South Dakota Journal, Part II


Editor’s Note: Yesterday, Jay Nordlinger began a South Dakota Journal. For that first installment, go here. His report from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation will appear in an October issue of National Review. The journal is a kind of accompaniment, or supplement.

For me, Hot Springs is indelibly Arkansas. But maybe not so indelibly: because there is a Hot Springs, S.D. Why not? A big, continental nation should have more than a few hot springs. And warm springs.

Hang on, is the water in Warm Springs, Ga., where FDR went, less hot than the water in Hot Springs — either Arkansas or South Dakota? Never thought of that . . .

Hot Springs, S.D., is in Fall River County. For me, “Fall River” has always meant Massachusetts — and Lizzie Borden. I trust that Fall River County, S.D., has kinder associations.

When I’m on the road, particularly in the West, I think, “Damn, is it a big country. A really big country. And so much of it is uninhabited, and untouched, by man.” All my life, I’ve been told we’re running out of space. But my eyes say it ain’t really so.

For the last 20 years or so — maybe 30 — I’ve seen a bumper sticker: “Save What’s Left.” I always wonder what they’re talking about. One reads that there are more trees today than in times of yore. Cleaner rivers, etc. I think that people, some of them, like to think we’re on the brink of environmental catastrophe.

They should see countries elsewhere in the world!

On the highway here, outside of Rapid City, there are some cute signs. For example, one for Reptile Gardens: Above a smiling crocodile — or is it an alligator? — are the words “It’s a jungle in here.” Later, you are invited to “bear right,” for Bear Country U.S.A.

I see a sign for Holy Smoke Lodge. I think, “Is that hate speech? Like the Washington Redskins? I mean, could you get prosecuted for that?”

How wonderful it would be to come upon Mt. Rushmore, if you didn’t know it was there. If you didn’t know such a thing existed. Can you imagine seeing those presidential faces, carved into a mountain, if you had no idea what you were in for?

I hope the presidential faces last — unlike the Old Man of the Mountain, in New Hampshire, which (who?) crumbled ten years ago.

But what that is material does not crumble?

I’m a little surprised to see that Mt. Rushmore is compact and tidy — neat and sharp. Maybe I’ve spent too much time in the Alps, but Mt. Rushmore seems small, appealingly small, and the presidents are so neatly and skillfully etched.

Rushmore is beautiful, really. (That said, I think Lincoln’s likeness is poor.)

Hang on, if this were North Korea, would we be aghast? Would we say this was leader worship? I think the two situations are different. In North Korea, the people are commanded to worship their leader (a dictator). In America, people worship God, by and large. And they admire, and appreciate, certain leaders.

Is that fair to say?

I am not anti-TR. Like many people, I have mixed feelings about the first Roosevelt, but I am not against him, and I largely admire him. Since I was a boy, however, I’ve wondered whether he belongs on Mt. Rushmore. I think he’s the odd man out. I don’t think he’s at the level of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln — particularly of Washington and Lincoln.

But I don’t begrudge his presence on Rushmore. For one thing, he’s so strongly associated with the West, particularly the Dakotas.

It is amazingly peaceful here at Mt. Rushmore, early in the morning. The atmosphere is almost church-like.