Sunday, April 21, 2013

Winter In The Land Of Sky And Wind

A beautiful vesper dusk sets on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation, south of Mandan, N.D.
A Reflection of The Changing of Seasons
By Dakota Wind
Mandan, ND - It was quiet uneventful drive through the countryside. Despite the dawn, the clouds hung heavy and cast a steely grey pall over the landscape. Clouds hung low, low enough that I could reach high and feel the cool droplets that filled the air. The land itself reminded me of a patchy brown and white mottled pony.

Some would call it spring, and if it weren’t for this last snowfall, it might very well be spring. A wind came out of the west carrying the promise of rain, or more snow. It smelled clean and earthy, like rain, but it also smelled cold too.

It’s always windy here on the Great Plains. It is rather like a messenger carrying the scent of ionized air before a storm, the promise of a storm. In the days of summer the wind cools nothing. It’s like standing in front of a furnace with the heat blasting you right in the face. In the heart of winter the wind whips the snow into a riot and locks the land in a blizzard.

...the years were literally called winters.

Today though, the wind and the snow only remind the citizenry that winter is the lord of seasons. In the days of warriors and legends, the winter and wind so shaped the relationship that the Lakota share with the land that the years were literally called winters. We have no mountains to reach the heavens and take snow and rain from the sky. We have endless rolling hills that allow the arctic air to stretch forth from the far north and touch the land here.

The geese have returned, heralding the change of winter to spring. Only their honking has been subdued by the sudden return of snow. The meadowlarks keep their enthusiasm and sing through the cold wind. It’s a tradition going back to the moment of creation. They welcome the end of the winter, the end of the year, and sing in the new. On the Great Plains, that's how it is. Spring marks the new year, not the middle of winter.

Deer prance in fields of last year’s left over corn stalks, noses to the ground in search of bites of last year’s harvest. Ducks waddle into a pothole lake, submerge their heads in that half way manner that only ducks can and set themselves back upright, and then vigorously shake their heads as though they were trying to dislodge water from their ears.

A peregrine falcon...settled a king on a throne, on a fence brightly labeled "No Hunting."

A hawk, a peregrine falcon to birders, one of many of the birds of prey on the prairie, settled itself in bold irony, as a king on a throne, on a fence post brightly labeled “No Hunting.” Its head turned nonchalantly in my direction as though it had planned on looking my way all along. As I drove by, it casually spread its wings and took flight in front me.

To the west of the road lay a swath of wind turbines, giant windmills, erected in the past decade to harvest the wind and convert the wild energy into electricity. The ever-present wind passed them by, its raw energy undiminished by the great turning wheels. The blades silently cut through the low grey overhang of clouds.

By the time I get home, the sun has burned through most of the fog and the wind had blown some of the low cloud cover to the east. Rays of light playfully pierced through the remaining cover and practically danced; the motion of the sun’s rays are like looking up through water from the bottom of a pool.

This is North Dakota. This is the Great Plains, a rolling steppe west of flat prairie, a gentle swell east of the Badlands. Winter rules much of the year, and the wind has been here since creation. 

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