LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Solitude in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground,” so we took those words to heart and stole away to the Bad Lands on Tuesday. My sisters and I traveled to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in our separate cars and maintained our social distance.

The fresh air and time on the trail greatly renewed our spirits in these trying times. We saw a few cars on the loop road but never came in contact with anyone outside our small and sheltered group. We took our own toilet paper and disinfectant wipes and were careful. It was good to catch up with one another beyond the phone calls and texts we have been exchanging.

My nephew, who has had to transition to online classes, cope with loss of job and face the prospect of canceled college graduation, renews his spirit in a place he loves.
My nephew, who has had to transition to online classes, cope with loss of job and face the prospect of canceled college graduation, renews his spirit in a place he loves.

West of Mandan at the Hailstone Creek rest area, I heard the first Western Meadowlark of the year, taking that as a fine omen. This season’s first Mountain Bluebirds were also newly abundant in TRNP. We spotted several Golden Eagles, some hawks (Swainson’s, Red-Tailand Northern Harrier) and a Bald Eagle over the sweet Little Missouri River just as we left the park. I had hoped for Sandhill Cranes but too early. Elk, bison, deer, wild horses, prairie dogs, and pronghorn were all about the landscape. No sign yet of crocuses, yet the fragrance of sage and the slick gumbo were our touchstones. I made this short video of a Bad Lands waterfall I found, a soothing sound.

At the end of the six-mile hike, my brother-in-law picked us up and transported us back to our cars, with most of us riding in the bed of his pickup in the open air. We toasted the day even while keeping each other at length (the Turkey Vultures don’t arrive here until early May, as a rule).

Back at home, I’m doing a variety of activities in order to cope, including deep cleaning Red Oak House, painting some walls, sessions with Yoga International on my laptop, as well as taking two online courses: a Yale course called “The Science of Wellbeing” and a class called “In the Footsteps of Thich Naht Hanh.” I’m also reading (my yoga mat is by a bookshelf,  so I often end my session by pulling a new book to add to the pile) and exploring the world on my laptop, where I watch miniconcerts by Mary Chapin Carpenter and listen to Patrick Stewart read Shakespeare’s sonnets and make virtual visits to museums and gardens around the world.

I Skype with my daughter and friends and I watch my father in his nursing home (where he is in lockdown) via the camera I had installed this week. When I talk to my mother on her phone during my frequent visits to her window, we remember that she survived even more challenging circumstances during the Great Depression, when she lived in remote Slope County without electricity or telephone and only an hour or two of news each day via the battery-operated radio.  I remind myself that my father survived the D-Day landing and the Korean War, so there is no need for self-pity about our current circumstances where there is more news and information readily available than any one person can handle.

Jim and I watch some TV, including a live-stream concert from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashvile this past weekend, with Vince Gill, Brad Paisley and Marty Stuart, some balm for our spirits. Long walks around our neighborhood are invigorating, with waves to neighbors from afar. We watch our parish priest say Mass on Facebook Live, and we text and Twitter and email and on and on. In the basement, Jim has tomato sprouts growing anticipating later spring planting at Red Oak House.

I try to end the day by reading a book quietly in my silent living room, a novel that takes me to a distant and even more trying time, “The Mirror and the Light,” set in the time of Henry VIII.

A book that came to my mind this morning was one sent to me by a dear friend many decades ago when I was healing from a difficult transition. I urge you to pick it up for its wisdom of embracing the gift of solitude. While we are all in this together, we must find the strength we have within. Take care.

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