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The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sub Terra Vita--Chronicle #32: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground: Part XI: Away from the Valley

Sub Terra Vita
By Tim Krenz
January 18, 2016

Chronicle #32: A Brief Autobiography of the Valley Underground: Part XI: Away from the Valley

Shortly after arriving safely in Bowman, in the Badlands of North Dakota, on the night-long bus ride from St. Paul, I enjoyed the first weeks of the almost two months on my first underground journey by myself from home. Since my sister worked everyday in an office at the local coal mine, I spent most of the days with my brother-in-law, “Swannie.”

We spent the time around his and my sister's ranch, where they raised cattle, riding in the truck with Sally the Dog. On the hottest parts of the afternoons, Swannie and I spent time in his taxidermy shop at his parents farmstead, about 4 empty miles north of the ranch. Otherwise, we drove around fixing barbed-wire fences with u-shaped nails, and swathing, raking and gathering up the hay in huge round bales.

In the county that seeded clouds to prevent hail damage to the gold-mine wheat crops, it rained little, and people measured the weekly rain fall in hundredths of an inch. The land of rock strewn and yellow grass pastures, orange-brownish tassled wheat fields sections wide, and just at the foothills of the Badlands' most uninviting, hellish looking beauty, the wind swayed rolling good during the day, but the air still felt blast furnace hot sometimes.

In July and August, the sweat of the body could cool in that dry air, but everything in that sun's hammer broke on the anvil of heat. The dry and hard dirt, the petrified wood, “scrap rock,” dry gullies, and flammable grass felt as dry as the bones of deer and antelope we sometimes found while looking successfully for arrowheads. The entire land gave the sense of brittle wood matches, only waiting for the careless strike to break it into inferno.

A Boy Scout back home, I continued my passion for adventures, reading Swannies book collection, on camping, animals, settler history, and about the Native American tribes who roamed and hunted this former frontier land. I wanted to go camping, and I read about Teddy Roosevelt's ranch in Medora, ND, not far from Bowman, long before he became the President. To my delight, my sister planned for all of us to go camping, until one night she became very, very seriously ill.

After suffering steady pains, Swannie took my sister to the big hospital two hours away in the middle of the night. My sister had an ovary removed in emergency surgery, and underwent cancer treatment for the next year. I really did not understand until then that not just old people could get seriously ill. Swannie and I pulled house chores, in addition to ranch chores, and I learned how to take care of myself, sort of. When my sister came home from the long hospital stay she had some how bought and presented to me as a surprise gift a brand new, brightly tinted, cast iron frying pan for my camping gear.

We could not go camping now, as planned. Yet, one night when sleeping outside, I “camped” in the driveway, to stay away from the snakes I would see in the grass around the ranch. The dog kept me up until near dawn, but I watched the stars all night, and saw the same sky Teddy Roosevelt slept under one hundred years earlier. That morning, my sister got out of her bed, with difficulty, and I made her and Swannie a bacon, egg and toast breakfast in my new frying, over a cooking fire I built on the concrete slab next to the hand-pump water well. I made the best camping breakfast EVER in history!

Happily, years later, my sister gave birth to two daughters, whom I call “the miracle babies.” And, I still own that frying pan for camping, now blackened and seasoned by 30-plus years of good, hard use, my reminder of the summer when I grew up away from home.


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