“If you were on a deserted island and could only take one thing with you, what would it be?” I think of this popular question whenever I move amongst my tiny piece of the complex geological makeup of the Black Hills that prompted its nickname, The Island in the Plains. Common answers to the hypothetical include my phone, my music/book/stamp collection, a trunk of beer, a hammock, or, from the perpetually realistic ones, a boat.
Spearfish Canyon is the northern shore of the Black Hills National Forest and the target-shaped stratigraphy that the pines and spruces dig their roots into. The creeks, trails, caves, and waterfalls that weave amongst the scenic byway are pieces of the collective 5,000 square mile network, afloat in endless waves of grassland. And the more time I spend amongst its natural details, the harder it becomes to try to think of a single thing I would need with me on this island. I do not need any more company beside what already surrounds me within the trees, the colors of the constantly changing view and the music made by the wind is entertainment enough, the aroma of the dark green trees that make these hills black is intoxicating. I do not need any additional modes of comfort or connection or communication, and I absolutely do not need a means of getaway from what this island is: an escape from the populated. While I stand atop its canopy I wonder why I ever needed anything more. I wonder why I ever thought life required living amongst people and things. I wonder why the thought of a deserted island ever brought any feeling other than desire.
My presence on these hills is temporary, connected only by the soles of my feet to the dirt and the tips of my fingers to the red shale and gypsum. But these hills’ presence within me is dependently permanent, roots wrapped around my veins that live off my heartbeat. And this is all I really need—a pulse and a reason to keep it.