Twelve of us are riding in a van along a highway. The truck in front of us pulls off the road. Are we cutting wood here? How funny would that be? Stop. No, this is what’s going to happening. This is life. Where does the firewood come from? Here, it comes from a near-by forest, cut by a person we’ve met, transported by a person with a 4WD Chevy flatbed that I’m about to ride in.
This was new to me. I read on the National Forest Service’s website about firewood cutting permits. I assumed that people would get firewood-cutting permits because they enjoyed cutting their own fire-wood. Here, they cut down wood to use it in preparation for a ceremony. I assume that cutting the wood yourself is much cheaper than buying that much firewood (two full flatbeds-worth).
Next, while watching two men prepare the stone-heating fire, Little Mike arrived in the same truck used to haul firewood 2 hours ago. I heard that there was a buck in the back. They just shot a deer? What is going on? Yes, Little Mike just shot a deer, and now he’s skinning it at the tree over there. The meat will be given to various family members and friends. Again, this is life —maybe not for all or even some of the people living on the Pine Ridge reservation, but at least for Little Mike and his friends.
My godfather hunts javelina and deer regularly. He is retired and enjoys hunting and eating animals, but he doesn’t do so regularly. Due to the casual flow of the skinning the deer and the fact that Little Mike, Charlie, and others went out to hunt for a shorter period of time (~3 hours rather than days at a time), I assume that this is a regular activity. Due to comments about a relative’s appreciation of the gift of the deer meet, I assume that hunting was more/less required—not for survival, but for the enjoyment of larger amounts of meat.
These two activities made Little Mike’s way of life seem very different from my way of life.
The sweet lodge and yuwipi rituals did the opposite.
I found these rituals not so different from Catholic rituals i.e. holy communion, adoration. In both, all in attendance are allowed to share their intentions—their is room for personal expression. In both, people pray and sing. In both, community members are bonded together.
Although scared in some cases, overly excited in other, I found myself at home in these rituals because of these similarities. We are all in such different walks of life. We are all in such similar walks of life.
Walking a Walk of Life with Little Mike at Bear Butte
Photo courtesy of Caroline Cary