Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Honorable Mention

Well, I didn't win. Not that I was expecting to.  We went to the fair today to check out how I did with the pictures and see some fair type stuff. Our first stop was the 4H building that housed the photography exhibition.

My flower picture sat unadorned on the wall in a sea of other remarkable flower pictures. But my picture of the Dot-tailed Whiteface garnered an Honorable mention! (essentially fourth place)

It was on a wall with about thirty other really good nature shots, so I am pretty happy! 

Interestingly, a picture of a female Common Whitetail took second place. 

I'm already looking forward to entering more pictures next year, and best of all, the Boyo is thinking of entering some things as well!

Ah, the fair.  Summer fun and memories made!

More Later

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fair-ly Fun Day

A few years after we moved here, we attended the County Fair with our very young Boyo.  In those days, which seem so long ago but in reality were only about five years ago, I was making pepper jelly and pesto from my garden, taking pictures with my new Nikon D60, and all sorts of fun stuff like that.

Growing up I went to fairs with my folks.  State fair mostly, and we looked at cattle and sheep and chickens.  All sorts of things that us city type kids couldn't just walk outside into the front yard and see.  There were also buildings with other neat stuff in them, but since we were a Hereford family, fair time was focused on animals.  It didn't hurt that I've always been a critter fan, and that for a couple years my Opa was still showing cattle.  One of my fondest memories was cuddling up next to a large orange bovine and listening to it chew cud and breathe as I leaned against her.

Anyway, when we first visited our county fair, I mentioned to the wife that it might be fun to do something that could be entered.  A jelly or something. And every year since, as we walk through the buildings and see all of the neat things that people in our communities do, and see all of the animals, too, I keep thinking that one day I'll actually enter something in the fair.

Well, this year was the year to fish or cut bait, so to speak.  So I entered a couple of pictures in the running.

The first was one of the first pictures I took with my Nikon after I first got it.  A thunderstorm had cruised through, and I was outside in the morning sunlight and saw some rain leftover on one of the day lilies planted all around our house.  I was playing with the camera and getting the feel of it when I snapped this shot...

It instantly became one of my favorites, and although admittedly it is not a 'guy's' kind of picture, I thought the sunlight on the rain was quite beautiful. So that one is in the running in the "flowers" category.

For the second picture I wanted to enter one of my dragonfly shots.  The trouble was that I have taken a LOT of pictures of dragonflies, and I could only enter one in this category.  So I spent a few days gathering together all of my personal favorites, then eliminating any that had focus problems or other blaring issues. I showed the remainder to the Wife, who pointed out that only a few of them looked like dragonflies as the general public thinks of them. To wit, obelisking or mating wheels may seem perfectly normal to us odonate enthusiasts,  but some people might wonder just what the heck was wrong with them.  So we narrowed it down to a few more traditional dragonfly shots.  The one I chose ended up being this one...

Which I like because A) It's a decent shot, and B) It was the first dragonfly that the Boyo and I could remember the name of without even trying. So it's hanging in the exhibit too. 

I went to a hobby shop and got pre cut matting for the pictures and spent an hour or so putting everything together.  It was really fun.  I have not printed out any of my pictures before, and I gotta brag a little, they look pretty cool in full 8x10 mode!

When I went to drop of the pictures, I was helped by a very friendly woman who seemed to be in charge.  Not having done this before, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do.  But it wasn't rocket science.  I had to affix a tag to my pictures and hang them in the proper category areas.

Unfortunately for one of the other exhibitors, it was a little too much like rocket science.  She was in a tizzy taping hangers to her photo mounts, taping photos to mounts, in short, doing all of the things I though were supposed to be done before I submitted the pictures.  She was also regaling anyone who would listen about how she had just completed a photography class at the local community college, which by her tone and general arrogance I inferred must be a Pretty Big Deal.  Her photos were in focus at least, although I couldn't identify what they were photo's of for the most part.  Very Artsy.

I made the unforgivable error of reaching for the scotch tape that was on the table to put my little tags on my pictures though. She and her assistant (son? boyfriend? I couldn't tell) gave me a haughty look and he grabbed the dispenser and handed me little pieces of tape. I was too amused to be angered by this. They took themselves So Seriously.  It reminded me of all of the "poets" that were in my poetry class back in college. So much drama and self importance. 

I had the Boyo with me, and he mentioned that he hoped that I won.  I told him that win or lose, it was fun just putting it all together and entering it.  He smiled at me and I reminded him that there were a whole lot of things in the world that needed to be taken seriously. But entering something in a fair was not one of them. He nodded and I knew he understood.  I do love that kid.

Judging will be done tomorrow morning.  We are going as a family on Tuesday to see the stuff at the fair.  If we get to the building with the pictures in it, we'll see how I did.  If not, no biggie.  I just want to see the Herefords!

Here are the runner up dragonfly photos. 

I did print out the Halloween Skimmer (the orange one) so I could have a practice picture to mount, and it looks pretty cool.

What do you think? Did I choose the right one? 

More Later

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summertime Odes

I know I have not written a ton about my last trip to the Rez.  I am still processing.  Still learning.  So until I find the words for it all, here is another installment of Dragonflies and Damselflies of SE Minnesota!

We start way back on the second of this month.  The temperatures were over 100 degrees for a week. On the 2nd, my home thermometer, which is in the shade of the shop, was reading 109 when I headed out.  The kiddos stayed home with the Wife, and I was planning a very brief swoop around the lake with a camera, a net, and a bottle of water.

I wasn't sure what would be out in this heat, but I ended up finding this guy right off the bat...

He's a Blue Dasher, about an inch and a half long.  The behavior he is doing is known as obelisking.  Raising the abdomen (the tail end) up to point at the sun reduces surface area exposed and helps lower the temperature. I gave some thought to catching him, but he looked so comfortable that it seemed mean to make him fly around.  So I headed out to see what else I could find. 

I saw the usual crowd of Common Whitetails, Twelve-spotted Skimmers, a few Common Green Darners, some Black Saddlebags, even a Dot-tailed Whiteface or two.  Not many of them left around.  I was zooming in on an Eastern Pondhawk when it flew off away from the lake.  I followed it with my lens, but couldn't get a shot.  But there in the weeds was this guy...

A Halloween Pennant with the deepest orange/amber wings I've seen on one!  Of course, the only other one I saw was last year at the rocket field, so I didn't have much to compare it to.  But he was stunning!  Also keeping cool with the obelisk behavior.  He sat very still while I got pictures.

He flew off after a few dozen shots, and I continued the hike.  I was sweating profusely by half way around the lake, my water was gone, and ignored the damselflies entirely to save time.  As I walked I noticed an Eastern Pondhawk making short jumps in front of me, just casually staying out of my way. 

On impulse I lazily swung my net at him, expecting him to zoom away.  But no, he merely gave a half-hearted flight, and right into the net to boot.  Almost like he wanted to get caught and photographed.  So I obliged him.

He ended up leaving my finger after a few shots, preferring the shade of the trees.  A bit further on I found one of his brethren sunning on a rock.

As I walked along the lake shore, I spotted this dragonfly...

A three winged Widow Skimmer.  I got a few shots then got up close to see if he could fly.  Turns out the loss of a wing doesn't slow them down a bit, at least not by human standards.He zipped away quick as you please.

I headed over to the little island, as there were many more Halloween Pennants over there flitting about in the furnace like heat.  After a short hunt, I caught one unawares so I could see his colors up close.

Magnificent.  It never ceases to amaze me how many colors and varieties of odes there are.  Even the ones labeled "common" are anything but when seen up close. 

It was a 30 minute walk around the lake, and I think I must have lost five pounds in sweat.  It was so hot in fact, that the usually aggressive Common Whitetails and Eastern Pondhawks were sharing perches.  Too dang hot to fight over airspace!
I submitted the Blue Dasher to Odonata Central and it was confirmed as a County Record not much later! Last year we got 7 county records in the short time we were looking.  The Blue Dasher took this year's count to 8 county records just for me!  That's 15 total for me. Add in the Boyo's two that he's found this year and we are up to 17 total, and 10 for this season!

Our next adventure took us up to Foster Arends park for a look around.  This was a week later, and fortunately the temperatures had dropped into the high 80's, unusually comfortable after the week of 100's.  There wasn't much there, Some Eastern Forktail damselflies, a few Widow Skimmers and a Twelve-spotted Skimmer.  It was still too warm to putter around there, and since I had the kiddos with me I wanted them to make some sightings.  So we headed back to our vehicle to try our luck at the Park in Mantorville.  As we walked to the parking lot, we saw a flash of yellow.

The pictures are a bit blurry, but when you consider the original photos that they came from...

Not too bad.  I could tell it was a Wandering Glider, and was very excited, as I have not seen one before. It glided low over the field many times, hunting.  We all chased after it, but it easily evaded our nets, and continued it's hunting.  After ten minutes and over 70 pictures (These are the best two) we loaded up and headed to Mantorville.

Not only does Mantorville have an excellent place to Ode hunt in a public park next to a gentle river, but they have the delightful distinction of being in a very under surveyed county next to our home county.  So Just about anything we got pictures of would be county records.  Like this Common Whitetail...

I snapped a picture and boom, county record.  The Boyo is very excited about garnering a few more county records, and I explained to him that my method is to try and get pictures first, make sure I get good ones, and then catch them if I can for better close ups.  I explained that lots of the dragonflies can be pretty easily confirmed by just getting good pictures of them from a distance, like a Twelve-spotted Skimmer for example, with it's unmistakable markings.  So when we spotted said Twelve-spotted Skimmer, I pointed it out to him hoping that he would follow in my footsteps. But it was not meant to be.  He dropped his camera, and with a blood curdling yell chased after the Skimmer.  Another was nearby, so I got the shot...

With a sigh the Sweet Pea and I headed over closer to the river. She busied herself with planting rocks, which she deemed to be more important than the dragonfly hunt.  The Boyo was chasing anything that moved with the hopes of netting something.  So I just walked slowly and kept my eyes open.  I spotted some Bluets along the shore, and knowing that there was just one other damselfly recorded for this particular county I figured I should get some shots and see if I could catch some.

This one seemed friendly enough, so after a few shots from a distance, I dropped the net over him and gave him to Sweet Pea to hold while I got some shots.

As she held him, he started biting her finger.  Nibbling really, as their size sort of precludes any danger to humans. She giggled and said, "Daddy, it feels like a tickle bite!"

Fear of holding dragonflies... averted! I figured I had enough for an ID, so she let him go saying, "Thank you Mr. Bluet!"  She is very gentle with them, and both of the kiddos are becoming pro ode holders, very handy for me to take pictures! This damselfly I was able to later ID as a Familiar Bluet, and it became county record number three for the day.

Next I spotted some Bluets with different markings, but they were sticking to some vegetation about six feet out into the water.  I was not about to wade, so took a plethora of pictures of them, hoping for some ID-able shots.

Turns out the pictures were good enough for even a neophyte ode hunter like me to be able to ID them as Stream Bluets!  County Record number four for the day!

 All of a sudden the Boyo yelled, "DAD!!! LOOK OVER THERE!!!"
I looked to where he was pointing and saw it flying as he called it out.
"Another one of those Yellow Guys!"
Sure enough, a Wandering Glider was cruising around the river flats, looking for food or a good time.  It only stayed briefly though, and the two shots I took at it were horribly blurry, as I had just been shooting the Stream Bluets.  We're headed back soon, though. If I can get a submittable shot, the county record will go to the Boyo.

We walked up and down the riverbank again, but were not seeing anything new.  It was lunchtime and I was hungry, so we headed back downstream for the car.  As Sweet Pea stopped to pick a flower, I saw the biggest hornet fly by in my peripheral vision.  I turned to look, as if it were indeed a hornet, it was one to give me nightmares.  But it turned out to be a damselfly that I had never seen in the buggy flesh before!  An Ebony Jewelwing!

These are easily identifiable by the all black wing, and iridescent green/blue body.  I was transfixed by just how pretty it was for a few moments before it dawned on me that I should probably get a picture of it.

I took three shots before I netted it.  It was HUGE for a damselfly, easily as big as a dragonfly.  The kiddos were both anxious to hold him, and as we passed him around for study and pictures, all three of us oooh'ed and ahhh'ed as the colors shifted in the sunlight. 

There are lots of beautiful odes out there, and this one is another example of one that pictures just don't do justice to.  It was stunning.  Sweet Pea decided to let him smell her flower...

And then we let him go to do his thing. County Record number 5 and a great finish to our dragonfly hunt on July 9th.  That hunt brought my personal county record tally to 20. Not bad for an occasional ode hunter!

We are heading out tomorrow to do a little more hunting.  Maybe in some new places, maybe back over in Mantorville or Kasson.  We'll see how the morning goes.

More Later

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My First Sweat - or, holding the toad leads to no good

Sunday night was a change of pace for me, in almost every way. I was ecstatic about the invitation to a sweat lodge.  I have been interested in doing one for about thirty years.  Reading about them is definitely different than participating in one.  I can tell you that.

It started out with a hasty gathering of my things at camp, namely my running shorts, another t-shirt, and my towel.  I let Dad know where I was going, and climbed into the van with 8 or 9 other people.  Some I knew, David and Bryan, my good friends Erika and Allie.  But the others were new faces I had met in the last 24 hours or so.  Bill and Nicole, and the rest who's names I could not remember.  I am so bad with names.  It turns out I would grow to really like them all over the course of the week.

As we drove out to the Swalley residence, the sun was heading down.  I felt bad that they had all been waiting for me to return from the hospital run, but very thankful as well.  I didn't know when I would have this sort of opportunity again.  We turned off the main road onto a dirt road, passed a few farms, then the dirt road became a field road, and we passed many a cow and calf.  The latter of which seemed to enjoy running directly in front of the van.  Panicked calves are pretty goofy.  We all had a good laugh at the calves seeing us coming, then seemingly intentionally running down the road in front of us, eager to escape.  We also saw one of the fattest cows I have ever seen.  She was as wide as she was tall, and would have rolled in a cow tipping event.

Eventually we came up a rise and the Swalley trailer came into view.  It was set in a field, with trees and open skies.  It could not have been a prettier place to live.  Allie's brother Almadon was out front shooting his bow and arrows, and as we disembarked from the van, he graciously let me use his room to change in. 

In ones and twos we made our way to the sweat lodge. The women wore full length mumu type dresses, the men got to wear just shorts.  I was introduced around, to Larry's sister and her husband Dallas, and to Larry again.  The sun was just setting behind the trees giving view to an amazing sunset.  The fire pit was in line with the door to the lodge, all pointed West.  There was a buffalo skull alter just outside the door. 

I was wondering how it started, when the women started entering the lodge.  It was explained to me that the women entered first, moving in a clockwise, or sunwise, manner around the inside, followed by the men. Larry told me to take my glasses off and set them by the alter.  It was going to get hot enough in there that the metal frames would burn my skin.  I set them down and followed Bryan in, crawling around until I was sitting near the back of the lodge.  When we were all inside, there were 7 or 8 women and 6 men.  It was already warm as Larry entered, taking his place by the door.  He greeted everyone and welcomed us.  He welcomed me and told me to ask questions if I didn't understand something.  Then he told me that since I had never done a sweat before, it was traditional for me to sing a few verses of a song to open the lodge.  Now, I had at least read about the sweat lodge ceremony, and I had never heard of this, but being open to the new experience, I started pondering what to sing.

There were a few chuckles and giggles around the circle as I thought, and I realized this may be a joke on the new guy sort of thing.  So I said, "Hearing the giggles around here, I am suspect that I might be having my leg pulled, so I will sing "White Christmas" as performed by Don Ho."  Or something to that effect.  There was laughter around the circle, and already I felt welcomed.

Larry explained what was going to be happening.  The stones would be brought in, as red hot as they could get.  He explained that getting them red hot brought them back to life, as all rock started out as molten lava.  Then the water would be poured on them, and the steam would be the voices of the rocks.  He explained the four segments of the ceremony, with the first part being the opening prayer and calling in of the spirits.  The second part would be individual prayers. The third part would be the passing of the pipe. And the fourth part would be the sending of the spirits, to carry our prayers back to Wakan Tanka.

As the rocks were brought in glowing, he told us that they could not touch the ground until they were in the pit.  From there, he moved them around with a deer antler.  As each rock arrived, he greeted it, sprinkled a little tobacco on it, and his daughter Allie touched it with the pipe.  I lost count of how many rocks were brought in, but there were quite a few. 

I remember during my teen years, a friend in our group had a pool in his basement, along with a steam room.  I spent most of my time in the pool, and very little in the steam room.  This was my only experience with steam type scenarios.  So I was more than a little apprehensive at what was to come, and wondered if I would - A) be able to take it, and/or- B) disrupt the ceremony if and when I passed out from the heat.

The door was closed and the lodge was in complete darkness.  The rocks glowed dull orange.  Larry started drumming and singing.  Others joined in.  Water was poured onto the rocks and I was soon covered in steam and sweat.

The drumming and singing were very powerful.  It is hard to describe.  I could not understand more than a few words, but I could tell from the tone and the rhythm that it was a beseechment.  The heat was overwhelming.  But I sat and breathed as shallow as I could, not wanting to suck too much hot air into my lungs.  I was moved by the song he sang.  After a verse or two, I was able to hum along.

And I prayed.  I prayed for understanding.  For guidance.  For the people around me who had invited me and welcomed me.  It was very moving and powerful stuff.

Soon the door was opened, much to my relief, and cool-ish air came in.  Larry asked how I was doing. 

"All right so far." I said.

"What?" He asked. "Did you say 'Is that all you've got?'"

I was VERY quick to say NO!  The first steam made me feel like my bones were melting.  Yet most of the others seemed unperturbed.  I was amazed that Larry could sing like he did in that heat.

The ladle was passed around for drinking. I learned that after finishing the drink, to say "Mitakuye Oyasin" or "We are all related" "All my relations" to indicate I was finished.  By acknowledging this, we send prayers out to everything in the universe, because the Lakota believe that we ARE all related.  Everything is connected.  A belief I have held for years.

There was laughter and chatting as this happened, and I wondered how my church would do if we laughed and joked between sections of the service.  I would definitely get stern looks from people for that. 

The second section was about to begin.  Now, let me explain a little here.

I had eaten lunch around noon.  I missed supper because we were driving home, and I had not had nearly enough water that day for the activities I had been involved in.  I was later told that one should not go into a sweat lodge thirsty.  So, by the time of the sweat I was hungry, thirsty and nervous.  Nervous because I didn't want to do something I shouldn't or not do something I should.  Because I was entering a ceremony I had been waiting for for thirty years, and I was with a majority of people that I did not know.  So my stomach was a bit... iffy.  I could feel it grumbling throughout the first section, and by the start of the second section I realized that... how can I say this politely...

I really needed to pass some gas.  That's all there is to it. I didn't want to disrupt the ceremony by leaving just to toot, and I certainly didn't want to let 'er rip inside a confined space.  So when the door closed again to begin, I was absolutely mortified at what my body was wanting to do.

The drumming and singing started again.  As did the steam.  I tried to concentrate on the song, the lyrics were beautifully sung, and it nearly brought me to tears.  But soon, my gut was telling me to (as my dearly departed aunt Bobbi would say) poop or get off the pot. (She used saltier language for the poop part, but I digress.)

I was incredibly uncomfortable, and as I shifted around trying desperately not to explode, I took a nice deep breath to try and hold everything in.  Unfortunately, this coincided with a ladle of water being poured over the rocks, sending forth a scorching blast of steam.  I felt it all the way down to the base of my lungs.  Great.  Now I couldn't breathe.

The individual prayers had begun, starting with Larry's sister.  I had been warned by Jen that when the Lakota pray, they pray for everyone in their families.  Everyone.  Cousins.  Second cousins.  Friends of the third cousins twice removed.  I wasn't worried when Jen told me this, because I've been in some prayer circles with others that went on and on and on.  I had no problem with anyone feeling led to pray for as long as they wanted.  Or so I thought.

I tried to focus on her prayers.  Pray along with her.  But my body was a series of cascading failures and I was in a bad way.

This was not the magical, mystical, spiritually moving event that I had always dreamed about.  This was rapidly becoming a Very Bad Dream.  My stomach was cramped and threatening to come out through my navel, my rear end was clamped shut so hard I could have made a diamond from a lump of coal, I couldn't get a breath, and I couldn't move around.  Bryan asked if I was OK.

"Um. I can't breathe." I said.  One of my pet peeves as a medic was when people told me this.  I heard that little voice in my head again.  If you can talk, you can breathe, dumb ass.

He suggested that I get lower to the ground where the air was cooler, but I really had no way to do that without bowling him over, or crawling onto Bill, who sat next to me.

"Mitakuye Oyasin" Bryan said.  It was then I learned that saying this opened the door.  A nice code word for "I've had enough, let some air in." Bryan said it for me.

"Eeeverybody, ooopen the doooor!" Larry called out. The door was opened and I was encouraged to go out and catch my breath.

My worst fears had been realized.  My first sweat lodge, and I was booted out in the beginning.  I crawled out feeling ashamed and embarrassed.  I sat on a nearby bench and tried to listen as the prayers continued, feeling like a failure.

I'm a little embarrassed to report that the cool air giving me the ability to breathe, and the distance from any innocent bystanders encouraged my gluteus maximus muscles to relax enough that in biblical terms, a great wind spewed forth.  Thankfully there was also a natural breeze flowing away from all habitation.  But it was a record setting release.

Anyway, as I sat there feeling at once a great physical relief, but a terrible emotional burden, Bryan came out of the lodge as well.  He took some deep breaths and sat next to me for a moment.

"Don't worry about it." He said.

But I did.  Now what?  Was I relegated to sitting on the bench for the rest of the ceremony?  Should I go get dressed and go in the house?  Should I tend the fire?  I had no idea what came next.

Bryan was asked to fetch more stones for the pit, which he did skillfully.  When he was done he came back over and told me that if I wanted to go back in, to just sit by the door and ask Larry to rejoin.  No big deal. Then Bryan went back in. Easy Peasy.

This made me feel a little better, but still I was cursing my general anxiety and worry and no eating or drinking before that had led to this situation.

I released a little more wind to the breeze and went to sit next to the tent, waiting for a chance to ask Larry to rejoin.

"You want to come back in?" He asked.

"Uh.  Yes.  Please.  Yes please."  I felt like such an idiot.

"OK." he said, and motioned for me to go back to my place.

I crawled back into my spot, and noted that only three people had prayed in my absence.  I was thankful that the door was left open for the prayers, as I needed the extra time with the moderately cool air that was coming in.  Everyone prayed, and it was as powerful, as moving, and as holy as any other prayer circle I had been a part of.  When my turn came, I babbled something or other, a little shocked that all of my experience in prayer circles would fail me at this moment.  I offered a heartfelt prayer of thanks for the Swalley family, not just for letting me come tonight, but for inviting me into their lives the last time I was in Pine Ridge.  They are a very special group of people to me. I also prayed for healing for the two that had broken bones in the Badlands earlier in the day.

The prayers ended with Bryan, and more chatting and joking ensued.  Larry asked if I was OK to continue.  I told him I'd do my best.  Nobody said anything directly, but I wondered in my heart if they were disappointed that I had left. 

Soon it was time for the third round.  The door was closed and the steam began again.  It was intense, but this time I followed the lead of Dallas, who was on his knees, head on his hands on the ground.  The air was marginally cooler in this position, and I could breathe well enough.  But every ladle of water added to the rocks sent a wave of steam over me that felt like it was cooking the skin right off of my back.  Pretty soon I was back to a sitting position, as my knees were hurting a bit. 

I found that the area directly behind my back, right against the canvas wall of the lodge, was pretty cool air, so between ladles I tucked my towel behind me to 'soak up' the cool air.  Then when a ladle was added, I breathed through my cool air towel.  It usually lasted long enough for the really intense steam to pass.

Someone else called out Mitakuye Oyasin, and I sent up a silent thank you to the Great Spirit for the relief.  The pipe was lit and passed as the cool night air danced around us.  There was still enough heat from the rocks to keep me sweating profusely, in case you were thinking it was all snow cones and wintry in there.

As the pipe made it's way around, I grew more and more nervous.  I have never smoked anything in my 40 years on the planet.  I've been in the path of campfire smoke quite a few times, but have never intentionally breathed in smoke from anything.  So I worried about coughing, gagging, puking, passing out.  All that stuff.

Larry explained that what we were smoking was the dried bark of the cherry tree.  Each year the bark splits apart in the spring as new growth occurs.  This new bark must be collected between the popping time and the first thunderstorm to be considered holy for the pipe.  I noted that it did smell more like campfire than cigarettes, much to my relief, and I hoped I'd be OK when it came to me.

I watched the others intently, trying to discern the method of lighting, inhaling, the timing of it all.  When it reached me, I tried not to goof it up.  At first I sucked a little, but nothing was burning.  I took the lighter and tried that.

Did you know that inhaling with the lungs will suck the smoke right down into your lungs when the fire is lit?  Yeah. Something else I learned that night.  I coughed a little and passed the pipe along.

I said a silent prayer for endurance.  That I could hang in there until the end of the ceremony.  For everything that I was going through as a newbie, and for all of the trouble I made, it really was a powerful and holy ceremony, and a joy and an honor to be a part of.

Water was passed again, and again the fellowship continued.  I remember thinking that this was the most irreverently reverent ceremony I had ever been a part of.  Everything was sacred, from the songs and prayers, to the joking and laughter.  It all seemed appropriate and holy.  I wondered if I were to do another, if I could relax enough to just be during the ceremony.

The door closed, and the fourth round began.  More drumming and singing, and I felt so moved by the beat and the words.  As if I have known them all along, even though they were foreign to me.  They touched me at a very basic level, part of my DNA.  It was very powerful.

And it was very hot.  Larry didn't spare the water, and the steam heat was more intense than any other round had been.  How could he keep singing through all of this? It was amazing.  I was balled up on the ground, face close to the canvas wall behind me, seeking breathable air. The prayers I was sending with the spirits were of thanksgiving for taking part in this, asking forgiveness for anything I had done or not done out of ignorance, and a very simple prayer to help me keep breathing.  At once I prayed for it to end, and for it to never stop.  It really was a strange and wonderful feeling.

Too soon, but not soon enough it did end. Larry called for the door to be opened and everyone crawled out, sunwise of course, into the cool night air.

I tried to stand, but was very shaky and weak in the knees.  My head was spinning, not uncomfortably, but in a strange indescribable manner.  I had lost probably four or five pounds in sweat alone, and have seldom felt more hungry or thirsty!  But I also felt like I had been washed clean.

I had a poster once with a bible verse on it about being washed clean and being a new creation.  The picture was a man, the bottom half bronze, the top crystal, and the bronze was being peeled away from the crystal beneath as if shedding a skin.  I always liked the image because I have always desired a relationship with my Creator where I am washed clean of the scrudge that builds up from living on this planet.  Be it sin, or seeing death and suffering, or becoming attuned to the injustice in the world.  I love the image of being cleansed of that stuff somehow.

And here I was, crawling from the lodge, standing on wobbly legs and feeling like the man in that sculpture.  Purified.  Or at least a great deal of crap washed off of me.  It was invigorating and humbling all at once.  I was smiling and had a happy heart.  Still not quite fully understanding of the sweat lodge ceremony, and still desiring to do it a few hundred more times. 

There was some conversation at the lodge, things that are private and that I will hold in my heart and mind.  Larry and I had a good talk.  That guy is amazing. I'd like to go out there and spend a few weeks just asking him questions.

After I was able to walk again, I changed back into dry clothes and joined the others around the kitchen table for a meal.  This is traditional for a sweat lodge, too.  There was abundant, very tasty soup and water and juices.  We all ate and drank together, Yolanda had made some sort of flat bread that was awesome, and we broke bread together as well.  There was more talking and joking and such.  It was really, really neat.

But it was late, thanks to me and the broken people from the day, and soon we headed back to Re-Member.  I spent the drive back trying to process what had just happened. There were too many emotions and thoughts to contend with in my exhausted mind.  It had been one heck of a day.

After saying goodnight to everyone, I headed for bed.  I don't even remember my head hitting the pillow.

In talking about it the next day with Allie, I expressed my concerns about leaving the ceremony and told her about the physical things that were going on.

"Ahhh, you should have just let it rip." She said. "It would have been funny.  My dad calls them sacred toads."

I laughed at this, and reminded her that my upbringing and fear of embarrassment had led me to clamping my butt shut.

She laughed at me again, and said my Indian name should be "One Who Holds the Toad." And we both got a big laugh out of that!

Now, there is a passage that describes me well in the book "Neither Man, Nor Wolf" by Kent Nerburn.  He talks about being a white guy who doesn't want to cross the line into becoming a 'Wanna Be', or those that adopt Native customs and items for the sole purpose of acting Indian.  He admires the culture so much that he really wants to be a part of it, but - as he puts it - stands back from the table, nervous to join in for fear of getting the label of 'Wanna Be', but desiring nothing more than to jump in and be a part of it.

I am the same way.  I can't ever be Lakota, but boy do I admire the traditional culture.  It lines up so closely with the way I believe...

Anyway, after Allie called me "One Who Holds the Toad" I feared, somewhat seriously, but somewhat jokingly, that that would actually be my Lakota name.  I'd be brought into the Wanabe tribe (it's pronounced Wah-NAH-bee) and given a name indicating that I hold my farts in. 


Years of dreaming about having a Lakota name, and this is what I'll end up as. 


Well, I've rambled enough about my first experience in a sweat lodge.  It really was amazing, and I hope to go back and do others someday.  Not just for the experience, but for how I felt for days after. New born. Re-born? Wonderful, whatever it is.

For now, though, this is long enough.  It's late, and I won't remember my head hitting the pillow tonight.  I may write more about this in the future.  I may not.  But I will hold it in my heart forever.  It changed me for the better.

More Later

Monday, July 2, 2012

Strange Sunday

So I headed back to the Rez with a group of 8 from Bethel. Well, 6 from Bethel, Dad and me.  That makes 8.  I was a little anxious on the drive out, excited to see the friends I had made out there again, nervous about the group I was with - hoping they would have a great experience.

When we arrived on Saturday, I was a little overwhelmed.  The staff changes periodically through the summer, and I knew that.  But everyone I knew was away from camp.  A whole new staff was there to greet us.  It was OK though, as they were all great.  Eventually I did get to reconnect with my "old" friends, and it was great. We settled in on Saturday and I slept well, knowing that Sunday would be quite an adventure.

After the Sunday morning sunrise (pictured above), the decision was made to go to the Badlands first instead of Wounded Knee, since the heat was supposed to be rather extreme. We stopped first at the South Unit visitor center, which was open this time.  It was very cool, both in displays that they had, and the air conditioning as well.  Some people stayed behind for the cool air, but everyone on our bus ventured forth.

When we reached the Badlands, we set out across the trail, Dad and Erika and I bringing up the rear.  I carried along a camp chair for Dad to sit in, in case he got tired.  But we managed the hike out to the climbing point without difficulty.  As everyone climbed, Dad, Erika and I set out once more to get a lead on the group.  I'm rather glad he was there, because it was hot enough that I didn't want to move very fast.

Eventually the group passed us.  Dad decided to head back to the buses, as the heat and altitude were bugging him.  He started back with Erika and I went on a bit.  I found eviddence that this area was once used as a gunnery range...
(That's a machine gun belt link.)
and had a little quiet time. But I eventually decided I'd rather stick with Dad and Erika.  The heat and altitude were getting to me, too.  I got a shot of them as I was headed back to them...


Anyway, when I caught up to them they were at the climbing spot again, and I found this really neat rib bone from some mammal.  It turned out to be a great back scratcher, as demonstrated by Erika...

We walked on a little and when we stopped to rest again, Dad pointed out a small orange circle in the dirt.  We excavated a little and discovered that it was an intact fossil turtle shell!

We decided to see how much of it we could uncover before the group came back.  After only a couple of minutes, one of the staff members came back to find us.

"Uhh, we have a bit of a problem." She said. "Somebody fell and broke their leg."

Immediately I worried that it might be one from my group.  But it was not.  It was a guy from Lincoln, NE.  After talking it over with Dad and Erika, we decided I'd better go back and see if they needed any help from a former medic, and to take the chair in case it would make transporting him out easier.

Erika and Dad headed for the buses again, and I headed for the Sanctuary.  As I walked, people from the group came trickling out.

"You're going the wrong way!" I heard many times.

I saw one of the people from my group and told her to send back my backpack.  Before I left for the trip, I had noticed that I had a little extra room in the front pouch of my pack.  I packed a few bandages in it, some cloth triangle slings and some trauma shears.  As an afterthought I tossed in the SAM splint, a foam covered strip of aluminium that can be formed into a splint for broken bones.  I didn't think I'd eed it, as I'd been carrying it for ten years having never used it.  Like I said, an afterthought.  I had even considered leaving my pack back at the camp that day, but decided last minute to bring it along.

Then two more staff members came running by. I asked them what was happening.

"Some lady just broke her leg."

Lady? I thought it was a guy?

"It is." They said.  "It's both."

Oh crap. I thought to myself.  The medic in me awakened and I went into EMS mode.  Two broken legs. Severity unknown. In the Badlands, medical resources are distant.  This had the potential to suck.

As I came up over a rise I saw two staff members halping one of the women from my group along, one under each arm.  She appeared to be putting weight on it.  Good.  Maybe just twisted or a sprain.  Then I caught sight of a group of guys carrying a body like Christ coming off the cross.  His head was lolling back and I couldn't tell if he was conscious or not.

Well, that's not good. Thought I.

I reached them as they were setting him down to take a break.  His right ankle was wrapped in an ace bandage with a cold pack tucked in it.  But his foot was at an odd angle compared to his leg.

"Tib/fib" I thought.  I walked up to his head and introduced myself.  There was a woman kneeling with him.

"Hi, I'm John.  I'm a paramedic. Can I help you out?"

His response was a weak "OK". He looked pale and shockey.  Complained of nausea and wanting to pass out. 

"Yeah" I thought, "This is not good."

The Woman kneeling with him looked at me.
"Are you really a paramedic?" She asked.
"I actually am." I said.

Fortunately one of the staff members was driving the camp van up into the hills as far as he could get it.  I joined the group carrying him as the broken leg supporter.  Everybody else did the heavy lifting.  We manhandled him into the van and headed slowly for the road.  I was trying to keep his foot from flopping around, but it wasn't easy.  His toes were purple and I knew he was losing circulation in his foot.

As we bounced along a guy from my group came running up with my pack.  Here was the gear I needed.  The van driver hopped out and Jen, the program director, jumped in to take us to the hospital.

"How long is the drive?" I asked.

"Half hour or more." She said.

I looked at his leg again.  No circulation, no feeling in his foot, and he couldn't wiggle his toes.  So I made a quick choice to try and reduce the fracture there in the field.  I unwrapped the ace wrap and noted a nasty purple/black bruise where the bone was pressing against the skin.  Any more bouncing, I thought, and it would poke through.  I could see the broken tibia, but I couldn't tell if the fibula was broken.  It looked weird.  Usuallly they break near the same place, and you can really tell.  Not this time.  I wasn't going to sit and examine it too much though.

 David, one of the construction managers was helping me, so with a steady smooth pull, I pulled his foot away from his leg and set the bones in place as best as I could.  Mike, the guy who was now my patient, was not happy with this move, and grunted and yelled a bit in response.  But with David's help I managed to get the splint on and wrapped with the ace bandage. I propped his leg between a backpack and my jacket as best I could to stabilize it.  David hopped out and I had hoped to as well.  But they asked me to go along, so I did.

So, with Jen driving, Leslie - the woman from our group that fell moments after Mike and hurt her right leg as well - in the front seat, me straddling the middle seat with Mike's leg, and Mike and the woman that had been with him the whole time in the back seat, we headed for Pine Ridge, with the goal of getting him to the IHS hospital.

The other womans name was Kim.  She was the leader of the Lincoln group, and a reverend of the UCC church.  She was also a very comforting person to have along.

As we drove, I reassesed my patient.  His color looked better, and although he was a little nauseous he didn't look near as much like he was going to pass out.  His foot pinked up nicely as well, and he had good feeling throughout his foot.  He could also wiggle his toes now, which gave me some relief.

As we drove, Jen called her boss, Ted and told him what was going on.  He told us that at the IHS hospital they would just splint it, stabilize him and send him to Gordon, NE.  Since we had already splinted and stabilized, we decided to head right for Gordon.  The whole trip took a little less than an hour, and in that time Mike went from nearly passing out, pale, sweaty, nauseated, to alert, oriented, and even smiling a bit.

We got both of our broken ones into seperate rooms in the Emergency Department and let the staff take over.  While Jen, Kim and I waited, we went to find some lunch at a local eatery, the Antelope Cafe.  It was tastier than it sounds, and they even had fried green beans. Sort of like fried mushrooms or fried cheese sticks... again, tastier than it sounds.  Kim even bought us lunch.  It was very kind of her.

When we returned to the hospital, I was shocked to find that Leslie had actually broken her ankle bone!  She was none too pleased, and Jen very kindly told her that she now had many other options for a vacation like trip.  Reading, relaxing, that sort of thing.  I was also shocked to learn that Mike would be flown out to Lincoln for emergency surgery!  His tibia was indeed broken down low, but his fibula had broken mid way up his leg. It was a very flukey break indeed, and he was bummed not to be able to spend the week on the Rez.

We had to leave Mike just as the air crew was getting to him, as we had to drive 45 minutes to Chadron, NE to the Wal-Mart pharmacy to pick up meds for Leslie.  It was a crazy, crazy driving day indeed.

As we were at Wal Mart, Jen handed me her phone and said that Allie wanted to talk with me.

Allie is a friend I made the last time I was out.  She is a young Lakota woman and has a great family. 

Anyway, to make the day even more surreal, she invited me to go to a sweat with her and some of the staff that her dad was doing that night.  Of course I accepted, and spent the drive home nervously anticipating what it would be like, and trying to put the medic in me away for the day.

Jen gave me some helpful pointers for the sweat as we drove.  And as we approached the camp, I saw Allie, Erika, Bryan and a few others waiting for me.  I grabbed my running shorts and a towel and we headed off.  It was a very strange day, and I expected to go even farther out of my comfort zone in the evening.

More Later

Back to the Rez

I spent last week on the Rez again.  I went back to Re-Member with a small group from my church.  My father joined us as well, making eight people in all.

I am still processing that week.  So much happened, good and bad.  But mostly good.  I'll write about it here as the days go on.  Some events to look forward to reading about...

Strange Sunday - wherin not one, but two legs are broken, and my medic skills are taken from the trunk again.

Sweat Lodge Ceremony 1 and 2.


Re-Member events.

It was quite a week.  Quite. A. Week.

As soon as I get it clearer in my brain, I'll put some words down.

More Later