How the Strong Survive
by Newton Love
Lightning struck the Maryland hilltop, igniting a blaze. Before rain quenched the fire, it burned the hilltop bare. It was quiet now. The wind sang songs of distant sunshine to the trees. Squirrels discussed the weather while the sparrows gossiped. It was the first phase of the Tender Grass Moon, or early April on the Gregorian calendar. I thanked Wakan Tanka, God, for the cleared land inside a forest close to Baltimore and Washington, DC. I built a home here to rest and recover.
Tall Brothers surrounded the hilltop, providing the squirrels with a tree branch beltway, and roosts for the winged ones. Many deer, raccoon, and other relations lived under their tall-trunked and leafy canopy. Most of the Tall Brothers were red, white and pin oaks, but included hickory, walnut and pine. Smaller trees like dogwoods, red buds, and cedar were there, too.
I smelled the sweet morning air. The small stand of Osage orange that I’d planted on the north side of the clearing was getting tall. The French called them “bow-wood.” Of all wood, Osage orange is the most flexible. Members of the Osage tribe are pretty flexible, too.
I wasn’t the only one in need of healing. My spirit guide, Raven Who Hops, had told me that people would come that morning to ask me for help. That task would show me the next steps on my own path.
The angle of the sun showed that it was time. I closed my eyes, opened my mind and listened with my whole heart. Wooden wind-chimes bumped in the breeze, providing a quiet drum to my prayer. Beauty and peace filled the small hilltop. I sensed humans approaching. A minute passed before I heard their car. I opened my eyes.
A blue-jay whistled an alert and flew to a perch on the porch. I spoke in the old earth tongue.
“Winged Brother, what is it?”
“One of the big box-beasts comes.”
“Stay and listen if you want, but it may be boring.”
“Two-legged things are.”
He flew away. I stood and walked the perimeter of the main geodesic dome to the east-facing front door. There was a knock. I opened it.
Four women stood in a diamond pattern on the large stone step. Each face wore a different emotion. The closest one looked serious. Behind her were two side-by-side. The one on the left seemed aloof, but she wasn’t quite succeeding. The one on the right had a calm veneer, but the way she worked her left thumb’s cuticle betrayed her. A flash of fear was all I glimpsed of the last, who prairie-dogged behind the others.
“May I help you?”
The nearest one answered.
“Are you Ben Pace?”
“Yes, and you are here to ask a favor,” I said as I stepped back, opening the door wider. “Please come in.”
They entered while I watched. The one in back stayed close to the nervous one.
None of them appeared related, but they all looked similar. A police bulletin would have read “Be on the lookout for a female, five-foot-six-inches, 125 pounds, petite, with brown hair and small features.”
The serious one wore a short-sleeved blue button-up shirt and blue slacks with sneakers. Random curls in various sizes framed her face. A coral nail polish matched her lipstick and her tan was an even bronze. Her eyes were green. Her right hand wore a gold shamrock ring with inlaid emeralds. Her left middle finger had an oval emerald set in a woven Celtic knot band. Her left pinky ring was a dragon with a ruby in his exposed claw. Her earrings were Celtic knots shaped into teardrops. She didn’t wear a watch.
I could sense her pain, but also her strength. She seemed the type to take care of herself and others. Why would she need my help?
The aloof one wore black slacks and a crisp white shirt. Her basic red lipstick enhanced her untanned skin. A gold barrette fastened her coffee-colored hair at the base of her neck. Her eyes matched her hair. A large diamond solitaire graced her left hand and one-inch, gold hoop earrings glinted on her slightly detached earlobes. Three gold bracelets of varying thicknesses were on her left wrist. Her other wrist wore a plain, black-strapped, gold-coin watch. Her closed-toe but open-heeled shoes, belt, and purse could have been made from the same piece of black leather.
Everything about her said “money.” Surely her family had a fixer on their payroll. Why seek me out?
While the nervous one was as tall as the rest, she had longer legs and a shorter torso. Tan slacks held a creased taper to a pair of oxblood penny loafers. Shoulder length chestnut hair fell in waves to brush the collar of her navy blue polo shirt. Her eyes were blue, and her earrings were pearl. An artistic medallion clasped her tan leather belt. Her lipstick was only a few shades darker than the skin tone visible between her freckles. No rings were on her long tapered fingers.
A Lakhota name for her came to mind: “Little Flower.” I sensed a deep strength in her. The women puzzled me. What could tie them together and make them seek me out?
The fourth didn’t make much eye-contact as she attempted to hide behind Little Flower. She wore baggy, grey sweats. Her brown hair and occasionally her brown eyes peeked from under a Baltimore Orioles baseball cap. Running shoes finished her outfit. She wore neither makeup nor jewelry. Here was one who was damaged and weak. Perhaps it was this one that I would help.
I ignored their whispers and stepped through the open flap of my tipi, crossing to the center fire-pit. I was sure that a full-sized great tipi was not what they expected to find inside my home. From the outside, it’s an enclosed porch and three geodesic domes, from large to small. The inside of the largest was filled with a hide-covered tipi. Living in one helped my warrior-priest training.
On a trip to Montana, I had hand-harvested each of the tipi‘s twenty-eight lodge-pole pine trees that leaned against one another in mutual support. The interior was twenty-eight feet wide at the base and over two stories tall at the tie-off, with bare poles reaching above that to the dome’s roof. Ten of the thirty-two hides that covered the poles were from my own meat-making. The rest were from the tribal store back home. I had tanned all but two of the thick fur hides inside the tipi. Of those two, one was a gift from my parents, the other a gift from fellow priest.
The serious one spoke.
“He said to dress as if we were going to a ranch. He wasn’t kidding.”
They looked around the tipi, maybe searching for a place to sit.
“There are no chairs,” I said. “Perhaps you would be more comfortable in the kitchen?”
I got a few dirty looks. Perhaps I sounded sexist. I rephrased it.
“There are wasiçiuchairs in other rooms. The kitchen is the closest. In here, we sit traditional style,” I said, but comprehension did not cross their faces. “We sit on skins on the floor in here.”
Little Flower asked, “Is a wah-see-chew chair comfortable?”
I smiled inside, but kept my face muscles slack.
“Wasiçiuis Lakhota for ‘fat stealer.’ We use it to mean white society.”
She looked sheepish.
“Do not worry, Little Flower. You cannot be wrong for asking to know more,” I said, and I let my eyes smile as her own smile rekindled. “Visitors tell me that my chairs are comfortable.”
They looked around to each other, then the serious one spoke.
“Perhaps we should try the kitchen.”
I left the tipi and walked the perimeter to where a second and smaller, but still large dome was joined. It held a modern kitchen, dining room, and entertainment area. One-quarter of it was an enclosed office area. There were windows at regular intervals up to the top, which let in a lot of light.
Traditional Lakhota homes and furnishings drew their design from the circle of winds and the roundness of the earth’s horizon. I walked to the round pine table. Lakhota custom said I should sit first, but instead I stood and waved to the chairs. The serious one sat on the northeast. The aloof one sat on the east, Little Flower on the south, with the fearful one between them. I had the west half of the table to myself.
The serious one spoke.
“We need your help.”
“Yes, I know. My spirit guide told me to expect you.”
“Did he tell you our problem?” asked the aloof one.
I thought I heard a trace of sarcasm in her voice. No matter. My path did not include making people believe Lakhota ways.
“That’s not how a spirit guide works. Never mind. You are here about something very important to you.”
The serious said, “We’re being stalked by a sick-o and we want it to stop.”
We were all silent. I needed to know a lot more, but they would not want to tell those details to a stranger. I would let them know me first.
“Thank you for visiting me. You know my name, so please call me Ben. I am Lakhota.”
“Do you mean Sioux?” Little Flower asked.
“That old word is not our name. It’s all a misunderstanding. The Ojibwa called us nadewisou, which, in their tongue, meant ‘by the twisting river.’ The French shortened the word to Sioux. The name became a common reference to us. It is so deeply ingrained that we can’t change it. It is similar to your saying ‘German’ when they say ‘Deutsche‘, or your saying ‘Japan’ and not ‘Nippon‘.”
“It is nothing,” I said, continuing to open to them. “As a young man, the Army taught me to be a telephone lineman. After I got out, I came to Maryland and went to work for Bell Atlantic. Five years ago, a utility truck backed into the pole I was on. I fell.”
I saw concern on their faces.
“It’s okay. I am partially disabled but not dead. When Sitting Bull was young, he was shot in the foot. It healed wrong, and he limped his whole life, but he still could run faster and fight better than men with two good feet.”
I permitted myself to smile, hoping it would help them to be brave.
“I am ready and able to help, but first you must tell me who you are.”
Three of them looked to the serious one. She spoke.
“My name is Rita Cade. I own ‘Shears Locks Combs,’ a hair salon in Bowie.”
She looked to her left, to the aloof one.
“I’m Maria Vacarro. I’m a pediatrician.”
She looked to her left, to the frightened one, who shook her head, and then looked down. From her other side, Little Flower touched her hand and spoke to her.
Little Flower turned to me.
“I’m Kelly, Kelly Larson. I do daycare in Glen Burnie. This is Lisa Towers. She’s a little overwhelmed. She runs a crew for Nifty-Maid.”
Lisa examined me from under the bill of her cap. They were all looking at me. I closed my eyes and sensed the room. Lisa and Maria’s auras held fear, Rita’s aura held apprehension, while Kelly’s was one of anger or frustration. Perhaps she would be the one to tell me the specifics, but I couldn’t ask her directly. I opened my eyes and spoke to their leader.
“Rita, how did you come here?”
“We took the freeway to the…”
“No, Spring Blossom, I meant, who told you to look for me?”
“I cut hair for some of the workers at the horse racing track in Laurel. I asked one of them if he knew someone who would kill a bastard for me. He said ‘yes,’ except after he’d heard the whole story, he laughed and said ‘the bastard doesn’t need killing; he needs to be savaged.’ I asked him what he meant. He gave me your name and a map. He told me to not use a phone, but instead just pick a day and come. He said you seem to be here when you’re needed.”
That is part of having a spirit guide. They sometimes let you know what’s on your schedule.
“Was his name Roy?”
“Yes, Roy Campagnella. How did you know?”
I would never admit what I had done for or with Roy. He always paid in cash.
“Roy and I share some history.”
A look of wonder crossed her face. Wasiçiu faces display a running montage of their inner dialogue. Only their poker players and politicians practiced anything like Lakhota face control. I turned to Maria, then Kelly and Lisa.
“Are you here for the same reason as Rita?”
Maria and Lisa nodded, with Lisa’s head drooping low. Kelly spoke.
“We all want the bastard to suffer.”
“What did he do?”
“He raped us. First me, then two women who aren’t with us, then Maria, then a woman that killed herself, then Kelly, then Lisa.”
Maria’s voice held contempt.
“Those are the ones that we know of.”
I now knew why they walked in the order they did. The ones with the greatest separation from their trauma were in front. As the most recent victim, Lisa kept back. I turned to Little Flower.
“Kelly, you show the most anger. Why?”
“The bastard humiliated me… us. He made us beg to be let go, then told us that if we begged him to do it, he wouldn’t kill us,” she said, leaning forward. “I want him dead. I was going to buy a gun and shoot him, but they stopped me.”
“You know that they are right, don’t you? If you tried, you would just wind up in jail.”
It was time to touch the wound.
“Why isn’t he in prison?”
Lisa began to cry. Kelly and Maria tried to comfort her. Rita gave me a cold stare.
“His lawyers beat the DA in court.”
“Were his lawyers lucky or good?”
“He had a whole firm of high-priced Baltimore lawyers. Didn’t you see it in the news?”
“No. What put your case in the news?”
“The rapist, John Keagey, is a Kinkaed.”
“Yeah, his family has a governor, a US Senator and six US congressmen, with the next generation waiting in state legislatures.”
“We’ll never get justice. The court’s a joke that’s on us,” Rita said.
“Do you all want the same thing?”
“We all want him dead,” Maria said. “Since he won in court, he’s been simply horrible.”
There were nods around the table. Kelly’s eyes held rage.
“He waited outside my house after work one evening. He told me that he was going to make me his girlfriend again.”
A tear rolled down her cheek.
“He said that he still has my panties.”
Her clenched hands showed white knuckles. While Maria comforted Kelly, Rita and Lisa stared at me with rage in their eyes. I spoke into the maelstrom.
“I will help you, but you must help me to help you.”
That brought quiet.
“Keagey and the Kinkaeds need to understand that the earth is not their private playground. At the same time, we must make sure that your lives are not made worse by our efforts.”
Rita pulled a brown paper bag from her purse and placed it on the table.
“There’s ten thousand dollars there. If you need more, we’ll find a way to get it. We’re not as rich as the Kinkaeds, but we will pay you to take care of this.”
“It’s not part of the Lakhota way to require payment for a deed that must be done. Our way holds that the strong and brave must serve the weary and weak. I cannot be a good Lakhota man while there are people in the village who are hungry, cold, or afraid.”
I picked up the bag of money and placed it in Rita’s hand.
“Perhaps we will share expenses, but you do not need to pay me to be a man.”
“So, you will kill him for us?”
“No, I will do something much worse than that.”
It was quiet in the room.
“I will need phone numbers.”
I took four cards from my wallet.
“Here is my information.”
Rita put the money into her purse and pulled out a folded sheet of paper.
I took it and set it on the table.
“Now that you have come to me and I have promised to help you, each of us has taken steps on a path that we will now walk together. Progress brings comfort, but don’t let it show. We are now at war with the Kinkaeds. Our strongest weapon is surprise. You must not change how you act toward him. Don’t tip him off that something is coming. Okay?”
A chorus of agreement filled the air.
I continued, “We need a plan to not end up in trouble. I need time to think.”
I looked each one in the eyes.
“We must not let anyone know what we are doing. You all can continue to associate, but you don’t know me. We will be strangers that meet and talk, nothing else. Understand?”
I received another round of agreement.
“If Keagey bothers you, call the police or whatever you usually do. Only call me as a last resort. For this to work, you can’t let anyone know about me. When I contact you, I will say the Lakhota man’s greeting ‘Hau‘ to let you know it’s me. It means both ‘hello’ and ‘how are things going?'”
“Like the Hawaiian word aloha?” asked Maria.
“Yes, except we don’t use it for good-byes.”
I stood and walked to a drawer in my utility closet. I returned with four cheap cell-phones. I passed them out.
“Here, take these. These are throw-aways. The phone number is on the piece of masking tape on the phone. Use these for our business until we are finished. When we are finished, soak them overnight in bleach before you discard them in a public trashcan. Don’t act surprised when I call. I will tell you when and where we can meet, or ask you to pick a place and time. Never discuss anything over the phone.”
I smiled the grin of Iktomi, the Trickster.
“You will have your revenge and solution.”
Rita must have sensed that I was finished. She stood up, triggering the same action in the others.
“Is it okay if I use Rita as my primary contact?” I asked.
They all nodded.
“Then I suggest you go to lunch, but don’t celebrate too much until Keagey’s been dealt with.”
I started for the doorway that led back into the tipi dome. I ignored the conversations behind me as they followed. The view through the open windows reminded me of the Great Spirit’s kindness. I walked in his beauty. I walked in his strength. As I walked, I radiated his peace, painting the walls with love.
My blue-jay friend was in a tree near one of the open windows.
“Are they leaving? Their big box beast smells.”
I chuckled then spoke in the ancient tongue, “Yes, Winged Brother, they leave.”
He flicked his tail and flew away. Kelly caught up to me and touched my arm.
“Did you just talk to that bird?”
“Yes, Little Flower, but don’t tell anyone. They might doubt your sanity.”
“I can hardly believe I saw it.”
“Perhaps your world changed a little today.”
I said the eastern sky blessing in my head and opened the front door. Kelly hung back looking out the window. Rita stepped forward and shook my hand.
“It’s good to meet you. When will you call?”
“Soon, Spring Blossom. Be patient.”
Maria shook my hand.
I let a small smile come to my lips and eyes. She smiled back then left. Kelly stepped in and hugged me. Lisa joined the hug, then began to cry. She hadn’t said a word the whole time she was here. I put my arms around their shoulders and connected to the hilltop stone under my home, drawing the ancient strength of the Stone People up and around us. The women jumped a little when the energy bathed us. I spoke into Kelly’s hair.
“Don’t worry, Little Flower. The Great Father’s strength is now on us. All will be well in time.”
Lisa leaned back, her eyes sparkling from more than tears. She tried to speak. After a failed attempt, her mouth silently formed the words “Thank you” before she stepped outside. Kelly looked into my eyes.
“Are you a wizard?”
“No. I’m a disabled telephone lineman.”
“And I’m a warrior princess.”
“Yes, I know you are. Now go. I have research to do before I can make our plan.”
She stepped away, but turned back.
“Are you married?
“No. Now go.”
I turned to plan how John Keagey would beg for death before he went to prison.
John Keagey’s silver spoon had fed his sense of security for long enough. Soon he would know the taste of fear. I needed a plan to expose him, while protecting us, and needed it soon.
I stepped inside, went to the middle dome, and crossed to my office. Two windowed exterior walls and four interior walls enclosed a hexagon-shaped space lined by shelves over a wide counter that circled the room, even under the windows. The shelves held more artifacts and fetishes than books. The tabletop doubled as a desk and workbench. I used the part under the northwest exterior wall as my desk. On the eastern interior wall counter sat computers that hosted part of the Indian Heritage Web-Ring.
I tapped a phone number from memory. At the beep, I pressed my phone number then cradled the handset, ending the call. My spirit guide, Raven Who Hops, said my nickname.
He became visible on the windowsill.
“Hau. So, what do you see ahead?”
“The renegade is protected and grows arrogant in his imagined security. His relatives’ misuse of power disrupts the present and disturbs the future.”
Ever the tutor, Raven asked, “What must be done?”
“Harmony must be restored. The power must be rebalanced.”
“You are learning well. Can you see how this will help you complete your training to reach the second level of Stone Dreaming?”
Raven loved pop quizzes.
“Center and listen.”
I emptied my basket of expectations and opened my heart to learn. It came to me.
“Before I can progress, I need to do more than just understand the strength of the Stone People. I must learn to use it.”
“Yes. The power of the Stone People will help you remove the renegade’s obstruction to the flow of skan: power. The universe must flow smoothly, without turbulence.”
“Yeah, eddies in the space time continuum and all.”
He cocked his head but didn’t laugh.
“We will talk later. You have a call.”
He hopped from the windowsill to the ground, then toward the trees before hopping into flight and vanishing. The phone rang.
“You beeped. What’s up.”
It was Roy Campagnella.
“You set me up on a blind date but didn’t tell me.”
“I figured your raven friend would make sure that you were home when they came by.”
“You presume much.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s a problem I need to work on. So, what do you want?”
“I ought to count coup on you. You know it’s against Lakhota custom to tell strangers where people live.”
“You think you can hit me and dance away before I smack you back? I’m not easy to count coupon. Besides, Rita’s no stranger. We’ve been friends for a million years.”
“Wow, you look only half your age.”
“Wise-ass. So, you want the skinny or what?”
“We should eat together,” I said.
“I can get free this afternoon.”
“How about some buffalo?”
“Sure. We swept there a few days ago. There aren’t any listening devices to spoil our fun.”
The steady stream of tourists through Ellicott City obliterated shopkeeper memories of faces. The town is as anonymous as a public telephone booth. It was a perfect place to meet Roy.
Ellicott City is closer to Baltimore than Washington DC and looks older than it is. The small downtown of Civil War era buildings is perched on hillsides uplifted by an ancient granite intrusion. Huge slabs of it lay exposed on the slopes of Main Street. Gentrification had given the tiny town a facelift, filling the old buildings with artful and clever boutiques. The tiny theater became a gift shop, while a tribe of antique dealers filled the furniture store with consignment merchandise. The rest of the town followed suit.
The Ellicott Mills Brewing Company is in the old hardware store. I don’t drink, but it serves buffalo steak. They cook them right, so they’re tender, not chewy. Their buffalo stew is almost as good as my mom’s.
Roy and his crew were regulars, so they made sure there were no listening devices. With the National Security Agency and the Army Intelligence headquarters nearby, Roy’s sweeps appeared to be legitimate. The wait-staff was too busy to remember faces.
I was already seated on the first floor with a pot of tea and a steak with vegetables when Roy walked in. He saw me and walked over, waving to the bartender on the way. The bartender called out.
“How, Chief. I’m only staying for a beer.”
“Hau. You still don’t say it right. Hau, not ‘how’.”
“Sure Chief, like you say. So, were the women hot or what?”
“They are hurt. Are you blind to their pain?”
“No, but I’m not blind to their beauty either. I wish I could have helped them, so I could let them express their gratitude, but I can’t get involved in any domestic situations.”
Roy cared; it was in his eyes. I let it go.
“I think of them as my sisters.”
“I thought you would say that. So, you took the job?”
“And now you want the skinny?”
“Yes. Here comes your beer.”
Roy and the bartender exchanged greetings as he put a pint of amber ale in front of Roy then left.
“When I gave Rita your name, I knew you’d do it. What do you want to know?”
“Who and where is this Keagey punk?”
“I did some checking around when Rita asked me to have it done. Keagey’s not a good chip off the old block. The Kinkaeds are all Harvard Law, but little Johnny’s a trade-school dropout. He does something at a little ISP and web-site company in Annapolis called ‘An Apple Less Web Designs’.”
“An Internet Service Provider?”
“Yeah. The only reason little Johnny works there is the Kinkaeds pumped a pot of money into it.”
“Is he the boss?”
“Are you kidding? He couldn’t manage a ménage-à-trois. They stuck little Johnny in Annapolis so his aunt could keep an eye on him from the Governor’s Mansion.”
“What happened with the case?”
“The DA rushed it to trial before the case was solid. He claimed it was so it wouldn’t affect the election, but the fix was in to get a trial that Keagey could beat and not wait for the evidence to make one that he couldn’t.”
“Were there other victims?”
“The scuttlebutt guess is six victims who haven’t come forward. He must be fixated on some woman in his past, because he keeps to the same physical type.”
“Did the police have any hard evidence?”
“His attorneys convinced the jury that it was inconclusive, that it didn’t physically tie him directly to the victims. After that, it was ‘he said, she said’ with a Kinkaed versus the unwashed. His lawyers smeared the women as gold-digging trailer-trash.”
“The police didn’t find his stash?”
“Maybe he didn’t keep souvenirs.”
“The women said he takes panties. I need to know: did he do it?”
“Oh, yeah. The cops and the lab guys are sure it’s him.”
“He’s probably just a weak, spineless coward who can’t get a date, so he plans and rehearses. Only then would he feel powerful enough to overcome petite women. He needs a stash to feed his fantasy of power.”
“My, my, my. You’ve got a hard-on to get little Johnny.”
“He perverts the path to the future and disturbs spiritual harmony. He is an obstacle that must be removed.”
It was Roy’s turn to grin like Iktomithe Trickster.
“I knew you were going to go savage on him.”
“Perhaps you don’t know me as well as you think you do.”
“Yeah, yeah. Do you need anything? A safe-house, maybe?”
“No. I can set this one up as clean as the Little Yellowstone River on a lazy summer’s day.”
He looked at his watch.
“Hey! I have to run.”
He downed the last of his pint.
“Good luck, Bear-man.”
“Walk in beauty, Roy.”
On his way out, he put some cash on the bar, and exchanged a few words with the bartender.
I finished my meal in silence. My waitress brought the check. I left her a good tip. When we give, we signal Wakan Tanka that we are available for blessing.
I stepped into the Maryland twilight. The smell of auto and diesel fumes was heavy in the air. It reminded me of what I had left in the Dakotas. Back on the Rez, we had clean air and water, but also a 90% unemployment rate, rampant alcoholism, obesity, and diabetes. We had swallowed so many wasiçiulies that we had become fat and sick from them.
I walked to my Jeep Cherokee. It was turquoise-sky-blue — the color of skan: power. I’d paid extra for a tan leather interior. I drove home, parked at the bottom of the hill, and walked up. The animals and I didn’t need to smell it on top of our hill.
I walked through my house, opening the windows in the main dome, through the kitchen in the second dome, and hit the answering machine in the office. I tapped the volume up then continued to the smallest dome. It was divided into four bedrooms off a central hallway. I used the first one on the right, but I slept in the tipi. The bed was comfortable; I just preferred tatanka, buffalo, fur on the floor. Perhaps my clothes enjoyed a modern closet and dresser. While I undressed and selected a robe, I listened.
“Ben, This is Rita. I know you said not to call, but I had to. Thank you for meeting with us today.”
A chorus of background voices sang out, “Thank you!”
“We feel as if we have hope again. Please contact me soon. Goodbye.”
It was the only message. That was fine with me. I needed solitude tonight to dream with the Stone People. I had questions for Raven Who Hops. I needed time to listen to the quiet depths of Wakan Tanka. Tonight would be a very busy night of stillness.
I found the center of my peace. I let my soul feel the winds of time. War clouds were gathering in the future. I would be ready for them.
I parked in front of Shears Locks Combs in Bowie. It was just down Route 3 from Stonehenge Gardens. They supply the construction and landscaping trades with interesting stones from all over the world. Several of them were now in my yard and some are shelved in my office.
I got out of my Jeep and walked into the hair salon. The reception area had four large comfy chairs with magazine-covered tables in between. The chairs were covered in a rose, floral print. Mirrors in gold picture frames hung on light teal walls. A Bentwood coat rack stood by the door. The cash register sat on a glass-topped counter that displayed hair-care products. A vase of white carnations sat on a short column by the right wall.
Behind the counter, the cutting room floor was clean, except for right around Rita, who was working on a woman in her chair. They looked up as I entered. Rita started to greet me, but I interrupted.
“Hi. A friend said to ask for Rita. He said that she would know what my hair needs.”
“I’m Rita. What would you like?”
“My friend said that if you just washed my hair, you’d know what it needs. Can I have an appointment?”
The other hairdresser chimed in.
“I’m not busy. I can take you right now.”
Her look might have meant she wanted to wash more than my hair, but she was probably just looking to drum up some business.
“Thank you kindly, ma’am, but my friend insisted that I see Rita.”
Rita spoke to her customer.
“I’ll be right back, Hon.”
She walked to the desk near the door and ran her finger down the schedule book’s open page.
“I’m clear after two. Is that all right?”
“Sure. That’s fine.”
“What’s your name?”
“Okay, Ben, I’ll see you.”
I left the shop and drove to the dip in MD-450 between Bowie and Crownsville. I parked on the side of the road, took a bottle of water from the case in the back of the Jeep, and walked south along the trail. I didn’t have far to go. A few minutes’ hike along a wooded path brought me to the bank of the South River, under an ancient red oak. The trail’s end was a small piece of land jutting into the water, offering a nice view.
I sat with my back to an oak Tall Brother and looked around. The opposite shore was about ninety feet away. The water stretched a half-mile upstream to the left, before disappearing around a tree-lined bend. Downstream, the opposite shore became more distant as it stretched away. My eyes tracked downstream, considering the little tributaries that cut through stands of trees, automatically estimating which one would have the best fishing.
No urban noise reached my ears. An occasional car could be heard on the rural Route 450 to the north where I’d parked. This land was zoned agricultural, but I wondered how long the politicians would resist the developers’ bribes. Streamside town-homes would fetch a lot of money.
Cool draughts of air sluiced south through the channel. Alone, I checked my watch. It was ten till noon. I would wait here. I took a pouch of pemmican from my pocket and bit off a chunk. The flavors rushed around my mouth making the saliva flow. It was my own recipe.
I buy my tatanka, buffalo, from a rancher named John Kelloms on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He lets me hunt, kill, and dress the bull on his property. Lakhota hunters are with their food-animal as it dies. We hold his head in our hands and look into his eyes. We bless him and thank him for allowing his life to pass into ours, for feeding our family with his body. We breathe his last breath into our own lungs. In respect of his sacrifice, we use every part of the tatanka as either food, clothing, or tools.
Frank Rosensteel, a meat-cutter in Baltimore, helps me process the tatanka. We grind the leg muscles fine and mix it with mashed blueberries, cranberries, minced apples, salt, pepper, and a bit of white sage. I spread it flat on dehydrator drying racks on my enclosed porch. The finished pemmican is stored in my freezer with the other cuts of meat.
Some of it hangs in my tipi as traditional food. I eat pemmican during my seasons of prayer. I replenish the tipi’s stock of meat from the freezer as needed, but my solitary appetite hardly makes a dent in the food provided by a single tatanka.
Grandfather, the Great Spirit, is kind. I have plenty to eat. I have time to tan the hides and to make moccasins and clothing from the hides that don’t become bedding or tipi covers. While my fingers are busy, a lot of prayer can be made.
I drank some water and chewed, re-hydrating the meat. Pemmican is so much better than the wasiçiu beef jerky with all its chemicals. Once, I tried some of it. The label said “pemmican,” but the list of ingredients looked like it contained ground-up wasiçiugovernment agencies: BHA and BHT were there as preservatives, and maybe dehydrated BATF, BIA, FDA, and some powdered IRS were in there, too.
A breeze stirred the surface of the water. A fish jumped and caught a bug. Ripples spread out on the surface, heading for the distant shores. Even the simple act of a fish feeding sent subtle pulses of impact in all directions. How could people imagine that their actions don’t affect others?
I needed to attune to my path. I needed to sensitize myself to the gentle guiding presence of Wakan Tanka and his power spirit Taku Skanskan. I placed my water on the ground and purified my mind.
I had been learning new rituals. I thought I’d try one. I began to sing a soft summoning song. I heard motion in the tree above me. I ignored the two squirrels that ran over to look. Squirrels are cute and funny, but they sure put the “ding” in “dingbat.” Their appearance wasn’t proof that I was performing the summoning ritual correctly.
With my mind, I reached deep into the earth. I felt an underground stream. Water is stronger than rock. I drew strength from it and let it flow through me. I chose not to broadcast, but to simply resonate in it. Soon the summons saturated my being.
I sensed other animals. Without moving, I opened my eyes to slits. Across the water, a doe and two fawns came out of the trees and down to the water. While the children drank, the mother watched me.
I moved my eyes right. Two beavers poked their heads above water. One floated on his back while the other climbed on top. For a moment, the second beaver’s head was about fourteen inches above the water and looking at me. I did not move.
I continued to resonate with the summoning rite. A presence to my right made a small cough. I opened my eyes and turned my head. One of the beavers smacked his tail before they were both gone. I continued to turn my head. A red fox spoke.
“What do you want? I was sleeping.”
“I am sorry, Red Mother. I was practicing my prayers and spoke the summoning ritual.”
“Yes, yes. Well, it worked. What do you want?”
“Nothing, Red Mother. I was only practicing. I learned it recently and wanted to see if I could use it.”
“You woke me for that?”
“I am sorry, Red Mother. I didn’t think.”
The red fox sat.
“Never mind. It is good to talk to a two-legged. You aren’t as ignorant as your brothers.”
“I am a star-child of The Great Father and Earth Mother. We are Lakhota. The ignorant ones are not our lodge brothers. We call them wasiçiu, one of our terms for ‘strange ones’.”
“They certainly are strange.”
“Yes,” I said.
“If there is nothing you need, then I will go back to sleep.”
“Thank you, Red Mother. In the future, I will only summon if I need council.”
“If I hear, I will come,” she said, then cocked her head. “It has been longer than can be said since one of your people spoke to mine. Why is that?”
“The wasiçiu drove the Red Nations from the land. The wasiçiu know nothing of the ancient earth tongue.”
“Where you live, do your kind and mine talk?”
“Only a few of us. Most of my people are sick with wasiçiu ways. I am one who hopes to heal them.”
“Good luck, Red Brother. The other two-legged are evil, and it will take strong medicine to defeat them.”
“I don’t think they mean to be evil. They are simply ignorant and self-centered.”
“Maybe you know them better than we do. We just avoid them. Wait till I tell my kit-brother that I spoke to a two-legged. He won’t believe it.”
“The wasiçiu don’t believe we talk to animals. Sadly, a lot of Lakhota don’t believe it either.”
“It was good to meet you, Red Brother. Walk in beauty.”
“Walk in peace, Red Mother.”
“You know our customs? Now, I know kit-brother won’t believe me.”
She snuffled in laughter as she trotted into the woods. I checked my watch. It was 1:00. It always seemed as if I had been in a time-warp when I was done meditating.
I was sweaty and hungry. I had no more pemmican, so I told my hunger to be quiet. The first of the Lakhota ways — denial of the body — is to strengthen the spirit. Life is hard. That is why we honor bravery.
I stood, picked up my things, then walked back to the car. I smiled at the bass that swam in the lake, keeping pace with me. I wished for them to have many bugs over their water tonight. Taku Skanskan would have to grant it; I did not know any bug-calling rituals.
When I got to my Jeep Cherokee, I took a satchel from the back seat. A small medicine pouch provided powdered sweetgrass and cornflower that I rubbed between my palms, warming and crushing it further, releasing the fragrance. I rubbed it into my underarms, then wiped my face and hands with a cloth before wiping off the herbs. Placing the towel on the seat to dry, I started the car, turning it west toward Bowie.
It was now the time of the beginning.
There was no turning back.
How the Strong Survive
by Newton Love
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