When my family visits North Dakota, we always stay at the same place, The Forestwood Inn in Walhalla. We've seen it through many incarnations and owners and it's now the best it has ever been - a new convenience store/movie rental place now attached, free continental breakfasts (with faux Fruit Loops!) and a sweet, welcoming staff. This year, we gifted homemade desserts and homegrown tomatoes to the ladies and they were even nicer.
In front of the motel on the same lot, is the Walhalla Inn, a local restaurant and bar - the only type of that combo in town. There is a gravel dirt parking lot between the two buildings and we always seem to be there on Bingo Night. (Tip: Aoid the sad little salad bar and just order a big-ass steak; that's really what they do best.)
Alongside the inn, facing the town, are three wood sculptures, each carved from a single tree. One is definitely Teddy Roosevelt and another is, I believe, General Custer. The third is a Native American; I'm not sure if he a specific person or a representative. I should find this out next time. My gosh, I don't even know who carved them or how old they are! It just seems like they've always been there and I've only come to appreciate them the last decade or so.
Many years of below-freezing temperatures and hot, muggy summers have weathered their faces into something quite God-like. I have photographed them numerous times; always, I feel drawn in. This year, first time with digital SLR, I shot them again in my usual routine way.
I always ponder the irony of these beautiful works of art planted right next to an ugly square air conditioner. Or heater. Or whatever the hell it is. The contrast of something that represents nature, spirits and our nation's colorful history next to a cold hard example of our modern comfy lifestyle - I never seem to get enough of it.
So, when I got a chance this month, I trotted over and took the usual shots. Even though the wood carvings were chained up, I'm always amazed that they are basically left alone - never any graffiti or carved initials. Teddy and Custer are always together and the Kaw-Liga character was always off on his own, sulking, it seemed.
This time, as I was taking shots of the Indian, I felt an unmistakable tug. There was something in his eyes that I didn't see in the other two - Teddy looked past me, Custer, right through me. This guy was looking me straight in the eye. Peering through the viewfinder one time, I nearly jumped.
I don't know why but I felt a wave of emotion that came from out of nowhere, something deep and horribly sad. My eyes teared up and my camera got a bit wet, so I put the camera down, to collect myself. I just kept looking deeper into the Indian's eyes and suddenly, it felt like a two-way street. Tears were streaming down my cheeks and then, I saw it: the same track of tears falling down the Indian's face.
I just sat there, dumbfounded, and held his woeful gaze. At some point, I mumbled aloud, "I'm sorry. I am so, so sorry."
Then, I wiped my face, checked the perimeters for witnesses and took my shot. Shaken, I packed up my gear and headed back to the Forestwood, but not before stumbling over his chains.