The center of the world

_C1_3223.JPGThis mountain bears the likenesses of some of the most influential people in United States history and took more than a decade to carve. It’s a striking and masterly monument, without question. But even more impressive, at least to me, is the other history tied to Mount Rushmore and the rest of South Dakota’s Black Hills.

From a geological perspective, some of this rock is about half the age of the planet. Some of it is the rounded and durable granite you see above. Other outcroppings have been squeezed and deformed, sometimes until the original rock layers are vertical, and sparkle in the sun with countless flecks of mica. All of it is topped with rugged pine and spruce that give the Black Hills their name.

As for humans, they’ve been living around here for at least 12,000 years. The hills are therefore heavy with myth and religious significance, including ties to Oglala Lakota creation stories. A holy man named Black Elk called this place the center of the world, and his people called Mount Rushmore The Six Grandfathers, referring to the earth, sky and four cardinal directions, which might make Rushmore something like seizing and then carving into the Sistine Chapel. The U.S. swore it wouldn’t take these lands but broke the promise because of gold. (The U.S. Supreme Court in 1980 ruled several tribes were owed compensation now worth more than $1 billion because of this, but they haven’t taken it, preferring to get at least some of the land back.)

Despite all of this, it isn’t hard to see much of the Black Hills as they have been for ages, even just around the corner from the monument.

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IMG_2719.JPG(Note the climber there in the lower middle)

The Black Hills also hold more wonders hundreds of feet underground, and I don’t mean that gold. Wind Cave National Park, about 20 miles south of Rushmore, holds at least 150 explored miles of passages that could connect to several times as many unexplored miles, according to the National Park Service. Those passages are often brimming with formations called boxwork — tangled, glittering, translucent blades of calcite about the width and sturdiness of tortilla chips. I couldn’t photograph it adequately, but try to imagine this coating the walls and ceiling around you:

IMG_2681.JPGSome chambers feature calcite in other forms, like spiky frostwork and little rounded blobs called cave popcorn, or, in this case, both:

IMG_2682.JPGIn the end, all of the Black Hills’ contents have something to offer. Just remember where you’re standing.

Thanks for looking,

Dan

If you like my work and want to support it, take a look at prints, cards and other products made with my images here.

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The week of protest

_C1_9503.JPGHave you kept up this week?

Millions of marchers took to the streets in all 50 states and around the world the weekend of President Donald Trump’s inauguration to protest sexism and sexual assault and shout a full-throated message of inclusion and diversity. A week later, thousands more have protested against the president’s plan to build a wall on our southern border and his Friday executive order that sharply curtails the acceptance of refugees and other immigrants, particularly from horror-filled Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. Meanwhile, more people are fleeing war and persecution than at any time in recorded history.

The Trump administration said the order would help protect against terrorists who could be among refugees’ ranks, though this is vanishingly rare. (It’s worth adding the risk of being killed in a refugee’s terrorist attack is about 0.000003% that of dying in a car crash, according to the National Safety Council and the conservative Cato Institute.) The order certainly made a splash, slamming the door on students, families, allies of U.S. armed forces and others on their way to the U.S., earning bipartisan criticism and sparking worries over whether the executive branch would obey court orders against it.

_C1_9430.JPGOne of the protesters was this woman above, Simone, whose mother escaped the Cambodian killing fields, where more than 1 million people lost their lives at the hands of a dictatorship a few decades ago. She and a couple hundred others turned out in downtown Fayetteville with signs quoting the Statue of Liberty’s plaque and Biblical passages. They urged the White House to keep the door open for refugees and other immigrants no matter their religion or homeland.

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_C1_9488.JPGI’ll add one more thought: Support a newspaper, even if it isn’t the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I’ve written about the effects of refugee, health care, climate change and immigration policy and will do everything I can to keep doing so — and I’m just one reporter at one paper. This is shaping up to be a defining year of my lifetime and in the country’s history, and even if it’s exhausting for reporters and readers alike, we absolutely must keep trying to learn about what’s going on and what it means.

Thanks for looking, and keep your eyes open.

Dan

Who we are

t_parade-17.jpg“Our country has changed,” Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote three years ago in a majority opinion that found the landmark Voting Rights Act was being used unfairly against several states with histories of intimidation and violence toward black voters. Black voter registration has equaled white registration in many of those places and more have minorities in office, Roberts said, concluding the set of states covered by the act is based on outdated information.

The victorious lawyer for the Alabama county protesting the voting law took a more sweeping stance: “There is an old disease, and that disease is cured.”

There are plenty of things I could point to in order to show how wrong-headed this statement was, but this past week has been especially gut-punching. Following the presidential election, racial and religious assault and street harassment seem to have spiked. (Hate crimes last year jumped, too.) Black freshmen at Pennsylvania State University were unwillingly added to an online chat group about lynching. Groups of students across the country, including here in Arkansas, have led chants of phrases like “white power,” an American Nazi slogan. Speaking of Nazis: swastikas and other anti-Jewish nonsense are all over the place.

It’s all pretty nauseating and alarming and scary.

So I’m going to show a snapshot of the America I know a little better, the one that’s home to people who are black, Christian, urban, female, civilian, old, liberal, Jewish, transgender, straight, Buddhist, rural, military, gay, male, Native American, Muslim, conservative, white, atheistic, young, Asian, native- and foreign-born. I’ve seen them farming, dancing, building, worshiping, marching, laughing, crying, leaping, relaxing, serving and celebrating, among all of the other things we Americans do.

This is a tiny piece of who we are.

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_C1_6759.JPGStill, the truth is none of this is new. We’re the country that elected Barack Obama, and we’re the country that had several slaveholders among its founders. We’re the country that sings the praises of Martin Luther King Jr., and we’re the country that elected a successor to Obama who, despite his denunciation, is endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and its ilk. We’re a country that holds up the immigrant or refugee seeking a new life as an idyllic symbol, and we’re the country that began by attacking the indigenous people and consistently treated each new wave of immigrants with suspicion or outright hatred.

All of this is who we are. We have countless things to do if we want to change it, but I think we can start with two: seeing and meeting and learning about each other a little more, and never saying or thinking that racism and other prejudices are “cured.” I know I’ll do what I can on those two things, at least.

These are just my thoughts, incomplete or flawed as they might be. Thanks for looking, and I wish you well.