Badlands Artist Residency winding down….

Wait! It’s too soon! — I’ve got another day! but yes, I know….

Neighboring staff with contracts that ended on April 1 are moving out today, and others are moving in. As I begin to pack my belongings, I’m replaying brilliant and sublime moments from this past month in the Badlands. Erosion. Weather Geology. Solitude. It truly has been a spectacular and diverse time to be here, a real blessing. Doing some laundry today, I picked up a book called “Battling For The National Parks” by George B. Hartzog with an intro by the late Stewart Udall. I should explain that the laundry room has bookshelves for swapping reading materials (lots of mysteries!). In Chapter I, Hartzog is jotting down his early experiences and impressions as Director of the National Park Service. Hippies want access for large meadow-sit-ins. Conservation clubs are running utility lines through park meadows. A decision to open locked gates to back roads in the Great Smokies brings nothing but criticism. Everybody seems to want something different. Meanwhile, human rights marchers have set up great encampments on the (Park Service administered) Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Again and again, Hartzog must ask himself “Whose parks are these?” How do you manage so many different parks for the “public” when the public has so many faces and opinions? He includes this paragraph:

A mother in Detroit wrote to tell me of the joyous two-week vacation she, her husband and two children had in the national parks. They had tent-camped, she wrote, in ten parks from Yellowstone to Yosemite. She was complimentary of the rangers they had met, the clean campgrounds and the good roads. My road atlas indicated that the two-week trip must have involved at least 5,000 miles. They wind-shielded a lot of scenery.

I enjoyed that passage so much, wind-shielding, as it reminded me of the joy of those long “see it all” car trips we took when I was a kid, chalking up as many parks as possible, although our method feels so wrong in retrospect. By comparison, I’ve driven 800 miles in past month — but just within the Badlands.

Badlands as Bison (Visualization)

It’s a wide park, stretched out like a bison, grazing downhill, and I really wanted to familiarize myself with as much terrain as possible (since the geology varies so wildly from location to location). Thought I’d share my visualization of the park map, as overlaid with a bison. North Unit of the Badlands (experienced by most visitors) is upper corner. Back-tail-hind-legs. You can see the Loop Road runs up the hind leg (and if the tail were lifted, it would point at Wall). The South Unit, which is large and wild and difficult to experience fully, is located in the bison’s great shaggy head-horns-shoulders-front-legs.

For the past couple days I’ve been crafting and revising drafts of poems, re-reading my scribbled notes, and printing copies as the words begin to gel. Part of my own creative process involves making watercolor landscape sketches.   Here are those sketches, as a Flickr slideshow.


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