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Visions of America
After driving for so long through the flat South Dakota prairie, it was a shock to come upon the Badlands. It was as if someone had ironed out all the rest of South Dakota and smooshed all the hills and valleys and rocks into this spot. (23.9)
Oh, Sal. You are the best storyteller ever. We can totally imagine what the Badlands must look like thanks to your description. We imagine a giant person with a huge iron their hand, ironing out the South Dakota plains, making puffs of steam every once in a while. Want to see an actual picture of what Sal is talking about? Take a look.
Right smack in the middle of the flat plains were jagged peaks and steep gorges. Above was the high blue sky and below were the pink and purple and black rocks. You can stand right on the edge of the gorges and see down, down into the most treacherous ravines, lined with sharp, rough outcroppings. You expect to see human skeletons dangling here and there. (23.9)
Once again, Sal's vivid imagination really helps us experience what she is seeing. Words like, "jagged," "steep," "edge," "treacherous," "sharp," "rough," and "skeletons" make the landscape seem violent and menacing. The "pink and purple and black" colors of the rocks remind us of the colors of a bruise. This seems like a beautiful place to visit, but definitely a scary one, too.
The Black Hills were not really black. Pines covered the hills, and maybe at dusk they looked black, but when we saw them at midday, they were dark green. It was an eerie sight, all those rolling dark hills. A cool wind blew down through the pines, and the trees swished secrets among them. (28.10)
Once again, Sal describes the landscape in a menacing way. The word "eerie" reminds us of ghosts and mysterious occurrences. Why do you think she chose to use this word, "eerie," to describe the Black Hills? Here's a picture of the Black Hills so you can get an idea of what she's talking about.
She used to tell me about the Black Hills which were sacred to the Sioux Indians. It was their Holy Land, but white settlers took it as their own. The Sioux are still fighting for their land. I half expected a Sioux to stop our car from entering, and the thing is, I would have been on his side. I would have said, "Take it. It's yours." (28.11)
Sal suggests that the painful history of white settlers stealing from the Sioux is still very fresh and alive. She can feel this history all around her. She can feel the past. She feels the injustice of what has happened to the Sioux and how they have been treated, and she's totally on their side.
We drove through the Black Hills to Mt. Rushmore. At first we didn't think we were in the right place, but then, jing-bang, it was right before us. There, high up on a cliff face, were the sixty-foot tall faces of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, carved right into the rock, staring somberly down on us. (28.12)
Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt don't seem to be having such a good time up there in the mountain if they are "staring somberly down." Mount Rushmore is a huge American landmark, but Sal doesn't seem impressed with what she sees. Why not?
It was fine seeing the presidents, I've got nothing against the presidents, but you'd think the Sioux would be mighty sad to have those white faces carved into their sacred hill. I bet my mother was upset. I wondered why whoever carved them couldn't have put a couple Indians up there too. (28.13)
Once again, Sal considers the history that surrounds her, that is alive in the Black Hills. She puts herself in the shoes of the Sioux people and imagines how devastated they must feel to see their sacred hills carved away. Her unique ability to step into someone else's moccasins also makes her very good at questioning history.
It was late when we arrived at Yellowstone. All we got to see that evening was a hot spring. We walked on boardwalks placed across the bubbling mud ("Huzza, huzza!" Gram said), and we stayed at the Old Faithful Inn in a Frontier Cabin. I'd never seen Gram so excited. She could not wait for the next morning. "We're gonna see Old Faithful," she said, over and over. (32.2)
Of all of the places on their road trip, Gram seems the most excited about seeing Old Faithful. Why do you think this is? Do you think maybe she knows that her health is failing, and that this is her last chance?
The sign said that Old Faithful was due to erupt in fifteen minutes. More and more people gathered around the rope. There were people of all ages: little babies crying, grannies sitting on folding stools, teenagers plugged into radio headsets, couples smooching. There were people speaking languages other than English: next to us was a tour group of Italians; across the way was a group of Germans. (34.12)
Sal notices a cool thing about Old Faithful and about landmarks in general: they bring people from all different backgrounds and places together – teenagers, older people, foreigners, babies and more. She seems pretty impressed by this gathering of people. How do we know this? Well, she makes a point of giving us a very thorough and detailed description of the kinds of people around her.
More steam, boiling and hissing, and a huge jing-bang spray of water surged out, climbing and climbing, and then more and more, until it looked like a whole river of water was shooting straight up into the air. "It looks like an upsidey-down waterfall!" Gram said. All the while there was a walloping hissing, and I could have sworn the ground rumbled and trembled underneath us. The warm mist blew toward us and people started backing away. (34.19)
Sal is totally impressed by Old Faithful. It's so impressive that people start to back away, as though a little bit afraid. Old Faithful is an example of just how incredible and powerful nature can be. After all, we don't see a whole river of water shooting out of the ground everyday. It's landmarks like Old Faithful that help us remember how cool nature is and how incredible the American landscape can be.
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