Somewhere on this Sunday morning, church bells ring to call the faithful to kneel before a stained glass reprieve.
There ain’t nothin’ short of dyin’Half as lonesome as the sound On the sleepin’ city sidewalks Sunday mornin’ comin’ down
My God, the hues and textures of autumn grassy plains tipped by low morning sunlight, risen golden over the Missouri River! The robin’s egg blue of a sky blown clear as ice, clouds swept away by last night’s chill northern wind! Only cold air can hold such an acute edge; I can see for thirty miles.
Every shade and tint of umber, gold, and brown you have ever seen in a golden retriever puppy spreads across the land. Plush, freshly cut carpets of tan Velveteen hay are studded with round brown button bales. Wispy grass catches the sunlight on waving tips. A few spindly trees cast long shadows pointing west that seem blacker than usual against the shades of tan. A small clutch of buckskin does and yearling fawns graze by the roadside, outed only by their snowy-white tails. Wedged into hillsides, swatches of auburn, rust, burnt orange, and summers’ forgotten green fill brush-choked draws where pheasants hide.
The cloistered quiet does not recall the summer sweat poured into haying these fields and herding the black cattle from pasture to pasture; nor does it foretell the coming months when snow fills those pheasant draws, when the world is white, and a frozen wind howls out of the north like a demon searching for damned souls. It does not tell the stories of trailer roofs blown off in that wind, or of the heating bills that stack up against small government checks on a reservation where jobs are rare.
Somewhere on this Sunday morning, church bells ring to call the faithful to kneel before a stained glass reprieve. Somewhere on this Sunday morning the roads have a line of cars heading into a Walmart for chips and beer before the start of the Game of the Week. Somewhere there are clouds and rain today. But not here, not across the waving hills of Standing Rock, not where the morning light in utter stillness is all the knee-buckling I can imagine.
By afternoon the sun is buried somewhere behind a quilt of smokey-gray clouds that feel like they blanket the plains from Canada to Texas. The weather-blasted siding and peeling paint on almost every house in McLaughlin looks so much more desperate than it did in the optimistic morning light. If my monthly check was still a couple of weeks away, I think I might turn off the heat in my house and go sit through an afternoon church service.
The light is as flat as gauze. Brown is just brown. The wind is up and a few ducks trying to find shelter beside a shallow pond have their heads tucked under their wings. Winter is coming. On a long hillside, one lone cow grazes hundreds of yards away from the herd. Is it lame? Is she a pioneer, finding better grass where others have not strayed? Does he have cow dementia and has forgotten to stay with the others? Or is he just a lonesome pilgrim like me?