Bathed the shadow of the Sun Mountain, he is a boy of seventeen.
He parks his car high in the foothills, on an access road littered with broken bottles and bleached soda cans. He pulls the hand brake to hold him against the grade. He reclines his seat. His mind is racked with the tumult of youth – big feelings he hasn’t yet learned to hold. Alone in the company of the granite giant, he wonders for the first time if he is bound by gravity to its slopes – tethered by an unseen force to this place where he has grown tall and deep-voiced. He hungers for the expanse of plains or the white-capped motion of open water. With every breath, he swears an oath of abandonment. Soon, its tinder-dry pine will be as a dream to him, but its immense weight will remain heavy in the places of his mind where doubt burrows into soft, pink flesh.
The Peak cuts a silhouette in blazing orange and simmering red. He watches as its slopes are set aflame by the dying afternoon light. Darkness falls in indifference to the change to come. In the silence of the dying afternoon, he wraps his arms around himself and resists the urge to rend the skin from his bones.
She looms over a man of thirty, her ivory sides shrouded in mist.
He rises early and fills his coffee past the brim, spilling it over the sides and leaving a deep brown ring against the synthetic white of the countertop. He wipes it away with a loose sleeve and quietly slips out the kitchen door into the morning. The air is fresh with dew and loam. The chill of the morning wraps itself around him, awakening his nervous system with a pleasant shock. In the distance, seabirds call for one another and the first ferry of the day announces its arrival. He sinks into a padded bench and warms both hands on the ceramic of his mug. Inside, his wife drowses in warm sheets, instinctively curled around the secret growing within her abdomen.
The sun emerges fully from behind the mountain. She is filled with a thrilling, volcanic potential. One day, when the man is long dead, she will awaken once again in pyroclastic fury to reclaim her domain. Until then, she watches.
The Great Bear rests under a blanket of scrub brush and sediment. Its flanks slope steeply into prairie grass where the same man, now seventy-three, stands sweating in the heat of the day. The trailhead is marked with interpretive signs that tell the story of the Bear in a language entirely foreign to its ears. Around his waist, a flannel hangs knotted for the coming night air. He begins to climb.
He works against the incline, pushing himself higher up the body of the slumbering giant. A mile in, he begins passing bundles of tobacco swinging on low branches in the slight breeze. He drags his fingers behind him, lightly grasping each prayer offering and releasing them to do their powerful magic.
His breath becomes ragged – too many years spent trying to die young. He pushes himself over the final ridge and climbs atop the Bear’s spine, following its curve to the north until he finds a pile of rocks on which to plant himself. The man sinks into the rocks, and catches his breath. His sweat-soaked shirt presses against his body and a chill sinks down his back.
The afternoon wanes to the west, casting a golden pallor over the Badlands. Soon, he will pour her body into the wind and their story will be finished. But for now, he waits and strains to hear the heartbeat beneath his feet.