Today was really low key. I needed a break from the road, and this lovely spot was just the thing. It was great, too, knowing I had the whole day to poke around and not be up early the next morning to check out.
After sleeping for about 10 hours in my fabulous tent, I woke up slowly and wandered over to Isa and Jack's ranch house nearby. There was fresh coffee on the shady deck overlooking the property, and Isa came out after a bit to say good morning. We ended up talking for a while, and she told me the story of how she and Jack had come to set up this wonderful place 20 years ago.
Born in Munich, Isa had always felt called to move to this part of the US. A psychic from as far back as she can remember, she got in a lot of trouble as a little girl for speaking the truth. One day as she overheard her mother and a neighbor talking, she announced, "Mother, this lady's lying to you!" After that, Isa was strongly encouraged to remain silent.
As the years passed, she came to recognize and learn about her gifts and how to use them wisely. Now in her 50s, Isa specializes in hand-making potent flower remedies, offers a healing technique called Essential Touch, and createssoul paintings for people and animals, in addition to offering uncannily spot-on tarot readings. She's the real deal.
We decided to go into nearby Custer to have lunch, and continued our talk there. It felt like a reunion of old friends, or a visit to see family--comfortable and familiar. We waited for a bit to get into Black Hills Burger & Bun, a local favorite that's currently overrun with tourists, including me. Meanwhile, two quite elderly, goggled ladies parked their souped-up dune buggy in front of the place and walked off somewhere else for lunch. I pointed this out to Isa, who said, "Oh my God, you'd never see anything like that in Germany. Only in the US, there's still this youthful spirit." I took comfort in her remark. If we have nothing else, we've still have remnants of the pioneering spirit that built this country.
Burger & Buns' specialty is the buffalo burger, so I got that. It was my first time eating this meat (thank you, Buffalo!) and man, is it delicious. Isa explained that buffalo is way better for you, because the animals can't tolerate confinement or chemicals. They have to be free range, and their meat is free of all the crap they give the poor cows.
After lunch, Isa and I parted ways for a few hours. She does most of the work on the ranch, including running its Airbnb and Hipcamp applications, washing laundry for the cabins, cleaning the john, and giving treatments to people who come to camp and stay for some much-needed TLC at this lovely retreat. A woman of much vigor and life force, Isa is always busy doing something. Her German origins in combination with her years of living in South Dakota yield charming phrases like "plumb happy" and "so on and so forth and such," rendered in a lovely Munich accent. She laughs in surprise when I point this out, saying, "I didn't even know I did that!"
I headed back south a few miles on I-85 to see a place called Wind Cave National Park. I signed up for an hour-long tour of one part of the many miles of the cave network, and went out to wait with about a dozen others for the ranger to come out. After a couple minutes with my fellow tourists, though, I changed my mind about spending any more time with them, despite wanting to see the cave very much. Two of the three couples present were actively fighting, the third pair sat like depressed lumps on the stone bench, the kids were already displaying obvious signs of dysfunction, and the other single woman had a bitter, lined face and rolled her eyes at this and that.
I suddenly got an image in my mind of spending an eternity with these people, just like the waiting room in Jean Paul Sartre's terrifying and illuminating play No Exit, wherein an assemblage of characters is forced to be together, in limbo, for all time. I seem to recall that no one has eyelids they can close, either. It's a brilliant depiction of Hell. In fact, the key line in the play is Sartre's famous quote: "Hell is other people."
This voice in my head, the one whose instructions I do my best to follow, said, "You're totally gonna regret this. You should leave now." I argued weakly with it for a moment or two. But you know what? I got up and left. I fucking did. I walked right past the aggressively cheerful lady ranger giving her too-cute spiel and went back into the visitor center. I re-emerged a few minutes later with a map of something called "The Prairie Walk," and headed past my former cave tour group down the path and up into the sun instead of down into potential Hell. I felt many eyes following me as I left behind, like a somnolent, viscous glue, the sense of despair I'd felt under that shady shelter. I was proud of myself for doing what I wanted and listening to that voice, which has yet to steer me wrong.
After a lovely walk, I returned to Plenty Star Ranch and fixed my tent up, which had blown in on one side in the afternoon winds. Surveying the lowering sky, I decided to move the whole deal under the shelter of a nearby willow thicket, right in the "V" of two huge, twisted trunks. I've never camped by myself before, and all I know is what Cisco's dad taught me on a few backpacking trips to the Sierras and some car-camping expeditions. Mark's a very experienced outdoorsman and he taught me a lot, but being on my own going across the country and taking care of myself is both satisfying and confidence-boosting.
Isa called from the ranch house to let me know she was ready to give me the Tarot reading I'd asked for earlier in the day. I sat down with her and a great fluffy cat named Mica, and she asked me to pick 8 cards. These would represent my general outlook right now. I laid those out in front of her, and she perused them for a moment. I won't go too much into what my reading results were, but here are a few key points I received from the beautiful Isa:
I used to be a Druid priest some lifetimes ago, and was killed for refusing to stop singing. I'd taken a vow to abandon my art upon becoming a priest, but broke that commitment because it brought me so much joy. Isa told me it's "perfectly safe and fine" to sing again in this lifetime because things have changed. Yay! I've never done any of this past-life stuff before, but it keeps coming up for me now as I travel.
The reason I get easily frustrated with people is because I used to be some kind of spiritual leader--even a dictator-type guy--whose word was law. In this lifetime I'm supposed to learn patience and remind myself that everyone has free will. This one also sounded so much like me I laughed out loud.
There's a man and/or teacher waiting for me in Maine. 'Nuff said. I don't even know.
I thanked Isa for the reading, which I found very compelling and confirming. We talked about how the best thing for everyone to do right now is to heal themselves and stop trying to fix others. No one's broken! We're all on different paths going to the same place, eventually.
I went back into Custer to get some dinner and this time tried a place called The Custer Wolf, which is known for making real food. Yeah, I had buffalo again. C'mon, of course I did! I overheard two other customers talking about the place's famous bread pudding, which everyone agrees is not better in any other part of the known Universe, so I had to have that, too. They were soooo right. I saved the rest of my shredded buffalo sandwich and smashed potatoes for breakfast.
When I got back to Plenty Star, it was pretty much dark. I got out my laptop and sat on the wide, sheltered deck for a while to write about my day. Various cats came to check on me one by one. Oliver, a giant orange tomcat Isa rescued as a kitten, wanted to sit on my keyboard and help me type. The wind began to rise, and the cats started up their nighttime spy-vs.-spy games. Oliver managed to leap onto the roof and rustle among the pine boughs there as the other cats watched. Mica prowled the railings and a pretty Tortie chased bugs on the deck. Slowly, after a time, they each disappeared into the cat-width crack left open in the sliding glass door to the ranch house. A light rain started.
I wrote for a little longer until the wind, laden with the rain, began to reach me under the porch roof. I packed up and crossed the lawn to get in my tent and listened as the wind buffeted my willow shelter. Big drops splashed on my tent roof, and I was glad I'd put the rain fly on earlier. I fell asleep, feeling protected and brave.