A heavy dose of escape…


Yesterday afternoon, when Husband came home from work I escaped.

Yeah. I said it. Escaped. That’s the right word.  Some days around here are easier than others, and I think this baby is getting more teeth God help me, so I left her, and the man who helped make her, to it.

And I headed to the badlands.

Because I hadn’t been there in a while. Because  I was feeling overwhelmed in this house that’s never going to be baby proof enough. Because being a mom is hard sometimes.

Being a work from home mom to a baby who just learned to crawl is nearly impossible.

Because I needed some inspiration. A good breath. A minute.

Because it was a beautiful night and I didn’t want to miss out on it.



The badlands are right in our backyard and the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is about a 45 mile drive from the ranch, but if I were a bird it wouldn’t take me nearly as long to fly there along the river.

I wished I was a bird yesterday evening as I drove through the park slowly with the windows open watching the rain clouds build up on the horizon, wondering how long it might pour on me and this landscape that has nothing to do but soak up the sky.


Then I was feeling sort of bummed about it, about the rain. Like, finally I get out here and I won’t get the light bouncing off the buttes. I won’t get a sunset. I won’t get the great shadows the sun creates in the canyons. I won’t get to see it in all its late summer glory.

I won’t get what I want out of this little trip.

And I was right. I didn’t get what I wanted.

I got more.

Because just before the sky let loose a smattering of rain on a girl standing in the long grass, hair whipping across my face, a rainbow appeared like they tend to do out of nowhere and it stayed long enough for me get to know it a bit.

And to shake the boulder that unexplainably had been sitting heavy on my shoulders for the last few days.

img_3193img_3200img_3264img_3282img_3296img_3380img_3346img_3364img_3324img_3328Sometimes you don’t know what you need. And that’s ok.

But sometimes you do and you don’t take it. And that’s not ok.

I was reminded of that last night. Because I almost didn’t take the drive out there. I felt a little guilty about it. Like I should stay home and cook supper. Like it was going to be too late and the house was a mess. Like I had lots of work I could get done after the baby went down for the night. Like I was so tired.

But I went. I went because I wanted to. I went because it wasn’t asking much.



Taking moments to exist in this wild space has always my best therapy. My best drug. And I got a heavy dose last night.


And I’ve learned a heavy dose of escape makes the return so much sweeter…


Badlands Skies.

It’s Friday and it seems I have run out of words for the week, but that’s ok.  I want to show you something that I don’t think I need many words for.

Because I was in the badlands this week, in the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora. After my work was done,  I went out looking for landscape, for beauty and life in those rustic buttes, and found that above the vibrant green of the grass there were these colors in the sky, constantly changing, casting shadows and light that changed the way the world looked every minute.

I couldn’t take my eyes away.

Here’s to a beautiful weekend.

Peace, Love, Sunrise to Sunset,



Out to lunch in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

It’s hard to believe that after a winter that extended long into spring, bringing with it unwelcome snow and sleet and ice, that our world was thirsty for more moisture just a month after the last blizzard.

But the dry crusty earth and the dust in the air in the middle of May was telling us that we were in dire need of some moisture. The earth had some growing to do and the warm sunshine alone wasn’t cutting it.

So, after a Saturday drizzle that turned into a Sunday morning haze, the sky opened up and it poured.

It rained like the dickens, as the old folks around here would say.

And just like that the world turned from brown

to green.

I guess I don’t have to tell you how anxious I was about the types of pretty things that might be sprouting out there. I had been cooped up in the house for the weekend watching it green up from the other side of the windows and Monday found me between the walls of an office. By the time I was set loose from my work on Tuesday, it was still raining, but it didn’t matter.

I had to get out.

Because when the weather changes so drastically, I feel like I’m missing something if I’m not in it, like I’m not in on the secret.

So I closed the computer, left the to-do list on my desk and took my lunch break 15 miles south of Boomtown, to see how Theodore Roosevelt National Park looks in the rain.

I wish I could have taken you with me on that drive.

I wish you could have smelled the cedars waking up, heard the mud slosh under your feet as you climbed the trails and felt the warm rain on your bare skin.

I wish you could have seen this bison scratch his side on a trail marker and laughed with me at how a beast could be so majestic and ridiculous at the same time.

I wish you could have sat at the overlook and remembered the times you climbed up here as a kid as you looked out at the river collecting raindrops.

I wish you could have heard the birds calling.

Smelled the sweet peas.

I wish you could have taken the moment to love the rain. To be a part of it.

I wish I could have taken you to lunch.

The beautiful things.

I have a good life. Not much to complain about when it comes down to it really, except for a weird tail-less cat trying to climb up my leg, not enough hours in the day, unfinished projects and cold toes.

But some days, during a break in the morning news, I cry at the Walgreens commercial.

And the commercial for a web browser that tells the story about a dad sending his daughter off to college. And then they video chat.

And anything with a cute baby or a puppy or a grampa or a soldier coming home.

And lately I cry at the weather report.

Now, don’t get all worried about me yet. I’m not sure I would be diagnosed with any emotional disorder, although Husband has diagnosed me simply “emotional.”

And he’s right.

I spend quite a bit of my life laughing though, so I figure I’m balanced.

But I admit, some days are worse than others. I admit it because I’m human and I know you’re human (unless you’re a dog and humans haven’t discovered your abilities to access the web without thumbs) and we all have days like these.

Days that send me running for the hills.

I’ve learned over the course of my nearly 30 (gasp!) years alive in this breathtaking and heartbreaking place it’s the only thing to do to recover my senses and gain my balance and center myself once more.

I remove my body from the television screen, the radio, the music, the computer and all of those heartbreaking, heartwarming and heart wrenching stories and just try to live in my own for a moment.

It hasn’t been easy to do this lately, between the life-threatening cold temperatures, scheduled meetings and darkness that falls too early in the winter, I’ve had to make a special space in my day for clarity.

It’s why I keep an extra pair of snow boots and a furry hat in my car just in case. You never know when you might have a chance to escape.

I found one yesterday afternoon. I had a few of those teary moments over coffee and the news while I moved through my morning trying to pull it together, get to the office, make it to the meeting, keep up on emails, plan for an event, meet a deadline and live comfortably in pretty work sweaters between four walls.

4:30 came around and I had a meeting at 6.

An hour and a half hours would do it.

I got in my car and pointed it toward a favorite refuge, the only other place in the world beside the ranch where I can look winter in the face and call it truly beautiful.

The Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

I’ve taken you there before on similar weepy days in the  fall when I’m overwhelmed and worried, on summer days when I’m tan and moving to the next adventure, and winter.

I really love it in the winter.

And it never lets me down.

So in 15 minutes I was there, turning off of the highway and following the snow coated road toward the river and the buttes,

stopping to capture how the sun looks above the frozen water and if I might catch the bison grazing somewhere in the snow.

I drove slowly to admire the lighting. I rolled down my window a bit to feel the fresh, 20 degree air and pulled over where the road ends, next to a trail that can take you to the top of it all.

I checked my watch. I had 20 minutes before I needed to turn my car around and head back to my other world. I was in my town coat and dangly earrings.

I switched out my fancy boots for snow boots, covered my hair with a beanie and trudged on up there, slipping and sliding and panting because, well, I just felt like it.

I felt like climbing.

Because this is what winter looks like in the badlands.

This is what it looks like from the top of it all…

all 360 degrees of it, surrounding me and telling me it’s ok to cry.

Especially for the beautiful things.

Under a Badlands Sky…

One of my favorite autumn rituals has become my now annual trip down the road to visit the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park just outside the ever-expanding limits of my home town.

These days, more than ever, I believe this park to be a blessing and a gift, a reminder among the chaos of a bustling industry to slow down and remember the best things in life.

The sky…

The grass…

The quiet, wild things.

I like to visit those rugged buttes to be reminded that I am one of those quiet, wild things and last week I took my Little Sister along on a little hike so that she could remember that too.

See, Little Sister has just recently come into some major responsibilities after graduating from college last winter. And with her new teaching degree in health and physical education, she has found herself in a small school outside of our hometown writing lesson plans, leading jumping jack sessions, chasing around adorable kindergarteners and helping seniors prepare for college while working on getting a master’s degree in counseling and guidance.

I’m tired just thinking about it, but so proud of this woman who, in my mind, should still be 8 years old and following me up the creek to the forts we built behind the house.

I still find it a little disheartening that when we grow up that seems to be the first thing we give up…walks to nowhere.

And building forts.

But that’s what the ranch does for us, and places like this park. It provides us with a reason to walk to nowhere, to climb to the top of a hill and look down,

to notice how that jet leaves a white streak in the sky and to wonder where it’s going…

while we find we’re happy to be right where we are.

Happy to point out the small deer crossing the road or a chipmunk below our feet instead of worrying about deadlines and messy kitchens to clean.

Happy to notice how the sun shines through the changing autumn leaves on the river bottom instead of how the end tables need dusting and the windows need a wipe.

Happy to trip on a rock as we make our way down from the buttes, happy for a near-miss incident that we can laugh at together, thankful we made it in one piece.

Thankful that we’re not sweeping right now.

Or doing paperwork.

Or making dinner.

Thankful that someone set aside a place for us to go to get away from all of the things that seem to matter so little when it comes to a choice between watching the leaves change or watching a television screen.

Thankful that we can walk to the river and talk about the time Little Sister broke the tire swing as it flung her out over the coulee and dropped her in the creek. Thankful she survived the fall, though she was certain she was dying.

Thankful she has nearly forgiven my reaction of hysterical laughter.

Thankful that years later, though those jets could take us anywhere, we still chose to be out under this beautiful and familiar sky…


A winter breath in Theodore Roosevelt National Park…

I took a moment on a regular weekday morning, a morning when much of the state was preparing for one of our first winter storms of the season, to find some magic in the winter.

I knew just where to go to find it. A place that was set aside just for us when we need magic moments like these.

The Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

It’s right in my backyard really. I’ve shown you before. It’s just down the road from the office that was waiting for me to take phone calls, finish some reports, and stay caught up. But it was snowing ever so lightly, frost was hugging the branches of the trees and the wind was calm enough to for me to hear something calling me out to explore, to look, to listen.

I needed to see what it looked like out there in its winter outfit.

I needed to listen for silence because in the absolute quite, everything inside of me quiets too.

I needed quiet.

I needed quiet enough to remember that I was in there all along. I needed quiet to tell me I was in there with all of that noise and static and voices drowning out the sound of those young deer on the trail ahead of me, cutting a path with their hooves, leaping over fallen branches and stopping to check out that creature behind them in a puffy coat and mittens. They don’t miss a thing and if I hadn’t stepped off of the road and up that hill, if I wouldn’t have stepped softly, slowly, I certainly would have missed them.

I don’t know what it is about being alone in nature. I write about it often. I dream about places not yet discovered, about trails that have been untouched by human feet. I don’t know anything except for it heals me in some way. I know that being alone under the branches of the oaks or the arms of the big cedars awakens something in me and reminds me that not only am I alive, but completely insignificant in the grand scheme of it all.


But that word doesn’t scare me. It thrills me. It thrills me to know that one charge of the mighty bison, one stomp of his hoof, could send me reeling.

It excites me to know my limits out there and to know to keep to them. To know the dangers of a mis-step could send me into a catastrophic fall.

To know the river flows fast under the ice and I have no matches for a fire and no intention of staying out past my allotted time.

To know that once we belonged here, but not anymore.

Because somewhere along the line we have separated from nature, from the quiet spaces on an earth that was laid out for us. We covered ourselves from the stars to survive, laid floor on the dirt and found new ways of making things that were good and true and simple damn complicated.

We’ve built fences and staked claim to things like rocks and mountains and grass. We have named it all. Dissected it. Studied why anything would turn out the way it has.

We’ve learned how it all could benefit us. How it could help us cure diseases, build more skyscrapers, heat our homes and reach us closer to the satellite we have placed among the stars in a sky we have yet to conquer.

So I go to the park, I take the back roads, I follow the trails on the ranch that holds my family’s name to be reminded of this:

I know not a fraction of what the acorn knows. I will never tame the wind nor will I ever touch all that the breeze has touched. I will never listen close enough to hear what the coyotes hear. I will never be as brave and howl my life into the night.

I count the striations of the exposed earth on a landscape that was formed by tons and tons of moving glacial ice and I know I will never have a story that grand. I will never be as interesting or romantic as those buttes.

I catch a hawk circling above the tree tops and am reminded I will never soar. I will never see our world the way she sees it.

And I won’t possess the strength of the bison, the authority of the season, the power of the sun and the clouds. I will never stand as tall, or know the patience of the old birch trees. And I will never own the delicate strength of the wildflower.

No, I come to the park as a spectator. I come to the park as a girl. A girl who has hands that need gloves made of leather and boots made with fur. I girl with thoughts and ideas and dreams about how to capture this place, how to share it by telling the story of the bison, singing the music of the hawk, and whispering just as softly as the doe caught on my trail.

But they are stories I am not worthy to tell.

So I stay quiet and listen.


Alone and breathing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Well fall came dancing along in all its glory around here and we sure didn’t need the calendar to tell us so. Just like the uncharacteristically warm weather, the leaves on the trees were not about to take the subtle approach to the season change. Overnight the ash leaves turned from greed to gold, the vines bright red, the grass and flowers exploded seeds and even the slow and steady oaks began letting go their acorns and turning one leaf over to gold at a time.

It has been magnificent. But that’s the way it is around these parts, when it comes to the landscape and the great outdoors, you really can’t accuse it of being understated.

So after a challenging week I was ready to celebrate autumn the way it deserved to be celebrated. I was ready to frolic in it, to let go my agenda and my worries, ignore my pain and troubles and just climb a big damn hill and feel the warm breeze in my hair. So on Friday after a trip to the big town for an appointment, I moseyed on down the busy highway filled with lines of trucks and pickups and SUVs. Vehicles that moved busy humans at full speed along that paved ribbon of road that winds through buttes and half cut wheat fields, across the Little Missouri River that sparkles and meanders under the big blue sky and slowly sinking sun. I wanted to meander too, I wanted to meander among the things out here that are allowed a slow change, a subtle move toward hibernation, a good long preparation for a show like no other, a recital of how to slow down gracefully.

And I couldn’t help but wonder while I tried hard to keep my eyes on the road, despite the neon yellow trees waving at me from the ditches, if these people who were sharing my path were seeing this. Did they notice that the tree was waving to them too? Were they commenting on how the crows have gathered? As we came down through the brakes that move us through the badlands of Western North Dakota, our home, did they notice how the layers of the buttes–the line of  red scoria, the black coal, the clay–did they notice how in the late afternoon light the landscape looked like a giant canvas and the buttes seemed created with wisps of an artist’s brush?

Did they see that river? I mean really see it when they passed over the bridge? Did they take note of how it has receded a bit? Did they feel like stopping beside it to rest for a while? And as they approached the sign that read “Theodore Roosevelt National Park-North Unit,” a sign that indicated they were indeed on the home stretch to their destination perhaps, only 15 miles to the town to stop for gas, to make it home, to take a rest on a long truck route, were they enticed like I was at all on that Friday afternoon to stop for a bit?

Because what could be better than breathing in fall from inside a place that exists raw and pure? A park. A reserve. A spot saved specifically to ensure that nature is allowed to go on doing what it does best while undisturbed by the agenda of the human race, which at that point on Friday afternoon I was firmly convinced didn’t have a grip or a handle or an inkling about how to live gracefully among a world designed for us…let alone accept and live harmoniously among what we can’t control or may not understand–like the change of weather and the seasons and the sun beating down on the hard earth we wish would soften, or a body we wish would heal and function properly.

And I was guilty as well of taking this for granted. I was guilty of driving by this spot time and time again as it called to me to take a rest, to visit, to have a walk or a seat or a climb.

But not Friday. Friday I needed its therapy. I needed to park my car and stretch my limbs and take a look around from the other side of my camera.

From the top of Battle Ship Butte.

From the trail at the river bottom.

From the flat where the bison graze.

So as I pulled my cap down and took to the familiar trail that wound up that big, daunting and famous butte along the road, I took notice of breeze clattering the drying leaves together, the birds frantically preparing for the chill, the grasshoppers flinging their bodies at the dried grass and rocks…

and then I noticed I was alone.

Alone out here in this wild place I’ve visited before as a tourist, as a resident of the area, on dates and outings, family functions and educational tours surrounded by inquiring minds and cameras.

But I’d never been out here alone.

Alone as I scrambled and pulled my tired body up the steep and rocky and slippery trail toward the top of my world  as twobison grazed on the flat below the buttes.

Alone as I reached my destination with no other ears around to hear me catch my breath and then sigh in awe at the colors and solitude.

Alone as I watched those bison move and graze, a spectator in a different world, a spy on a giant rock.

Alone as a ran my hand along the cannonball concretions, scrambled to keep my footing and wipe the sweat from my forehead on the way down.

Alone to take my time as I noticed how the trees sparkled on the river bottom against the sinking sun. No one to tell me that’s enough…enough photos, enough time, enough gazing.

Alone as I walked toward the river, keeping an eye on the time, but wishing there was no such thing. And there was no one there to stop me from following it a little bit further, to see what it looked like on the other side of the bend.

No one there but me and a head full of thoughts and worries that were being pushed out of the way to make room for the scenery, the quiet, the beauty, the wildlife tracks and magnificent colors and trails before me.

And because I was alone, because it was quite, because in here there was no speeding or trucks or access to my phone, because unlike on the ranch, I was unfamiliar with the trails and the directions I was forced to really pay attention, to use my senses, to make new discoveries,  I was able to notice that after a few weeks gone missing I was becoming myself again.

The self that understood this was my habitat, my home and surroundings. The self that knows the weather will be predictably unpredictable, but the seasons will always change, the leaves will dry up, the acorns will fall, the birds will fly away from the cold or prepare for it, the grasshoppers will finish their rituals, the snow will come and coat the hard earth, then melt with the warm sun, changing the landscape, if only a little bit, as the water runs through and cuts the cracks in the earth.

And the bison will roam because we let them and the antelope will too knowing or not knowing that their lives are fragile.

Just like ours.

So we must remember to be present,  live in it…breathe.

Thank God I remembered to breathe.

Please, remember to breathe.

For more photos of my hike around Theodore Roosevelt National Park, click here to visit my Flickr photo album 

Oh, and if you missed it, take a stab at my North Dakota Trivia Game from last week’s post for a chance to win a prize! There haven’t been many brave attempts (I think you’ve all been out enjoying the beautiful weather), so I’m giving you more time!  Get your ND history hat on a play!