Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Raptor Success Story

Remember my post from April 29th about the Great Horned Owl I rescued that was caught in a soccer net? It turns out "he" is a "she".

Well, today the kiddos, the Wife and I got to witness her release back into the wild! 

A man named Hank brought her back from The Raptor Center, where she has spent the summer recovering from her soccer net adventure. They had called me to do it yesterday morning, but I was out on an Ode hunt with the family and missed the call.

That's OK though, because at least I got to see her fly free again, and was able to get some pictures!

Hank gets her out of the carrier.

She keeps a careful eye on him as he tosses her into the air.  The kiddos loved seeing this.


She took off immediately for the nearby forest.

She was also a VERY fast flier!

The owl and me back in April.

A beautiful creature returned to her home.
More Later

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Island Adventure

It's been six years since we last visited the Island. The Boyo was 2 when we were there, and though it was cold, he spent most of his time undressing and giggling.  Fast forward six years and we were back, with the 4 year old Sweet Pea and Holly Bedudah, neither of whom have ever set foot or paw on the Island. 

Ben is gone, and Rascal and Shoba of course, and that was a little bittersweet, but Holly proved to be a natural Island dog, and her love of chewing all things stick like landed her firmly in doggie heaven, as the Island is covered with sticks of all sizes and stages of rot or age.

Sweet Pea was a champ for her first time there, and the Boyo was awesome with his ability to help out.  They were especially helpful gathering sticks to assist the campfire continuing.  Of course, nearly every stick they picked up became suddenly Very Interesting to Holly, who was convinced that each little sliver of wood was meant for her to play with and chew.  At one point the Boyo tossed a big stick onto the fire and Holly promptly stuck her nose in and pulled it out.  Good news, it was not yet on fire, and she singed herself enough to not do that again.

The day after we arrived was my birthday, 41 years on the planet... woo hoo.  But we awoke to a delightfully sunny day with big, puffy cumulus clouds drifting lazily across the sky and a temperature that was neither too hot or too cold for comfort.  I decided to fulfill one of my Island bucket list items by going the entire day barefoot.  It was much less of a challenge than I thought it would be.

We had a good Island breakfast of pancakes (dragonfly shaped, natch) eggs and bacon cooked over the fire...

My first present of the day was devised by thee Boyo.  Since my favorite color is purple, my little family dressed in purple to honor me!  I had also chosen a purple shirt that morning, so we all looked a little grape-ish as we went about the day.  I loved it.

We went for a trip around the Island in the jon boat, and upon our return I went for a dragonfly hunt. The kiddos didn't join me though, since it required wading along the rocky, muddy shore and neither of them wanted to risk the leaches.

But I went readily and found Eastern Forktails (mating)
Nothing new there.  Price County, where the Island is, has 73 recorded species, so I thought it would be pretty long odds of getting a new county record.  Mostly I wanted to document what odes are at the Island.

I also saw a big darner flying around and hovering.  It didn't land or stay close enough to me for a good shot, so I brought out the net and snagged one as it zoomed by.

It was so cool looking that I wanted to show the kiddos.  As I was wading back to the landing I saw this guy hanging out too...

As I was already holding the darner, I netted the other one and took them both back to the landing to try and ID.  I called to the Boyo to bring my Ode ID books and my two beautiful kids met me near the landing for a quick dragonfly encounter.  We discovered that the darner is called a Mottled Darner due to the mottled appearance of the "stripes" on the sides of his body, or thorax.

After we studied him for a bit, we let him fly off and pulled out the other one.  I initially thought it was a Swamp Spreadwing, a type of damselfly. But further study had me torn between that and a Sweetflag Spreadwing.  It turned out to be a Swamp Spreadwing though. The first Spreadwing I've ever seen!  We let him fly off, too.

I went out to see what else I could find, and came across an Autumn Meadowhawk...

A pretty little red bug with yellow legs.  I also saw another Swamp Spreadwing...

It was near enough to lunch that I called it a day for ode hunting.  As it turned out later, the Mottled Darner, the Autumn Meadowhawk and the Swamp Spreadwing were all County Records!  Happy Birthday to me!  I thought I'd take the kiddos out in the canoe the next day for more hunting.

The kiddos made us all lunch, PBJ's and milk.  It was awesome. :)

The rest of the day was spent by the grown ups hanging out around the fire, relaxing in the hammock, breathing in the piney fresh air, and enjoying the kids.  The kids and the dog meanwhile, set off on many adventures around the Island.  Discovering things, poking around, and generally adventuring.

At one point as they were off in the woods, Sweet Pea decided to rejoin us at the camp, and headed back on her own.  She called out to me once, and when I stood up I saw my little girl hiking through the woods like Dr. Livingstone, little feet nimbly moving over logs and around trees.  It was awesome. The Boyo and Holly had some excellent adventures, too.

For dinner we had Island Chicken.  A fire grilled chicken breast smothered in grilled mushrooms and BBQ sauce, with provolone cheese on top.  It was awesome.  We had camp pies and s'mores for dessert. Mine was filled with lemon pie filling and marshmallow, making it taste a whole lot like lemon meringue pie.  Again... it was awesome.

After dark fell, we all went out on the jon boat to do some stargazing.  As we rowed out we saw the International Space Station cross the sky. We waved and yelled hello to them.  I am certain they were waving back.

The Milky Way was bright and clear, and we spotted several satellites, and even a shooting star.  One of the first of the Perseid's probably.  That night we all slept very soundly.  It started raining around midnight, and I woke briefly to zip the windows and doors before settling back in.  It was a terrific birthday!

The next day we woke to gray, rainy skies, which continued to drizzle all day.  We stayed in bed a long, long time. Talking and giggling with the kids.  They got pretty antsy after a while, so we got up and got going around mid-morning. I was still able to get the fire going again with a little tinder and some air, and we chose to have brunch instead of our planned breakfast.  So I cooked up some hot dogs and brats and we dined in the tent.

We went into town and explored some shops, picking up some hinges and a new lock for the shed door (which I removed by taking off the hinges and accidentally breaking the hinge with the lock on it.) and some other fun stuff.

When we returned to the Island it was still drizzling, so while I worked on the shed door, the kiddos learned that playing in the rain was not so bad!  They gathered sticks to keep the fire going, and went on missions ala Star Wars to "liberate" more sticks from the evil Empire. Watching them raid the Island with their "light sabers" reminded me of my childhood when my brother and I would do the same type of things.  It was great.

Dinner was beans and weans with fire roasted corn on the cob for dessert, and after more rainy campfire fun, and a pretty sunset we turned in for the night.

We packed up the next day in the drizzle, and thankfully the heavy stuff held off until we were loading the canoe on top of the car.  I was soaked to the bone, but the kids and the wife were pretty dry, and after a quick change into some dry clothes, we left our Island home. Ready to return as soon as possible. 

We drove home through some pretty interesting thunderstorms and winds...

but it cleared up as we neared our town.

Both kids have asked nearly every day since when we are returning.  I can only hope it will be sooner than another six years!

More Later

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Christ Centered/Lakota Centered Life

I want to live a more Christ centered life.

Many of us have spoken or thought those words.  But what does that mean?  Join a church.  Go to bible studies.  Live like the bible tells me to.  What does it mean?

I've been exposed to the Lakota perspective in the past six months.  I've learned more from being out there a few times than any book reading I have done, and that's a considerable amount.  My eyes were opened to a great many different things.  Most importantly, I feel I have grown in my faith.  Wanting to lead a more Christ centered life.

How can this be? You may ask.  Are not the Indian religious ways different from ours?  Are they not pagan in nature?
Ah yes.  I've heard this a lot, too.  Spoken by those who know of native religion through movies, TV or the media. Or those who have heard stories about it.  How many conversations about my experiences have started with "I've heard that ..."

Well.  I heard a lot of that, too. But when I was there and experienced my first sweat, experienced the sun dance, talked with some very smart people about it, well... the plank was removed from my eye.  I feel like I can now help remove the speck of sawdust from others eyes.

So.  What did I learn?  How can Lakota sweat lodges and sun dances possibly relate to my faith as a Christian? 
Picture yourself in church.  There is an opening song sung, a welcoming of the people to the service.  Prayers are said to kick things off.  More songs sung, of thanksgiving or glory to God.  An offering is made.  Communion is shared. A talk is given, a sermon. More prayers, in the form of prayers for people and leaders and other specific things. A sending song is sung, a closing prayer.  Then everybody leaves and heads to a communal place to break bread together and share fellowship.

Sound familiar?  It should.  It happens every sunday in Christian churches all across the world.  It also happens in the Lakota sweat lodge.  The only differences I noticed were in the language used, Lakota as opposed to English. And the pouring of water on the hot rocks producing steam.  Everything else could have just as easily been from any church service anywhere.

It was a sacred ceremony, giving thanks to God, praying for everyone, singing songs to honor and thank the Great Mystery, Wakan Tanka.  I even came out feeling cleansed.  Physically through the sweat, emotionally and spiritually through the prayers offered up.  It was a much more intimate ceremony than a Christian church, as there were only a dozen or so in the sweat lodge.  But biblically speaking, "wherever two or more are gathered in my name..."

Then came the sun dance. An event that is hard to talk about in the open forum of a blog.  If you want specifics, feel free to contact me and I may share.  But for this post, I will say this. If the early missionaries had the slightest bit of sense and a bit more of an open mind, I wonder how much of history would have changed.  The sun dancers made a sacrifice of blood, flesh, sweat.  Not for glory or bragging rights.  Not to pray to a tree.  But for God.
From a Christian mindset, it can be argued that when Christ died and spoke the words "It is finished" he meant that no other flesh sacrifices need to be made, since he did that for us on the cross.  This was a prime argument for outlawing the sun dance around 1904. But those words were interpreted by men.  Men who had no tolerance for any who didn't think like they did.  But the sun dance didn't die out.  It was continued in secret.  It was still going on in secret when our Federal Government lifted the ban in 1978.
The sun dance is all about honoring.  The dancers honor their families and their people by dancing and praying for them.  The crowd gathered honors the dancers by standing with them as they dance.  The entire gathering is there to honor Wakan Tanka and pray.  It really was one of the most sacred events I've ever seen or been a part of.  God was there that day. 

In talking about it later with my Lakota friend, we discussed spiritual laws, or spiritual truths.  Those things that seem to be found in all cultures and all religions.  It is said that a smile is a smile in any language.  Likewise there are certain truths found in almost all religions.

1. Love and honor God.

Jesus said it was the most important commandment.  The Jewish and Muslim faith traditions say the same thing.  For the Lakota, Wakan Tanka is everywhere and in all things, to be loved and honored.

2. Love your people as you love yourself.

Number two on Jesus' list of top commandments. Everything else was built on these first two, He said.  For the Lakota this meant that no Elders or children would go hungry.  No child would be an orphan. If the parents died, others would step up and take the children as their own.  It was considered honorable for hunters to give the best of the hunt to those who could not hunt.  Often the best hunters were designated specifically to hunt for elders or children or others in need.

I think Christ got it right.  Any other laws or rules pertaining to any religion should be based on these two universal truths.

So I look at the hot button topics of today through different eyes.  Chicken eating to support denying rights to my fellow human beings.  Anger and hatred about providing health care to people who need it, because one thing in a long list offends their "religious views".  Most shameful of all, crying about being persecuted for not being able to persecute others. 
As a Christian, it saddens me. It saddens me because I see "Christians" willing to end relationships with others because the offending party will not fall in step with "our" beliefs. It saddens me because I see these same sorts of people glorify themselves for their "Christianity" without stepping up and acting as Christians should act.

How should Christians act?  I'll tell you this.  If you want to lead a more Christ centered life, look at how the traditional Lakota live their lives. They take care of their elders and their children.  They see everything as a sacred creation of God, and treat it with the respect it deserves.  They pray about things big and small, and give thanks to Wakan Tanka, even if they don't get what they want.

They love God with all their heart, mind and soul, and love others as themselves.

They walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

There are many on and off the Rez who fall far short of this, of course.  Our society looks down our noses at the "drunk indian" and condemn the entire population for the acts of a few.  There are even more indians who don't live by the traditional ways.  No sweat lodges, no sundance.  Pow wows are like county fairs.  And that's ok, too.  There are some who exploit the traditional ways to make money.  Offering sweats, pipes, ceremonies, even selling tickets to a sun dance.

We also see those who practice what they preach.  Living by traditional ways.  Honoring the pipe and the sweat. Dancing not for recognition, but for God.  And we call them pagans.  Or worse.

I wonder what would happen if we turned the binoculars we use to watch them back on ourselves.  There are those who are societal outcasts. Drunks and druggies. Those types we wouldn't bring home to eat with our family. Here are the "non-Christians" who go about life day to day, not really caring about spiritual things. No churches, no ceremonies.  Christmas and Easter are holidays akin to Valentines day or MLK day. There are those that exploit our faith for profit.  TV evangelists, and any church that claims bigger donations to them mean bigger love from God.

Then we have those who supposedly walk the walk. You probably know one or two or ten right now.  They can recite scripture. They speak about God's love and seem very committed to what God would have them do with their lives.  But, they rail against anything that is not "Christian". Condemning what they believe to be sin, and using biblical references to support their claims.  We call them the religious right, fanatics, or worse.

But there is a difference.  It is subtle, but it is there. I have met very few people who claim loudly to be Christian that live as Christ would want.  Loving God and loving each other.  In my experience, though the bible is an excellent book with a myriad of great stories and lessons, it is used too much as a weapon.  I have yet to see a sacred pipe being used as a weapon amongst the Lakota.

My friend tells a story of his Grandmother, who carried her pipe bag everywhere, along with her bible.  When she was questioned about it, she told people. "These two things?  Same thing."

It is said about the pipe that no bad can come from it.  That is, if it is used in a sacred way, and used correctly, it is only used for good.  Anyone using it otherwise doesn't get it and should not be allowed to carry it.

I believe the same should be said about the bible.  If it is used in a sacred way, and used correctly, no bad should come from it.

I tire of those who use their religion to spread hate.  That's not what God wanted for us. the bible should only be used for good.  Otherwise, you're just abusing it.

I learned from my Lakota friends that if I want to live a more Christ centered life, I'd best stick to the spiritual truths.  Love God and Love all His creation.  Fighting about God is contrary to God's purpose for us.

So that's what I'm going to strive to do.  Prayerfully, mindfully, and with intention. Live more like a traditional Lakota to strengthen my own faith.

 Love God and Love all His creation.

More Later

Friday, August 3, 2012

Back on the Rez

It was a whirlwind tour to the Rez this time.  I went out on a Saturday and came back on Tuesday.  But packed so much in those few short days as to leave me still recovering.

I departed on a sunny Saturday, and stopped a couple of times to do some very brief dragonfly hunts. The first was quite successful, finding the following in one spot, and taking a whole fifteen minutes...

 Common Whitetails in a dogfight with some sort of bluet.
 Familiar bluet, there were tons and tons of these.
 Blue Dasher, also very prevalent.
And a male Widow Skimmer.

These were taken at a little park on the East side of the Missouri River.  I then crossed the river and pulled off into another little park, where I found another Familiar Bluet, and this gal...

Some sort of bluet, but nearly impossible to ID.  Such is life.  I thought the iridescent gold on the top of the tail was pretty cool, though.

I then drove straight on through to the Rez, excited to see my friends again.  I was privileged to stay at Re-Member once again, even though I wasn't working that week.  But like Ted (the head honcho) said, I was there continuing to build relationships, and that is the primary focus of the place.  After happy reunions with the many people I know at Re-Member, night was falling.  I had a cot in the dorm, and it was very warm.  My friend Erika had a tent set up in the "backyard" that she wasn't going to use for that night, and graciously let me sleep there.

I fully intended to get a long exposure night shot of the stars, but after drifting off to sleep, I didn't wake until the sun came back up.

Sunday was designated as rehearsal day. The reason I was back on the Rez was that my friend Will Peters is recording his second album.  He invited me to do some back up vocals for it.  How could I refuse!?!

So I met up with him Sunday morning to learn the songs and come up with some vocals.  He has a bunch of really great tunes.  Native oriented, powerful lyrics, and sticky tunes.  I'm still humming them a week later.  We sang and talked and sang some more.  Erika and Dan, another Re-Member staff member were also invited to sing, so around 3 pm I went to pick them up.  Soon we were all gathered in the Peters living room having a jam session. It was awesome.  We stayed up late rehearsing, as we had studio time booked for the next day, Monday.

Monday morning, Erika, Dan and I met Will, his wife Lena, son Jess and daughter Kesia at Big Bats and headed North to Rapid City.  Kesia rode with us and we practiced a little on the way up.

The studio time was great.  We got off to a slow start, trying to remember the things we had learned the day before.  But pretty soon we got in the groove, and laid down some pretty good stuff.

I'm looking forward to hearing it all mixed down!  I'll let everyone know when the album is released. 

So, with recording finished I was planning on heading home Tuesday morning.  When we got back to Re-Member, Ted had arranged for me to meet a guy named Ed Iron Cloud.  Ed has been running a bison ranch on the Rez for many years now, and I had a chance to pick his brain and talk buffalo with him for awhile.  Ed also offered to show me around his ranch on Tuesday, so my plans changed a bit for getting home.

Later Monday night... I went back over to Will's house to talk a bit.  As I stated in an earlier post, I had the honor of attending a Sun Dance for a day on my last visit. I have also been asked by my church to give a one hour class on Lakota Spirituality and my trips to the Rez for an Adult Forum in October.  I wanted to talk with will about all of this.  So we sat in his backyard and talked until the early morning about Christianity, Lakota spirituality, Sun Dance, music, and told stories to each other about our lives. Will is a really good guy.  Good to talk to.  His Lakota name is Teacher of the Red Road, and it fits him.  I feel like I learned a ton of stuff just that night.

Tuesday morning I met with Ed in Porcupine. He had been trying to arrange to borrow a four wheeler for me to use so we could go look at the buffalo herd.  He had his in the back of his truck, and had called a neighbor next to his buffalo paddock to see if I could use his ATV. He didn't have much luck getting hold of the guy though, so we drove over to his place to see if he was home.  The meeting did not go as I expected.

We drove up to his house and were greeted by a few friendly dogs.  The ATV sat out next to a truck.  Ed walked over to the house and I got out of the truck, but it didn't seem like anyone was home.  We walked back over to the truck when suddenly a guy came out of the house. He looked a little like Wilford Brimly but fatter. He came at a fast clip up to the truck, and without warning started chewing Ed a new orifice. He was PO'd about something happening down by the creek, and about having to watch the buffalo.  At one point he thought they had escaped so he 'had to' go check on them, but they had not escaped.  It was a surreal argument.  Ed just sat there and smiled at him, a little embarrassed I think. The guy told us that we couldn't borrow the ATV because "What if this guy (referring to me) rolls it or wrecks it?" Then he got really weird. He said "This guy has money.  Why can't he just buy his own ATV to ride."  The only real difference between him and me was that I had bathed that day, but I refrained from pointing that out, as with his next sentence he challenged Ed to a fight.

Yep, wanted to fight him.  Surreal. Then this guy said that he was pissed at Ed for playing cowboy by buying the land and putting buffalo on it. "I've been a cowboy all my life, and you are just here playing around." Then he said something that dropped my jaw.

"This land was mine way before it was yours, Ed."

Did I hear that right? This white rancher just told this Lakota man that the land was white before it was Lakota?  But he went on, saying that his father had run this ranch. They had constantly struggled to make a go of it, and apparently still were. Now Ed waltzed in here and started raising buffalo and it pissed him off.

Once again I refrained from a history lesson about who the land actually belonged to. As he would probably want to fight me, too.

Ed just smiled and nodded at the guy, and eventually he sputtered himself out, wanting to be friends with Ed again and saying "We're brothers you know." 

My first encounter with the legendary White Rancher.  It did not leave a good impression.

So we drove in Ed's truck back to the buffalo paddock.  Ed told me that the rancher had horses and some cattle on the land, but was still having a hard time making ends meet.  Soon we were driving on the buffalo grounds.  Surrounded by railroad tie and barbed wire fences.  There was a dirt road cutting through the pasture, and the buffalo were gathered on the road.

Weird, said Ed, as they usually were way off the road and harder to find.  I told him that they must have known I was coming.

We stopped to look at them for a bit, Ed pointing out the up and coming dominant female and stories about some of the other herd members.

The new head gal is on the right of the bull.

The old herd female had wandered away from the herd and had not been seen for a few weeks.  Ed was pretty sure she had gone off to die someplace secluded, and so he didn't want to bother her resting spot. 

The buffalo kept eyes on us, but didn't seem particularly worried about our presence.

After watching the buffalo for awhile, we headed over to take a look at their water supply, a natural spring pond tucked down in a ravine.

There were horses at the spring, and after some initial hesitance at our being there, they decided we must be ok.  One of them followed me very closely and nudged me for some attention whenever I stopped.

I, of course, took the opportunity to do a brief ode hunt. 

Finding a Twelve-spotted Skimmer that, when confirmed, will add another species to the Shannon County list. 

My shadow horse took a break from me to go stand in the pond and splash and drink, at which time the other three horses came over for some forehead scratching and general attention as well.

I was trying to get a good shot of some of the other odes I saw flitting about, as the Common Green Darner I was targeting with my camera was not yet on the Shannon County list.  But the middle horse kept nibbling at my arm every time I tried to get a shot.  So I gave up and turned my attention to the horses.  Ed was curious about my dragonfly addiction, and so I answered his questions about their life cycles and habits, and even taught him a species or two.

As we drove through the pastures on our way back to Porcupine, I took shots of Buffalo grassland and cattle grassland.  Can you spot the difference?

The cattle really mow everything down, leaving pastures like the one shown in rough shape.  It takes those pastures much longer to recover.  Where the buffalo graze the land can bounce back quicker.  The buffalo are also native to the area, so nearly anything growing is food for them.  There is little need to drop hay in their paddocks, like there is for the cattle. 

Easier on the environment, they don't pollute their water supply, the market is wide open and supply is much less than demand.  I like buffalo.

Anyway, after the tour, I headed back into Pine Ridge to meet with Will one more time before I left.  I also found one of the Re-Member work sites and said goodbye to some friends.

All told, I didn't leave Pine Ridge until mid afternoon.  It was going to be a long trip home.  I headed North this time and passed through Kyle, the home of Tanka Bars. I had to stop in and say hi, of course, and got a tour of the place to boot!  They are a friendly gang, and if you're ever in Kyle, stop by!

I headed up to I-90 through the Badlands, a beautiful drive. 

On the road home I turned on the iPad recorder and talked about all of the things Will and I talked about.  I pulled into my driveway just before 1 am. Tired, head spinning, but happy for my time back on the Rez.

Wopila to Ted and the Re-Member gang for being so welcoming, to Will and Lena for the fun of Sunday and Monday, to Ed Iron Cloud for the buffalo tour.  I had a great time and look forward to heading back.

More Later