90,000 Miles to Me

15,288 Miles • The Black Hills

Enjoy these photos from the Black Hills of South Dakota, where I camped for several days.

After the powwow, I needed some alone time. It was five days of nearly constant socialization, and though I needed to recover, it didn’t affect me nearly as much as I had expected. Socialization is usually very draining for me, even when everything goes smoothly. Often, especially when everything goes smoothly, because that means I am putting in the effort to read and analyze people and the situation carefully, which takes energy. Here’s a description of how that works for me.

Yet this time I wasn’t half as exhausted as usual, and I attribute that to only working half as hard as normal. I still did a lot of people-reading-analysis and that did take its toll in energy, but I didn’t put up my usual persona of the acceptable, presentable me, which apparently takes much more effort than I was aware of. Frankly, it is only recently that I even realized that I’ve been doing this persona thing at all. 

I’ve often characterized it as “having to be on” when I’m around other people, but I didn’t realize that the social mask I had constructed was not only for outward show, but that it was smothering me inside as well.

With that mask dropped, I actually made genuine connections with several people, and it felt good. I mean, really good. I honestly didn’t know that being around people could feel like this. 

One on one, I’m usually okay, at least if I’m not already too tired. I can handle, even like people, one on one. And I’m actually pretty good in conversations, one on one. For the most part. But groups are hard. Even with two people, there are too many people to analyze, group dynamics are more complex, and the same people behave differently in groups than they do individually. And whose turn is it to talk, anyway, and what happened to comfortable pauses in the conversation to think about what was said? Social dynamics in groups often elude me. 

I’m laughing as I write this at the thought that the one extracurricular activity I actually enjoyed growing up—and I didn’t try many—was a highly structured, para-military organization, the Civil Air Patrol, in which social status was clearly delineated by rank, jobs and positions were clearly defined, what to wear, where to walk, even when to talk, were all strictly prescribed. I thrived in the orderliness of it, and it gave me a chance to explore topics and develop skills I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to tolerate, but discovered I was good at and enjoyed.

Although I did make some treasured friendships in the CAP, the casual social situations still largely eluded me, and rarely extended beyond our meetings and activities. I would have CAP-friends and school-friends and, well, there wasn’t another group. But the point is that they didn’t come home. And I didn’t go to them. The boundaries didn’t bleed. I would watch other kids making plans to get together after school and on weekends, and could never figure out how they did that. 

Mostly, it didn’t bother me, because I didn’t really want that, but at times it would burst out of me in a fit of frustration, crying to my mom, “why don’t I have any friends” and “what’s wrong with me” because I really did want to belong, I just couldn’t figure out how to do it.

I would watch other people hanging out in groups and they seemed to like it, want it, seek it out. That always puzzled me, because for me, it has always been draining or even painful, even when I liked the individual people involved. I would deal with it, tolerate it, get through it, sometimes better than others, sometimes even be okay with it, but I never understood how anyone could find it pleasurable.

In these last few weeks, for the first time, that wall has been cracked open, just a little bit, just enough for me to get a glimpse of a possible future beyond.

Though the last five days went remarkably well by my standards, it was still tiring and I needed some nature time alone to recoup. The Black Hills were not far, a few hours’ drive, so I headed there to spend the four days before my big event. The entire reason why I was open to spending three weeks tooling around South Dakota instead of just driving through the state on my way west. I was waiting for…I’ll get to that soon.

Driving through the Black Hills, one thing was obvious. This wasn’t going to be an easy nature retreat. Practically every speck of land was a hotel, restaurant, five star campground, tourist trap, recreational vehicle rental spot, something else catering to tourists and thrill seekers, or signs advertising these. It was way too commercial for my taste. But I did manage to find a free dispersed campsite and did a lot of nothing for a few days. Well, a lot of cloud and butterfly watching. I tried painting a feather. And need to try that one over. Read a little. There were too many lights around for stargazing. The sunsets were gorgeous.

I awoke one morning to what sounded like a volley of beebee gun rounds off in the direction of the trees. ATVs drove by several times a day, close enough to hear (loudly) but not to see. And there was a trail used occasionally by horseback riders along the trees hugging the nearest ridge, from which I could clearly hear their conversations as they sauntered by. For the most part, though, I saw few other people, which suited me just fine. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed the pictures from around my campsite. Next time, I’ll let you in on what kept me in South Dakota an extra three (well spent) weeks.

Oh, and here’s one last one, from the top of Bear Butte summit hiking trail. I enjoyed that this sign was posted on a garbage can.

Till next time…

 

15,126 Miles • A Powwow of Consequence
15,321 Miles • Neutrino Day X

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