I see the crow ahead, on a fence post. He rests on the edge of the farmer’s property, where our Lakota community held its circle. At the base of the mountain where I stand, I can see the lodges and the heart of the questing community. I see the sundance pole in the center of an alfalfa field, and I see the miles of hills filled with sage beyond it. I feel the river that snakes through the camp, and I regret not stopping there before I climbed. I was baptized in that river. I was, for a time, the beautiful person I wanted to be, and everyone there saw it.
I long for that time when I felt so vulnerable and unaware. Still, I know this is not the day for recollection. I am a different person now. Perhaps I will stop there on my return to the cabin changed even more, but I cannot think of a return today. I must be satisfied with the slight tingle at the base of my spine, where a tattoo is a permanent reminder of who I became in that space. Today I must go to where the crow calls me. I move away from the familiar outcome.
Turning, I climb over the fence. I now stand on unowned land. I’m sure somewhere, in a government record, someone holds title to a lot on this side of the fence, but the documented property is not where I stand. I have stepped into a place that is of a time when people did not own the land. It is of a time when the land was free.
I turn to look back, but the fence I just climbed is gone. Somewhere deep inside, I know a sweat lodge is still there, but it is not owned by middle-classed white people trying to discover what it means to be connected. It is the lodge of a Piute Shaman who lives in this valley and climbs this mountain alone. I do not know who he is or how long he has been on his quest, but I do know what he does is essential for his people. I’m sure he senses my presence for a moment but knows I come with respect and am of no threat to his journey. I feel him wish me well as I wish him well, and then together, we lay the impulse of connection aside and continue with our prayers.
I move along the mountain, away from his circle and toward the climbing peak. The grass is dry here, and there is no longer a trail cut through the long reeds of yellow. As I move through the grass, I feel them draw like tiny knives across my legs. My jeans are tucked into knee-high moccasins to protect my legs from the prongs of wheat. Another reason to trust my preparation.
As the sun climbs, I transfer the poncho to my bag, pulling the sweater tight around my body. The action is not as much for warmth as it is for comfort. The air is chilly, but not in a physical kind of way. It is early summer at the cabin, but I have climbed to a place where it is now late fall. So, the earth still radiates heat. I can feel it warm upon my body, but there is the sense of a chill wind in the air. It’s not a chill I feel upon my skin. I feel it move across my heart and through my body. The frigid temperature lets me know he is here. I am moving closer to where his home is. He wants me to understand I am approaching the place where he makes the rules.
I am confident I understand, and he laughs because he knows I can’t understand, not yet. “But you will,” he says. “You will realize very soon, and it will not be anything you’ve ever felt before.”
Pulling tight against IEO’s sweater, I canvas my surroundings for comfort. I do not see the wolf or the birds. Of course, not seeing the birds is a good thing. They are a warning of danger, but I wish I could see the wolf. I know he is close by, but I wish I could see him watching me, to be sure.
I know I need to trust, and I do not need to see, but it is difficult as I contemplate a rocky peak rising before me. It is like none I have ever seen. It shines like polished onyx, ominous, and feels like more than I can bear. I remember getting lumps of licorice coal as a child. My parents thought it was a great gag, but I thought it was real. I thought Santa, the one person who might love me, didn’t. I know they were trying to be funny, but I didn’t get the joke, and I didn’t like licorice. I feel the same now. I know I must go there, but I don’t want to go. I have a feeling I’m not going to like the taste.
I want to stop, but I will not turn back, not against any danger. It will be worse if I do. So, I steady my walk and drive forward. As I approach, a massive chunk of black granite is jutting up from the grass before me. It is tall and black and entirely unforgiving, nor is it warm like the rest of Mother Earth in this early fall season. Cold air emanates from the core or the monolith and feels like ice to the touch. I swear it must be crow or death itself towering before me.
There is something unnatural and unholy about this place, and I already regret knowing I must enter here. This is no desert. It is not 40 days of empty, un-nurturing earth. It is not a barren wasteland of potential. This is where evil lives and hope die, and it has been 1500 years in the making. I don’t know how I believed I could bring it crashing down. I don’t think I can do this, and I know I must. If I am ever to find peace again, I must succeed.