Why I travel, the first reason . . .
When the world was new and I was young, the parents in my small South Dakota town would admonish us to be home for supper, or lunch, or some other universally known set time. With that we would organize baseball games, or hop on our bikes, or explore the river’s edge.
The same admonition and freedom to wander extended to our vacations, often paired to my father’s annual convention. Which takes me to a motor inn, as they were called, just outside of Custer, South Dakota.
Here, in the southern range of the Black Hills, were five or six kids of about my age (8 or 9) free to wander as our mothers chatted and our fathers attended the convention. Moving through the Douglas Fir behind our individual cabins we found treasures of pine cones, granite with mica deposits, and chipmunks everywhere.
Our discoveries lead us further up the hill to where other, larger hills, loomed directly ahead. Here were old fallen timber, once magnificent trees about as large in girth as any trees we’d ever seen in our prairie parks. They were wonderful to scramble over and peer into the rotting insides with the hair on our necks standing out, sure to find a bear or wolf or something else just as wonderful, and by that I mean the old base of the word, “full of wonder.”
Then there were the boulders. We spotted them as we crested from the gully where the fallen trees lay. We’d never seen any single stone as large as these. Age-worn granite, smoothed and rounded, huge, gray and warmed by the sun. These things put to shame the basketball-sized rocks which the spring thaws forced to the surface of our flat brown fields. These were monsters, stone whales, cast off by the mountain, and lying there just for us. King of the Hill was never more fun.
This, of course, lead us to the next and higher hill and the one beyond it. A bigger pine cone, a bigger log, a bigger boulder. We could hardly stand it, this multiplication of size and plenty, the joy of first discovery multiplied by each succeeding hill. Until, of course, our inner clocks told each of us the same thing . . . be home for supper.
I wanted one more hill. One more discovery. One more wonderful, wonderful strange thing. But, outvoted, I joined our group as we marched downhill, past that fallen and hollow tree, away from the boulder which looked like the bow of a ship, beyond the chik-chik-chik of the chipmunks and to the dirt road leading to the cabins.
It was here that worried parents came at us from above and below, up the road and down all swearing that they’d called our names until they were hoarse. Stern scoldings were followed by warm hugs, and we broke into our separate parts for supper.
Now, sixty years afterward, I’m still looking for that next hill and hoping I can get to the top before I have to return. I know, I just know, that there is still one more wonderful, wonderful strange thing some place where stones are warmed by the sun, frightful and terrific things hide in the darker recesses, and the world is new.