top of page

Shriking Fossils

A blizzard laid crystal white in every direction from your hotel that first week in South Dakota. SoDak, that's what the locals call it. SoDak is large and spread out, like one peach's worth of fuzz over a watermelon. If you can't see the ground, what you're looking for is listed as "No Longer Present" and you must forget what it was or where it was to be found, because you listed it as O. There is no word associated with the capitol O entered into the squares running in rows across the page rubber banded to your clipboard. It's not a 0 because a 0 is a numeric value and capitol letters denote statuses and so O is what populates all squares at the end of their line; it's not nothing, not a 0, but a capitol letter. Nulls are inert values, zeros are values of nothing, O is a statement of no mere presence.

Barbed wire sections direct cattle on the prairie, assisted by 12 year-olds on four-wheelers and seven year-olds twelve feet up astride tractors that could eat cow, fence, and cripple whatever survives. Late one evening, after that first week, you're on your way out from a farm that monetizes power fierce enough to tame the prairie, wind that bullies fourth-generation volcanos down to runnels of sandstone gravel but still tall enough to guide a religion. Logger-headed shrikes adorn fences, hanging livers on their wire knots every few inches. You pass their flutter and folly of aggravated assertion. See me here, I wait and where I take my meal and where I watch you watch me jump and call and tomorrow we will dance around each other again.

Neither grassland nor pasture, no distinguishing lines to draw, out here. You are paid to march over the prehistory of a deep and crenulated methane seep that once bubbled columns of steam up into the Interior Western Shore. A 65 million year-old sea that divided North America. You know this because the bare ground is peppered with the concrete castes of sea life prodding up through sticky mud that crawls over the toe of your Red Wings two-inches thick, retraining your gait as if weighed by iron around your ankles. These fossils are slow to notice you at first. An iridescent gleam there, a calcium coating there, and soon they are ubiquitous as cracked and persistent reminders that we are flicking through pages of a book that is bound by a circular spine. Shore birds pay no mind, prairie dogs yip and scuttle with unerring acknowledgment of the history through which they tunnel to survive.

Under every stride is the lingering evidence of life at the bottom that has risen back to the top of their landscape, even tens of millions of years after their bustling communities settled, folded into deepening shades of sunless blue onto the bottom. Know your history and you will see the stalwart impressions of those who have risen above the chaos paving your march every step of the way.

Happy Pride,


bottom of page