Place Where You Live:

Custer, SD

Reflections in the Snow

The snow fell and the light from the City drifted up in the stillness, reflecting back to the now white yard, gardens, lanes, streets, and roofs of Custer, and the darkness withered as the snow fell in that odd paradox of an early winter night. Gone was the usual quilted pattern of color, the spectacle of merry summer, a vision remembered through squinting eyes in a rearview mirror, the present now gentle, thoughtful, like a silent film. Trackless, noiseless, and pure, snow hid the scars of the world, the stumbles and triumphs of the past, reflecting the moment through the window.

My mind wandered around the rim of memory to the hike I did not take up the middle of French Creek with our grandchildren, digital images, kneeling in the water, catching tiny trout. They sit half in, half out of the ripples, smiles on beautiful little faces.

My eyes refocus on the snow and the brightness filtering through the black pine trees across the way. There is something sinister there, flashes of chaos and I am kneeling on a little dirt road, the heat and dust passing over my boots, the dark smoke of many trees burning intensely, very close, ripping the air like canvas tearing. Scouts speaking softly on radios, urgently…we must move from this place. I stare at the ground where something unspeakable happened, where metal turned to liquid in a river of tortured silver. I peer through the smoke and dust to try to see the seared ground. There is something there, a shape. It is a number burned in hardened steel, a vehicle dog tag, the number of a fire engine wired to the engine block against the day we would need to know. We will give it to our friends to use in memory of this place where Trampus Haskvitz died.

I’m so thankful for the good things, so sorry for the hard things, so glad to be here in the falling snow in Custer, South Dakota, in this last best place in this wonderful and terrible year.