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Ft. Lincoln Bluff

B.L. LietzauI stand on top of the bluff. It is tall, flat and wide. I feel calm here. My lungs expand, inhale the freedom, then push out the stale. I sense I am being looked after. The sky’s majesty engulfs my existence, whirls 360 degrees, spiraling into a funnel where I stand. The horizon seems hundreds of miles away. I cannot see any warm-blooded life, only the life that firmly embeds its roots in the rocky soil as it strains to flourish. The hills roll into one another with distinctive flecks of greens and browns, abruptly ended by the carved cliffs and begin again on the other side of the crags, rolling in and out of sight.

 I stand on top of the bluff. It is tall, flat and wide. All that dares to grow up here are prairie grasses and crocus. Rounded rocks, the size of soccer balls, placed in rectangular formations confirm where previous, old military buildings stood. I am aware of the soldiers from days gone by, under Custer’s command, carrying on their daily endeavors—marching beside me, barking orders to one another. This is their post. The men are stationed here to protect the white settlers from Native American attacks. The soldiers could see for miles from here. I can see for miles. The land to the river valley below cuts an extremely steep slope. The Missouri is overflowing this year—too much spring rain.

The sky is darkening and it begins to shows itself. An undulating summer storm begins sweeping over the horizon as if late for its purpose. Fast, dark clouds whirl and chase each other as if they were flocks of birds on their way to a warmer climate; swirling and gaining speed and direction with every wing flutter. The tempest takes hostage of the southwestern hemisphere, expanding its supremacy northeastward as it stirs the sky above my head. A merciless veil of water is approaching, suspended from the heavens. I stretch out my arms to receive the tempest. The power in the sky is welcomed trepidation. Cool, fast wind rushes over my face as it builds its symphony. Luminous shards of light from far away are pre-empted by low rumbles and then hushed smacks of thunder. The prevailing wind sweeps through me, as if I am a bound spirit, leaving steadfast in my place.

How insignificant I am.     

The rain begins with drops of water popping downward with a fluted melodic beat. After a brief instant, the temporal rain begins to hiss as it spills across the bluff and down the slopes. It beats down all that is not a hard, prehistoric mass. Yet, unseen to me, it is washing that away too, little by little to melt the stone’s glue that swallowed lives past—living, breathing remnants of another time. 

The lightning now seemingly close, assaults anything it wishes. My sight and hearing are battered, as the thunder and lightning have now become a united force. Nothing other than the natural world can provide as mind-blowing of a show as this. The bluff is under siege from unseen energy sources. My flesh gives in to the invigorating cascade bestowed by the heavenly wash and I take cover. I scramble to take shelter in one of the four rebuilt outlook posts. Cautiously raising the cover of the small trap window on the second level, I peer out. The air outside is dark. All I see is a murky, fluid wall of domination. The defiant flora takes its hold and drinks to satiety. The rocky crags gather any unused nourishment and gift the surfeit to the river so it may nurture another part of the country as it flows southeast down to the Missouri.

This land takes a pounding during a storm.

What lives here must relinquish its own meager power to the heavens and endure the endless submissions of climate. As the surge passes by, a quiet, sigh of relief flows through the air. The life on the bluff emerges unscathed. A slow release of tension seems inevitable.

Finally, it’s over.

I see gratefulness on that bluff. The prairie grasses and the crocus bow to give thanks and stir once again. The rainbow seams to stretch the entire southern horizon—they are twice the size here in North Dakota as they are elsewhere. Nothing blocks the magnificent arc of refracted water vapor and light stretching in view from my left shoulder to my right.

I imagine this land 15,000 years ago. It emerges from a flash-frozen, glacial-blue ice cover. The newly arrived travelers from the Bering Strait see it for the first time. Did they think of this land the way I do, as I see it today? Did they welcome the wide-open space or did it become another staggering part of their journey ambling over hills, and down through valleys with no protection from the elements? Or did they experience an ease, a comfort, a familiarity to this place? This bluff is a home I seem to have left behind. Perhaps the wind has connected this land to our hearts. It transported pieces of our essence to mix here and derived to create a common native land to be experienced over and over, generation after generation. It greets me with familial knowing, that I haven’t been back to visit in a long time. I feel welcomed here. My spirit knows this space.