I was within earshot of the ranger's comment, sitting nearby on a park bench. This was my first visit to Devil's Tower.
Looking through my binoculars, I was fixated by its massive volcanic formation jutting straight up some 865 feet.
It was near dusk, and the ranger had spotted three climbers on the face of the Tower. They were resting on a rocky ledge about 200 feet from the top.
"They think that they are going to get up there and down by dark," he smirked, shrugging his shoulders away from the monument and toward me.
"Speaking from experience, I don't think so," he said, shaking his head.
Then, he proceeded to tell me all about the many previous expeditions he had led up and down Devil's Tower.
With hardly detectable ropes and a whole lot of guts, the climbers defiantly began the last stretch. One by one, they threaded upward.
Captivated, I silently cheered them on and occasionally gave a nail-biting shriek.
Watching such a display of courage and determination inspired and terrified me at the same time. But most of all, I felt connected.
The sun had set and nighttime was robbing everything of color and sound, save distant screeching of nesting hawks and hooting of waking owls.
It was too dark to see if the rock climbers had made it to the top – too dark to wait for their return back down Devil's Tower. I was frustrated.
I wanted to know who they were. I wanted to know where they lived.
I wanted to know what it felt like to be hemmed in on all sides by rock and sky and solid ground far below with nothing but a free fall waiting should hands break lose.
A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her columns have won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. Most recently, Damon's writing took second place statewide in the South Dakota Press Women 2007 Competition. For more information, e-mail paula firstname.lastname@example.org.
� 2007 Paula Damon