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Pine Ridge

Occupation Peoples

Grass Roots Oyate

January 16, 2000

Until we Win

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 A Winter's Day

       After several days with temperatures  in the teens and wind chills of thirty below, today was a special day! The sky was powder blue all the way to the horizon - no cloud families today. The sun was warm on my face and gleamed off the new snow. The temp was a balmy fourteen today with a wind chill of minus five. It actually felt comfortable.

        Some areas where blown shut for several days. Today was a time to venture out. The mountain now is a hard go without snow shoes, so I headed for the
flatlands. A false name. For the land off the mountain is made up of varying size hills and valleys. It is an area of family farms and fields laced with woodlands, streams, and   ponds.

         I headed for a stream located on a friend s farm. As I approached his home I was greeted by a picture postcard view. His home is from the eighteen hundreds - hand laid gray stone with sharp white pointing. Located close by is a large barn from the same period ( three story with overhangs) and several outbuildings. The barn stands in contrast  to the home - it is of plank construction   covering a skeleton of hand-hewn beams held together  by pin and mortise joints. I love these old structures - they represent the people who built them. Each is slightly different. You can see the care put in each timber - the carving of the joints and angles. As I run my hand over them, it is as if I am in contact with those who worked on this wood years before. A connection is made.

              The planking covering the barn and outbuildings is a tar based treatment. The wood looks black. With this dark coating though each plank can be seen from a distance standing straight reaching to the sky.  A beautiful sight against the white snow. The woods surround the farm, opening up into fields of timothy and alfalfa, corn, winter wheat, and barley.The fields are a sleep now covered by a warm blanket of white. The fields slowly rise to a crest where many trees surround the farm setting. The whole scene is framed in blue sky.
              I greet my friend and head down a lane towards the stream. The lane is covered by packed snow - the slight breeze today moves the loose crystals around in patterns as if sand painting.   The snow swirls and dances in the lane - then the breeze halts and for a moment the crystals lay still in a new pattern of delight - waiting patiently to dance on the next gust.

             As I approach the stream there is a huge drift on my left. It towers over me at ten feet. The lip is at least two feet thick and reaches out from the snow wall another two feet. The lip has been carved into layered designs by the wind as the walls of the Grand Canyon s sand stone cliffs. A sculptor could take lessons here.

             Before me is an old steel trestle bridge joining the banks of the stream. It stands high above the stream on pillars of gray hand laid stone. The pillars are topped in white today as is the delicate pattern formed by the cross pieces in the bridge s structure. The ribs of the bridge looked especially wondrous today with its pattern on the sides and top all snow covered. I was lost in thoughts for a moment when to my right geese lifted off the stream below me , startling me and them. We were hidden from each others sight ,for on the right the bank drops down to the stream sharply - 25 feet below. The geese lifted over me at about ten feet. Canadians with there blacks and grays bright today after a dip in the stream.

          I start to cross the bridge and stop near the middle. I look out over the water. The stream is about a hundred feet wide and only about a foot deep except in holes that can be several feet. The bottom is river rock causing gentle rifts and jutting out of the surface in many places. The water moves swiftly and makes a soft gurgling sound as it passes over the rock bottom. The rush is a sound that brings peace to my soul and sings to my heart.
           As the surface rises and falls over the small obstacles, the little waves created catch the sunlight at their crests - it reflects  as bright as diamonds. The surface and music created here are constantly changing as the view in a kaleidoscope.

             On the opposite side of the stream the flood plain is wide and gently rises from the bank.  Here   you are only a few feet off the water with many geese and ducks as far as the eye can see resting in the safety of the stream. Some sleep on one foot and their heads tucked beneath their wings, others preen their feathers, others lie on the rocks that jut up from the water - alert. What a mixture here today. The small mallards with mostly brown . the large Canada s with grays and blacks, the medium snow geese with their bodies of white and wings contrasted  at the tips in blue or black.

                The stream widens to double its size, as I walk on downstream. Here the water slows some . In a small inlet a patch of Cattails stand. Their tops are recognizable but have been tattered by the winds. Little parachutes with seeds as the passengers are released on the wind. These proud plants stand straight and offer winter food to the smaller song birds that winter here.

                I look past the inlet and the bank rises sharply to the edge of a wood lot. Here the bank is a patchwork of white snow and brown designs. The designs are made by rocks, or tree roots, or leaves jutting through the snow cover. Each in a unique pattern - not unlike the handmade quilts of this area.

                Unlike the mountain, the woods here are young. The trees vary from saplings to about a foot in diameter. Mainly hickory and oaks, but there are some white birch and black walnut. The walnut give an eerie appearance today. For unlike the hickory - the walnut limbs twist and seem to end with branches that form old and knurled hands and fingers reaching for me.

                 Amongst the trees are wild roses and small laurel. The laurel leaves hang straight down are curled tight now from the cold.They remind me of cones on a jingle dress. Here the song birds flit in and out looking for seeds and cover from the wind. The usual brown of these birds is broken for a moment as a streak of red flashes before me and disappears in the ground cover. No mistaking it - this was a mature male cardinal.  The bright red was extreme today against the white and brown backdrop.

                  I cross through the woods and stand on the edge of an old corn field. Here dried timothy grass borders the corn. The timothy stands tall and brown with its tasseled tops intact. As the wind blows across the field the timothy gentle bows into an arc and points its head it the direction of the winter guest.

                   The corn is only about two feet tall. It was left here for winter cover on the fields. I think back to last years drought that caused this dwarfing of the corn. With all the snow it seems so long ago.

                    The corn stands tall but battered by the elements. Its leaves are now dried brown and have no luster. Those lucky enough to carry ears this year - point them down almost in despair. Their leaves are torn and tattered giving a ragged appearance. Yet as I look across this field a feeling of strength comes forth. These plants survived the drought - the blistering heat of summer, Now they stand quietly waiting for spring when there young will come forth in a new season.  Not unlike our ancestors who weathered the worst and now wait as we and our young are starting to reassert ourselves on this land once again. AHo.

winter of 2000


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