Sunshine warms his sweat glazed skin. The air is punctuated by the bang of axe on wood. Thump, creak. Thump, creak. The firewood falls free to join a large pile beside the tree stump, its top chewed rough by the axe blade.
Shirtless, Wanbdi expertly swings the axe placing it dead center in the stump. Pleased with himself, he stands tall, a callused hand shades his eyes from the sun. A familiar blue Ford van pulls into the drive, window down, Ota Kute at the wheel.
“Hau, toked yaun he. Hello, how are you?” Ota greets him.
“Wastedo. Good. Where you going in such a hurry?” Wanbdi teases. “You in trouble with your wife again?”
“Not this time.” He answers. “She didn’t catch me yet.” The old man laughs shaking his head.
“Actually I’m going over to the Sundance at Canupawakpa. I hear they want you over there.”
“They do?” Wanbdi frowns surprised.
“I’m heading over there right now. If you want, you can ride with me.”
“Okay. I will. Let me grab my jacket.”
Hurrying along the gravel road, the van blows a trail of dust behind. Perfume from a yellow sea of ripe canola fills the van with sweet childhood memories. Wanbdi is home.
“How are you doing?” The old man asks him. “Are you doing okay since you’ve been back from the army?”
“I’ve found myself some work as a plumber. I’m heading over to Fort Alex next week.” Wanbdi answers. “You know Ota everything is so different. My friends are all married. They’ve got kids. They’ve got jobs. Me, I’ve got nothing. I want to get myself a car.”
“You were gone a long time.” Ota offers. “In six years a lot can happen around here. It’ll take some time for you to get used to things again.”
“Yes, I’m sure you are right.” Wanbdi agrees.
Wanbdi doesn’t know it, but Ota, his elder, is helping him in the most profound way. His wisdom sees the potential, the sacredness trying to bubble up from within.
A blue flag on the side of the road signals the turn. Ota slows the van, turns into the Sundance grounds and stops abruptly. He climbs down from the van, walks directly over to the singers and the empty chair that awaits. Nodding to the other singers, he picks up a drum stick and sings.
Wanbdi, drawn towards the arbour, stands to watch the dancers. The men, shirtless and wearing long red skirts hold an eagle bone whistle tightly between their front teeth. Drum beat and whistles keep a steady beat. Dancing feet pound out the rhythm – left, right, left right. Eyes fixed and trance-like, facing inwards, they form a great circle around the Sundance tree who awaits in the center of the arbour. Laden with prayer cloth of every color, branches reach upwards towards Creator, beseeching.
Two nations are dancing together – the Chippewa and the Dakota.
“Tunkansida, omakiya wo. Omakiya wo. Grandfather, help me, help me.” They sing around the big drum.
In unison arms stretch upwards to acknowledge the Holy Tree, then return waist height to rest. The drum beat is the steady clatter of a train running on a circular track. Each time the train passes the station, dancers reach upwards pleading. Dancing and praying. Dancing and praying.
Soon the hypnotic song does its work; Wanbdi becomes quiet on the inside. Thoughts fade and, for once in a very long while, his feelings of anger and frustration are gone. His awareness is focussed on the sacred events taking place before him, the Holy Tree. That is when it happens.
One moment he stands facing the tree, the next he is high above the Sundance. He looks down upon himself and the dancers. The visions rush past ears and eyes faster and faster. An eagle floats above the hills. Men and women, dressed in hides of long ago, walk upon the earth. Children dart in and out between them laughing. Voices speak in the old Dakota language. Far off in the distance a dog barks. An elk stands, ears up and alert, in a grassy meadow. A grizzly bear charges towards him.
With a start, Wanbdi awakes in his parents’ house. Disorientated he throws his feet to the side of the bed and sits up. On the floor his crumpled jacket lay discarded. He runs his hands through his hair and shakes his head. His mind reaches back to the Sundance and the vision.
“What happened after that? How did I get home?”
The floor is cold on his bare feet. The morning sun intices him outside to the basin where he splashes water on his face.
The field stretches out in front of him. A flash of sun reflecting on metal catches his eye. In the distance, Mr. Hamilton, dressed in a long sleeve plaid shirt and large straw hat bounces upon his tractor seat. The wheels turn kicking up dust behind.
Wanbdi watches spellbound; then it hits him. Mr. Hamilton lives five miles away.
“How is it possible for me to see that far?”
In Creator’s world, full of mystery, the earth turns. She orbits around the sun following the exact same path since her birth. Life breathes in. Life breathes out.
And, in this perfect place and time, the transformation begins … hoksida hehan wicasta. Ickwe wicasta hehan Wicasta Wakan… from boy to man, from ordinary man to Holy Man.”
Join us next week for blog #10 Sacred Instructions.