One Perfect Tomato

This year, as I watch the headlines – wildfire here, floods there, a typhoon, hailstorms, drought, vanished sea ice in the Arctic, millions of hectares clearcut in Brazil – I have been witnessing the most extraordinarily gracious and gentle weather in our part of Baltimore. Warm – but not stifling – days, balmy nights, plenty of soaking rain – California weather, I’ve called it.

I spend afternoons on my front porch swing with my computer, watching the catbird and cardinals – and a new bird, looking and acting like an acid-washed starling – working over the suet, and the hummingbirds buzzing around their feeder with their anxious-sounding little chirps, occasionally whirling over to check me out, just a few feet from where I sit. Crickets chirping, the sound of traffic distant on our dead-end street.

This is perfection, I think to myself. The black-eyed Susans and echinacea and phlox overflow their corner of the rain garden; my backyard is a jungle with plaintain and red clover and lemon balm and mugwort spilling over the perimeters and the veggie garden awash in insectary and medicinal herbs among the veg plants.

“Thank you,” I tell the spirit entities of the land. “I love you. Thank you for all you do to keep this land green and healthy.”

Everything is overgrowing its boundaries. The cucumber vines wrap almost all the length of the garden fence and have wandered into the tomatoes and beebalm. I have been madly picking fat yellow cucumbers that expand in diameter, not length, turning green only as they grew overripe. Cucumber soup and felafel, my mother’s cold beet-and-cucumber soup, cucumber salads….I want to share them, try pickling some but these cukes grow too fast! They are on the edge before I realize they are ripe.

I step though the gate, brushing past the borage and the bean vines with their foot-long crimson fruit. Perfunctorily lift aside the squash leaves – these two plants have been blooming like overworked lawyers in love, trying to book a mating time between their male and female blossoms. It’s August and they haven’t hooked up yet, despite my efforts to hand-pollinate. It’s not pollinators that are the problem here – I see plenty of ground bees, moths, butterflies. The problem is timing. I imagine the blossoms immersed in smartphones and planners, watching excretions and temperatures, not looking up until their would-be mates have faded.

At first glance I see nothing – withered stumps where female blossoms died unfertilized. I move on to look for cucumbers…and then notice, almost under my feet, a length of dark-green, smooth – squash!

I feel like a middle-aged mother greeting her in-vitro firstborn. Eyes wide, mouth agape until I realize I’m likely to swallow a mosquito. The baby is about six inches long – big enough for picking, but I’ll wait till tomorrow when the latest batch of cuke soup is gone. This squash may be the only one I harvest; it deserves special treatment.

Gesturing a blessing over its speckled length, I turn to the tomatoes, not expecting to find anything but blossoms and baby fruit. I’ve picked one huge tomato to ripen in the window, after seeing it hang green for weeks in the heat. It was easily four inches in diameter; any others would be easy to spot…

And there is one! One enormous yellow fruit, hiding under the leaves, as big as my palm. It comes off readily in my hands.

I admire them as the sun glances off its skin, setting it glowing. Its heady fragrance rises along with that of the warm basil plants next to me.

And suddenly the beautiful, fragile, glorious, suffering world narrows down to this one moment: a small jungle of a garden producing these rare, glorious fruits in the face of tragedy and disaster around the world. I hold the tomato up to my nose, take a deep breath  of its aroma, reach down to pinch four leaves off the basil plant.

I want to immerse in this tomato and its green companion. I want to taste and absorb the golden sunlight shining in its skin, the earthy-spicy-sweet flavor of its flesh. We go into the kitchen and I wash and slice them, thanking them for their beauty and vitality. Put them in a Sunday-dress-up bowl and take them out to the porch swing.

The sun is bathing the porch with its golden glow. The birds are winging in for their evening feeding. I sit on the swing, watching them, taking one bite after another of perfect golden-green balmy rare, perfect-summer sensual delight into my mouth, savoring it, being nourished by it like a cancer patient savoring a last meal.

I will cherish this property and its green and feathered and winged and four-legged and burrowing beings as long as we share life. And – if this is the last summer of delight – I will savor and share and immerse and give thanks for every blessing this land gives. Until this summer, until I faced the awareness of coming loss, I have never truly savored or given adequate thanks for the fruit of the land I tend, or the beings who support its production.

Standing Rock: The Relations Multiply

Just a brief post tonight….and yes, there will be more about my visit to Standing Rock; after the horrific events of 10/27, I am still madly sharing the news I see to inform sympathetic friends.

But this thought: One of the most moving elements of my experience at Oceti Sakowin was the warmth of the welcome and the shared support of the men and women camped there. The elders at the drum circle would speak of the campers as family – “we are all relations here” – and it was common to hear groups addressed as “relatives” or “brothers” or “sisters” with the deepest authenticity.

In the deepest sense, yes, we were all there as members of the earthly tribe of living beings whose most critical and intimate connection is to water – water as sacred, water as life, water as ultimately endangered – and so we as humans (whatever our race, gender, nationality or creed), along with nonhumans of all descriptions, were intimately related. It was a bond of mutual support, respect, caring, and genuine tenderness.

As many times as I had heard the words Mitakuye Oyasin – All My Relations – I had never experienced it so deeply.

Coming home after that profound experience of community – family – was difficult; re-entering my solitary life was difficult. Reading of the events that followed my departure – the overwhelming, brutal force unleashed against the water protectors – has been devastating.  Yes, I’ve been madly sharing article after article; the pain of reading and sharing has in some strange way been…not relieved, but distributed…among other caring hearts who add their prayers and energy to the immeasurable energetic support being sent to Standing Rock, and share the word in turn.

By joining the  innumerable others who have connected to the heart-community of mni wiconi – water as sacred, water as life, water as endangered – in sharing its suffering and power with our circles of friends, and seeing them passionately spreading the felt connection to their circles of friends, we are helping to extend the family of Oceti Sakowin across the continent and the globe.

We are all, truly, related.

14910504_10207499657830224_3903113288269618939_nAnd now the meaning of the water-blessing ceremony begins to sink in: just as the water of life was poured into the sacred vessels, blessed, shared throughout the community, and borne to the river, where it rejoined the earth’s living waters with prayers, we who have visited Oceti Sakowin have become vessels of its message, carrying it in our hearts and sharing it with the world, and returning it to Source in our steadily multiplying prayers of support.

I remember Bea Jackson, the Ojibwe medicine woman who led and taught us the ritual, smiling and saying “It’s all part of the action.”

Indeed it is. Indeed it is.

Standing Rock: A Moral Choice for the Media

To the Editors:

Reading the prevailing mainstream coverage of the horrifying events at Standing Rock on 10/27 and 11/2, as hundreds of police from multiple states massed in military vehicles and riot gear against the unarmed, praying water protectors, I have been simply appalled. While some reporters have represented the full situation (more or less), too many have been one-sided or biased in their coverage, weighting the words of corrupt officials beholden to the oil industry and diminishing the just claims of the people being victimized as they struggle to protect the water resources not only of their tribal lands, but of the nation’s heartland. Even cursory research would have turned up the truth that there is far more to the situation than is being represented.

Here is the backstory too many articles are not mentioning: the Dakota Access pipeline was originally slated to run close to the city of Bismarck, but potential risk to the city’s water sources (!) led the project engineers to re-route the pipeline’s path across the treaty lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Note the difference here: where water needs of the citizens of Bismarck were consulted, those of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation were not. They were presented with the pipeline plans as a fait accompli, as their treaty rights were blatantly disregarded in yet another disgraceful example of this country’s double-dealing with the sovereign nations within its borders. They have been fighting this pipeline route since 2014; the current direct action resistance is simply the latest tactic.

A common statement is “(protestors) are concerned that if the pipeline ruptures, an oil spill could pollute drinking water.” Again, this gives only part of the picture. The DAPL – which is being constructed by the same company responsible for the recent leak that contaminated the Susquehanna River in Lancaster, PA – would threaten not only the Missouri River (and ultimately the Mississippi) but also the Oglala Aquifer, the nation’s largest source of ancient fresh water, on which not only the Standing Rock Sioux Nation but millions of people, Native and non-Native, depend. According to water protector Debra White Plume, reservation water is mixed from the Missouri River and the Aquifer  – which has already been compromised in places by corporate uranium mining in the Black Hills. If oil seeped with groundwater into the Oglala Aquifer, or contaminated the Missouri River, the effect would be catastrophic – and irreparable.

How likely is the pipe to leak? Take a look at this map of pipeline leaks over 5 years. In North Dakota alone, there have been 292 spills in just two years – only one of which was reported. “”Oil pipelines break, spill, and leak—it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of where and when,” as 13-year-old Standing Rock Sioux Anna Lee Rain YellowHammer said .

More than 200 indigenous nations from the U.S., Canada, Central America, South America, and Australia, have gathered to support the Standing Rock Nation, recognizing that this issue is one of global environmental justice as represented in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – which the U.S. has endorsed.

One reporter mentioned that “earlier this month, the tribe lost an appeal in federal court, paving the way for construction on the $3.8 billion pipeline to continue.” Again, only part of the story, not mentioning that the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior immediately responded to the court’s decision with a joint statement to “cease to authorize construction” on federally controlled land.. Quoting the statement:

“The Army will not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws. Therefore, construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time. The Army will move expeditiously to make this determination, as everyone involved — including the pipeline company and its workers — deserves a clear and timely resolution. In the interim, we request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.” (http://www.ecowatch.com/dakota-access-pipeline-decision-2001895297.html )

Meanwhile, the Sheriff of Morton County, supported by Gov. Dalrymple and the mercenary security forces serving DAPL have been ramping up their mistreatment of the water protectors. Their actions qualify as torture under the U.S. Army Field Manual – using attack dogs hoods, strip searches (including repeated strip searches of underage girls); shooting unarmed elders and supporters with rubber bullets and chemical agents at point-blank range; leaving prisoners naked in their cells for prolonged periods, penned in dog cages on cold concrete…and more. Since when was this allowable in the U.S.?

Standing Rock chairman David Archambault has appealed to the United Nations regarding the blatant violation of treaty lands and human rights. In response, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, along with Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller; Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John H. Knox; and Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, have “admonished the U.S. for failing to protect protesters’ rights and failing to properly consult with communities affected by the fossil fuel infrastructure.

Amnesty International has also called for an investigation of Sheriff Kirchmeier’s inhuman tactics and documented humiliations of NoDAPL water protectors.

Both the U.N. and Amnesty International have now sent delegations to observe the treatment being meted out by the so-called law-enforcement forces.

The water protectors are supported also by science, as CommonDreams.org notes: “Close to 100 scientists have signed onto a letter decrying “inadequate environmental and cultural impact assessments” for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and calling for a halt to construction until such tests have been carried out as requested by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.”

If journalists are going to cover this historic story, I would hope that they would do somewhat better than the current Fox News level of lazy and one-sided coverage skewed to propitiate the same oil corporations being served by the notably corrupt Gov. Dalrymple. The Sioux nations have been waging a peaceful, prayerful resistance for the sake not only of their own water but for that of the nation’s largest aquifer and heartland rivers (see a map of the Mississippi watershed, and the rivers veining the center of the U.S. here, stating time and again “Mni Wiconi” – Water is Life – and “You Cannot Drink Oil.” And for this, self-serving media outlets have been blindly accepting a corrupt government’s portrayal of them as criminals. This is utterly unacceptable. Even a cursory YouTube search will reveal the documented evidence of human rights abuses against prayerful, nonviolent resistance.

This is a watershed issue with implications for the world (as affirmed by the delegations of indigenous nations from Canada, Central and South America, Australia and Norway to Standing Rock): the need of living beings for water is being pitted against the crushing domination of Big Oil, with its devastating impact on ecosystems and the climate. Even insiders in the oil industry are admitting that this situation represents a “political debacle” for Big Oil.

This is a moral issue for the journalists of the world: the facts you choose, the quotes you use, by default support either DAPL’s script – supporting oil extraction and spills, climate change, poisoning of the water of millions, and criminalizing those who resist – or that of the people and ecosystems of the Mississippi watershed, and the global climate. The potential impact of the stories you publish is profound.  On which side of history do you choose to land?

Standing Rock – Setting Stories Aside, Seeking News

There is a time when human-interest stories of strong and gentle people preparing for winter in a remote resistance camp fade before a heart-stopping demonstration of raw communal courage, made in the face of overwhelming militarized force. A demonstration documented only on social media; the most important history of our time is being made far away from the mainstream news cameras.

That’s what happened yesterday. My accustomed middle-class routine was setting in; I’d intended to spend the day blogging about the amazing people I met at Standing Rock. But upon seeing a stark, terse warning in a NoDAPL group’s feed, I spent the day frantically scouring Facebook for the latest news, trying desperately to find out what was happening and get the news to someone – anyone – who could give it the mainstream media coverage it deserves.

Urgent. Tell frontlines on all channels. Confirmed: Around 50 police vehicles on the way to front lines with 5 trailers full of atvs.
Estimates from
30 police suvs
5-6 flare beds full of atvs (5 atvs per trailer)
4-5 unmarked suvs
4-5 Cop cars probably from various jurisdictions
5-6 sand colors humvees/mraps
Get get word to frontlines
Seen 45 miles east of bismarck around 10:45
So total 60 vehicles plus 30 atvs
Plus forensic van

It was another reminder – if reminders were needed – that Oceti Sakowin is not a rainbow social gathering, much as it seemed like one, with people of all races, genders, and creeds present and pitching in harmoniously. The camp is very genuinely a strong and oppressed nation’s last stand in defense of its land and water, its people and ultimately all peoples, human and otherwise, who occupy the watersheds of the continent’s great heartland rivers and Oglala aquifer.

There are still stories to tell about my stay at Oceti Sakowin, but I can’t think of them now. From what I have learned today, on the morning of Sunday, October 23, the water protectors set up a blockade on Rt. 1806 and reclaimed and reconsecrated the land ceded to them in the 1851 Fort Laramie treaty. According to their press statement:

“This frontline camp is located on the final three 3 miles of the proposed pipeline route, before it connects with the drill pad that will take the pipeline beneath the Missouri River. Active construction of the Dakota Access pipeline is 2 miles west of this frontline camp. Oceti Sakowin water protectors continue an on-going pledge to halt active construction as frequently as possible.

Mekasi Camp-Horinek, an Oceti Sakowin camp coordinator states, “Today, the Oceti Sakowin has enacted eminent domain on DAPL lands, claiming 1851 treaty rights. This is unceded land. Highway 1806 as of this point is blockaded. We will be occupying this land and staying here until this pipeline is permanently stopped. We need bodies and we need people who are trained in non-violent direct action. We are still staying non-violent and we are still staying peaceful.”

Joye Braun, Indigenous Environmental Network organizer states, “We have never ceded this land. If DAPL can go through and claim eminent domain on landowners and Native peoples on their own land, then we as sovereign nations can then declare eminent domain on our own aboriginal homeland. We are here to protect the burial sites here. Highway 1806 has become the no surrender line.”

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A signpost by the Cannonball River points to water protectors’ places of origin: more than 200 indigenous nations from the U.S., Canada, Latin America and South America, plus innumerable non-native supporters.

They were met with a massive military force – armored vehicles, tanks, sound cannons – and a pro-DAPL sniper shot a video drone out of the sky to eliminate documentation of the event. Later that evening, Linda Black Elk, tribal coordinator of the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council, told me that the state’s forces “have seriously lost their minds.”

That is as much as I know at this time. I have seen no new news so far today.

There were warnings even before I left that something was in the works. The police patrols on Rt. 1806 past the camp and in the air were increasing in frequency. People coming into camp reported seeing police and military vehicles massing at points alongside the highway. At the communal tables in the dining tent, front-line activists spoke of seeing others arrested, passing time with Amy Goodman (who had stopped briefly at Oceti Sakowin before proceeding to her hearing for alleged rioting while doing her job as a journalist, recording dogs set on unarmed water protectors a month before; the rioting charge was ultimately thrown out in court). The consensus: the Bill of Rights was being shredded, with freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press in tatters. And when would Obama step in?

It was hard leaving the friends I’d made; all of us were aware that anything might happen in the coming days or weeks. The National Guard at the “information stop” on Rt. 1806 waved me through with barely a glance; I learned later that the checkpoint was shut down the next day. Because communications are jammed and mainstream media, by and large, are studiously ignoring the history being made there, getting news of events as they happen is next to impossible.

And so I connect by social media with other Standing Rock supporters across the nation, make prayers, and reach out to all the media folk I know.

May justice and peace prevail. May justice and peace prevail.

 

Standing Rock: A Call to Action – Direct and Subtle

On Saturday, October 15, everyone in the camp met for Pipe ceremony preceding a direct action at the pipeline construction site. This account is based on my memory; no notes were taken. I’ve made every effort to remain faithful to the messages conveyed, but these are paraphrases, not direct quotes.

The call came while the eastern sky was still dark: Wake up, water protectors! Wake up, water warriors! Hoka hey – it’s time to get up! We have been sleeping for more than 500 years. This is the time to stand up and protect our land for coming generations! We are the seventh generation, this is the seventh fire, now is the time for us to stand up at Standing Rock! They want to portray us as savages – it is time to show them that we are protecting the water and land not only for our people but for all people and for all of life. The world is looking at you! It’s time to get up and remember that!”

Lakota Elder Guy Dull Knife of Pine Ridge, SD, was rousing the people for Pipe ceremony at the South Gate, riding through the camp with microphone in hand, his voice resounding in the still, cold air. Wondering how to find the South Gate – perhaps follow the drums that were now echoing some distance away? – I rolled out of my sleeping bag, hastily changed clothes and maneuvered out of my tiny tent with flashlight in hand. Fortunately I encountered one of the women I’d met in the kitchen earlier, and together we followed the rutted dirt roads through the camp – how far? Half a mile? More? – to a fire beside one of the gated driveways opening onto Rt. 1806. Shadowy forms of people circled the fire; several elders were sitting beside it. There was no other sign of activity; the summoning voice was still distant.

This Pipe ceremony for the entire camp was to precede a triple action at the pipeline construction site – that was all I knew. We waited in chilly silence until the voice and sound of drums grew louder, and two trucks approached: Guy Dull Knife as ceremonial leader and his assistants. Sage was sent around to smudge the people as the singers honored the four directions, the Great Mystery, and Mother Earth; Pipe carriers were called to the center to prepare their ceremonial pipes as the canupa-filling song was sung. And as the Pipes were taken around the circle for the hundreds of people, Dull Knife spoke of the sacred intent and protocol of the action that was about to take place.

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Reminders of direct action principles are posted throughout the camp and offered in daily trainings.

This was an action of prayer and love, he reminded the people: we were in ceremony and should act accordingly, with dignity and restraint; the water protectors must stay in prayer. He understood that the young men, seeing the abuses of the police and DAPL mercenaries, could get angry, but this was a place to keep emotions in check, to hold oneself accountable to the people. If a water warrior did get angry and begin to swear and act out, a security person from the people would step in to stop him, and that would reflect badly, that the people were not in unity and prayer. The eyes of the world were on the water protectors, people from all over the world, even movie stars, were coming to stand and be arrested with them.

I could hear a wry smile in Dull Knife’s booming voice: are there any movie stars here? Come and stand with us!

His tone shifted: He knew that there were spies for DAPL and the police and the feds among us. He invited them to come along and see that the water protectors were not savages, but that they were protecting the water that the families and children of the police and DAPL also needed to drink. We cannot drink oil, the water must be protected, the water is life! In fact, he invited them to come and stand with the water protectors, be arrested alongside them!

The Pipes were coming to the completion of the ceremony. As their carriers performed the closing portions of the ritual, Dull Knife began calling out the logistics: move quickly to your cars, buddy up, we leave in five minutes for the sites! People wereimg_20161016_073603908 striding in all directions – which way had we come? Where was my campsite and car? And was I prepared to go and risk being arrested? I made a guess as to the direction from which we’d come and started walking, soul-searching all the way, heart pounding as I thought of the increased militarization of the forces that surely would meet the water protectors.

By the time I found my tent and car, the decision had been made for me; the cars were gone and the camp was relatively quiet. Wondering what I should do now, I made my way up to the central drum circle, and found a cluster of women at the speaker’s tent, preparing for a ceremony. One of them smiled and asked if I would like to take part in a water ceremony by the river. I hesitated – was this a part of the action? The elder woman in ceremonial regalia – Bea Jackson, Ojibwe medicine woman – smiled. “It’s all part of the action,” she said. Her assistant clarified: this was a separate ceremony, to be held away from the front line, at the Cannonball River.

I learned later that Bea’s elders had given her this ceremony to share with the people of Standing Rock and beyond, that it was a blessing for the water, to give it healing properties for the people and all beings. It was based on a three-line chant of love, gratitude and respect for the water, sung as the water was poured into sacred copper vessels and offered to the Mystery and the Earth. Then, as the water-carriers made their way down to the river, chanting, each person they encountered was given a small amount of the healing water to drink,  At the river, each woman would have an opportunity to offer a little of the remaining water to the river with a primg_20161015_092939287ayer, followed by a pinch of tobacco carrying her prayers for the protection of the waters. Every day the water would be blessed and shared with the people and with the river, drawing them ever closer in a sacred bond.

After a few men of the camp helped us up the steep hill from the riverbank, Bea thanked the women who had taken part in the ceremony: if we were interested in learning more, she said, she would offer further teachings in the afternoon, followed by a special women’s ceremony in the evening.

It was the night of the full moon.

 

Standing Rock: Starting the Day in Beauty

In the morning of my first full day at Standing Rock, I awoke to the sunrise and the song of the Four Directions echoing over the img_20161014_080906204camp. Quickly unwrapping myself from the emergency blanket, sleeping-bag liner and mummy bag in which I’d coccooned against the frigid night air, I did my morning preparations and hurried down to the central drum circle for the morning’s ceremonies.

The singer was just turning over the mic to Lyla June Johnston – “the singer who blew us all away yesterday with her beautiful voice and inspiring message,” he said. She came to the center – an internationally recognized performer with a mission to empower Indigenous youth – and…well, a description won’t do this poem justice. I cannot imagine any more powerful expression of the beauty and divinity of life – the life that these people are putting themselves, possibly their lives, on the line to protect.

 

Standing Rock: This is Not a Rehearsal

I knew of the DAPL desecration of ancient graves and brutal attacks on unarmed water protectors; the ramped-up arrests by the Morton County sheriff’s officers; the lies being spread through the local media about the resistance to the pipeline. I knew of the paramilitary equipment that was showing up against the front-line water protectors’ actions. But nothing could have prepared me for the shock of seeing the steady parade of law-enforcement vehicles on Rt. 1806 past the camp, or the surveillance helicopters and planes that circled many times each day. It was clear: this camp was at the border of a conflict zone; a psy-ops campaign was underway to wear the people down.

It is a strange feeling, being a white middle-class woman, a clicktivist, letter-writer, and subtle activist but not a direct-action protestor, walking into such a situation: the adrenaline immediately starts to flow, the nervous system goes on hyper-alert, and the slightest thing can seem to be a danger signal. I was awed at these people, survivors of 500+ years of attempted genocide, who lived day-in, day-out under the strain, strong, watchful, and outwardly cheerful, with a constant thread of ceremony weaving through their life together. walking peacefully to stand in the face of the paramilitary forces that seek to destroy their land, culture, and sacred places.

Still, it didn’t take long to start hearing warnings and rumors. I’d just set up my tent and come down to the central drum circle  to hear Dennis Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, welcome a busload of middle-school students from Duluth, MN, when a woman hurried up: “Have you heard? They’re saying the governor’s going to call in the National Guard to evict us all, any day now.”  Mark Lesser, the firekeeper who had helped me put up my tent on the first day, pooh-poohed the rumor when I asked him a little later. “That’s been going around the camp for months. This land is off reservation territory,” he told me. “According to treaty, it still belongs to the Standing Rock Nation. However, it’s Army Corps of Engineers land, and yes, any of us could be arrested for camping here. If you want to be safe, you should go and camp at Sacred Stone, that’s private land.”

I chose to stay, but took the lesson: live lightly, set priorities, be ready in case of eviction. Everything except the barest necessities stayed in the car. The phone stayed with me at all times unless it was charging at the solar station at the top of Facebook Hill.

The real wake-up moment came as I was standing at that charging station at the highest point in the camp, hearing the buzz of a DAPL airplane overhead as I talked with NoDAPL activist Deborah Gaudet of New Mexico. Nearby, journalists interviewed Dennis Banks, and security guards rode past on horseback, surveying the camp perimeter. In that charged moment of communication and watchfulness, shortly after I’d learned of the eviction risk, I saw the bright yellow of a front-end loader rolling past the security station and into the camp.

Had it begun already? A black SUV followed the heavy equipment, and I thought of the unmarked black vehicles that had accompanied the police cars on their last pass. What to do? Frantically weighing options, I gave increasingly distracted responses to Deborah, until she made her farewells and moved away. I headed downhill for the security station.

The young guard there – Larry, who had greeted me on my arrival – smiled easily as I approached. No sign of alarm there. Feeling rather foolish, I stammered, “I, er, saw some heavy equipment coming into the camp just now…ummm, is everything OK?”

He glanced down the central avenue, lined with the flags of the nations represented in camp, and nodded. “Oh, that’s just to help with building the yurts for the elders,” he said. “The building materials arrived a while ago and we’re getting ready to level the ground to put them up.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad,” I said. “I’d just heard that the National Guard might be coming to evict us all in the next day or so.”

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Sweatlodges in camp

He frowned. “You’ll hear stories like that all the time. The police and DAPL are trying to scare us, put us off our balance. Don’t let it disturb you. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? You’d go in spirit to see your relatives. Don’t let them shake your prayers. Stay in prayer, sister.” He smiled reassuringly, held out his arms and gave me a big hug; I smiled at him in gratitude.

It was the first of many times I would be reminded of the source of this camp’s heroic strength.

 

Arriving at Standing Rock: Checkpoint, an Escort, and Welcome

roadsidehills1806After the final AirBnb evening, I was off on the last leg of my outward journey, with a slip of scrawled directions from the NoDAPLSolidarity.org site in my hand and the little remaining space in my car stuffed with firewood for the camp. It was a glorious day for travel: the miles of rolling brown hills, studded with oases of cottonwoods and shrubbery, rolled past, with hawks and buzzards circling high overhead; the breeze through my open window was brisk and scented with the fragrance of water and living earth.

A long stretch on ND state road 1806 was the last bit…a stretch marked by a sudden eruption of weathered rock “badland” formations, private homes and rich river valley groves where the road parallels the Cannonball River. And then….came the signs for an “information point.” It was the roadblock I’d been expecting – originally erected by the Morton County sheriff’s department, then taken over by the ND National Guard, ostensibly to protect the drivers and pedestrians passing by the camps (censured by Amnesty International and protested by the water protectors, the block was finally removed on 10/18).

Feeling my palms sweating against the wheel, not knowing what to expect, I advanced slowly to the stop sign. Concrete barriers closed off the road to a single lane; guardsmen stood at the entrance and exit. One approached me: “Ma’am, have you come this way before?” I said I hadn’t; he nodded: “There are demonstrators up ahead; the speed limit drops a ways beforehand. Just go slowly and stay alert. Go on ahead.” He waved me through; the guardsman at the exit point nodded and smiled, and I was on my way with a sigh of relief.

Miles rolled past with no traffic or signs of habitation, and I was starting to wonder – where was the camp? Finally, a makeshift cluster of tents and shacks showed up, heralded by signs along the roadside fence: Mni Wiconi – NoDAPL – Water Is Life. I slowed, pulled over and waved; a stern young man waved back. “I’m looking for Oceti Sakowin,” I called to him, the name sounding Japanese as I guessed at the Lakota pronunciation. “I’m bringing donations.”

“Oceti Sakowin?” He was correcting my pronunciation; I noted the soft “sh” sound substituted for the C and S, the emphatic “ko”  in Sakowin. “It’s a ways ahead, not far, you can’t miss it.” I nodded, thanked him, and went on.

Seeming miles more. NoDAPL signs festooned a fence beside a gated drive; surely that couldn’t be it. I looked ahead; no sign of anything. Was this it? I turned around and headed back to the cluster of shacks, pulled over and stopped as a truck paused on the other side of the street to check in. Snippets of banter floated back to me.

Going up to the elder in the driver’s seat, I asked with careful pronunciation, where Oceti Sakowin was. He twinkled at me: “I’ll guide you there, but it will cost you…hmmm, yes, a big juicy cheeseburger and fries.” I answered his smile with a laugh:  “I have fruits and veggies and lots of clothes and blankets to donate. Will that do?”  He  reached out,clasped my hand briefly and said, “That’s for the people. Get in your car and I’ll lead you there.”

img_20161013_153952463 I thanked him, scurried to my car, turned around, and we set off. And there, just a short distance past the point where I’d stopped, was the full vista of the camp below us in a river valley. A sharp driveway opened onto a broad dirt avenue lined with the flags of the Native American nations supporting the pipeline resistance; the camp spread out widely on both sides with tipis, tents, and Army tents clustered together in loose circles. A large portable solar panel  was positioned near the entrance by a cluster of Army tents, one of them labeled as the camp school. Nearby stood a tipi and a pristine row of Spot-a-pots.

My guide turned in; I followed; and at the makeshift security station by the entry, a young man stopped me, smiling as he noted the load of bags and firewood bundles in my car. “I’m a visitor, bringing donations,” I told him, and he directed me to the dropoff point.

Bumping along the rutted dirt road past campers, tipis, tents, that’s when ihelicopter2t hit me – I am here, at Standing Rock. As I worked with several young men to disgorge the bags of donations from my car, the sounds washed over me: drumming… poet Lyla June Johnston reciting her work calling all nations to rise up…the rhythmic thwack-thump of a young man splitting wood… the drone of a surveillance helicopter overhead.

I looked around at the people walking past: most were Native American, many represented other heritages of the human family.  All the reading, all the info-sharing I’ve done on Standing Rock doesn’t touch the reality, I thought. This is so much more than anything I had expected or imagined. 

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Life and Death on the Road to Standing Rock

By the second day of travel – en route from Illinois, through the glorious foliage of Wisconsin and Minnesota to North Dakota – I was beginning to feel the energy building, the gulf between the world I call home and the one I was going to visit.

It hit me with a shock as I left the progression of cities along I-94 to enter the rolling brown hills of the high plains…and saw the rising numbers of roadkills, from small, matted bundles of fur to the deer, raptors, and – coyotes? wolves? – on the shoulder of the road. At one point I winced to see a triple death: hawk, wolf, and rabbit, all crumpled at the edge of a cattle-chute stretch of barriers.

Ever since leaving home, I’d been tossing a pinch of tobacco out of the window with a quick prayer to honor each loss, but as they multiplied here I gathered a larger clump in my fingers and released it into the wind, singing the lodge-song my husband used to sing to honor the lives of beings lost through the actions of humans.

An endless blue sky stretched above us, over the towering semis whose slipstream buffeted my Prius as we crossed the Buffalo River, WI;  the lakes dotted through Crystal Springs in eastern ND, and later the Missouri River at Bismarck. I glanced at the reflected blue of the water and the glorious rich greenery on either side, remembering the core statement of the Standing Rock water protectors: Mni Wiconi, Water Is Life.

The ecosystems of these water sources for people and innumerable beings, micro and macro, were at risk of being mowed down and potentially poisoned by a pipeline advancing as relentlessly as any semi…

Unless the water protectors, with their allies in Congress and the courts and the U.N. and – pray God/dess – the White House, could stop it.

 

Journeying to Standing Rock

When I named this blog SoulPaths/the journey, I had no idea of the literal journeys that would be involved in this particular soul’s path. In the past two years, Ecuador, Findhorn…and this week, a pilgrimage of support to Standing Rock, ND.

Why am I going there? I’ve written of the resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation to the Dakota Access Pipeline that is slated to run across the reservation land, crossing the Oglala Aquifer and – many times over – the Missouri River. I touched on how they are being joined by a virtual United Nations of supporters from Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures from around the world. And I’ve touched on my gradual progress from timorous waffling to starting a group for subtle activism, to a drive for donations.

It didn’t end there…while I was raising awareness online and at Friends Meeting, I was also wrestling with a heart-response to a calling to come to Standing Rock. It seemed purely out of the question at first – an action for brave activist sorts, or groups to go out together – but as the awareness of approaching winter grew, I felt a growing urgency: if I did not go, NOW, and help in whatever way I could, I would always regret my inaction. The parable of the talents haunted me: how in these days am I using my talents for the greater good? Clicktivism and Facebook consciousness-raising were nowhere near enough.

It all came to a head three weeks ago, when I was out in the garden, clearing away spent morning glory vines from the fence and hedge: an inner voice was saying insistently, I am dying.

Wha-at? I asked who was talking – the morning glory vines were certainly giving up the ghost. Was that it? No – that could not explain the edge of gut-wrenching grief that accompanied the words. It viscerally recalled my husband’s last spoken words – Let me go – as he lay swaddled in burn-medicated wrappings after losing 85% of his skin to a reaction against the antibiotics he’d received following the implantation of an experimental device intended to keep his heart functioning until a transplant was found. It was Christmas Day; in an effort to bring holiday spirit and some level of sanity and family tradition to an unthinkable situation the kids and I had decorated his Intensive Care room with ornaments, lights, and a tiny tree the day before…but he was so deeply sedated that he could only rouse himself to voice those three words when we gathered around his bed.

I could not bear to think of the ultimate meaning of his request: the doctors were saying that this horrific, extreme situation was just a bump in the road to his ultimate healing!  Fighting my instinctive knowing, the shock and grief at my core, I started asking him for clarity – am I holding your hand too tightly? Are the bandages hurting you? I have no idea how I could find any other meaning than the obvious, but somehow I did – I kept asking, but there was no response; he’d spent his energy and was unconscious. Fighting tears, I turned to the nurse: this is what he said, but he couldn’t clarify…what do I do? She responded: unless you’re absolutely certain that he wanted you to pull the plug, you can’t do it. He can recover from this; if you ended it now, you’d be haunted by the doubt forever.

They called at 1:30 a.m. the next morning: he was having a respiratory crisis and they needed to do a tracheotomy: would I give permission? And so those three words were his last. The doctors told me a month later that the antibiotic cocktails were achieving no more than chemical reactions; effectively, he was already gone. They pulled the plug on January 28, 2006.

As I stood in the garden ten years later with dead leaves in my hair and spent vines in my hand and I am dying echoing in my mind, I balanced on a similar edge of denial. Am I dying? I asked – I had no knowledge of having any life-threatening medical condition! The knowledge came: you are replicating your father’s denial of life as you work in your house behind your computer screen. If you do not get out into the world and take real-time action, yes, you will die inwardly. But no, that is not what is meant here.

I knew the answer, of course: it is the biosphere that is dying of human’s unceasing assaults: deforestation, oil spills, the Tar Sands, the pumping of the aquifers and poisoning of the waters, pesticides killing the pollinators – all the litany of rape and destruction of our planet. Ecosystems are collapsing, climate change ramping up, a sixth great extinction taking place…yes,  I am dying was the voice of life on Earth.

The grief doubled me over: hanging onto a fence post in the yellowing garden, I wept, screaming soundlessly.

Once the worst of the pain had passed, there was a clear realization: the time for hiding behind a computer screen was over. I needed to show up and take personal action to support the causes I valued. And there was no doubt about the cause that took precedence: the water protectors of Standing Rock.

The connection went beyond their historic stand – the union among nations – the support across cultures and causes and spiritual traditions.

More than 20 years earlier, my husband had been a Sun Dancer, first on Rosebud Reservation, then at Santee, Nebraska. For two of the four years he’d Danced, I went along to support him, and witnessed …I can only call it a different reality. Here were men and women so heartfelt in their prayers that they were willing to dance without food or water for four days under the blazing sun, some of them following Spirit’s guidance to undertake extreme physical ordeals that lent power and urgency to their prayers. At the close of the ceremony, they channeled the Divine grace they had received as healing for the community, and received the community’s honor and gratitude in return.

This was the ethos that undergirded the water protectors, I knew: an ethos of radical self-giving for the ongoing life of the Earth and the People – i.e., all beings, all the peoples of every race, nation, creed, species, and sort – animal, vegetable and mineral. An ethos grounded in conscious connection with the Earth as a living, sentient, sacred being, an embodiment of the Divine. A way of being centered not on consumption of the planet’s resources, but on conscious interaction within the web of life.

When my husband was in his last two years of Dancing, the Intercessor was closing that particular ceremony to non-Natives: they could finish their four-year cycles, but they could not return. The American Indian Movement was a strong influence on the Dance in the two years I attended, and as a very obviously non-Native-looking woman I fielded my share of questions: who are your elders? Where are your holy places? At the same time their questions led me to question my own presence there, even as a Dancer’s wife and supporter, they also sent me on a search for the shamanic roots of my own heritage: a search that led to the Baltic pagan tradition Romuva and the Graeco-Roman ritual dance tradition of Tarantelle. After my husband’s passing, I went on a lengthy path of self-rediscovery and reinvention, staying away from any appearance of cultural appropriation.

That all changed this summer when the world began flocking to Standing Rock. I’d been feeling angry, out of step, and deeply alone in this culture – longing to do more than marketing restorative businesses, practicing animal Reiki, and raising consciousness online, but not knowing what to do. The public invitation from Standing Rock spokespeople – to come and witness and support the Earth-nurturing ways being demonstrated in the support camp of Oceti Sakowin, and for those who felt called, to take nonviolent direct action in the Sacred Stone Camp and Red Warrior Camp – hit with a direct appeal t0 my heart. And that was even before the spokeswoman with whom I was corresponding told me that she remembered my husband from his last two years of Sundancing.

So – with support and prayers from Patapsco Friends Meeting, financial donations from family and friends, and bags upon bags of donated clothing, blankets, and other items for the water protectors as they prepare the camps for the brutal North Dakota winters, I set out yesterday on yet another journey: to Oceti Sakowin, to spend three days helping in whatever way I can. I’m writing this post from an AirBnb host’s guest bedroom midway across the continent, just before geting back on the road.

The journey continues.