Monday, March 27, 2017

Be the Change You Want to See...

My shock and awe at the train wreck that is the current administration has subsided somewhat. I am transitioning from my outright disdain for nearly every action they are taking, to making plans to stand against nearly every action they are taking, to moving forward with those plans of resistance.

At this point, if you still support the Trump administration, you are either intentionally staying ignorant - because there is plenty of reading out there on what they're doing and why it's bad for humans in general and Americans specifically, or you believe in the things they are doing, which makes you a not so great human being. 

Anyway, because I'm tired of trying to educate the trumpers about why their Furher and his compatriots are dangerous to the planet, I've decided to focus on what I can do personally to change this world for the better. For me, that starts right here at home.

I've been living uncomfortably with the status quo for most of my adult life, because while it hasn't always been perfect or easy, it has never seemed to threaten my future or the future of the planet. The events at Standing Rock, the election of 45 and his consequent actions and policies that roll back environmental protections and speed up the usage and dangers of fossil fuels are just a couple of reasons why we can't just accept the status quo any more. So I've been trying to figure out what I can do in my little corner of the world to change things up a bit.

There were a few other factors leading to this idea as well. My Dad stayed with us for a couple of months as he was battling cancer. We converted our basement into a bedroom for him to stay in since it had a bathroom nearby. We knew he'd get a little weaker with treatment and such, but I didn't realize just how much he'd have to go through. It was pretty brutal, and Dad handled it like a champ. But I soon realized that if we had all been on one level, it would have not ony been easier to care for him, but he could have joined us in the "living space" much more frequently. As it was, there was a long period where he was just too weak to climb the stairs to get up to the living room.

My mother in law also has some mobility issues and stairs can be a bit of a strain. My wife, mother in law, and father have all talked about the idea of having a place where we could combine all of our families so that as the parents aged, my wife and I could care for them instead of them needing to go into a nursing home. (As a medic, I saw some truly terrible things in even the nicest nursing homes, and I know for a fact that Dad doesn't ever want to be put in one)

So, the four of us talked about what we'd all want in a homestead if we all lived together. One level. Away from town, but not so far that Karen's commute would be bad. Separate space for my Mom in law, a deluxe hotel style suite for Dad. A good shop for my business attatched to the house. Two washing machines was a request from Karen. More closet and storge than we have now, but not so much that we don't know what we have or where it is. More living space, but not too much. The list goes on and on and on.

After looking at available homes, it became pretty clear that to achieve any majority of things on the list, we'd have to sell not just all of our collective homes, but our kidney's and other spare body parts as well... or, we'd probably have to build. That started the process of looking at land and different designs for homes.

Now, anybody that knows me at all, knows I don't often go along with expected norms. As I stated before, I'm not a fan of status quo just for the sake of status quo. I looked at construction companies and floor plans and talked with some builders but it seemed like nothing was really coming together. Nobody seemed to get my vision of environmentally sound building practices, or that we really did want just about everything on one level. (The only exception would be kids rooms). We don't have the budget for, nor do we want a McMansion. 

Don't you want a basement? Conventional hookups to the electric grid are so much cheaper and easier than planning on solar. We don't do composting toilets. And on and on... So I started drawing out my own plans. 

I want to incorporate geothermal into a home for heating and cooling. Maybe even for in floor heat. It costs a little more up front, but the long term benefits for both the environment and our pocketbook is staggering. I don't want to spend $25-30,000 on a septic system when I can spend half that on composting toilets and a greywater system that are better for the environment. I want to use wind and solar power for our electricity. Over 75% of our local electricity comes from coal and oil powered plants. I'm tired of feeding into the continued reliance on fossil fuels. I wanted to be able to be hooked up to the grid, but I don't want to be dependent on it. Given the volitile nature of the world these days, I don't really want to be beholden to faceless companies to provide my electricity or anything else for that matter.

One of the parcels of land we were looking at early on had no access to water. The groundwater was polluted and no wells were allowed, and there was no hookup to any water system for dozens of miles. So I started looking into alternative ways to supply water. Delivery was an option, not too expensive. But again, it relied on others to provide our basic needs. Then I came across rainwater collection. It seemed a bit radical, but the more I looked into it, the better it seemed as an option. Even if we built on land where we could have a well, rainwater collection could easily provide more than enough of our water needs.

Traditional building techniques require lots of lumber, nails, roofing materials, etc. and also can lead to lots and lots of waste coming from a construction site. Most of your money when building a home goes to labor. So I decided to look into other forms of shelter where I could do a lot of the work myself. Greener forms of shelter. Turns out there are lots of options for building your own house out there if you're willing to go looking!

Strw bale construction, steel framing, even shipping containers converted into pretty nice homes. I settled on a quonset style house for a few reasons. 

They can be built on a slab foundation, fulfilling our "all on one level with no basements" wishes. It's something that I can build with the help of just a few friends. They are incredibly sturdy, and can handle our Minnesota snow loads, high winds, and other environmental challenges. I also really like the curves over the boxy look of every other building out there. Nature doesn't have many straight lines. Why should our living spaces? There's also the roominess on the inside of a quonset that you won't get unless you vault your ceilings anyway. I don't want to live in a box anymore.

Now, we're still at the beginning of this whole journey. Nothing is set in stone yet, and we're trying to figure out how to do all of this within budget and within reality. But I do like to dream. So let me pour forth some other ideas I've been mulling over as we've been planning out our dream house and see what you all think about 'em.

What if I recruited a few people to help me build this first house as a prototype. What if some of those people were architects and electricians. Plumbers and framers. People that had some experience that I don't have. What if some of them want a home of their own built in a similar fashion. Shipping container style. Or Quonset style. Tiny house style. Whatever. But all as unreliant on the grid as possible, and as reliant as possible on the wind and the sun and the earth and the clouds to help provide their basic needs.

What if we build a community of builders that didn't do it just to make money, but to make homes for people that wanted to divest from fossil fuels and not break the bank doing it. We could involve the people we are building the homes for. Let sweat equity be a part of the equation. What if the construction team lived on site in pop up trailers and the people who we are building the house for were responsible for food as part of their fee. Each building would be like an old fashioned barn raising, where the community gathered had fun and worked hard because we are a community.

If I am the CEO of this company, what if all of the employees make the same wage as me? Because while I would have my areas of expertise and responsibility, I know that my architect does things that I could not. My elecrician, plumber, concrete guy... same thing. We'd all work together, taking the lead on the projects where our expertise lies, and being worker bees when we needed to. Fair and generous working conditions. Because nobody should make money on the efforts of others.

We could build housing in places that housing is desperately needed. On reservations in particular. We can train locals in those places as they work with us, and start new crews in those places. (I'm looking at you, Pine Ridge) 

We can break from the traditional expectations that all houses need to be boxy and wooden and expensive if you want something roomy. Or boxy and tiny and cramped if you have a limited budget. People should have space to live in and not feel crowded. Not have to pay an arm and a leg to heat it in the winter or cool it in the summer. 

What if, as this company grows, we build a house now and then completely free of charge for a family deserving of such a gift. What if we work with green companies like Tesla to get deals on the equipment used in these houses. What if we could transition away from killing the planet one house at a time. Building places to live in, on a planet we can actually live on.

I know there are a crap ton of hurdles and things to learn. I know there will aways be those more motivated by greed and status quo, and that getting people on board with something like this would be an uphill battle. I know there are laws and permits and zoning and other things to consider on a case by case basis that will make this a whole lot of hard work.

But I also know, for a fact, that griping about the way of things on Facebook or other social media does not produce a whole lot of change. I know that there are people out there, like me, that want a better planet for our kids and grandkids. I know, also for a fact, that there are people out there who are much smarter than I am, and much more qualified to do something like this. Like I said, I'm a dreamer. But the good news is this...

I have a friend who is a bona fide architect. She's excited about helping me with the prototype house. She's also brilliant. So if she's interested in doing some of this moving forward, that's a huge step in the right direction.

I also have friends who are electricians and house builders. Concrete workers and engineers. Friends who - I think - would be on board with helping me build in exchange for the "team" building one for them down the road, or for a little extra income apart from their day job.

I also think that I have friends who are just hard workers that  And it would only take five to ten people on a team. Maybe even as few as three. I'll be reaching out to them in the coming days and weeks as well.

So. There's the dream, my friends.Would you be interested in signing on to see where it goes? You don't have to quit your day job. You don't need to contribute money or buy in. Just donate a little of your time. A week. A month. A couple of weekends. Whatever when the time comes to build and learn and create. We become a group of Rogue Builders. Doing things in a different way, because we want a different result. I can't guarantee we'll get rich doing it. But if that's why you want in, it's probably not for you anyway.

I can guarantee that we'd all learn a lot. We'd be working to improve the planet, starting with our own communities and citizens.

Anybody interested? 

Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Lose Allies and the War

I fell asleep hard the other day. Total exhaustion type of sleep. My body and my brain needed the break. I woke up tired, but not near dead tired like I had been. Then I checked Facebook to see what new Orwellian measures were enacted during my brief slumber.

I think it's safe to say that this new administration is completely different than any in the history of the country. That being said, I've also noticed an extreme uptick in the numbers and demographics of citizens putting their collective feet down and saying "enough is enough". This has been particularly encouraging for the likes of me, as I've felt like the collective slumber of the American people has been going on for so long, I didn't think anything other than a Pearl Harbor or 9/11 could shake us out of our day to day stupor.

Turns out that the threat of the demise of the US Government and life as we've known it was also enough to get people to wake up and start taking action. Actions like Standing Rock and BLM marches have brought together POC and their allies like never before. Suddenly, with the election of a wanna be dictator, white people in greater numbers are waking up and wanting to take action, too. This should be a great thing! A cause for celebration and joy! For too long, marginalized people have struggled to get their message through to the "dominant society" (comprised overwhelmingly of white people) and get them to stand up with them. Here, finally, is a time when those huge numbers of white people are waking up and saying, "Hey... this isn't right. This isn't fair. What kind of messed up version of America are we living in here?" 

I'm one of those white people, and until about five years ago, I believed everything was pretty ok. 

See, from an average white guy's perspective, everybody has a shot in the US to become something greater. Oh, we white people know that people of color, non-Christians and non-straight people have it tougher than us. We see the news. We read the magazine articles. Heck, most of us grew up in schools that had extracurricular groups for those things, assemblies for Black History Month, etc. etc. Some people even copied the old school hippies, wore the tye dye, wrote "Make Love, Not War" on their notebooks, that sort of thing. But as we all grew up, we merged into "Mainstream Society" where we got married, had kids, bought houses, had jobs to pay for all of that. Yada, yada, yada. For us white folks, we blended in to the "American Dream" as usual, griping about our taxes being too high, joining the PTA, and expecting Government on every level to continue as it always has. 

Everybody else was homogenized into this society as best as the Society could make them. Some conformed more than others because the reality is, if you're not white, Christian, straight, and male, Society isn't always too fair to you.

So - back to the present. The day after the small crowds watched a narcissistic man-baby become President of the United States, a much, MUCH larger crowd showed up in Washington DC. The "Women's March on Washington" ended up spreading across the country and across the globe as people from all walks of life gathered to express their displeasure with things. It seemed like the main message was "Enough is Enough". There were BLM people there. Mni Wiconi people there. Women's rights groups of course, LGBTQ groups, just about every group that has problems with government overreach had somebody marching there. Even the Anarchists showed up to burn some cars and create their form of chaos. But mostly it was peaceful gatherings and marches for Women's Rights. On the whole, it was a glorious sight to see.

Then came the inevitable instruction manuals from the non-white, non-Christian, non straight folks. For the sake of this article and my fingers while typing, let's call this group the Onions. Now, the Onions don't encompass ALL non-white, non-straight, non-Christian, non male types, because I've met plenty of non-'whatever I am' people who don't care what my color, religion, sexual preference or politics are, they're just glad to have another body in the fight. So this message is going out to all of those who feel the need to berate all of us non-Onions for our mistakes.

"Where were you when Flint needed help?" "I'll see all you white women at the next BLM march, right?" "Why are you showing up now?"

I've read articles and comments about how disgusted and offended these "long term protesters" are at all of these new "wanna be" protesters. How they were slighted in one way or another by the "ignorant white people that don't know what they're doing".  

Here's the thing, Onions. Everybody starts from the beginning. Every last one of us. You started at a beginning at some point in your life as well. You didn't spring from the womb knowing all there is about cis-gender differences, or cultural appropriation, or racial inequality. You may have learned these things from a very young age. You may have experienced them over the course of a lifetime. But the majority of us - the "Dominant Society" - didn't share those experiences. We didn't learn the same things you learned at the same time. One thing you are correct about is that most of us are coming LATE to this party. But what you seem to be overlooking is the fact that we are at the party now.

Your struggle is real. We are seeing that. We are pissed about that. We want to help rectify that. To continue the party analogy, there are very few of us who come in expecting it to be all about us. Sure, we probably make a scene when we arrive, but perhaps you are taking our entrance out of context. We're not asking questions and telling our stories because we don't care about yours. We're asking questions and telling our stories because we want to connect with you.

Yes, you've heard the same story a thousand times. "My great-great-grandma was a Cherokee Princess" or "One of my best friends is black". Yes, that gets pretty damn tiresome hearing it over and over.

I'd imagine it's like being an IT person. People call with a computer problem and you tell every one of them the same thing. "Did you try unplugging it and pluggin it back in again?" The caller really believes that their problem with that computer is mind-boggling because they've never experienced it before. The IT guy knows it's common and knows all the basics on how to fix it. 

Or a car mechanic talking to yet another car owner that hasn't got a clue how cars really work. The driver just doesn't have the basic knowledge of cars that would let them talk to the mechanic on his level.

See, Onions. When someone comes to you with questions about your experiences, with a desire to learn more so they can help more, the very last thing they need from you is mocking or lessons in "What Every White Ally Needs To Know", if what we "need to know" is that we can't understand your experience. We KNOW that we can't understand your experience, THAT'S WHY WE'RE ASKING!

So when you tell me that since I am white, my experiences don't matter, I am disinclined to put much stock in your experiences as well.

When you tell me that my White Privilege is keeping me blind to the problems, then tell me that you shouldn't have to teach me about those problems, then I have less incentive to seek out those problems and learn about them.

When you tell me that my money is fine for your group, but my opinions and ideas aren't because I'm white, or straight, or whatever, then I really have no desire to help out financially.

Also, when you tell me that you shouldn't have to stroke my ego every time I do something you approve of, you are absolutely correct! I don't need my ego stroked. But a simple "Thank You" goes a LONG way towards encouraging me to keep helping.

In short, anyone asking for help with anything should be ready to give those things in return. When I ask someone to listen to my stories, I ask them to tell me their stories in return. If you are asking for my respect, I'll be expecting respect in return. If you ask me to follow, you must also be prepared for me to lead when it is appropriate. I am more than willing to listen, observe, and learn. But there may come a time when I know more about a topic than you do. When I offer advice, don't tell me to shut up unless you are willing to hear that from me when you offer advice. If you don't want to take that advice, it is better to say "Thank you for your input, but I think we'll be going a different way." If you tell me that, I'll shrug my shoulders and most likely keep helping. If you tell me to sit down and shut up because I'm white and new to your struggle, I'll do that too. But I won't be interested in helping with your struggle anymore.

We have seen a great awakening in the "Dominant Society" in regards to the struggles of others. There are a LOT of newbies out there that have never marched before, never protested before, never called their government officials to complain, never stirred the pot. To awaken that feeling in people is awe inspiring. To benefit from it, however, is a different challenge. We are just now learning how to do the things you've been doing for generations. We are just now ready to stand up for the things we've collectively been blind to or have turned a blind eye to out of convenience. History has shown us that large numbers of people can change the course of the world. 

Onions... You've spent enough time telling us what NOT to do. What you DON'T like about the newbies. There will always be potential allies asking to touch your hair, or telling you that they're part Apache, or that they have gay friends. I fully acknowledge the frustration you feel about this. But we need the numbers. We need the crazy cat ladies that experienced their first sweat and now want to be called 'Moon Blossom'. Because if Moon Blossom is motivated, she WILL make the calls to her representatives to push for equal rights. You don't need to be her best friend. You don't need to be her spiritual advisor. Hell, you don't even need to like her much. But you do need to treat her with the respect that you expect from her. Remember that she's new to this. Remember that us newbies will ask dumb questions that you've answered a thousand times. Use that time for education and gentle correction. You are the experts at this! If you want help fixing a car, teach me how to help you, don't yell at me for doing the wrong things. I know I'm not going to be good at this when I'm getting started. 

Our words are like a hammer. We can build with them or we can tear down with them. If we are serious about building a large coalition of like minded people to fight against oppression and injustice, wouldn't it make more sense to build bridges and alliances, rather than alienate potential help and tear people down because of their inexperience?

We have a huge influx of baby activists available to us. If we crap all over them, they won't grow into the army of activists that we need. If we get past our frustration that they are not as adept at this as we are and teach them, guide them, HELP them, then we build a stronger force for the good of everyone.

Now, I know there will be those of you that will dismiss me with words like "Here's ANOTHER white guy telling us what to do." You know what? I'm not telling you what to do. I don't have any command over you. What I am doing is making a suggestion about how to make things better. Our new government wants us divided. Smaller groups are easier to control than larger movements. They won't fear any of us individually. But they do fear us collectively. But just as I have not lived your experience, you have not lived mine. Let's chill with the measuring match and get to know about each other. Let's find that common ground, figure out what we can do to stand together. 

Please stop telling us what NOT to do. Tell us what we CAN do. If you lose allies, you'll lose the war, and this is not a war we can afford to lose.

Or, to follow my own advice - 

Thank you for your input on us newbie activists. We'll certainly take your advice under consideration. Now what can we do to help?

Monday, January 2, 2017


"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." -Lao Tzu

     There's an old Japanese tradition that says if you fold one thousand paper cranes, you'll be granted a wish. I did this once before, in 1991, just before I left for USMC boot camp. My wish wasn't that I survive the training, or for safety in the war that was currently being fought. I just wished that I could find someone that loved me for who I am, and that she and I would be able to build a life together. Hopefully before I was killed in a war.

My first 1000 Cranes

     Well, the First Gulf War ended while I was finishing six months of Basic, Infantry and Artillery schools, so I got a reprieve on time. I found my other half five years later, and we have traveled the ups and downs of life together ever since. I got my wish, but not in the timeline I had planned in my head.

     I tell you that to tell you this...

     2016 was a wild year. I know that time is a construct of humans, and as such trying to assign the blame for the stuff that happened on this last trip around the sun on a specific year is a fools errand. But since that is how we humans measure things, I'm going to go ahead and stick with what we know. 2016 wasn't too great.

     We saw the deaths of a great many famous and beloved people. Artists and musicians, friends and family. We saw the world become a less safe place, with more hatred and war and discontent in the mix. Disturbingly, we also saw the rise of Donald Trump. That's a subject for an entirely separate post.

     Suffice to say, the America that I once knew as a relative haven against the crazy dictators and outright hatred inherent in the divisions of the outside world is fading fast. The racial, ethnic and political and religious tensions are bubbling to the surface at a shockingly fast pace. People who have felt scared to air their prejudices due to more calls for acceptance of those different from them by the majority of our countrymen have suddenly been given a platform by the rise of Trump to "tell it like it is" and "not be politically correct" and to come forward with their particular brand of hate. 

     I also had the privilege of experiencing the protests at Standing Rock first hand. After three visits there, many experiences, and talking with a great many people, I gained a new awareness of not just the power of the human spirit, but also of the disturbing effects of our country's addiction to fossil fuels and the possible future issues my children and grandchildren will face if nothing is done.

     Approaching the beginning of 2017, I found myself knocked far, far off of any semblance of center, and I found my anxiety ramped up far beyond anywhere it has previously been. I've struggled with PTSD, depression, and anxiety before. But the last few months of 2016 really knocked me for a loop. I decided that I needed a way to find some balance again. A way of tuning out the march of the Trumpkins, of ignoring the divisions rising at Standing Rock amongst the veterans and the natives alike, of becoming blissfully unaware of the growing threat of fossil fuel dependence. But the only true way to do that is lobotomy or death, and since neither of those are particularly appealing to me, I decided to try the 1000 crane maneuver once more.

     I was hoping to find a focus for my mind while keeping my hands busy with things other than Facebook updates or news about politics or DAPL or the growing unrest across the earth. I wanted to contemplate the meaning of the word 'Peace' in every way I could imagine. On an outing to a Michael's store, I happened across origami supplies and picked up enough squares of paper to achieve my goal. This differed greatly from my 1990-1991 attempt in that back then, I made most of my cranes from paper from random places, often torn into squares from larger pieces.

crane number one

     I folded Crane #1 on the evening of December 15, 2016. As I folded that first crane, I found myself more focused on remembering how to fold a crane than on Peace. Between the hyper children playing with our two new and very excitable puppies, and trying to re-learn the folds, I initially thought that perhaps my search for peace was more than likely destined to fail.

995 to go!

     Fortunately, within about five cranes it was not only bedtime for the youngers, but my fingers were finally remembering what to do when to make acceptable cranes. I folded a few more and called it a night. Over the course of the next 15 days, my hands became more nimble in their actions, and I was able to focus more on my thoughts as I folded, considering definitions, possibilities, implications. What could I do to find inner peace? What could I do to help others find peace? How could peace between factions be achieved? What IS peace?

How do you find Inner Peace? Maybe brownies?

     I'll tell you this. Inner Peace is both easy and impossible.

     When I look at the issues facing us in 2017, it is easy to lose that IP. I am a common man with influence over nothing except my immediate family, and even that is sketchy from time to time. So how can I implement change that could help get the world off of our addiction to fossil fuels? How can a guy like me ensure that my kids and their kids will be able to breathe clean air or drink clean water? What could I possibly do to stand against an incoming administration that seems hell bent on dismantling almost every department that protects people, education, the environment, foreign relations, domestic programs, etc.? How can I find peace if I want to stand against people that cherry pick the Constitution, the bible, and historical leaders to support their ideologies and disrespect the very things they quote from? The feeling of helplessness can be overwhelming. That's the impossible seeming part.

    But then I talk to people that say things aren't as bad as I think they are. After all, the Cubbies won the series, the tiger population is making a comeback. Even here in the US, the economy is recovering, the markets are up, unemployment is down. Things are getting better. If I just focus on these things and ignore the bad things, then finding some IP is pretty easy. It's called "Living in the Now". Learning to appreciate this moment and not to worry about the past or the future. I have found this VERY easy to do, as I sit in my warm house, sheltered against the negative temperatures and swirling snow just outside my windows, watching my healthy children play with the dogs after filling their bellies with food, and before they get tucked in to their soft, warm beds for a secure night of sleep. I am really, truly blessed in my life. What do I possibly have to complain about? IP in this mindset is simple.

     But during the process of folding these thousand cranes, I could not seem to find a balance between the two. I can go about my personal life and be content with all that I have, or I can consider the future for my children and freak out at all of the warning signs I see pointing to Very Bad Things coming. In one, I am calm and peaceful, in the other...chaos.

     OK, so maybe I needed to focus on World Peace. There are many, many peaceful places in the world. So many good people. The holidays often bring out the best in people. There are people all over the world working hard to make the future a better place. Maybe things aren't that bad globally. Maybe there is a chance for humanity! When I stepped away from folding, there were the white Trumpkins having tantrums in stores about not getting their coffee fast enough, or being asked to buy a reusable bag for a dollar, or chewing out people with brown skin for making them wait and telling them to "go back where you came from".

     Maybe there wasn't hope for humanity after all. I folded more cranes and practiced my breathing.

As my crane count went into the hundreds, I pondered the meaning of peace. Defined, it is "freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility." and "freedom from or the cessation of war or violence." How can a single person achieve these things?

     Our country has happily engaged in non-peace my entire life. I was born during Vietnam. Raised during the "Cold War" and the nebulous and ongoing "War on Drugs" and "War on Crime". I came of age during the First Gulf War, the Bosnian War, ongoing wars in the Middle East and south of our own border in South and Central Americas. I started a family during the Second Gulf War.

     Moving forward from this point in time, our incoming administration has promised to fight ISIS much more aggressively than our current administration. The only way for that to happen is to increase our troop deployments, our aerial bombing campaigns... our war and violence. They have incomprehensibly promised to keep the war out of America by bringing the war TO America, in the guise of barring Muslims from the country and restricting the actions of Muslim Americans here at home. Again, not much hope for peace there. They've promised to roll back environmental protections and regulations designed to protect clean air and clean water, arguing that it will all somehow magically work out in the end because, Capitalism. This will certainly NOT lead to freedom from disturbance, or do anything to help quiet and tranquility in the masses.

So how do we get peace? Many people smarter than I have weighed in on the subject. Martin Luther King jr., Albert Einstein, and even Ronald Reagan all said something similar,

"True peace is not the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice." - MLKjr.

"Peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of justice, of law, of order - in short, of government." - Einstein

"Peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means." - Reagan

"Real peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the presence of justice." - Harrison Ford as President Marlowe in the movie 'Air Force One'. 

Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. - my motto for 2017.

     Along my adventure in folding, I had discovered one late night that I was able to fold a crane from start to finish with my eyes closed. That first one was done while I was also mostly dozing, but when I finished and took a look at it, I was happily surprised by the outcome!

Eyes closed crane #1

     It was a crane, just like the hundreds folded before it. So as the days went by, I would close my eyes and fold and think about my new motto.
Ohhhh, half way there...ohh, oh... Living on a prayer

     Justice for all. The last line of our Pledge of Allegiance. Yet another 'American Institution' that has been bastardized over the years to fit the fears of the times. There was no "under God" until the McCarthy era 'Red Scare' in the 50's, when if you weren't a 'God fearing Christian' then you must be a 'Godless Commie Bastard'. We pledge allegiance to a flag, to the Republic for which it stands, to the unity of that nation. Promising "liberty and justice for all."

     For all. For every American Citizen. Regardless of their political leaning. Regardless of their religion. Regardless of their race, creed, gender, sexual orientation... Regardless of whether they like this country or not. We pledge liberty and justice FOR ALL. Yet we fall far short of achieving that pledge. We fall far short in our practice of the founding documents. We bicker over what amendments mean. What we think the founders meant when they wrote them. We choose which parts of which amendments we like, and which we don't, and we amend the amendments with laws and statutes. We let our "leaders" continue to twist and distort the founding documents to suit their needs and their friends needs, but seldom the needs of the actual constituency.

This 'peace' thing is complicated... keep folding...

     Worst of all, we are so easily led astray from the real issues by flashy words and ideas from the extremists on all sides, so we remain divided into factions that will never submit to compromise.

     So how do I find peace in this world? I can't have IP and be attuned to what is happening in the world. I can't have WP because I'm just one person in a sea of billions. I can have mental peace if I just ignore everything bad and focus on the good, but that's certainly not going to lead to long term peace.

     I folded most of the last three hundred cranes with my eyes closed, or my eyebrows furrowed, or both. Concentrating as hard as I could on peace.

     But I kept coming back to the truths behind my personal motto for 2017... I wouldn't find peace by ignoring conflict. I would find peace by working for justice for all.

     The last day of the year, I was joined by my dad and my kids to go and see the movie 'Rogue One'. I was fully prepared to let go of my thoughts on peace for awhile, and lose myself in a good Star Wars movie for a couple of hours.


OK, So the movie was really, very good... as expected. I can totally see why Trumpkins would think the entire movie was to disparage the incoming administration. After all, a plucky band of misfits goes through wacky shenanigans as a megalomaniacal leader solidifies his power over his new Empire by weakening the current government, installing his own puppets to control the masses, and decides that fear and hatred are the way to keep the control over the people. The rebels are fighting against a corrupt Empire to try for a better future. The Imperial leaders are all out for themselves. The message of rising up to fight against the Empire is strong throughout the movie. So yeah, Trumpkins can totally make the connection between their leader and Krennic, the wanna be head bad guy with delusions of grandeur that doesn't admit to his flaws and therefore is eventually destroyed by them. 

   Anyway, by the end of the movie, all of the good guys and most of the bad guys are dead. Killed off in the efforts to get the plans for the Death Star to the rebels. It's a little dark, actually. I mean, I knew that since none of the characters in this movie were in the original Episode IV, they'd have to be doing something else. But I didn't think the writers would just kill everybody.

     This movie didn't help my quest for peace much at first. But when I went home and started folding the final cranes before the new year began, I realized that seeing the movie had answered many of the conflicting emotions within me. From Chirrut Imwe chanting "I am one with the Force and the Force is with me", to the determination of Jyn to do what is right for the many, even though it doesn't end well for the few. I found my peace.

Welcome back to those who didn't want spoilers.

     I found my peace when I was folding the last few dozen cranes on New Year's Eve. "I am one with the Force and the Force is with me" could just as easily been moved into my head and heart by replacing the Force with God, the Creator, Wakan Tanka to the Lakota, the Great Mystery, or heck... leaving it as "the Force", because what do any of us really know about God?

Paper for the 1000th crane, from the remainder of paper used for our wedding programs.

     After folding Crane #999, my wife gave me a piece of paper from her paper collection (she really likes paper) that had been left over from making our wedding programs. I colored in in many amorphous shapes of many colors, to represent not just the conflicting thoughts and feelings within me, but also the different factions at the camps in Standing Rock, and the opposing sides of the whole DAPL issue, and the conflicting views of my friends and family, and the conflicting nations and ideologies battling each other all across the globe. Look at that sheet up there. Many colors, many ways of looking at the world. But still all contained on the one square of paper.

     As I folded the last crane, I thought about how wonderful it would be if all of those colors worked together as the crane emerged. Something beautiful coming from unity and harmony.

From Peace.

   It occurred to me that my peace would not be a one sided piece of paper. It would have to come from a mass of conflicting ideas, a plan of folding and creasing and unfolding and twisting and turning. I will need to work for my peace, and it will not come without a price. But if it works, I can make something beautiful out of that Peace.

     I spread out all one thousand cranes and my daughter helped me sort them into colors and create a color wheel of cranes.

     In the sorting, we had to pluck out some random things that had found their way into the box in which I was storing the finished cranes. Pens, markers, scraps of paper, unfolded origami paper, dog hair, a kitchen knife (because why not?) I know that the metaphor is easy - that some things would need to be expunged to make the wheel work, much like some elements in our society will need to be removed to keep the country working - much easier than the reality of things. But I liked the way it all came together in the end. One thousand individual cranes unifying to create a color wheel. The sum larger than the parts. It also helped me with peace.

     My peace is in the common good. Both in my own happiness and success and the happiness and successes of others. Peace will ebb and flow like the tides, coming in when I know my Muslim friends feel safe within their homes and communities. When I see people coming together to help others, even at a cost to themselves. When I hear real leaders stand up and fight for a future for my offspring. It goes when I hear about the growing number of inept people being put in the incoming administration. When I see the threats to the foundations of this country and to the ability of the planet to continue supporting human life. So I will take my peace like the tides. I will revel in it while the tide is in, and I will fight for it when the tide is out.

     Peace is not a destination, but a continuing journey to seek while we still have breath. As we continue on the path of finding that justice for everyone, my peace will lie in the fight as well as the tranquility. My meditations on peace led me to my wish upon completion of the cranes.

     I wish for everyone to have the courage to face reality and the struggles that we share with the peace that can only come with justice for all. For humanity to set aside the petty differences and come together to create something truly beautiful.

     I wish for peace of mind, body and spirit in the challenges that are to come.

     I discovered that I am at peace with the knowledge that humanity will get the outcome it deserves, one way or the other. But my wish is for a continued future of peace for my children's children and beyond.

The journey of a thousand cranes begins with a single fold. The journey to a sustainable future begins with a single person. Standing Rock taught me that regular people coming together can have an influence on how things are done. It taught me that we cannot let the divisions in ourselves negate that fight against the common enemy. And although I am back home now, I can still Stand with Standing Rock by becoming a Standing Rock in my own community. Change starts locally.

     Our mayor made a proclamation a couple years ago to transition our energy usage from coal to sustainable methods by the year 2031. It can be done, but we are going to need to wake up as a community and do a few things differently than we have in the past. So I'll chase peace here by keeping our local government on task. When we succeed, we can be a model for other communities. Change is hard, but we can do it together.

     Together we will create the changes that will ensure a future for the coming generations.

     Together we will stand against tyranny and injustice.

     Together we will accomplish what divided we can not. There is always room for compromise, but it must be mutual. There is always room for discussion, but all voices must be heard.

     I wish to find peace within and without soon. A thousand cranes have been folded for this wish. Now it is time to begin the work of making that wish come true. Will you join me? Will you accept the challenge of standing with the cranes for this wish? Are you ready to be a Standing Rock in your own community? Because we cannot sit back and hope for a good future without being willing to take a stand for it, and it starts with the individual. It starts with you. 

     Obtaining peace may require periods of decided unrest.
Unfortunately, sides are being chosen, with factions struggling for control of those sides. But the time has come for good people with strong hearts to set aside the little things and stand up for the good in all things. To stand up for justice against those who would remove it for their own benefit. To stand up for what this country was meant to be, a nation of freedom and of laws that every citizen is accountable to, not just the poorest and weakest amongst us. A nation of liberty and justice for all. A nation that is a shining beacon to other nations of how to achieve PEACE. There will be a price. But I'd rather meet the Great Mystery knowing I did everything I could for true peace, instead of trying to explain how I was waiting to see what would happen, and hoping things would work out for the best without my input. I will fight for the common good, and in that struggle, I shall find my peace.

Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Thursday, December 9 EOM

I woke up in the same position I had fallen asleep. It appeared to still be dark outside, and my initial thought was to just stay asleep. But sleep wouldn't find me again, so I rolled out of bed and peeked out the window.

The sun had come up, but it was very overcast and snowy again. I was dressed and packed up pretty quickly and after gassing up the car, I was headed East for home.

I had many hours to reflect on the week I had just been through, but it was difficult to process everything. There had been some not so great things that had happened. However, I had met some wonderful people that I certainly hope to come across again in my life. I was saddened by the multiple factions that seemed to be splintering off at the camp, and a little disturbed by the factions I saw emerging in the VSSR camps.

It seems to be human nature to want to create order out of chaos. It also seems to be human nature for everyone to have a different idea of how to go about creating that order. Unfortunately, as evidenced around the planet, those with the muscle and might are often the ones that come out on top in such conflict.

Human nature had reared its ugly side many times during this adventure. Wes Clark jr. using the vets for his "spiritual journey" was typical of the religious extremist that tells people one thing, then does another to satisfy their own desires. The midnight raid on "agitators" that wanted to use other options for their stand against DAPL seemed questionable to me at the time, and became even more sketchy as time passed and I learned more about the reasons behind it - not to mention that the assembled vets searched the wrong tents first... other veterans tents. Margaret attacking Tammy for questioning her command. It all left a metaphorically sour taste in my mouth. The unity of purpose I had felt back in August wasn't there anymore. Even on my trip in October, I had seen seeds of discontent and anger between groups. But this visit highlighted the dissolution of that unity, brought on as well by the influx of too many veterans that immediately split into factions as well. The veterans that wanted to follow the Elders command to stand down in peace and prayer vs. the vets that marched on the bridge vs. the vets that were there for completely different reasons all together.

I spent a lot of time pondering the ramifications of societal collapse, especially in light of the incoming administration this coming January. People, in large groups, don't tend to follow leaders that are weak or tyrannical. In the President Elect, we have both character traits. The potential for "Really Bad Things" to happen in the next 1-4 years have increased exponentially with a guy that has...shall we say... a "Margaretesque" temperament. A "Clarkish" need for self aggrandizement. Wanting to install sub-commanders that want to dismantle and eliminate the very departments they would be leading. A man whose claims and campaign promises, that apparently mattered to just over 60 million Americans, now don't seem to matter to him. A guy who likes the idea of not just building more nukes, but using them as well.

He has a grouping of supporters that have already broken down into bickering factions. "Build the Wall" vs. "Don't worry, nobody will build a wall". Those wanting to block all Muslims, those wanting to round up the Muslims, and those calling for war against the Muslims. People that say "Just give him a chance and give it some time, everything will be fine" vs his supporters that still want to "lock her up" and ban non-Christians and non-straight people from anything and everything resembling this American life. He not only has the support of white nationalists, he's appointing them to leadership positions, and that seems to be ok with his more rational supporters as well. 

So, yeah. I have some serious misgivings about the direction this country has taken, even just since the election itself. And having just witnessed a microcosm of societal collapse at Standing Rock, I am not altogether encouraged by human nature.

Now, I do think that there are many, many really good people out there. The Laura's, the Mel's. The Kiyoshi's, Frances', Tammy's and the Marlow's. There were great people that I hardly knew out there. Sgt. Major Clark (not Wes) and others that were capable and knew how to organize and get good things moving along. In a collapse without weapons, I am certain that good would prevail. It only took four or five people to pull Margaret off of Tammy and de-escalate the situation. Unfortunately, we don't live in a society without weapons. It seems like the crazier and more extremist somebody is, the more weapons they have. I tried to imagine the same scenario with everyone having a sidearm. How many people would Margaret have taken down with her? How many people that still supported her would have come to her aid? What would it have been like if we had been thrown together not for a few days, but a few weeks or months? What if we had that to look forward to for four years?

The military works because we are indoctrinated to follow lawful orders from our superiors. Most of the time, the superiors we have rose through the ranks because they were already good leaders. So the military keeps chugging along because we have faith that the higher ups will at least know what they are doing a little bit. But we have all heard stories of fragging poor officers. Every vet has a story or ten of some officer that just didn't have a clue, or orders that came down that were completely ridiculous. Every corporal can remember a time when they had a better plan than their sergeant, and on up the chain. Throughout history there have been violent overthrows of leadership due to someone else wanting to do things a different way. Et tu, Brutus?

We have a 'civil' society now, because for the most part, we all believe in the rules and the enforcers of those rules. We have a Constitution or other documents that lay out those rules, and we try to live by them. But what will happen when our documents are no longer followed by those in charge? What happens when large swaths of our population are refused the freedoms those documents are supposed to protect? As it is, our collective government has ignored or marginalized many groups of people. Non-whites, non-Christians, non-straight, non-conformist. Freedoms and rights have been ignored or brushed aside ostensibly for the "common good".

But what happens when the majority of the population come to realize that those protecting the "common good" are really only protecting their own self interests? What happens when more people realize that this country protects corporate greed over ordinary citizens? Have we reached the point in our great experiment of "Democracy" where we have too many factions to find unity again? Unlike the camp, we can't just pack up our tipis and leave to go home. No matter where we live in this country, we ARE home. So then, do we become like the midnight raiders and "sweep" our camp for undesirables, agitators, those who want to do things differently from us, and tell them to conform, or we will remove them by force? How does that make us any better than Germany circa 1938 and 39? How do we still claim to be the "United States of America" when some individual states have more voting influence that that of the population as a whole? How do we claim moral high ground if we've walked into the swamp that someone promised to drain? And how long will it take supporters of that 'someone' to realize they followed him right into the swamp so that he can stand on their backs and not get as covered in the filth?

Standing Rock is having a crisis of leadership. Everyone there and everyone who has gone want the same thing. Many want to expand on killing this black snake to transitioning to sustainable energy for the survival of the planet. Lots of people fall in the middle of those two goals. But the different factions have different ideas on how to accomplish that. Peaceful prayer vs. direct action. Non-violent protest vs. all out war on DAPL. Then there are factions that have a mix of any or all of those ideas. Then there are factions that want to use the whole thing as a money making opportunity. It has gotten to the point where I don't know who to support any more. At least, not from a distance. And I don't think I'm alone. Many, many of my friends have expressed a hesitation to donate to any specific fund anymore because nobody is sure of the motives of those groups.

This couldn't come at a worse time. The people that have been arrested over the past nine months are starting to come to trial, and will need financial support to get justice. Winter has hit the camps, and there are people in need of heat and food and water. But without actually being there, or having been there for awhile, it is impossible to know which faction to back.

So my heart has been in turmoil since the drive home. Sad for the unity that I had seen before being gone. Glad for the unity of some of those vets I had met, that gathered with good hearts. Upset by the personal agendas that I was used for. Glad for the small victory of easement denial, but sad knowing that it could easily be reversed by the invested incoming administration.

It was a long car ride home from the Dakotas. In many ways, I'm still trying to find my way home. I'm not sure that the place I dwell really is 'home' anymore. Never in my life has the term "Home is where the heart is" been more of a reality. Wherever my wife and kids are, that is my home now. My fealty to a plot of land or a state or country has been profoundly shaken in the past couple of months. The future is always unknown, of course. But I had hoped that the country that I lived in would keep making progress towards realizing those truths that we once held self-evident. Our government has been seized by a quarter of the population that seem willing to destroy it, and by the apathy of half of the citizenry that didn't think they mattered. By an electoral system that was designed to keep this very thing from happening, but has been so corrupted over our two hundred plus years that it doesn't know how to do anything but rubber stamp an election.

Will there be enough of us that stand up against this? Will we have enough time to do so? We are putting the launch codes into the hands of a man that gets mad at a SNL skit. How will he handle mocking from China, North Korea, or his Russian "friends"? We are putting the future of our environment into the hands of people heavily invested in keeping us addicted to fossil fuels. The science is pretty clear about what we can expect if we choose to stay addicted, yet we still have the incredibly short sighted and happily ignorant trying to tell us that everything will be fine.

I feel like we're all on a bus that is being driven off a cliff by a delusional narcissist that thinks that more road will magically appear because he wants it to, and a quarter of the passenger think that sounds cool, half the passengers are asleep or too busy on their smart phones to care, and the rest of us are fervently looking for a way to stop the bus or get the hell off. 

Oh, humanity. I'm not all that sure we are worth saving in the long run. For the sake of my children and grandchildren, I hope I'm wrong.

Otherwise it will be EOM, End of Mission, for us all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Wednesday, December 7th

A date that will live in infamy, to be sure.

We were told that wake up was going to be at 0530 so we could all get out by 0800. But I awoke around 0500 to the sounds of people up and packing and bugging out for warmer climes.

Word had come down that the Standing Rock tribal chairman, Dave Archambault, had asked all those who were not Sioux to vacate the area due to the weather. This seemed logical, as another blizzard was approaching, and around 4000 people had shown up for the VSSR event. That meant about 3500 more than the planners had originally thought would come, and 2000 more than were on the final roster. With another blizzard coming in, and a polar vortex that would drop temperatures well below the negative numbers, it made sense to get as many people out of the area as possible. To me anyway.

So, we all packed up and cleaned up our areas and said our goodbyes. I would have sworn that I took pictures with everyone I met that I really liked, but apparently I only got a shot of Marlow and me.

What a lovely human being

I had met Marlow in Cannon Ball. We passed each other coming and going at the entrance of the community center. She had smiled and said "Good Morning" so I smiled back and said the same thing.  Later that morning, as Mel the CO (XO? ... Leader Type Person) held an informational meeting for us, I found myself standing next to her again. We made little comments to each other as the meeting progressed, and finally I introduced myself, figuring that if we were going to keep running into each other, I should probably know her name. After that, she disappeared. I think she went off with the New York 'Rambo' Brigade. But I didn't figure I'd see her again. But then, on the Monday morning of the ceremony, she ended up right next to me in the formation! We helped each other get up and down from the floor (as they had the front row sit, which was fine with my tired knees) and at one rather emotional point of the ceremony, we just stood and hugged each other. Two strangers from different walks of life, united by our veteran status and our desire to do something good for the people of Standing Rock. Later, I found her again at the AJAMC in Ft. Yates. Although I only knew her for a few days, by the time I went home it seemed like I had known her for ages. I hope I can get to Seattle some day to visit her and her wife. (And my cousin, who lives there also... and because I've never been to Washington and it's one of three states I've yet to set foot in in this country...) But yeah. I'd love to hang out with her again. She's awesome.

I went and found Mel the Chaplain/Cannon Ball CO or XO or LTP to say goodbye to her and found her in line for chow. I met her in Cannon Ball, too, and was very impressed that she stepped up to help get CB organized. She also had an incredibly chipper attitude the ENTIRE time. Every time I saw her I was greeted with a smile. Every time I greeted her, she greeted me warmly. She was a great leader because she didn't just 'give orders', she did work as well. I caught her sweeping the floor outside the mess hall one evening when I was too tired to do anything other than fall in to my bed. We had had a few good but short talks about logistics, and one good talk about the legalities around the 1851 treaty and ramifications for this event pertaining to that document and our own Constitution. I had only known her for a couple of days, but felt like I had known her for months. She's an awesome lady.

I also got to say goodbye to Tammy, Terry and Frances and a few others that had all been bonded since our Cannon Ball days... day... several hours (?) Seriously, time was weird out there. Days seemed like weeks. Hours seemed like days... or sometimes just a few seconds. I'd serve with that group again though. The Cannon Ball detachment I mean. They were top notch.

Kiyoshi and I packed all of the remaining medical gear we could into my car for a last trip to camp to drop everything off. He drove his car up to the casino and joined me for the remaining twelve miles or so to the camp.

It was still dark when we arrived, and bitterly, bitterly cold. Kiyoshi donated all of his formidable body armor to the guard we met on the way in. Ceramic plate body armor, tactical goggles that would stop a .22 round, a few other things. Then we drove down to the veterans medical tent to drop off the medical supplies.

Most people there were still asleep, and we were then directed to take it to the main medical tent for the camp. Fortunately, I had passed that on my Monday excursion, so I knew where I was going. When we got there, we met two women that told us to take it up to the main donation tent, unless it was stuff for hypothermia. Well, I had brought an extra sleeping bag to use as a cold weather wrap in case of emergency, so we left that and some wool blankets and chemical hand warmers behind. One of the women came with us to show us where the main donation tent was. It turns out that it was near the sacred fire.

I wanted to approach in the right way, so I took some coffee and tobacco with me as I approached the fire, found a couple of men nearby and presented them with the gifts and asked where we could drop of our boxes of medical supplies. They were very humble and kind, and soon we were schlepping boxes and bags of donated medical supplies from all over the country into the GP tent by the fire. We were invited to pray at the fire, and before I left, I took the opportunity to send up my first prayers from the sacred fire I had only ever seen from a distance.

The circle of people around the fire was quite full, and while I am sure they would have made room for me to sit, I stood behind the front row and said my prayers as a song was being sung in the Lakota language.

I prayed for protection to all those staying here long term. I prayed for clarity in the days and weeks to come for the leaders of all of the different factions that had erupted since my last visit. I prayed for all of this to end peacefully, and for more people around the world to wake up and see the dangers that are facing us. Finally, I prayed for the fire. I prayed that the sacred fire stay burning for as long as it was needed. That it would spark a fire within all those who visited to take an ember back to where they lived and start another fire. A local fire, to fight against oppression, injustice, environmental attacks. A fire to stand up in their own communities and say 'enough is enough' and start making the changes that need to happen if we are to survive as a species.

I stepped away from the fire after the song was finished. The sun was coming up and it looked like it was going to be a bright, sunny day. Cold. Bitterly, bitterly cold. But bright and sunny. I joined Kiyoshi back in my warm car and he told me that there was going to be a camp meeting in the Dome at 0900. That seemed like an interesting thing to attend, and it was 0800 already, so we decided to head down to the Oglala Kitchen again to see if we could find Joe or anybody I had met on my previous trips to say hi. Maybe get some breakfast or basically just hang out someplace warm until the meeting.

The last time I was there, we had built a wood framed building that would serve as the new kitchen. It turned out pretty well, and next to it was still the lean-to shelter kitchen that they had been using. Next to that was a green GP tent that had been used as a dining room/gathering place the last time I was there. As we approached, we met a young man named Francois, a Lakota from Eagle Butte. As we conversed, we learned that he was looking for a way to get back home to his grandparents. Well, as a Shaffer, a couple hours added to a road trip is usually not a bad thing, so I offered to drive him down there. Then he asked if I had room for a tipi in my Highlander.

I thought for a minute... how much room does a tipi take up? How on earth would I strap the poles to the top? I told him we could try, but I made no promises. As if reading my mind he told me that it was just the canvas parts, not the poles, and that it was already all bundled up, it just needed to be loaded. So I had him grab his gear and throw it in the car. We then went to look for a familiar face in the dining hall GP tent.

As we went in, there were two white guys and a gal talking quietly next to a barrel stove, and a few cots further on with bundled up sleeping people. It appeared that the dining hall had become lodging. I walked up to the three talking people and quietly asked if Joe was around. No he wasn't. So I asked about a guy nicknamed Leprechaun that had been there in August. The girl said that he was still there and offered to take me over to his lodging. I thanked her and we all headed outside. We were followed by one of the guys that then scolded us for talking near the sleeping people. After all, he said "It's very rude to talk when people are sleeping here."

"Yeah, but you were talking when I came in, soooo..."
"But I live here." He said. "We need our sleep, we work hard."
Then Francois stepped in.
"Maybe you should be awake when there are things to be done." He said sternly. "Maybe we shouldn't sleep all day. Maybe you should think about why you are here."

Well, that just annoyed the guy further. He muttered something else about being rude and how maybe we should think about why we were there, and headed back into the tent. It was most decidedly a different vibe than the other two times I had been out there. Francois was the only native guy I had seen at Oglala Kitchen on this trip. My friend Joe had left to sell some of his amazing art in New Mexico, and apparently Clarence Rowland was around, though I hadn't met him in person yet. The gal walked us over to the shack where Leprechaun was living, but they were all still asleep. I asked her not to wake him, and pulled an Oglala Lakota flag from my coat and handed it to her.

Joe had mentioned that they needed another Oglala flag at the kitchen, and I brought one to give to him. I asked her to be sure it got to Clarence, instead. Her eyes smiled at me since every other bit of her face was covered against the cold, and she promised to get the flag to him.

The three of us climbed back into the car and decided to go pick up Francois' tipi, and head over to the dome to wait for the meeting to start. It was a short drive to a different part of the camp where Francois was storing his tipi bundle. It was about the size of a car topper, and frozen to boot. But we managed to smoosh it into the back with the little amount of stuff I was taking home with me. We drove over to the Dome and started in to see what was happening when we were greeted by a guy who asked us if we could help move his stuff back across camp to his tent. Apparently they were vacating people from the Dome, and he was going to head back over to the Veterans for Peace site. I told him that we could load stuff on top of my little workhorse, but there was no room inside with Kiyoshi, Francois and the tipi.

So we loaded a bedroll, a couple backpacks and a frozen garbage bag of dirty laundry on top of the car, and slowly made our way across the camp again. As we helped him load his stuff into his tent, a woman approached me and asked if I could help her get the U-Haul van she was driving off of an icy patch that wouldn't let her go. After a few tries pushing it myself, I headed back and asked the other guys to come give me a hand. With four of us pushing, it skittered it's way off of the ice and she was on her way. We bid the mover guy a farewell, and headed back over to the Dome to wait for the meeting to start.

While we waited, Francois shared with us the story of his family, the High Elks, and how they were supposed to be the true keepers of the sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman pipe instead of Arvol Looking Horse. He had many documents and family lineage to back up the claim, and said he was looking for a good law team to help his family take back the sacred bundle. He was earnest in his beliefs, and was obviously raised traditional, as he gave me gifts of a book and a kit to make moccasins as a thank you for driving him to Eagle Butte. But I was a little discouraged to hear his claims.

The whole week had been a series of fights between factions out there. We had taken part in a camp faction conflict with our veterans sweeping tents for firearms. We had listened to many people that had supposedly been "Standing Together at Standing Rock" tell us different things. Go home. Stay here. We don't want you here. We need you here. Go today. Stay a few more days. Now we had been scolded out of Oglala Kitchen by some white guy with an attitude, and this kid wanted help fighting Arvol Looking Horse for the sacred bundle. My spirit was tired. My soul was tired. This seemed to be just the final assault on my willpower to keep supporting Standing Rock. I didn't know who to back anymore. I was there to help. To serve. And all I seemed to find were people wanting to use me to further their own agendas. At least Francois was up front about it.

At around five to nine, we decided to head into the Dome and see what was happening. When we got inside it was hard to breathe. There were many people in the dome. Some moving their personal gear out. Some still sleeping in their cocoon bags. Some cleaning ash out of the wood burning stove. The whole place was heavy with wood smoke, which apparently led others to believe that lighting up their cigarettes was on ok thing to do. By ten minutes after nine, the place was crowding with people looking for the meeting, but nobody there to actually DO a meeting. I talked it over with the guys, and we decided that waiting another who knows how long for a meeting that may or may not happen when we had a half day's drive ahead of us to get home was probably not the best idea. So we decided that it was time to head out.

We stopped briefly outside to get a picture of ourselves at Standing Rock, as we had been too busy  every other time we had been there to think of that.

see? we really were there!

As we drove out of camp, we passed the same guard that Kiyoshi had given all of his gear to. The guard was bedecked in everything, and we stopped once more for Kiyoshi to give him a rather formidable pair of riot gloves and get a picture with him in Kiyoshi's gear. It was pretty awesome.

We snapped a few pictures of the camp as we drove towards the casino, but that was about it for pictures. It just wasn't a picture taking kind of adventure, and I was lost in my conflicting thoughts about the events of the week anyway.

We drove back to the casino where Kiyoshi had parked his car, and said our farewells. I certainly hope to see Kiyoshi again someday. He's a really good guy. He'd be caravanning behind Francois and me down to just south of Ft. Yates. There he would continue on a south/southeast road back to Illinois, and I would be heading more south/southwest to Eagle Butte.

I honked and waved goodbye as Kiyoshi took the turn for his road and I continued on with Francois.

Now, a couple things to preface the following part of my adventure. Four years ago when I had first volunteered at a place called Re-Member on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, I met a man named Will Peters. He was one of the Lakota speakers that Re-Member brought in to teach volunteers about the culture of the Oglala Lakota. Over time, Will and I have grown quite close. We've had many a talk about out two cultures, and spiritual truths, and a great many things. I consider him a brother, and my Dad even calls him son. As Shaffers, we tend to adopt people we love into our "tribe" that we call the "Shaffer Hotel".

Aside to the aside... When I was growing up, Mom and Dad opened our house up to all of our friends so that we'd have a safe place to have cast parties and get togethers. Everyone was welcome as long as they followed a few simple rules. No drugs, alcohol or dangerous tomfoolery. As the years progressed, there were times when I'd go down to breakfast and find kids I didn't know already eating. They turned out to be friends of friends of friends of mine or Jason or Steph, and Mom and Dad were always fine with anyone that stuck with the rules.

So we have always had "family" that wasn't blood related. As such, it was completely normal for me to "adopt" Will and his family into mine. He's good people. Awesome wife, wonderful kids and grandkids. All around good egg. So, now that you know that, I'll tell you that Will's Lakota name translates to "Teacher of the Red Road", and teach he does. He's a high school teacher that works with kids in a good Lakota way. (And frankly, much like my Dad did as a high school teacher) He meets them where they are at, teaches them to the best of both of their abilities, is calm and gentle, but not a pushover. Will speaks Lakota to them in the classroom. Teaches them how to do beadwork to help keep them centered and focused on the good.

He also has taken the time to help THIS muddling white guy learn more about Lakota culture, traditions, and the "right way" to do certain things than I could have ever learned by reading a book.
One of the things he taught me right away was that Lakota teachings don't come with a price. No native teachings should. If you are wanting to be a student of said teachings, you should pray about it and wait until the right teacher comes. Will told me that there are many people, both native and non-native, that will claim to be 'Medicine Men' or 'Chiefs' and will offer to teach you their ways as long as you give them some money. Now, he also says that when an elder teaches you something, it is a sign of respect to give that elder a gift, and money is a fine gift. But no teacher should ask for money.

Now, back to the drive from Ft. Yates to Eagle Butte. Francois had started to tell me that his family is very well connected. Very important. That he was a medicine man and knew all sorts of medicine men and chiefs on the various reservations. That may be true, but it raised a red flag in my head, because Will had taught me that one of the Lakota values was humility, and Francois wasn't being very humble in his name dropping. Then he mentioned that even though he was young, he had great wisdom and would be happy to teach me all about Lakota culture, spirituality and wisdom if I could provide some funds for a project he wanted to do.

Yep. Another red flag.

He was a nice kid. Pretty respectful, but I could feel him trying to do things in what the Lakota would call "the wrong way". But something Will and I have not discussed is if I - as a white guy - can call out a hustler when I see one if said hustler is a native and hustling native traditions. I was unsure how to respond to this. So I asked Francois what the Lakota word for 'Karma' is. He was unsure, as he's still learning the language, and I directed our conversation to what was happening at Standing Rock, how he got there, and the events of the last few weeks. We agreed that KARMA would most likely be coming around to bite those in the booty that had done some bad things up there. Non-native and native alike. We talked about the conflict of wanting to be a law-abiding citizen, yet seeing that the law was doing horrendous things to its citizens and then lying about it. How does one stay loyal to a system that isn't loyal to them?

We started talking about spirituality again, and I mentioned some of the spiritual truths that Will and I had talked about. He once again mentioned that for a small fee, he could teach me how to do sweats and pipe ceremonies, maybe even a Sundance. I was uncomfortable again, so I mentioned that I had a Lakota friend in Pine Ridge that was already teaching me all of those things, or at least letting me be a part of them so I could learn by experience and by listening.

"Who is it?" Francois asked "I know all of the medicine men on Pine Ridge."
"Oh, he doesn't claim to be a medicine man or a chief." I told him.
"Who does he say he is?" Francois pressed. "What does he claim to be?"
"All I've ever heard him claim to be..." I said, "Is a common man. Nobody special. Just an ordinary Lakota guy. I think that's one of the reasons he is so highly respected down there, and by my family and me. He doesn't claim to know everything, yet in his humble way of teaching, shows that he knows an awful lot."

There was silence for a few minutes. Then the conversation moved along. It is noteworthy to mention now that he didn't mention money or ask for support again for the remaining hour of our trip.

As we drove along, I told him that my parents, whether they knew it or not, pretty much raised us to live by the seven Lakota virtues. Respect, prayer, honesty, compassion, generosity, humility and wisdom. We were taught to respect our elders. Live our lives as a prayer, not relying entirely on praying in a church to talk to God. Tell the truth. Empathize with others. Help people how you can, when you can, even if that means sacrifice. Don't boast or brag, let your actions do that for you. and for heaven's sake, think before you speak and learn before you teach. I understand that wisdom doesn't just magically come. Heck, I know lots of old guys that lack wisdom. Wisdom is the accumulation of lessons and life experiences AND an ability to reflect on them and learn from them. Not everyone has wisdom, and I am skeptical of someone that claims to have it mastered.

I was trying to tell Francois about my feelings on wisdom by telling him about my Dad, who has lived a long life AND learned from his mistakes and successes. He is humble and will offer an 'opinion' about something without forcing you to believe it. But since he's very often right in his opinion, a person who seeks wisdom would heed his words. As I was telling him about Dad, a Bald Eagle came out from the woods and flew along with us for about twenty seconds. Francois took this as a sign.

"My brother Wanbli has come to tell us that we were meant to meet each other! That whatever you are doing, keep doing it, because you are on the right road!" Francois said excitedly. He told me that eagles were the most holy bird to the Lakota, and that for one to show itself to us while I was speaking honoring words about my dad was a wonderful sign from Creator. That my dad must be a great and honorable man. This I could agree with!

He sang a song in Lakota that I only knew a few words to and when he was done he smiled at me.

Now, I'm always unsure if eagles and hawks come into my view as a sign, or as a thank you for the rescues I've done, or just because they happened to be in that airspace as I've been driving by. But I've seen a lot of things all around the world, and had a lot of experiences with other critters like dragonflies, buffalo, crows, raccoons and red-winged blackbirds, (to name a few) that have seemed like way more than coincidental encounters. My middle name is Thomas, so I have 'doubt' hardwired in to me. But I'll admit that when that eagle flew by as I was talking of my dad, followed by this Lakota kid singing in Lakota a song of thanks for the visit made a pretty powerful impact on me.

The rest of our drive was spent talking about our families and things we have learned from our elders and our friends. We talked about both of us being artists and craftsmen. I offered to sell his stuff on my website if it was legal to do so, and if he wanted to. I think we sorta bonded over the fact that regardless of culture, we all have similar struggles and triumphs. We talked of places that gave one the sense of 'home' in their spirit when we came into an area of rolling hills that were familiar to him. Sights and vistas that were imprinted in our brains and on our souls that only spoke of safe and wonderful feelings of being truly home.

His were these hills and the camp at Standing Rock. Mine were my childhood neighborhood, the Island, an area in Pine Ridge, the Mississippi River and the faces of my wife and children.

As we pulled into his long driveway, another Bald Eagle flew directly over the car headed for his house. We both voiced awe, and stared at the great bird as it flew ahead of us.

"What a welcome home!" I said to Francois.

He was beaming.

He tried to get a picture of it with my phone, because who would possibly believe that an eagle had LITERALLY led him home!

just above the peak of the roof there...

We unloaded the tipi into a nearby truck and grabbed his gear to take inside. I remembered that I had a can of coffee and a bag of tobacco left in one of my bags that I had forgotten to give away at the camp, so I grabbed those to give as a gift to his grandparents when I went inside to meet them. You know, the 'right way' to greet elders. Francois introduced me to his family, and they offered to feed me, but I still had many, many miles to try and go before I got home, and I was already feeling the lack of sleep taking hold. I excused myself and headed back for my car. On a picnic table near the door were three deer heads.

Whole. Deer. Heads.

there they are all standing in a row...

I commented on how amazing they were, because the antlers were truly spectacular. Francois and I had talked a bit about how I made knife handles out of antlers on our drive, so I was taken aback when they offered me one of the heads.

Now. I do like making knife handles out of deer antlers, but I had no idea what on earth I would do with an entire head! I tried to politely decline, but was told that these were their three best kills this season, and I could pick whichever I pleased.

"No really." I said. "That is way too generous of a gift. I couldn't possibly..."

"I insist. Really!"

Well, another thing I have learned is that when people offer you something of their best or finest, it is poor form to reject it, even if it is not something you personally may ever have on your picnic table. Besides which, none of them were bloody, and they were all frozen pretty solid in the frigid air. So I chose the smallest of the three, not just because I didn't want to seem greedy, but because those antlers really would make the best knife handles. The 8 and 10 pointers were awesome, but not as knife-able. I grabbed a plastic bag to put the meaty neck side in, and set it in the back on top of my gear.

and I shall call him George...

Thanking them profusely and promising to stay in touch, I departed for the long drive home. As I drove, the bag slowly slid off of the deer head in the way back, and at one point I looked in the rear view mirror to see the giant buck staring blankly at me. Every time I rounded a corner, the head would topple to one side or the other, coming to rest staring at me with a cocked head. It was going to be a long, long drive home.

Crossing the Missouri River/Lake Oahe... Mni Wiconi, my friends. Water is LIFE.

My plan was to get home that night, but by the time I reached Pierre, I was far too tired to continue. It had been a physically and emotionally very long day, and yet another surreal day that I couldn't quite process. Conflicting emotions everywhere. The good and bad of the deployment. The good and bad at the camp. The good and bad at AJAMC. The good and bad of the DAPL easement denial. The good and bad of Francois. God, I just wanted to focus on the good of it all, but the questionable things just kept nagging at me. By 7:30, I had found a room at a Super 8 for cheap and went to bed without supper, meds, shower or anything. Just collapsed, shut my brain off and slept.

More Later