Monday, October 21, 2013

Autumn Morning On The Northern Plains

An early fall morning at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Autumn Morning On The Northern Plains
A Clean Beginning To A New Day
By Dakota Wind
Missouri River, N.D. - When I went out to start my car this morning, I saw that the sun had not yet arisen. The far horizon was bright orange and pink, the north and south horizon was purple and blue. Most of the sun light was reflected off the clouds in the east from an even more distant sunrise. Because the rising sun was teasing in its great reveal, it seemed like time was frozen in perpetual twilight.

The morning made me think of late fall mornings back on the rez in the days of my youth.

The frost was frozen fast to the windshield of my car. It came off in a couple of passes with the scraper. The frost curled in about it itself like wood shavings. The curls gathered about the top of the window where my scraping stroke ended, there they gradually melted as the windshield warmed the interior.

I scraped in silence. Neighbors had already departed for work. Neighbors’ children had already left for school. My breathing the only sound accompanying the scraping came in puffs. When I was little I used to imagine there was a little fire within me that burned warm. I remember hearing once that long ago, the Lakota thought that the visible breath was also visible spirit. I was never scared that I would lose mine, the fire within somehow kept it close.

I stepped on my freshly shorn lawn cut only a few days ago, and the grass crunched beneath my shoe. The crunch of delicately frozen grass was too great a call to the little boy within me that I stepped some more just for the joy of it and left a trail of crushed steps across the lawn before getting back to my car.

The trees still have some leaves. Indigenous trees like the ancient cottonwood go from shiny green to yellow and then fall. In the summer when the wind blows through the cottonwood the leaves heave in a great constant shush, it’s like the sound of the ocean. The leaves may change color, but after they fall, they continue shushing until snow quiets them, and then the wind changes.

The wind is a constant presence. One can count the number of days without a breeze on one hand. In the summer, you might think that the wind would be a welcome presence on a hot day, but it blows the heat around like a furnace. In the fall, if anything can possibly carry the smell of cold and winter, it’s the wind. It smells cold and distant, but clean too. Any moisture that the wind carries a hint of always smells clean here on the prairie steppe.

Steam off the river filled the Missouri River valley as far up river and down river as the eye could see. Silent undulating waves of fog cascaded in slow motion in the early quiet. Tendrils of fog gently whipped at the confines of the river bank and a few managed to lick the air above the tree line. As a boy I remember being told the steam off the river like this is the spirit of the river, “The river breathes too,” my grandfather said.

A magpie stirred and took flight in the neighbor’s lawn and I’m reminded instantly that meadowlarks no longer wake me in the early pre-dawn. The magpie alights in a nearby tree giving me a view of its snowy white feathers on midnight black ones. The mix of black and white in a world of dawn color is noble.

The moon sets in a sea of deep azure and grey misty clouds in the western sky. Starlight is gradually snuffed out like a campfire, or a candle. The brightest stars twinkle for a moment or two and then quit for the day.

My car is ready and warm by the time I’m ready to get back in. 

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