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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Good Company

An invitation to a birthday party for a friend this past weekend took my wife and I to a remote location out on the South Dakota prairie. I always find a certain comfort in wide open spaces. As much as I enjoy being surrounded by the dense Pine trees and steep canyon walls of my favorite Black Hills hangouts, there's still something I really like about being able to see for miles and miles in any direction. It was late afternoon when I turned off the two lane blacktop and continued on the gravel road that passed through a few lonely isolated stands of trees, a meandering river, and a mix of fenced pasture and open range. With a nod to the Mamas and Papas - I even "stopped into a church I passed along the way."
The door was open so I went inside. Light from the setting sun provided just enough illumination to light up the colors in the faded stained glass windows. This brief visit to a little country church could have been enough to make the trip worth it, but there would be so much more.

A few other guests were already there when we arrived. We were greeted warmly by those we knew and introductions were made to those we didn't. Wine and conversation flowed. It was a scene right out of A Prairie Home Companion as we mingled and talked in the kitchen with the smell of cornmeal stuffing drifting from the stove top. The last of the guests arrived and the group separated, with the men moving into the living room where the talk turned to gophers and groundhogs, coyotes and rabbits, and interpretations of a 150 year old original oil painting on the wall. You know, the stuff menfolk talk about. That may seem like a bit of a in the living room on the couch and in the comfy chairs, and the womenfolk in the kitchen talking about whatever it is women talk about in the kitchen. Some might say it was even a little politically incorrect. But those people were not in attendance that evening, and no one who was there would have considered that possibility. 
Eventually we were all called to the table and the conversation continued. Everyone contributed, and nearly everybody had a story to tell. Stories like one about another birthday long ago in another time and place when a cake was delivered by carrying it while riding on a motorcycle across rough terrain where there was no road. Both her and the cake survived the trip. (And, yes, I said "her").  Or the one about a well mannered sheep. It was a great time. The hosts were wonderful, and the guests were all good, decent people who care about family and friends. Even new friends like us. I could just tell. There was also a sense of humility around that table in spite of the fact that there was so much talent present. Artists, musicians and writers. People who work with their hands and people who work with their minds. Caretakers of the land and caretakers of family...both of which also require a tremendous amount of talent. 
There is one other thing worth noting - none of the conversation was about politics. Or the economy. Those subjects never came up. And that was nice. The entire evening was nice. So nice that if there would have been a campfire we would all have been sitting around it.

Roger O'Dea      10/25/2016

Sunday, October 9, 2016

What's Your Song?

This started with a Facebook post by a friend (thanks Mary Jo) that I shared to my own page. It read as follows:  "If anyone tells you a song is important to them, you should turn it up loud, close your eyes and really listen. Because at the end you will know that person much better."
I believe that to be a true statement so I reposted it. The response was surprising. Apparently a lot of other people also believed it. One of the comments asked what songs are important to me. That question was more personal than one might think, but a great subject for conversation. And I hope this subject will serve as a conversation starter for you with others whom you would like to know a little better. Or much better, as the case may be. Ask them about a song that is important to them, then go listen to it. Really listen.

A song came to me right away that I thought could be the one most important. Then another one pushed it's way into my head. Then another. And another. My intent of choosing just one song gave way to a final list of eight. You might ask why not just round up to ten? Because the number is eight. There are eight songs that stand apart from all others. Here they are, some with a brief explanation. Others with none.  Although, for some of you that know me well, no explanation will be necessary. And if you don't know me well, but take time later to actually listen to these, you will know me better than before.

1. Around and Around - John Denver. Because it's John Denver, and because of this ...
    And I love to see the morning as it steals across the sky
    I love to remember and I love to wonder why
    And I hope that I'm around so I can be there when I die
    When I'm gone
    I hope that you will think of me
    In moments when you're happy and you're smiling
    That the thought will comfort you 
    On cold and cloudy days if you are crying
    That you love to see the sun go down
    And the world go around and around and around 

2. Chasing Cars - Snow Patrol. Because one time in the park ...

    If I lay here
    If I just lay here
    Would you lay with me and just forget the world?
    Forget what we're told
    Before we get too old
    Show me a garden that's bursting into life

3. What Are Their Names - David Crosby.

4. My Sweet Lord - George Harrison.

5. Into The Mystic - Van Morrison.  Because I miss my friend.

6. You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio - Joni Mitchell.

    Call me at the station. The lines are open. 

7. Message From The Mission - Brewer & Shipley.

8.  Rocky Mountain Way - Joe Walsh. Because sometimes I just wanna rock!

Those are my songs. Some of you who know me will understand. Others may have just gotten to know me a little better. Feel free to post your own so I can know you better, too.

Roger O'Dea      10/8/2016


Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Bad Year for Tomatoes

Anybody else think this has been a strange year? It's like that feeling when you don't get enough sleep, or you get too much sleep, and you don't quite wake up completely. The day drags on. Things aren't as clear or sharp as they should be. Like you're in a fog. And I read somewhere that tomatoes haven't reached their full potential this year. That's kind of what I feel like. I haven't reached my full potential. If I was a vegetable* in 2016 I would be a tomato.
*(I know. But I am using literary license here, not botanical correctness).

I'm not complaining. I have so much to be thankful for and there have been some great times and some good things have happened. For example, it's been a great year musically. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert was fantastic. Then there was Heart, Ringo, Doobie Brothers, Journey. I discovered Parker Millsap, and gained a deeper appreciation for some local area musicians - most notably the Jerdes / Zeona Road.

Plus, I've enjoyed some wonderful family outings and weekend trips. Backyard gatherings.and quiet times looking for movements in the night sky. Hanging out with old friends, and meeting new ones. Those are all wins, but there have been some losses too. The losses, combined with a too frequent general lack of enthusiasm, have made these first eight months of the year ... disappointing? Unsatisfying? Frustrating? Not sure exactly what the best word is to describe what I'm feeling. Maybe the best way to say it is that the year so far has fallen short of expectations. But I should also consider whether or not my expectations are too high. They usually are. Especially when it comes to my photography.

 What I thought my summer would be like.

What my summer was actually like. 

But it's not over. There's still time. Redemption may be just around the corner. I have more events to attend, more pictures to take, a trip is planned, and there's a little something up my sleeve for late in the year. I really hope that works out. It could be just what I need to turn things around and get the garden growing again. Things grow in winter too, you know. Maybe not tomatoes, but other things. Things that are just as good for you, or even better. I've never really liked tomatoes all that much anyway.

Roger O'Dea      9/10/2016


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Road To Oblivion

It's been a mission of mine for the past couple of summers to crack open a rock and find a geode inside. I even have a proper rock hammer. What I don't have, apparently, are the necessary rock hounding skills to complete the task. It's not for lack of trying. I've hunted high and low without much success. Obviously I've been hunting in the wrong places. Well, not really, because I've discovered some places I've never been before in these Black Hills of Dakota, and discovered new things in familiar places. So they're not really "wrong" places. No matter how many times I head for the hills, there's always something new to discover. My National Forest Service map has been a handy guide. Every time I look it seems I notice something new. I've noticed an area on the map many times before marked Oblivion. Great name. My curiosity about it has always been overridden by the fact that I've had some other place else to go. Probably. But this time I decided that a place called Oblivion might be a likely spot to look for geodes. Plus, I would be able to tell everyone that I've been to Oblivion. Not a lot of people get to say that in the context of talking about an actual real location.

Just a brief note on the history of Oblivion - It was simply a place on the railroad line between Keystone and Hill City that was shared by newly invented diesel locomotives and the old steam engines. Oblivion was a point half-way between the towns and was constructed with the sole purpose of turning the trains around. Nobody actually lived there and no mention is made of why it was named Oblivion. 

After driving past the turn-off on my first attempt to find this place I came back around and headed down a trail. After driving a few hundred yards the trail became nearly impassable, even for my 4-wheel drive, so I parked and took off on foot. Almost immediately I stumbled upon a shallow pit containing some old rusty metal. Nearby were some other deeper pits, some with what looked like sealed off cave or shaft openings.


Then I began to notice pieces of quartz all around. There were some nice specimens. Nothing that looked like it had geode potential, but if I was looking for quartz I had hit the mother lode.

This had to be an old quartz mine, one of hundreds scattered throughout the Black Hills. There were also signs of recent activity so it's probably still where rock shop owners or collectors come to restock when supplies get low. And there's plenty more to go around.

After wandering around the area I realized this was probably not Oblivion. It was too steep and uneven. Oblivion was most likely across the highway in the open field and grassy area, so before leaving I did check it out. Whatever may have been left of a roundhouse or tracks had long been swallowed up by time and weather and the natural landscape. But I feel confident in saying that I have been to Oblivion.

There was time for one final stop in a last ditch effort to find some rocks to crack in search of the elusive geode. It was in an area popular for 4-wheeler fanatics and dirt bikers. There were none around at the time, and the area was fairly flat with some promising looking rock outcroppings along the small creek nearby. I walked down to the creek, saw something, moved in closer to take a look...then turned around and walked back to my truck, got in and left. Sometimes I come across things in my travels that just don't belong. Maybe even defy explanation. This was one of those things.
That's right. It is what you think it is...a half full bottle of Palmolive dish washing soap. Just sitting there on a rock in the middle of the creek. Now, it may not have seemed so strange if there had been signs of an actual camp in the area, or dishes or utensils nearby drying in the sun. But there was none of that. It made me feel uncomfortable. You know that feeling you have when you suspect someone is watching you? It was like that. I began to wonder if I had surprised someone who was doing something with that dish soap and had scurried off to hide when they saw me coming, leaving the evidence behind. Evidence of what? I decided not to stick around to find out. So I left. Never even cracked a rock. 
I'm thinking for my next rock hounding adventure I'll go further south and east.  'I heered there's geodes in them thar hills'.

Roger O'Dea        7/13/2016 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Spearfish Canyon Mystery

This is a story about a little Geo Caching adventure I went on today. I didn't find it, which is rare for me. I usually find the caches I go out looking for, and when Kris is with me it's a 100% success rate. She's pretty good at stuff like that. But, today it was just me. And I didn't locate the cache. But I may have found a vortex. Not a gateway to an alternate universe kind of vortex. Just a plain old energy vortex, which is still pretty cool. You know what I mean if you've ever encountered such a thing. I've heard they may exist in the Black Hills. Some say the "Cosmos Mystery Area" tourist attraction near Rapid City is one. I suspect, however, some slight of hand and optical illusions are going on at the Cosmos. There could be some for real, though. Smarter people than me have said so.
Here's what happened -
I found the cache location on the Geo Caching website and was immediately interested because I had not searched for this one before, and it is located in one of my favorite areas of Spearfish Canyon ( I have many). It's a trail that is not well traveled and very soon after beginning your hike you are surrounded by dense vegetation and crooked oak trees in all manner of shapes and sizes.

I have good memories of a fun photo shoot there with a friend years ago, and go back often. It's always the same and yet different every time. And each time I wander a little further up the trail. This time I entered the coordinates for the cache in my portable GPS with the plan of going as far up the trail as required in order to complete the task. My GPS is very basic but has always been dependable. Today was different. It was leading me steadily to the prize, or so I thought, until I reached a point high above the canyon floor where the trail abruptly ended. I had obviously missed a turn somewhere. This didn't surprise me as I noticed the trail was becoming more overgrown and I could tell this section was rarely used. I left the trail to find a place to sit and rest, and try to determine just where I was exactly. A check of my GPS didn't help. One minute it was telling me the cache location was west of me, the next check it was pointing north. Strange. I wasn't lost, but I felt a little disoriented. I was close enough to the trail, such as it was, to not be worried about wandering off and being found days later..."tired and dehydrated, but in remarkably good spirits" as the news reporter would say. It felt a bit like an experience I had in the high desert near Sedona, Arizona a couple of years ago. A local mystic told me I had likely encountered a vortex. Could that be what I was experiencing here? I decided to try an experiment with a medallion I sometimes wear. I had heard about being able to use such an object as a dowsing rod to detect energy fields. Seemed a little too New Age for me, but it couldn't hurt. I took it off and held it very still near the ground. Immediately it began to move in a circular motion. Not back and forth or sideways. Circular. There was no wind to affect the movement. So now two strange things have happened. I moved 20 to 30 feet away and tried it again. This time - nothing. It remained still as could be. So I moved back to what I thought was the previous location. Nothing happened this time. But I couldn't remember the exact location. I could have been off by several feet, or a few inches, or in exactly the same place. I couldn't be sure. One thing was sure, though, the medallion remained still at the end of its string.  I then decided to hang it on a broken tree branch to see what would happen if I completely removed the "human element." It started to sway slightly. Then stopped, and remained still.
Now I'm not sure what to think. Did I somehow cause the medallion to move the first time? It's highly unlikely since I held it exactly the same way each time. If I was causing it why didn't it do it every time? 
By now it was getting late, and I was into the woods pretty deep, so I decided I had better start making my way back. There's not really a good or satisfying conclusion to this story. I just felt like it was worth telling. Another unusual but fun and interesting day in the Black Hills, as most of them are. I would still like to find that cache. And look into this vortex thing more carefully. If it actually is a thing. Most of the time I tend to be more of a believer rather than a skeptic. So, I'm going back. Might try some more experiments around that place at the end of the trail. Let's just say this story is "...To Be Continued..." 

Roger O'Dea    6/5/2016

Saturday, May 7, 2016

First Taste of Spring

It was a beautiful early spring day and it was my day off. I was looking forward to visiting a couple of friends, taking a few pictures, enjoying some truck stop food, browsing a second hand store or two, maybe even taking a short hike in the hills. But it was the first really nice day that I had free, and there were things to do around the house. Garage needed tidying up, plants needed to be tended, grass was tall enough for a first cutting. You get the idea. So I was feeling a little sorry for myself about all the work I had to do instead of being out having fun. Then, at some point, I realized the work I was doing was good work. Apparently I had forgotten that taking care of plants and flowers was fun. And it felt good to see the results of my efforts. Even the Spring Quartz we planted on the patio a few years ago was still looking shiny and healthy.

Now I figured it was time for a different kind of fun. It was time to wake up the Ol' F6 from a long hibernation. That turned out to be easier said than done. The battery was weak, and because the bike is not fuel injected, too many cranks caused it to run all the way down. A few jolts from the jumper cables brought it back to life and I roared off...around the block. At least it was a ride, even if it was short and quick. I still had a few things to do at home, and then it would be dinner time, so I could see my chances for a longer more fulfilling ride slipping away. However, after I finally settled in to doing nothing at about 7:30, I started thinking about going for an evening ride. It wasn't that late, and still warm outside. Why not? I extended an invitation to my favorite passenger and was promptly turned down, which was probably wise on her part due to the unpredictability of the duration and distance of my impromptu spur of the moment motorcycle sojourns. It was a little before 8 when I took off for the Canyon. It was nearly dark by the time I stopped. The blue tint of dusk created an interesting scene before darkness took over. 

When night falls in the Black Hills, it falls hard. A few minutes later it was completely dark. I walked a short distance into the trees and sat down on a rock. Then I just listened. The loud roar and crackle from those Cobra pipes I had been hearing for the past 15 miles had already faded away. Now there was only silence, interrupted occasionally by a passing car or the rustle of branches on trees above and behind me. I love it at night up there. My imagination can sometimes cause it to be a little a scary, though, as thoughts creep into my head about who or what may be lurking close by. But I guess that's part of the mystery and thrill of it. 
As it turns out, nobody got me. After a period of time...could have been minutes or could have been hours...I powered up and headed home. The crisp air and smell of new grass along the road filled my senses, and it tasted good. This is why I love to ride, and hope to do it a lot more this year. Just might need to get up a little earlier to make sure my work is done first. If it's good work.

 Roger O'Dea     5/06/2016

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Kind Eye

Beyond the glamour, bright lights, big crowds and all the commotion of Las Vegas, it's still a place where I'm always able to find some measure of inspiration or enlightenment. A recent trip for business was no exception. I was lucky to be there at the same time a very special show was going on at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. "Icons of the 20th Century" features the incredible photography of Yousef Karsh. I was only vaguely familiar with his work, but the moment I saw the promotional information I knew instantly that I had to go. The poster featured a photograph of Audrey Hepburn. It's one you've probably seen in a book, on the Internet or any number of other places it has popped up on occasion.
I've always liked this picture, but seeing the original up close in person was truly special. It's hard to find words to describe how I felt seeing this, and all the others, so I'm not going to try. I will just say that once in a very blue moon I have the privilege of viewing art that not only is visually stunning but causes an emotional reaction. This was one of those times.
Here's another example of how his photographs can stir up an emotional reaction -
How can anyone look at this picture and not feel something? It's a great example of Karsh's capacity for empathy, which was likely the result of him spending time getting to know his subject before making the photograph. It has been said he had a keen sense of the inner life of others. I believe that to be true. You can see it in every portrait. 
I also noticed that every one of his portraits is composed perfectly. Every pose, every background, as well as the lighting, is exactly right for each particular person. Every. Single. One. It's proof of just how good he was. Take a look at this one of Frank Lloyd Wright, father of "organic architecture" and considered by many to be the greatest American architect of all time -

See what I mean? And here's one more example - 

Who else could this be, other than Muhammad Ali? Composition, light and technique...perfect.

I read an essay on the website by Stephanie Simpson that provides an excellent perspective on Karsh's work. She wrote, "Karsh gained a reputation for having a kind eye. He watched carefully for moments of real emotion in his subjects. As soon as they appeared, snap! He pressed the shutter release without warning. No heads up, no countdown from three. Any moment was fair game." 

Hunter S. Thompson wrote about "the right kind of eyes" in (coincidentally) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. But this is different. This is about a "kind eye." What a compliment it would be if ever someone said that about me! Maybe, if I ever can produce a portrait of someone with the same empathy as seen in these, that might happen. Maybe. 

Roger O'Dea   4-13-2016

Friday, March 11, 2016


About 40 miles south of Rapid City, South Dakota is the town of Scenic. It's not really a town any more. Never was much of a town to begin with. I remember something about a church organization from the Philippines buying the town and land about five years ago, but there are no signs of development or new activity of any kind. Now you'll only see a few abandoned buildings and a small newer metal building with one gas pump out front and a tiny post office. There's one trailer house that looks like someone could be living in it, but mostly Scenic is just somewhere you drive through on your way to somewhere else. Like me, on my way to that little corner of the Badlands a mile or so to the south. Except I did stop. I was drawn in by a dilapidated structure that was once doing business as the Longhorn Saloon. The skulls in various stages of decay and bleached white by many years in the sun were the first things I noticed. Then I saw the words "Indians Allowed." I don't know if someone was trying to be funny, or if it is real evidence of the racist history surrounding that area which includes the Pine Ridge reservation. Of course I had a couple of cameras along including a digital SLR and a trusty old Polaroid loaded with black and white film. I chose the Polaroid for this shot.

The photo is not sharp. Kind of blurry. Absent of color or any attractive characteristics. Much like the place is in real life. 
Traveling a little further down the road my view changed completely. The landscape was still quite stark, but now in a very visually pleasing way. After turning off the highway and driving down a narrow dirt road for a couple of miles, I soon began a climb that took me to the very top of the plateau. It was worth a few white knuckle moments as I was eventually greeted with this view -

Amazing. I could see for miles and miles in every direction. I took in every detail. The
subdued colors of the panorama were in striking contrast to the bright blue of the sky and whitest whites of the clouds. Time passed quickly up there, unlike what was to be the case a short while later. I traveled back down the road to where the land flattened out into pure prairie. 

After parking my vehicle I hiked to the base of an outcropping carved by water and wind over millions of years. But today there was only a very light wind as I started my walk and it had completely disappeared by the time I stopped and sat down in a grotto where erosion had made a perfect resting place. There was no wind here. Not even a slight breeze. It was perfectly still. And quiet. Incredibly quiet. A total absence of sound, nearly to the point of being unnatural. Time also stood still. In all of my adventures in nature I don't recall feeling quite like this. Even in my beloved Black Hills, and Spearfish Canyon in particular, there have been times, mostly nights, when it was almost as quiet. But even then the stars were sometimes so bright you could hear them shining. That might be the case at this spot I found in the Badlands, too. But, at that moment, on that day, there was only quiet. 
It's interesting that when I started out from home that morning I was intending to head up into the Hills. But, as fate would have it, I turned left instead of right at just the precise moment. And, as Robert Frost said, "...that has made all the difference."

Roger O'Dea       3/11/2016

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Experiment

Day 1
My favorite gifts to receive are books. Well, books and records. Both are personal and the giver has chosen that particular gift because of some intimate or specific thing they know about you. In this case the gift is a book titled The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.

I am taking it seriously and doing the exercises. Most of them anyway. But now I've come to the assignment of "reading deprivation." No, it doesn't involve reading about deprivation. It involves depriving oneself of reading. For a week! Here's a passage that explains the theory;
It is a paradox that by emptying our lives of distractions we are actually filling the well. Without distractions we are once again thrust into the sensory world. With no newspaper to shield us, a train becomes a viewing gallery. With no novel to sink into an evening becomes a vast savanna in which furniture - and other assumptions - get rearranged. We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.
I guess that makes some sense, and I trust the author so I am going to try it. It's not going to be easy. At home I always have a book within arm's reach. And I like checking the newspaper websites in the morning to see what's going on. It is now the evening of day one and I must admit I cheated a couple of times by checking the internet for the latest about the Broncos and the Panthers, Bernie and Donald, and all that bad weather out east. Of course, I do need to read as part of my job... so that I won't count.  And it should be noted a small victory has already been won in that I have not picked up a tattered old copy of In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan which has been staring at me from the bookshelf every day now for about a week. It's one I re-read every winter, and have been thinking lately it's time once again. But I must resist. For at least this week. It was my first big test on my first day of this experiment. I wouldn't give myself an  A or probably even a B, but I passed. That means I didn't fail so I will call it a good start.

Day 2
Day off, with a lot of running around to do, so it was pretty easy to resist reading. That is until I went into the book store. New releases. Recommended reading. Bestsellers. Classics. Staff picks. Bargain books. Books all around me! I realized I couldn't leave there without something in my hands. I reached out and took something off the shelf. It wasn't a book, though. It was this ---

A jigsaw puzzle. I haven't worked on one of these in years. And Kris has been wanting to get one for a while. It was the perfect solution. I resisted the call of the wild book...and kept my record intact of never leaving a bookstore empty handed.

Day 3
Uneventful. I peeked a couple of times. Once was when I noticed a headline in the local paper about a county commission meeting in which a large number of rural citizens turned out to protest a proposed public nuisance ordinance. Turns out that most county residents around here just don't want any part of such a thing, and apparently made their point in a rather loud manner with a certain amount of profanity thrown in for good measure. The ordinance was put aside with no further action planned. And no further reading was done by me.

Day 4
The irony has been noted. As a friend so keenly pointed out to me - this reading deprivation assignment came from a book. A book I had to read in order to find out about the assignment that instructed me to not read. I don't even know how to respond to that.

Day 5
I miss having a book to read. The internet, television and my phone are not acceptable substitutes. And an old favorite is still beckoning....

Day 6
Drove by the library today. Thought about stopping, but kept on driving.

Day 7 - Results and Conclusions
I can't say that by reading much less than I normally do resulted in any great new ideas or inspirations. I won't say it was a failure, however, as it did reinforce my belief in reading as an important part of my life. We didn't get started on that puzzle, but I had time to go a little deeper into my music collection and listen to some lost treasures. And something significant did occur. Last night I woke up from a deep sleep with a great idea for a photo project. It's perfect for me. I won't say now what it is, but I'm sure you will be seeing the results in the future. Was that related to this experiment? I supposed it could be. But it doesn't even matter. I'm still going to keep going with the lessons in the book. And as for right now...think I'll take that Brautigan book off the shelf...

Chapter 1 - In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar. I'll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant........"

Roger O'Dea       1/31/2016