From Brookings, South Dakota

If the National Parks at Arches, Canyonlands, Tetons, and Yellowstone are battle-of-the-band rock concerts, full of hallucinogenic overload, then central South Dakota is a jazz quartet, textured and unpredictable. And, finally, eastern South Dakota is a lone Indian flute player. It’s kind of a relief.

We’re past the Mountains and into the Plains. End of wow. Back to philosophy.

I’ve been reading “Blood and Thunder” by Hampton Sides (continuing from last year’s Western roadtrip). It’s about Kit Carson, the U.S. acquisition and conquest of New Mexico (then stretching to California), and the making of our American self-image. It seems like we always started out with good intentions of peace-making among Americans, Mexicans and Native Americans. There were periods of noble give-and-take and cultural reaching out. Then somehow the hotheads would take over and horrific bloodshed would ruin everything. And then we would have to spin the gore into glorious tales of American frontier heroism. Even Kit Carson was mortified at his own Indian-killing superhero image in the dime novels of the day.

American political empire-builders of the Old West were unenlightened, if not downright ignorant, of the cultures they were rearranging and destroying. Bad enough. But I look around at some current politicians and sigh — the “shoot first, ask questions later” crowd is still mouthing off, still insensitive to the traditions and culture of others, still wanting to impose “democracy” on everyone without knowing what the hell they are talking about.

Look at me, back on the Plains and ranting!

Other than this, my mind is perfectly blank.

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