North Dakota Badlands


Camped on the Little Missouri
late October,  the young Ranger
tells us the park’s winterized
and water shut off. Five miles in,

we’re the only ones at Cottonwood.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park at Medora.
Carne asada and Mexican Rice.
Grasses all yellow and brown

contrast with tinted greens in sage.
Animal tracks on the River.
A lone buffalo just before the campgrounds.
Slow traveling and museums

from Mandan to Bismarck
exhaust the imagination.
Meriwether Lewis in my head again.
What happens to the mind inside

deep travel. Impossibility of return?
Extinction as graphic as the dinosaur.
Crossing the ocean floor of North Dakota,
why have I never imagined underwater

creatures larger than the camper on the pickup?
On the top wall of the museum, a movie
shows the planet giving birth to continents
over time—598 million years in 1 minute, 46 seconds—

the fetus of our world being born. I film
it four times. My wife records it on her telephone.
Hearing language of Hidatsa and Mandan
by native speakers with translations.

Williston Basin and Bakken Formation
become more familiar than family.
Circumference and depth. And just below
Bakken, one more possibility,

Three Forks—banned for now from drilling.
Gas flares light up North Dakota skies. Tonight,
though, it’s quiet in the Park—just us and critters,
and we’re turning towards home. Another

confrontation rich with tribal chance.
The Corps of Discovery, almost forgotten
for 90 years, made the journals vulnerable,
 without accompaniment. So much we don’t know, so…

Jim Bodeen
20 October 2015
Cottonwood Campground
Theodore Roosevelt National Park

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