Today is for B, and B is for BLACK, the color used to describe one of my favorite places on earth -- the Black Hills.
For some, traveling west on I-90 in South Dakota is a lesson in tedium. But the miles and miles of flat prairie and overflowing sloughs around Minnehaha County eventually give way to what, at first glance, looks like a grand dip into Lake Francis Case at Chamberlain.
One might swear, after climbing out of the Missouri River valley on the west side of Oacoma, that they've driven through a time warp. The vehicles on the interstate and the multitude of Wall Drug billboards are the only things that really provide an indication that the calendar has moved past the days of cowboys and Indians.
It might seem boring, the seemingly endless rolling amber fields, interrupted by occasional whimsy or markers of better times. It's an acquired appreciation, one that develops when you experience the mental, physical and spiritual renewal found when you reach your destination on the other side of the Badlands.
On a clear day, you begin to see them about 50 miles outside of Rapid City, growing on the horizon like a bank of ominous clouds.
The trees make them look black; a forest of Ponderosas covers the mini mountain range known as the Black Hills on the western edge of South Dakota. You'll see it in your rearview mirror on the way home and immediately wish you could stay there forever.
Today the Black Hills accommodate tourists of all types. Families can go sightseeing and visit places like Mount Rushmore. Adults might opt to take a strenuous hike up Harney Peak or kick back at a casino in Deadwood.
Reminders of the variety are everywhere. T-shirts and banners provide constant reminders that the annual Sturgis Bike Rally is only so many weeks away. Little shops along the main streets in towns like Keystone and Hill City provide reminders that playing on our inner nostalgia for all-things Old West is commercially profitable.
And when you leave the beaten path, when you climb out of bed before dawn and position your chair just so to watch the rising sun chase away the shadows of night or you sit just close enough to a crackling campfire to keep the brisk evening air from biting at your flesh, you're reminded how you're never more than a breath away from those who came before you and revered the rugged terrain of these Black Hills for its sacredness.
If you're quiet, you can almost hear their voices on the wind.
The Lakota called this place Paha Sapa. They understood the divinity of this place long before the white man came along.
"The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka , and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us." -- Black Elk
Kathryn Harris is an award-winning journalist and author of the contemporary novel THE LONG ROAD TO HEAVEN.