Dakota

Back in November I was sitting in the living room of the cabin I shared with my roommate, Mairi. She and I were co-workers together at a nearby garden. Mairi is cool--the type of hippie that's part of the real world, but crazy enough to make you feel like life's very much worth living. She's that much fun. Anyway, I was telling Mairi about this goal I thought of undertaking, reading a book a week, 52 weeks. "And then I could write a blog," I said, "make it official, right? Would people read that?" 

Well she didn't answer right away. (That's never a good sign). I rephrased the thought, correcting my idea to fit in her image of "what she would read and want to read again, the next week." I restarted: "Maybe if I talked about the process, talked about if it sucked or not. Or if I was actually honestly enjoying the process."

"Yeah," she said, "I mean, if you make it more like an online journal. Personal interest, you know?"

Sure, I knew. I had to make it juicy enough, honest enough. I had to bring it down a level--which basically meant I had to talk about people and problems and whether I hated or loved a book. I had to be REAL. 

That's what most of us want anyway, right? 

So, "friends," (readers, whoever you are), this week I read the nonfiction book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, by Kathleen Norris, author of Amazing Grace. This book was recommended to me by a good friend and mentor--his name's not important--and I feel like he knows me well: this book hit me at a sweet spot. It's got a lot in it about spirituality and the way we connect with a place. Norris talks about the starkness of the Dakota landscape and the people who suffer (and are blessed) by willingly living within it.

The author talks a lot about monk-dom in this book, too. You know, I thought about being a nun, once, living a monastic lifestyle; that thought died pretty quickly, but the motive behind the lifestyle still intrigues me a lot. What Norris writes about monks and the Benedictine lifestyle is beautiful. The whole book is beautiful. 

I recommend Dakota if you feel a connection to the land you live on--or if you want to feel a connection. It's not a quick thing, learning and seeing takes time. But the observations that Norris makes about living in the Dakotas--as a resident monk, or a townsperson--will surely make you consider who you are, where you've come from, and whether you want to stay there. 

So. Here's a little taste of the book, a section from a chapter called "Deserts":

"The silence of the Plains, this great unpeopled landscape of earth and sky, is much like the silence one finds in a monastery, an unfathomable silence that has the power to re-form you. And the Plains have changed me. I was a New Yorker for nearly six years and still love to visit my friends in the city. But now I am conscious of carrying a Plains silence within me into the city." (15)

So, "The Plains," or the Dakotas. North and South Dakota. Perhaps you've visited The Badlands or The Black Hills. These are locations included in The Plains but are pushed to one edge, effectively drawing tourists and visitors across most of the Dakotas--as if there were nothing to see there. 

Whew, this book made me hungry to get back in isolation. I know it's not the best thing for me, but still I believe that there's much to be learned by living in a place where more is less, and silence is louder than cars on the road, or clocks obsessively ticking. (I'm currently living in a house that is filled with clocks). 

Friends, readers, thank you for your interest, I hope and pray you are living a good life and finding more good things than bad. (It's a daily struggle for me, I know). 

One last quote to go out on: 

"[. . .] Americans seek the quick fix for spiritual as well as physical pain. That conversion is a lifelong process is the last thing we want to hear.  . . . Fear is not a bad place to start a spiritual journey. If you know what makes you afraid, you can see more clearly that the way out is through the fear.  . . . Conversion means starting with who we are, not who we wish we were. It means knowing where we come from." (130, 131)

Hey! Take heart! Courage! 

And here's a link if you want to buy Dakota on Amazon: CLICK HERE. 


In honor of Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake on the 30th of May in 1431, I'm reading her biography, written by Regine Pernoud. (This is the book I found in that bookshop in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland. I've been holding onto this book for over a year! Time to read it!