The Thunder Beings came for a visit last night.
We’ve journeyed through many storms over the past decade, as a family, in our lodge, but none I can recall quite like this.
As the sun went down yesterday, the sky was calm. A gentle breeze whispered across the prairie grasses. It tumbled around and through the old ash tree with its empty swaying swings. It lapped over the lodge cover that wrapped and held us in its safe embrace as we all nestled into our beds. A bedtime story, the familiar pages of Black Elk Speaks, was read aloud.
The fires’ dancing flames occasionally grew a little more wild as the breeze found it’s way in through the door flap. Eventually the fire turned to ash and we slept, until the Sky Gods arrived, full force.
They drummed and danced in what seemed like circles. I struggle to write about it now, for the memory, although close in time, feels like lifetimes ago. Or perhaps that’s the nature of communing with the Sky Gods, occurring in a space beyond time. Reverence and humility wash over me when the elements speak like this.
We lay there together, our family in a semi-circle on the ground, being washed in flashes of light. Nothing but poles and canvas protecting us from the fierce rain and winds that threatened to tear our home to shreds.
I remembered a similar but different time…..
We were in the Big Lodge, in a meadow in the beloved Cascade-Siskiyous of Southern Oregon. Summer grounds for the old Tipi Village. We called the place Lightning Meadow because earlier that summer a nearby tree was struck and burned by a bolt. The winds howled outside as the family slept in the usual semi-circle on the ground. Wind in the forested mountains is of course different than wind on the prairie. It’s broken by the tall Standing Ones and their outstretched arms. Their swaying bodies rising in a wave of rushing sound with every approaching gust. I remember laying there listening to the paths the wind would take as it made its way to where we lay. There was time to brace my mind and body in that listening. And then it would hit with such a force that the poles would bend inward, completely blocking the view of the lodge’s crown and the opening to the sky. That night in Lightning Meadow the lodge did tear to shreds. How our family got out and walked the dark and windy path, while trees fell around us, is another story.
We aren’t in the forest now. We are on the Great Plains. Here, the path of wind is hard to track with the ear and I found there was no grace of time to brace the mind and body as there was in the forest. In a moment of surprise it would slam the lodge. It seemed to scoop us up and shake us around. It flashed a steady stream of yellow and blue and purple and silver. The Thundering Voices vibrating every cell. Waking them up. Cleansing them thoroughly. The electric shock that surrounded our humble and strong lodge was too much to bare lying down. It was the flash and crack that happened simultaneously that sent me flying out of bed hoping to be able to do something to protect our children who lay there, wide-eyed in the flashing light. In the next flash I saw Ande hanging from the poles. We were only a few feet apart but I had to shout to be heard.
“What should I do?!” was the pitiful cry that blubbered out of me.
“Hang on the tripod pole!” was his (oh so steady) answer.
So there we hung, naked, in the flashing light, flapping canvas and dancing and squeaking poles. I remembered it was these same poles that came crashing down in Lightning Meadow. I breathed deeply, recognizing that this was another epic moment in an epic life and that it would pass. Through the terror and vigorous shaking of my body, I was washed in gratitude. I hung on that pole and I prayed. I thought of all those that came before me, enduring these storms, in these shelters, on these grassy plains. I thought about how brave my children seemed, braver than me. But they’ve grown up held closely in the bosom of the Earth Mother and have an intimate relationship with all her elemental languages. I grew up severed from these forces, enclosed inside the illusion that humans conquered the natural world with walls and vehicles and technology. There’s no room for humility in the conquered and colonized. Arrogant pride and over-confidence rule those realms but those who embody it walk around lost and always searching.
The flashes of light were piercing and illuminating and humbling.
Humility has a way of bringing a person to an understanding of their place, their relationship, in the creation of all that is and then heartfelt and genuine respect for life pours forth.
More gratitude bolted through me. I remember mumbling something like “I hear you!” in a tone that probably sounded like a beg for mercy. I hung there on the shaking pole, canvas pushing against my bare skin and thought about the many brave ones who sit on the hills nearby, in ceremony, with nothing, for days and nights, to pray, with the goodness for all in their hearts. This land and it’s people are no doubt strong beyond measure and it is an honor to be here among such power, endurance and heart.
The epic moment did come to pass. Our lodge remained standing. I sent a thought of gratitude to Ande for making us a good home and, back in bed, shifted close to him, embracing the love we live our lives by. When we all eventually awoke the earth was calm and quiet. The grasses and trees were a different, almost fluorescent color of green. The birds sang sweetly and I marveled at how the Earth Mother could be so gentle after such a fierce night. And then I laughed, seeing myself and the beauty of a full spectrum life.
One by one we shared our versions of the previous nights journey. Some of the kids showed how their hands were still shaking. Sequoia told a dream she had….
“The Thunder Beings wanted a piece of buckskin and were trying to get it. My mom ran to the bus to get the buckskin and then she dropped it on the ground to give it to them. Then they took it and made something and gave it back. I can’t remember what they made though”.
Tamarack sat up in bed and looked around. Smiling he said “we look cleaner”.
As I rose from bed a painting caught my eye. Tamarack made it just yesterday before the sun went down. He explained to me “it’s the thunder clouds and a lightning bolt striking the oil pipeline. It’s all on fire”.
I learned today that the West is associated with the Wakiyan Oyate, the Thunder Nation, often bringing teachings of humility. That this time of year is the time of Learning. All new life forms are greeted and shown the ways through the Wakiyan. We pitched our lodge with the door facing West. I suppose I will leave a piece of buckskin out tonight.
I give thanks for the communion with the Sky last night. I pray we can be here in this place in a good way with respect and benefit for all our relations. Special thanks to Donny, Lena and kids for welcoming and opening to us here.
In the language of this place, Aho. Mitakuye Oyasin.
Adding an external guy-rope for the wind.
Welcoming the Wakiyan Oyate, the Thunder Nation in the Paha Sapa, the Black Hills. I didn’t understand at this time, the Spring Equinox, what exactly that meant. I’m learning. I guess it’s the right season for that 🙂
After our time in the Paha Sapa, we headed for the Paha Ska (White Hills or the Badlands), where we met the first Thunder Beings of the year.