Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Heading to South Dakota

I left on a Friday evening, even though check in at Re-Member was scheduled for somewhere between 2 and 5 pm Mountain Time on Saturday.  Since I am part of a group from my church going in June, I wanted to see what the drive would be like for us then.  But mostly I wanted to be home for the Boyo when he came back from school so we could say our goodbye's for the week.  Anyway, it was a short three hour drive across Minnesota on I-90 to Sioux Falls. That's where we'll be stopping in June, but I was feeling pretty good and as the sun set I decided to continue on to Mitchell, SD and find lodging there for the night.

On the way I was listening to a Classic Queen CD that I had purchased shortly after Boot Camp.  In infantry school I had a cassette tape of that album, the only cassette I had, so it was listened to during long marches and such, and as I listened to the CD it really took me back to those memories.  It was twenty years ago next month that I graduated from USMC Boot Camp.

Somewhere along the road I passed a sign, big blue letters on a white background. ENJOY LIFE! it said. Nothing else on it. A good motto to adopt for this week. And maybe beyond.

I did not sleep well that night for the anxiety I was having about the upcoming week.  What was I heading in to?  I knew there would be other groups there, and I was flying in solo.  I knew from past camp experiences that groups were usually pretty tight knit, and so I geared myself for a week of self reflection, learning about the Lakota, and getting sweaty with the construction of things.

Saturday morning I checked out early, as I was awake anyway.  Since I had some extra time, I decided to swing by the World Famous Corn Palace! That always needs to have an exclamation point after it, because it is just that awesome.

I got there as the sun was rising, painting the World Famous Corn Palace! in early morning pastel hues, bathing the palace (!) in all of its glory...

I was going to go in for awhile and poke around, but there was a show choir invitational just getting underway, and an $8 admission was not something I felt like splurging on given the glittery and sequined crowds that were gathering.  So I walked to the end of the block and crossed the street to the local Casey's for a soda and a map of South Dakota. It was while waiting to cross back that I noticed that every streetlight base has this...

Just in case you forgot what the palace (!) was all about.  I was laughing out loud as I walked down the street, noticing the glances of wary confusion cast my way.

I checked the map and saw that around Rosebud somewhere was the Sioux Indian Museum. I made that my goal for later in the day. 

South Dakota, at least the Eastern side, is pretty flat. Long straight roads of flat.  It was an excellent day for a cruise across the endless expanse of prairie.

After what seemed a short time I crossed onto the Rosebud Reservation. I passed through Okreek and the first thing I saw was a White Shoba standing beside the road, wagging her tail and smiling a greeting to me.  I almost stopped to adopt her on the spot.  But the very next thing I saw was a dead puppy along the road. Great joy and great sadness, all at once. A fitting metaphor for life on the Rez.

As I drove into Antelope/Mission I noticed a great many of these signs on both sides of the road...

Alcohol related death. Drinking and driving. Made me sad, and brought back some memories of accident scenes I've been on as a medic.

Anyway. I headed for the museum and passed through the town of Rosebud. I saw much evidence of poverty, run down houses and such. But I also saw a lot of nice places, well kept. I have studied the Lakota history for many years, and know of the broken treaties and broken promises from the past. What I did not know was what life was like today, and how it tied into the past.  In my journal I wrote that I was "here to break apart or confirm the stereotypes, and I am leaving myself wide open to whatever happens."

I got to the museum, only to find it was closed on Saturday.  Though I did get a picture of this statue...

with the idea of getting home and figuring out who she was and what she had done to earn the title of "Glory of the Indian Race".  So I continued my journey. As I drove between Rosebud and Pine Ridge, I saw two Golden Eagles.  I've never seen them in the wild before, only in raptor centers and such.  Now I saw one dining on a road killed deer, who was not happy when I turned back to try to get her picture. And another high in a tree, looking majestic and regal.  It was a real treat for a raptor lover like me!

I had lunch at Subway in Martin, fully aware that I was going to get to Re-Member very early, especially since I lost an hour crossing into Mountain Time.  So I ate leisurely, called my folks, and eavesdropped on the locals having conversations.  It being St. Patrick's Day, most of the talk centered on wearing green and what everybody was doing that night to celebrate.  After awhile the novelty of the conversations wore off and I decided to spend some time exploring the town. 

That took up about ten minutes, and I drove pretty slow. So I headed to Batesland, a little village on the border of the Rez, and parked at the post office to clean up the car, repack my gear and get ready for the final push to Re-Member.

After all was ready, I still had fifteen minutes to spare, so I sat in the car with the engine off and the doors open and was still.  There was a pow wow circle across the street...

and the wind was not moving much at all.  The silence was deafening. I soaked it in, and it seemed to me that my soul had been missing silence forever.  I got out and stood there and just listened.  It was amazing.  I watched and heard a breeze move the grasses across the road. Straight into the pow wow circle and beyond.  Amazing.

My watch told me I could leave for Re-Member any time and not get there too early.  So with a farewell to the silence, I got back in my car and drove onto the Pine Ridge Reservation.  The miles went by quickly, and the anticipation built in my gut as I approached mile marker 112, the turnoff for the camp.

Then I was there. Turning onto the dirt road leading up to the camp.  Tan building, Red building, trailer, tipi, some vans and an old Bluebird bus. And a little farther down the road, what looked like an old military barracks like I slept in at Ft. McCoy, and a little startlingly, a cemetery.  I pulled into the first driveway and saw people working.  I had arrived.

More Later

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