Pure beauty, pure happiness, and pure perfection, yes it is possible to experience all three of these at once. Living in the Black Hills my whole life, I have had many experiences of beauty throughout my life, but there is one place that will forever hold a special place in my heart and soul. A place that I keep reserved for only those that truly deserve to experience the purest forms of beauty, happiness, and perfection.
I grew up with the Black Hills in my back yard, the smell of pine trees, wildflowers, and granite were some of my first memories as a child. I grew up living with my grandparents for a few years, as my single mother worked. My grandfather was the first man I laid eyes on as a baby, the first man I ever loved. He was not only my grandfather, but my guiding light the first few years of my life. I was his first grandkid, and I went everywhere with him. My first memories of life were of his beat up old truck with me sitting on his lap as we drove to his workshop across town. I would play in the piles and piles of sawdust on the floor as he created masterpieces from wood. He would show me how to saw a board, how to paint, and much more. I even had my own corner of the shop where I could paint with the leftover cans and wood for his projects. He was a master at his craft, and I was his little girl.
After his work days were finished he would take me away, away to our special place. He would tell me stories of his past and nature. He would tell me of his Search and Rescue days and provided me crash courses in how to survive in the woods. He would give me a compass, map, and lessons of moss growing on certain sides of trees. We would hike down the large boulders, holding the slick railings down Sunday Gulch. He would hold my little hand as the sun went down over the hills. I never understood why we always went here. I never understood why, when the sun went down he would stand in silence and close his eyes, all while holding my tiny hand. But I would stand there next to him and take in all the glory before us and give him his silence before we would turn around and head home.
We did this a lot, it was a tradition with us. The hiking, the talking, the stories, and the glory of silence at the end of the trail. My mother ended up getting married and the man she married adopted me into his heart and his life. That man is the second man I loved, and that man was a Marine. The Marine got stationed in California, and we had to leave the beauty of the Black Hills...and the first man in my life. I don't know how my grandfather felt the day our Uhaul trailer pulled away, I might never know how he felt. But let me tell you something, now having kids in my life, I can only imagine the heartbreak he felt. But our few years in California came to a close and we moved back to our home town...the Black Hills and all was right in the world again.
My grandfather and I went back to our adventures in nature and moments of silence in the forest. Now that I was older we could hike farther. He would often let me lead the way on the trail, I could navigate it like the back of my hand. One day he led me off the beaten path, up rough terrain, through knocked over trees, brush, and climbing over rocks. Once we got to the top, he lifted me up on a granite slab, and grabbed my hand and led me to an out cropping of rocks that over looked one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. This time it was me, a small child that stood in silence at the views of the Hills. We were on top of the world, we were in his country, my grandfathers country, his place of peace. I was young, but I knew in this moment I was in the presence of something spectacular. I didn't know what it was or what this place was, but I knew it in my soul that this place meant something to this man, and it would one day hold a special place in my heart as well.. We climbed back down the granite slap, through the knocked down trees, brush, and rough terrain back to the trail. We continued in silence until he took me off the trail yet again across a small creek. He stopped at a horribly stained cabin at the end of a road with a green tin roof. He took me to this cabin and we sat in silence on the front porch. He told me the story of the beauty I just experienced. We hiked back to the top of the trail. When we passed the place of peace, I quietly looked back and marveled at what had just happened.
We continued to do this for a few summers. We would go to his shop, hike, and drink hot chocolate/coffee on the porch of this random cabin at the end of hike. Sometimes we would start at the cabin and hike around there before going home. We would often hike back up the rough terrain, through knocked over trees, brush, and climb over granite rocks to the special place he once showed me as a young girl. I came to learn that this peaceful place was called "The Guardian of the Pools". The marvel that we saw was simply a rock shaped like a profile of a mans head. You could make out his sunken eyes and large nose, there was even a slit in the rock to resemble his mouth. Yes, it was simply just a rock, but to him it was much more.
This place once used to be a tourist destination, and held a large wood sign on a dead snag tree that simply said Guardian. You can see vintage postcards of this place, but soon the carving of Mt. Rushmore was finished and The Guardian saw less and less visitors and was soon forgotten. My grandfather was taken here by his father, and has been a secret ever since. My grandfather holds this place under lock and key. Many have asked for the location, and he has honored his hearts secret.
After I grew up and became a bitchy teenager and didn't want to spend my time in the forest anymore, I soon forgot about the days we spent at the guardian. The views of the hills and pine trees faded into a distance, yet the feeling in my soul that I would somehow find this place again was ticking away. Years and years went by. My grandfather got older and I grew up. I had lived a few rough years and knew I needed to find myself. I eventually found myself when Nick came into my life. He loved the forest, he loved to hike, and he loved the Black Hills. He brought me back to life when he brought me here one random day before we went to visit my family. We walked around , and the memories flooded back to me in one silent moment. Not only did Nick bring me back to life, he brought me back to my past, back to my best days of my life. He brought me back to my grandfather. He drove me back to Custer and we told my grandpa about our hike on Sunday Gulch. And just like my flood of memories, I saw my grandfathers eyes light up. He didn't say anything, but I somehow read his mind. He was grateful for Nick bringing me back to him.
Nick and I dated for many years after this. One day out of no where my grandfather asked to take us somewhere. He simply dropped us off at the top of trail and told us to hike down and he would meet us in the middle. So Nick and I took this as a challenge and practically ran down the trail, over the massive boulders and held onto the very familiar slick railings. Past the spot were silence would once occur with my grandfather, until we met the old man. He looked at me for a second and smiled. He then turned to Nick and asked, "Do you love her?" Nick shook his head yes. My grandfather said, "Then take it in, take this space in and never forget." He then led us off the beaten path, up rough terrain, through knocked over trees, brush, and climbing over rocks. Once we got to the top, he asked Nick to lift me up on a granite slab, and then my grandfather grabbed my hand and led me to an out cropping of rocks that over looked one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. There stood the Guardian in all of its wonder. Tears fell from my eyes as I looked out over the Hills then back at my grandfather. We locked eyes and we knew in our hearts that this place would never be lost in our world again.
Nick was slightly confused as to why I was crying. So my grandpa explained the history of the guardian to him. We all hiked down together in silence...hiked back down together to the cabin of all places. This is where my grandfather started his hike, with him getting older the Gulch just wasn't as nice to him anymore. So the three of us stood on the porch of this random cabin and spoke of the beauty of the Hills. I told Nick all the stories of our hikes through the years, and we went our separate ways.
Nick and I would hike to the guardian every once and awhile to revel in its beauty. I think that Nick knew it was a place that I could find my peace and sit in silence away from the world around me. One random December day Nick got home from his shift and said, let's go Christmas Tree hunting. So I packed up the hot chocolate, and we drove to the Hills. We normally look for trees up North, but he said he wanted to look down by the Guardian. I agreed that would be one special tree if we get it from that area. So we parked at the random horribly stained cabin and started up to the guardian. We finally made it, it started to snow, and the trail was covered in ice. So it was a difficult trip up, but yet Nick led me off the beaten path, up rough terrain, through knocked over trees, brush, and climbing over rocks. Once we got to the top Nick grabbed my hand and lifted me up on the granite slab and led me to an out cropping of rocks that over looked one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.
We stood in silence as we both look at The Guardian as snow fell from the sky. It was just as beautiful as the first time I saw it. Nick wanted to get a picture of us, so he set up our camera on a timer and ran towards me and The Guardian. I posed with my hand on my hip and my best smile. When I looked over to Nick, I saw him down on one knee. The man was down on one knee with a ring. he chose this place to profess his love to me and asked me to spend the rest of my life with him. Of course I said yes! One the ring was amazing and two it was Nick, the love of my life how could I say no. Once I caught my breath from all the excitement, we hiked back down. We stopped back at the car and he took out a bottle of champagne and we popped it open and shared a glass on the porch of the random horribly stained cabin with a green tin roof.
We went back to town for a congratulatory lunch with my grandfather. He was all smiles, as little did I know Nick had already shared this plan with the old man. Nick had asked my grandfather not only for permission to marry his first granddaughter, but to propose to me at The Guardian. Years and a wedding went by, Nick and I were living our best lives, well I was in nursing school so I was surviving. Nick took me out to the Alpine one night in Hill City for a dinner, but not without a trip to the Guardian first. Over the years we were getting very good at a quick hike up and back. This time was no different, except we started talking about the random cabin.
I don't think in all my years drinking hot chocolate on that porch I ever thought twice about the actual cabin. Nick was wondering what the inside of the cabin looked like and who owned it and if it was on Forest Service land or not...whatever he was wondering. We talked about it long enough to make it back down to the car and quickly forgot about the cabin as we drove to dinner. After dinner, Nick was looking for his Forest Service key, it was on another key chain or something. He said he thinks it must have fallen out of the car down by the cabin. Of course I was furious, we now had to go out of our way back down to the cabin, to look for his keys. The man was always losing shit. Plus, it was starting to snow, like the big, huge flakes of snow...the really heavy snow.
When we got back to the random cabin, Nick turned the car off. He turned it off and started walking up towards the random cabin. He said, "Get out, I think I lost the keys over here, come help me." Relentlessly I got out of the car with my arms crossed and made my way across the porch of the random cabin, just as Nick unlocked the cabin's front door. I thought for a moment that he had broken in, because he was wondering what the inside looked like for so long on our hike. But no, he had the key to the front door of the random cabin with horrible stain. He walked me inside the random cabin and I was speechless. The random cabin that I spent my childhood sipping hot chocolate, and spending days with my grandfather was literally calling me inside with open arms.
I started crying. I was crying that this random cabin now holds an even more special meaning to me. I couldn't wait to tell my grandpa that I made it inside. Nick finally told me that a firefighter that he works closely with owns the cabin. Nick was telling a story of how he proposed to me and we shared a glass of champagne on this random cabins porch, and the guy was like "That's my cabin, you can stay there anytime." Fate has a funny way of bringing people together in this world, but it has an even funnier way of bringing people to places. We stayed there only that one time, but it was a memorable one. We slept next to the fire and woke up to a fresh blanket of snow covering the Hills. It was even better knowing that somewhere out there The Guardian was looking over us.
A few years and children went by, it was harder to make it up to The Guardian with two toddlers, and even harder to find time just Nick and I to get up there. I often thought of The Guardian as my kids screamed their high pitched screams. I would try to take myself there on my hard days, I would visualize the trees blowing in the wind, and the rock looking over the Hills. Then Nick got a call that his firefighter friend was selling the cabin...selling it to Nick's parents! WHAT?!?! This random cabin whose porch has held me in my smallest of days, has seen some spilled hot chocolate, and champagne would be in the family. I couldn't believe it. But it was true, Nick's parents were the new owners to the random cabin in the hills with the horrible stain, green tin roof, and porch.
Life has a way of coming full circle. My grandfather shared The Guardian with me at a young age, when I was too young to fully appreciate its glory. My grandfather again shared The Guardian with me when I was turning into a bitchy teenager. Then again, with Nick, his last time making the climb to the top. We knew it would be his last time up there due to his age and health. But each time I am up there staring at the rock formation, I know that he is there. Now, I must tell you that my grandpa is very much alive, and stubborn as always.
Now that I am older, I now know that all of the times that my grandfather shared The Guardian with me I needed it in my life. I needed the peace, I needed the silence, I needed his presence...The Guardian's presence...my grandfather. The first man I ever laid eyes on...the first man that I ever loved, my Guardian. Grandpa this is for you. My Guardian. Your secret is safe with me. Only those that truly deserve to experience the purest forms of beauty, happiness, and perfection will ever see it.