This essay was originally published in Dark Mountain. Thanks to Nick Hunt and the editors.
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.
The children and I walked for a long time today. The first proper walk since our migratory return to the Winter Grounds as we have been focused and busy making our home. We have only been here for a handful of days yet if feels like forever.
We set out, with no clear plan or route in mind. Slowly we walked together and I found myself entering into a bit of an altered state. It was the swing that took me there. Or rather the sounds of laughter that came from that bit of rope tied to that old oak where the hillside is worn down from the countless little feet dragging as bodies thrust into the air. The echoes were familiar as they traveled through the small valley and were held by the trees.
We carried on, gathering around the still standing May Pole. I could hear the singing and feel the dancing that was woven into those faded colors of cloth wrapped around the towering pole. Village life was full in those days and I love dearly the people I have lived with on this hillside.
I began to understand a quality and reason for this walk that I was unaware of when we first began. A quality of healing, of coming full circle, of honoring a process. Perhaps the beginning of a walking ceremony of completion, of death, of transformation. Perhaps it would help to release the dancing woven ribbons of the May Pole to the fire and to open the hearths to the east. Release.
We continued on, making our way past the many mounds made with muscle, sweat, shovels, pick axes. Where lodges once stood and where people we love once dwelled. We were walking amidst the ruins of a once thriving tipi village.
Gently, sadness flows through me and out my eyes back into this hillside.
The stories and feelings of this place, of this journey, grew, exponentially as the children shared their own as we walked, giving me a small glimpse into their wild and free relationship with their place.
We ate rose hips as we searched along the dry creek bed for treasures of tumbled stone. It was the sound of muffled singing and drumming from a distant past that brought us to stand at the bones of an old sweat lodge. A place where together we entered the womb of the mother and prayed. I could feel its’ warmth somehow although it was damp, the hearth overgrown with moss and my breath steaming as I exhaled. Outside of myself are the cold remains of tribal life. Inside are the stories of connection, life, love.
We gathered herbs to bring home for tea. Our quiet walking on the leafy path joined us with a buck who turned and came toward us with a relaxed confidence. For a brief moment I thought I was a deer, perhaps a doe, for we seemed so comfortable together.
With chilled hands in our pockets we uncovered with our boots the old rock-tiled platform and hearth built for the horse trough bath tub. Such luxury to bath in the snow by the creek!
A dense, dry standing dead oak revealed itself. The kids and I wrestled with it for awhile. Now it brings warmth and light to our home.
We continued on, following the faded network of paths formed overtime as hearts and hearths connected; traveling bodies moving through life in similar ways. Gathering wood. Fetching water. Having a poo, visiting a neighbor, having a bath, playing, joining, celebrating, arguing.
A web of shared life shimmering with texture.
The sound of the first lodge to rise with the chopping of wood or the crying of a child.
In the evenings, hunkering down for the long nights journey away from the sun and one by one the glowing lanterns of homes across the hillside fading out.
The sounds of children being born; a father announcing the arrival with the blowing of the conch.
The bright colors of village children in costume for a beating-of-the-bounds parade or a Spring Equinox play.
The long, long nights on vigil hill; bodies bundled from the wet and cold while waiting for the return of the sun.
The sacred communing and mind melding of the talking stick, spiraling around and around, sometimes till morning.
The big lodge and all the diverse realities it accommodated.
It’s only our one family lodge standing here now, glowing in the night.
There are so many reasons, known and unknown, for the dispersal of lives. It was the sheriffs arrival at the Summer Grounds in September, on the behalf of the land “owner”, coming to remove us that broke the last of this shimmering web.
Spider shows us that webs are alive. They ebb and flow, break and mend at the whim of the elements. To be strong, they are continually re-made. Sometimes daily.
We have returned to the Winter Grounds although the new land “owners” have asked us not to. For this struggle and lack of consensus between us I am sorry. I love them and see myself in them. Respectfully, our family answers to the earth. It is her with whom we give our authority. I pray that we all remember this power.
We needed to return here to be able to feel and to heal. A circle completing and never ending.
It is a deep blessing.
May we continue to walk with gratitude for where we have been, where we are now and where we are going. I remember, yet again, that the process and journey through life is all we have. May we cherish it.
To all the lives who lived on this hillside, I love you. Deeply. You are in me. It was an honor to share life with you in this way and has made my life more whole.
To the life before me now, this land, these trees, this water, thank you for opening. Thank you for receiving the lives from my womb made by the love of two bodies united under your moon. Thank you for weaving me and my family into you and you into us. And thank you to the previous land “owner”, who preferred to call himself a steward, for being a part of the openness here.
To the people who have recently arrived here as the new land “owners”, please be good to her. Take care of her and listen to her. May you be taken in and held as we were by her fierce and gentle embrace.
And to the unknown path ahead of us, may we walk it with open arms and curious minds. May the love that opened to us here in this place give us the strength and power to move forward on dancing feet.
With regards to the liberation of the summer and winter ranges of Tipi Village, the situation would appear – especially to the left brain- dire.
For this land that we love as the places on earth to which we can point out and show our children the exact spot where some of them were born, it would be inappropriate and disrespectful to squabble over it like immature, placeless adults.
Because what we have found is a sense of place in the order of All That Is. That is the gift of this land and the process unleashed by it and that is our debt to this place.
There are connections within that understanding of place which are difficult to accommodate; whether praise, admiration or criticism, admonition. Both extremes require being met with equanimity.
There was the ‘hunter’ from the town of Rogue River, perhaps sixty miles away, who was so appalled by our presence in the wilderness that he wrote to the editor of the Mail Tribune. He claimed his family have hunted where we now live for over a hundred years. Although he didn’t say what they hunted, in that time when bands of families still roamed these mountains not only hunting but gathering, tending the wild, living, subsisting for millenea before the arrival of a people also displaced. I don’t know if those displaced people asked if it was alright if they could stay and hunt and be entitled to replace. By all accounts they didn’t ask and they perceived godless savages scrabbling in squalour.
This was before the land needed liberation, because it wasn’t claimed yet.
There are those who tell us we’re pioneers; we’re at the leading edge of a movement beyond politics into the realm of the physical, blazing a way forward for humanity to begin to integrate and re-integrate with the whole.
There was the reserved man one day when we were tabling outside the Ashland Food Co-op , troubled because, he said, for thirty years he’s swallowed what the banks have forced on him so that he can own his place. If the Land Liberation Project catches on then his land will be worthless, he said, he’ll have spent most of his life in vein. His one precious life.
Then there are the ‘deep ecologists’, some of whom project that humans are alien to Mother Earth, we have no place here, we’re just messing things up for every other form of life on earth.
It’s easy to get hung up on structures of complicated political thought and the state of the status quo. What’s real for Tipi Village is the weather is changing, the rain has come, the geese are flying calling their longing for winter place and here we are, a tiny culture of new old beginnings, like a rabbit in the headlights of the juggernaut of mainstream industrialised America. Surrounded by thousands, tens of thousands of uninhabited acres of world. We don’t know where we’re going for winter range and the left brain is freaking out a bit so the process requires a constant letting-go to intuition, feeling, always deeper to a place where unfolding happens.
So we’re stuck because, politically, a few people are bothered by how we are inspired to live. It appears to challenge the sensibilities of the camo-clad weekend hunter from town, perhaps expecting to see manicured lawns and white-picket fences, buildings or perhaps, more to the point to see nothing so he can have the place to himself a couple of weekends a year. Or the deep ecologist, given up on life, alienated from an integral and intimate process of humanity and world, perhaps afraid of death; the feeling of the safety of soft earth falling on our spent bodies, her reclamation of matter borrowed by spirit. There is also the fear of ‘property’ losing value, individual monetary value, which has only ever been an illusion since the Land Enclosures in Europe. There is a greater value in land that is culture and place within that web of myriad interconnectedness, the relationship with money being only one strand in that web. Remember this. The inherent value of everything in reality is diminished when we ascribe to it only monetary value.
The primary value of land is culture and we can grow great and powerfull when we integrate the true richness of culture, of relationship, relations, of working out and becoming conscious of the names of those relationships and honouring them for what they actually are. When we find place then we cease to be displaced. Few people, especially in America, are not displaced culturally or physically. Those who know your place, you are the richest people on the planet and you have more to share than anyone.
Sinking deeper into understanding the forces of displacement, it is beneficial for the greater good if we can understand the individuals with personal agendas. The value of their ‘property’ and the fear of it being diminished. Their desire to be ‘alone’ in the ‘wilderness’; alienated and disconnected from a confrontation with their own prejudices and inadequacies in the face of a life-way with an intention and practice of integrity, directness and open honesty.
America will truly be the ‘Land of the Free’ when the basic human right to subsist is, at least, not blocked and at best, encouraged as a way of respectfull, accountable living. When, culturally, an aspiration towards sustainable relationships -physically, socially, spiritually- is allowed, encouraged and accepted. When we can move away from patterns of life which displace us into becoming dis-connected fragments of the machine of industry.
“It is easier to contemplate the end of the world than it is to consider the end of capitalism”
And here we still are at an elevation of five thousand feet and already the days are shorter than the nights. And as I write this I don’t know where we’ll be migrating to for the winter. Happy equinox!
Yet another article in the Sunday Mail Tribune. When the author, Mark Freeman called on Friday, we didn’t give him much. We have had a surprising amount of prejudice come our way. There was a hesitancy in speaking with him.
Is it possible to fall back off the radar?
It’s an alright article, but it in no way paints the beautiful picture of this life or this time of migration (and its uniqueness in not knowing where we are going) or the process we are involved in with this land beneath our feet and homes, or the way the weather is our ‘boss’, or the changing of the seasons and it goes on……
I think Mark did alright considering he had so little from the brief phone interview.
Have a read. And feel free to help with the moral support and leave a comment there, maybe even reply to the prejudices if you are inspired….
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