I had every intention to write frequently at Pine Ridge, and, in some regards, totally followed through. I wrote in a manic sort of way during the night’s shadowed hours while others slept. Scribbling in my notebook with a book light clipped into my hair, I was desperate to put my sea of emotions and experiences onto a page: feeding the necessity to not only concrete the forming memories into words, but also simultaneously allowing myself to let go of my thoughts rather than cling to every word of my days.
So, yes, I wrote.
But I didn’t blog. I considered it a few times. In the mornings when I woke early, with time to spare before the troops climbed into the vans to shuttle to the buffalo pasture, or up north through Rapid City to the sacred vision quest site of Bear Butte–where we climbed and climbed and climbed and, for me, the land spun at the top, I was so dizzy and I cried, my fatigued body swelled with more emotion than I ever thought capable of containing and I weeped as we formed a circle and cleansed ourselves with sage and the singing began. Or I considered blogging before we headed over to Mike Littleboy Senior’s land, where the tipi was erected and we wandered the Sundance fields and eventually entered the nightly sweat. Those moments when I sat on the splintering wooden bench outside the motel, before all that, the South Dakota morning sun stark, blasting over the pale plains, I could have easily pulled out my laptop and connected to the dinosaur wifi then. I’m obsessive with obligations. I’ve run several blogs, worked for “professional” circles, and I so easily become neurotic about my schedule–getting it all done on the days I deemed appropriate at the start. But I didn’t blog this last week. I remained devoted to my pencil and notebook, my privacy. And I now recognize this was vital: alowing myself the space to truly contemplate what I was witnessing, feeling–what my entire class was experiencing, learning–keeping my sacred moments my own, protecting what I saw and felt and heard.
On Tuesday I sent my mom a photo of the site where we blessed the buffalo through a pipe ceremony. I’d be enraptured by the reverent expansive land–those rolling fields, the high sun baked grasses shuffling in the biting wind, the bare trees black against the blue November sky. I thought the photo was nice. I thought she’d surely agree of the land’s sweetness.
But my mom texted back: looks pretty desolate.
Perhaps her comment was more of an observation of my poor photography rather than southern South Dakota and the Pine Ridge Reservation itself, but it stayed with me as the days flushed forward nonetheless. Can one actually comprehend a place’s beauty–its sacredness–without experiencing it firsthand? Can a photo or a blog even scratch the surface of what actually exists? I personally think it’s quite clear: no. In Pine Ridge’s situation, there is a spirit in the land embedded by the Lakota people, their love and understanding, their openness and care, their history. Mike Littleboy Junior spoke something of this last night before our final sweat and the Yuwipi Ceremony. I sat on the other side of the fire, my head ducked against the spitting ash, too cold and drained to move to a less obtrusive spot, so most of what he said was lost. But I do recall mention of the Lakota land, its physical barren state, and the spirit it holds regardless: its ability to heal, how we were all led there to learn, for our reasons, our own healing, how even if it may not be rich and intensely fertile, the land is nonetheless woven with spirit and life.
I wouldn’t be the first to state the line that there is obviously more to see than what meets the eyes. You have to feel it too. You have to listen.
Perhaps what I’m trying to get at is my recognition of the need for personal retreat (writing). Not only for the obvious reasons of processing and all the usual yadayada journaling claims, but because, on some level, I must keep my experiences sacred, for only I can actually thread my past words into the authentic emotion of what was felt, and only those who have met the gracious Little Boy family can understand their wisdom and sincerity, and only those who’ve gone through the ceremonies can grasp the mysterious intensity, and only those who have walked the Lakota land can truly comprehend its beauty.
I’ve been back on campus for over six hours now, back in my bedroom at my desk facing Pike’s Peak, trying to make sense of the already dimming memories of the week. Something shifted, and so now, and tomorrow, and next week, as the space between the then and the now widens, I can only try to understand what it is that shifted and its connection to the traditions of the Lakota people and their ceremonies. And as I work through that fun personal gunk and the academic analysis to come, maybe I will accept the inferiority of my ability to portray the land’s soul through images and words. Maybe I will let go and simply do my best to share.
So I’ll try that now: it was a beautiful week and I’m filled with gratitude.