Few transitions are quite as dramatic as the one that takes place while driving west through South Dakota in the winter. After eight dull hours of looking at flat, barren, wind-whipped land from which the only thing one finds refuge in is the nearly inexhaustible Wall Drug signs staked into it, the scenery suddenly collapses into the canyons of the Badlands and then rises inexplicably into the smoothed mountaintops of the Black Hills. Clearly, someone up top had mixed up blueprints while laying out designs for the area we thought, as the memories of the long and uneventful drive that had brought us there quickly turned to excitement for the days ahead.
With this being our first trip since Covid-19 broke out nearly a year ago, we were a little worried about what traveling would look like amid a pandemic and whether or not we would be able to stay safe during our time in the state. The answer to the first question would be that it’d look a whole heck of a lot like it did pre-pandemic and the answer to the second would be most definitely not, at least in public spaces anyway; the reason behind both of those troubling answers being, well, the fact that we were in South Dakota.
As it turns out, along with the aforementioned geographical transformation that took place during our drive across the state, there was also an ideological one. The Black Lives Matter signs of Minneapolis dissipated the further west we drove, giving way to an outdoor museum of Trump paraphernalia. In one memorable moment, we passed a lawn lined with over twenty (or maybe thirty, we lost count) Trump flags waving ostentatiously in the wind. Yes, we were deep in Trump country, and that meant that mask-wearing was very much not a thing. So, like Puritans shuttering at the sight of a bikini, we winced away from the surplus of maskless faces bustling around us, choosing instead to spend our time exploring the inexhaustible scenery of the Black Hills, which is where you’ll find us in the photos below.
Read on for a poem by Kate:
We pull off the road and leave our car behind to slip between two boulders and step over the threshold of the trail.
A downy blanket embraces the forest, a ribbon of untouched beauty winds ahead, inviting us in.
All around us a hush echoes, rays of frigid sun shine off marbled ponderosa bark, illuminating tiny tracks left by a mink, perhaps on a trip to the icy stream we walk along.
Leaving the path, we climb up a craggy hill to perch on a rock and gaze out at the world of trees below us.
Patches of snow and fallen logs reveal themselves as we peer between the trees.
We climb down, taking a new route. Descending, a doorway in the mountain appears, fiercely swirling snow into the gray sky it has nothing to cling to— around or behind.
The door looks to be a portal to a mysterious realm. It is alluring as it beckons us forward. As we step through, we realize we’ve been walking in that realm the entire time, experiencing first hand how real the magic is.
As much effort as we put into proving otherwise, we are still children at heart no matter our age. At no time is this more apparent than when we unexpectedly find ourselves confronting a smell, or taste, or sight of something long forgotten that makes us feel like we did long before attaining the overcelebrated title of maturity. For us, what transported our minds to a more youthful state was the window of a chocolate shop that lied down a glittering hallway in Brussels on a gloomy December day. Trimmed in glowing evergreen branches that illuminated the red poinsettia leaves running alongside it, the shop offered a cinematic picture of Christmas that beckoned us towards it. Practically pressing our noses to the glass, we peered inside the shop as elvish workers strolled about the gold and burgundy trimmed store. Sweets of every shape and size filled the shelves with the crown jewel of the collection being, in our mind anyway, the pralines which, befitting of their value, were neatly displayed behind a glass case much like a fine jewelry would be. The value of the two were indistinguishable to us.
Across the hall, the aroma of fresh waffles and chocolate sauce demanded the attention of our noses, which we promptly followed only to be distracted by a nearly life size cookie depiction of St. Nicholas in a speculoos shop. Now, if the word speculoos does not send you salivating, you should know that the cookie can be best described as thin, crunchy, caramelized, and infused with flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and cardamom among others. Perhaps now you can understand our distraction at the sight of them and also, perhaps, our childlike joy at finding ourselves amongst a heavenly array of sweets. There was only one problem, we were vegan and everything described above was most definitely not. Did I mention that the disposition of children is also very flexible? Along with our obsession over sugary treats, it appeared that we would be adopting that trait as well, if only for our week-long stay in Brussels.
Like our other stops in Europe after finishing El Camino, our main purpose for traveling to the Belgian capital was to visit friends. This time, it would be to see Doriane, whom we had shared a house with in Spain in 2012 and who had traveled to the States to be a bridesmaid in our wedding in 2016. It was time to return the favor, and we were very glad we did, if not only to see a good friend, then also to experience the festive mood of the city as it kicked off its holiday season.
And of course, no blog about a visit to Doriane would be complete without mention of her cat Pumpkin Pie, or as his friends know him, Pumpkin, whom we will pay homage to in the next two photos.
Read on for a poem by Kate:
Man oh Manny,
you really had to go.
Four hundred years of one steady flow.
You don’t seem to care
that people can see.
Don’t you want some privacy?
My only request
for the sake of this town,
is that when you finish, put the toilet seat down.