“From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam.” I’ve known the lyrics from a young age, having sung them in music classes. I’ve seen the pictures accompanying American history textbooks of golden lands, rolling hills, and majestic mountains.
But I hadn’t truly experienced the vastness, the swiftly changing landscape, that makes up our country until I drove from St. Louis to Big Sky, Montana.
To be honest, I had been dreading the 22-hour drive. Two days stuck in a car with my husband and a friend from school, making stops as needed for quick breaks. It would certainly try our friendship. The one saving grace, or so I thought, was the comfort of six new books. Four total days of reading bliss.
But a funny thing happened as we entered South Dakota. I began calling it the state of the ever-beautiful, ever-changing landscape.
I had grown accustomed to seeing fields of green, crops in rotation, immense sprinklers dotting the farmland. But suddenly, as far as the eye could see, the color of gold lit up the view.
Glinting off of the sunlight, waving in the wind, I saw what I had before only imagined from Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House on the Prairie series. Rising above the gleaming land, were mountains, far off in the distance, covered in a blue-grayish haze. Here, the prairie was the star.
Our route took us almost diagonally across the state of South Dakota. We passed through the Badlands, recounting Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings of the Bisti Badlands in New Mexico.
As we traveled farther and farther, the landscape continually changed: gold became burnt oranges and reds – we had entered the West. Small towns capitalized on the Western theme as saloons popped up and advertising for rodeos became redundant. Prominently throughout this image of western expansion, the native tribes loomed large. Constant reminders of the American frontier – American colonization – and the heritage of our land were found in the monuments and namesakes given to the nine Native American tribes of South Dakota.
In the final leg of the journey, we moved into the mountains. Jutting across the sky, snow still gleaming white at the peaks, we entered Montana and the aptly -named “Big Sky” country.
Perhaps it was the rising mountains or the rapidly charging rivers, the clean scent of mountain air or the crisp coldness of the Gallatin River. Whatever the cause, the sky seemed bluer, the clouds whiter and fluffier.
At night, as darkness enveloped us – far from the lights of the city – the stars lit up the sky and constellations appeared above us, while the full moon shone brightly.
Throughout our stay, I was recalled to the beauty of our land. But more importantly, I was recalled to the majesty and grandeur of God’s creation. We were in Big Sky to celebrate the marriage of one of my closest friends. As the minister directed our attention from the bride and groom to our majestic surroundings, nestled among the Rocky Mountains, sitting along the banks of the swiftly flowing Gallatin River.
Standing witness to the joining of husband and wife, we were reminded of God’s prominence in the joining, the role his hand had played in shaping of not just their relationship, but the entire scene before us. “Then God looked over all he had made, and saw that it was very good” (Genesis 1: 31).
Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.