remember that game? You would toss two small rubber pigs like dice and get points depending on the position in which they landed. As I recall, a 'leaning jowler' was a big point getter.

Christmas this year will be quiet. We don't have a large family, and there will be no little kids around, so after a small gathering of relatives we will come home and enjoy a peaceful Christmas Eve by the fire. Maybe we'll watch "A Christmas Carol" - the one with George C. Scott. Now that's a good ghost story.

Roger O'Dea     12/24/2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thoughts On Standing Rock - An Open Letter to Protesters

Dear protesters,
This is not about a pipeline. Not anymore. You are wasting an opportunity to call attention to issues and injustices that your people have been forced to endure for 200 years. Or longer. Your actions are injuring your credibility and affecting your ability to make progress and improve your conditions where it really counts. In your homes. With your families and friends. And with a society that, for the most part, doesn't understand or appreciate your culture, your history or your struggles.
I see many similarities in these protests to something that happened over 40 years ago. I was 17 years old at the time and was pitched into it with virtually no experience in that sort of situation. It was the occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, by members of the American Indian Movement. The take-over was motivated in part as a protest of conditions on the reservations, the conviction and jailing of a single mother of 5 over an incident in which her involvement was questionable, a failure to prosecute as a serious crime the stabbing death of a Native by a non-Native, and a basic lack of opportunity for nearly everyone who lived on an Indian reservation, as well as their over all poor treatment. The siege resulted in at least two people being shot to death and several serious injuries on both sides of the conflict. In the end - nothing was gained. Oh, there were changes promised. Press conferences were held and speeches were made. But nothing really changed. The reason, in my opinion, is that too many people in positions of influence who could have done something significant chose not to because of the militant nature of the protest and the suspected insincere motives of the leaders.
Which brings me to the question - where are your leaders? Who are your leaders? Mostly what I hear about is busloads of "water protectors" (many of whom are non-Native) coming in from other parts of the country and inserting themselves into the situation in the name of social justice and for the purpose of protecting the environment. Guess what. You're not helping. You may think all those selfies you're posting on Facebook along with those rumors and that fake photo of the little girl that was supposedly bitten by a police dog you're circulating are gaining you allies, but they're not. At least not anyone that may actually be able to help.
So cool it. Hearings have been held, tribes were consulted, permits issued, and historically significant sites are not affected. Is there a possibility of a leak? Of course. Is it any more of a possibility than a tanker truck accident or train wreck? Probably not.
I understand your concerns. It makes me sad to see people get hurt. But it also frustrates me to think this will deflect attention away from things that matter more. Like quality physical and mental health care, jobs, improved sanitation, adequate housing, addiction treatment and prevention, child care and education...the list could go on and on. Aren't these things more important right now than an oil pipeline that is only one of hundreds of other pipelines scattered all over the country? When everything is said and done, and when the dust clears, don't you want to be able to say that you fought a good fight for the right cause? And, even though you might not have won the war, you will have won a few battles and made a real difference.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.   2 Timothy 4:7

Roger O'Dea     11/23/2016