A ripple of clouds over the National Grasslands of North Dakota.

The openness of the National Grasslands along the North Dakota Badlands prompts a moment for the Badlands Highway Writer to reflect.


The signs are all around us. Not just the obvious ones such as geese on their annual journey south or the trees changing colors like an undecided shopper in the clothing store. There are others that go unnoticed to some, or maybe they just don’t give them much thought.

There’s no doubt the air is getting crisper than a mother-in-law’s tongue. Boxelder bugs make sure they don’t go unseen as they paint the houses a shade of red in their quest for a bask in the declining sunlight. Hungry combines devour the countryside before continuing to swagger down the highway challenging any traffic in their way. Bales of hay and straw all bundled up and awaiting their rides home. Deer become more visible as they explore nature’s buffet in hopes of storing up for what’s to come. Cattle are whisked away in the middle of the night in speeding over-illuminated shiny aluminum vessels.


Outdoor activities have subsided to the point that even the grass has decided to stop growing. Only the occasional motorcyclist braves the elements in a valiant display of loyalty before ice encompasses their domain. Even the mighty Missouri calms her pace as she breathes her last foggy breaths like her spirit has departed for her winter slumber.

Some people join the geese in their exodus to warmer climates. They can’t wait to escape the bitter cold that infiltrates their very souls. Others find their warmth in layers whether it’s under a favorite quilt or in trusty coveralls in a fish house joining one of the many communities that appear on the frozen surface of any body of water in the state.


Life must go on so we push our flood waters into piles along the side of the road to await reabsorption in the Spring. We unplug our cars and perform an ice ballet on our daily pilgrimage to the Internal Revenue Service. We exchange the cleaning of bugs for the clearing of frost on our windshields. Children move from playgrounds to hillsides to enjoy short but invigorating sled rides to end up laughing face down in a snow bank.

This is the season of purification when everything lies dormant in order to rest up for yet another glorious year and I wouldn’t want to miss any of it.

Dave Wilson’s earlier essay, Battle for the Highway.

Dave Wilson is a truck driver who lives in Mandan and frequently drives through the North Dakota Badlands. He’s had a varied professional career, even doing some grant writing, but this is his first venture into creative writing. Encourage him!

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