Summerhawk Valley - Autumn 2007
upon the stone, i have wept and bled...
This is a panorama of Summerhawk Valley, looking East, taken from the edge of the cliff where I stand and pray to and ask for guidance from the ancients. Just below the cliff point to the left is an ancient burial ground, further left are pictographs/petroglyphs.
This extraordinary place is home to bear, deer, elk, lion, lynx, bobcat, beaver, wild turkey, raccoon, badger, coyote, fox, rabbit and hare, bald eagles, golden eagles, hawks, vultures, songbirds, squirrels, butterflies - and an astonishing assortment of other wildlife. Uniquely, our home embraces diverse topography including riparian low-lands, oak forests, open meadows, and rocky cliffs. Because of this, it uniquely hosts a range of diverse biota. We formally dedicated this land (approximately 60 acres) as wildlife habitat back in 2003. It is registered with the National Wildlife Federation.
Once, many years ago, while standing with my daughter on a rocky overhang of the cliff face to the left, in absolute awe of this spectacular place and giving thanks for the honor of caring for it, we were blessed to experience seven golden eagles which flew up from the canyon, circled around behind us only feet away and so near I could hear the wind singing through their feathers. They continued in a line wrapping around us and dipping down into the valley below. We stood there looking down at the sun reflecting off the backs of these magnificent creatures as they swirled down into the valley and around the cliff out of site. I will never forget that incredible moment.
My family and I are deeply attached to this land. We were guided to it and ended up purchasing it nearly twenty years ago. In that time, and every day, I have prayed for its peaceful endurance. For me, nature is my guide. It is the one thing that makes sense in an increasingly unpredictable world manipulated by human beings. I love people too. At least, I love their beautiful potential - not so much the egos, the bickering and pettiness. Not so much the competitive streak, tendency toward exclusion and group thinking.
I am deeply connected to this land – as is my family. This land has given us a great deal over the last twenty years. The flora and fauna that populate this place make it extraordinary. They give it life, character and a dynamic force which invites not only our observation but participation. They teach me, and their life-force nourishes my physical form and spirit. They have built me – sustained me. I owe this land more than just a debt of gratitude. It continually provides for the very substance of my spirit.
When the life force of this mountain is threatened by those who neither see nor comprehend the impacts of their actions, how can I possibly walk away from it? How can I allow it to fend for itself when its voice is alien to those who transgress upon it? I consider it my honor and obligation to defend this land, the air above it, the waters that flow through it and all those who call it their home. Our occasional differences of opinion with the oil and gas industry - specifically EnCana, since they are the operator in our area - arise from conflicting values and visions.
As residents and deeply invested occupants of this land, our intent is to act as caretakers of this place we call home, to live with it, learn from it, share its rhythm. We respect the diversity and ecological balance that make it at once vulnerable and strong. We are connected to it. We understand and strive to compliment its uniqueness by living as lightly upon it as we can. In the turning of the seasons we, as a family, share and build memories with this land - struggling to chain-up the vehicles in the heavy snows of winter and fretting over lightening during droughts of summers past; poking along the stream bank in search of jasper; observing frogs and spiders in the rushes; hiking the ridges and sometimes slipping and skinning our knees; clearing fire trails each year as old standing dead succumb to heavy snows or winds; building bridges and watching them fall during a Spring flood; Flying a kite in the March winds, and gathering Easter eggs in the spring grass; sitting with friends, family and a cup of coffee watching sunrises over Summerhawk and sunsets in the West. As the leaves of the cottonwoods turn from green to brown and new life presses forth, so do we mature and grow with this extraordinary landscape. We have built our lives here. And wish to share those memories, and the land that helped make them possible with family and friends to come. This land and its ability to sustain and encourage life is a treasure like no other and one worthy of protracted defense. But, our small spot upon the Earth is a microcosm of a larger place, within which it is intimately woven.
Industry, on the other hand, is driven to exploit it. To extract its bounty in a way which is non-sustaining and in fact detrimental to its fragile balance. Industry is also connected to it, via corporate policy executed in another country; machinery that rips and digs through brush and roots deep into its strata; and the sweat of men who toil for a hard living upon its scarred surface. Without regard for what is fouled, the true value of this land and all upon it is too often forsaken by those whose motive is none other than the immediate and broad pursuit of profit.
Differences of opinion must be substantiated, and that always involves a great deal of time, energy and frequently money to hire attorneys or other experts who, for a fee, can testify to those differences, validating what seems obvious. But, these days, time, energy and money can be in short supply among regular folk - which we are. This often leads to frustration at the way regulation has been tightly aligned with industry interests. Residents are typically forced into an defensive position, which is simply the unfortunate result of policy which supports the unbalanced development of natural resources. This is not a fight we went looking for. Scrapping with industry isn't something we do for fun. The struggle to preserve the qualities of this land, our air and water is a fight that came to us, and a constant challenge that must be met. Our lives depend upon it.
Some of our neighbors have fled the area and have suggested we do the same. But this issue isn’t caused by local policy that can be made manageable by the good will of a handful of people bound together in common defense of either the land or an ideal. This problem is caused by federal policy. State and local policy must bow to its greater authority. The belief that there is somewhere to run is a modern myth. As a resurgence of industrialization flourishes, the threat upon our wild lands and private lands is tremendous. From corporate farms to energy development, the heavy footprint of mismanaged resource use falls upon us all.
Like the old song says, I believe we each should live in the place where we stand. I won’t forsake this place for the false allure of another which carries its own latent ill fate – regardless of how removed it may seem today. To me, all land is sacred and worth defending. This land has been sacrificed once. Much of this western region is classified as a national energy sacrifice zone. Meaning, I suppose, that anything goes in the name of energy extraction and exploitation.
Regardless of what the myopic views of Washington D.C. have ushered and regardless of the reasons why, I won't sacrifice it again.
Like my father, nature, in its consistent simplicity has guided me from the time of my youth and provided answers to my spirit. For me, I and nature are as interlaced as water in water. I recognize no separation, and therefore, I listen and I watch and I learn from its constant teachings... perhaps more than most. And I am also driven, perhaps more than most to defend it, because it is my family, it is my sanity, it is my self.
|once, and yet again...
The white reflective curve you see near the cliff's base on the left of the photo above (North) is the newly extended (Spring, 2007) beaver pond on our property. In 2004, the pond consisted only of the nearer area. Though we testified that the bubbling surface conditions of the pond had never existed before the seep, in 2004, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission collected bank-side samples near venting areas which they determined failed to show the presence of anything which would suggest the seep exited at this point. The closer aspect of this pond configuration, however, contained established vent holes and so many bubbles during the height of the Divide Creek Seep, that Blackcloud waded into the waters and ignited the surface to demonstrate that in fact the bubbles were extensively present and flammable.
EnCana - found by the state of Colorado to be responsible for the seep, and therefore fined for it (though EnCana has never admitted to actually causing it) - asserted, along with the state that the seep did not exist in this part of the creek.
Today, this same part of the pond - at least its surface - is placid. We think this in large part to the remedial efforts undertaken by EnCana to immediately remediate the improperly constructed well and to sparge raw gas constituents from beneath the surface in the area of the "main seep". I filmed the area to collect baseline visual data in late September and noted minimal bubbling activity present in the new area of the pond, (further East). What this activity represents is anyone's guess. Escaping underground gas is difficult to discern in roiling creek waters, but once the same waters broaden and become still, venting activity becomes evident.
The seep was originally discovered in a place pretty much straight ahead of the edge of the right-hand cliff. However, this area, too, was minimized in its importance by both the COGCC and EnCana. And, to our knowledge, the COGCC did not collect any samples of surface waters from the bubbling activity in the creek bed in this location.
The "main" seep area, which presented the most visually alarming evidence of the seep, was the primary focus of remedial efforts and benefited from the greatest official attention. This area lies about a half mile upstream to the right of the photo (South), and is the subject of on-going remedial efforts to reduce and eliminate raw gas constituents in surface waters.
We believe the seep has been an intrusion against not only the unique ecology of this unusually diverse landscape, it has been an intrusion against the ancients and their historically sacred use of it.
We also believe that EnCana's plans to drill 40 new wells (9 of which have been permitted and planned for the very location which produced the well that led to seep events [the Schwartz site].) will lead to further, perhaps irreversible devastation - not only because of the fragile geology of this region, and failure of officials to fully account for it, but because of the continued effects of toxic air emissions. Many of the wells are to be located to the West, from the direction of prevailing wind currents. These emissions pose a grave threat in the form of air-born pollutants, but also in the form of acid-rain/snow. And we worry what could become of this special place, and the plants and animals that inhabit it. We worry also for ourselves and our neighbors.
But I am reminded this is a collective circumstance, far bigger than myself or my family. It is a part of a larger struggle and the parties involved are not only of this evident physical plane you and I share in common.
Therefore, though I will defend this place as its grateful caretaker, and I will carefully nurture my faith in the people involved in this process, I have placed, ultimately, our fate in the hands of a much greater, far-seeing and more capable source.
|whispers in the wind...
My spiritual beliefs are deep and embracing of the good found in all faiths. I believe we, as one people of the Earth, share a common link to an omnipotent force embodied of opposing forces. Within this realm, all aspects of reality interact to create a perpetual dynamic of chaos and stability, which is why we experience cycles of change from the imperceptibly large and small to those which unfold around us, embrace us and immediately affect us.
Throughout human history, people have grappled with understanding and manipulating what is beyond their control. Our experience with the oil and gas industry reflects this classic struggle. We know that as a family, there is little we can do to curtail let alone control the forces which have acted to bring this activity to our home. That is not to say that nothing can be done. That is not to say we should not try. We recognize this as a struggle which extends far beyond the physical forces that impinge upon us now. We know this struggle is one that will be confronted by forces larger than ourselves.
The world's prevalent religions classify belief systems according to custom, dictate - identifiable cultural icons. And major deities, though often acknowledged as one in the same, are referred to by different names and wear different costumes. Whether thought of as the Great Spirit, Buddah, Allah, or God, through whatever deity we choose to acknowledge, and are therefore able to uniquely see, I believe the spirit of goodness desires to completely surround us and does so eternally. It is only doctrine and dogma which make us blind to the greater truth, wisdom and power of genuine faith - and in turn, the power within us to carry forth and act in this good spirit.
The year ahead, and all it may bring during this time and after is inextricably woven into the workings of the spiritual realm.
In fact I believe every aspect of our lives is guided thusly.
Being a person with the greatest interest in and respect for scientific inquiry and process; I suppose I am an anomaly in that my spiritual beliefs and sense of faith should be so certain and steadfast. Yet they are. Though I am a creature of logic and am as subject to my own preconceptions as anyone else, I also understand the limits these can place upon my complete understanding of things unknown and discoverable. So, I attempt to yield equally to intuition and faith as much as I yield to logic and reason, believing as I do, that these aspects of critical thinking are more complimentary than disparate.
Therefore, throughout my life, I've learned to acknowledge two circumstances by which I gauge information: I experience for myself the physical evidence, and I strive to receive with my heart - always allowing my heart to lead. For those who mean to take me literally, when I refer to my heart, I mean that innate sense of certainty which speaks to you inwardly and calms you with its truth and inevitability. For me, it is an altogether rare feeling, but when generated, there is no question but to follow that guiding impulse. Perhaps you have experienced it. Some do but disregard it. It's that little voice that says 'you're not crazy if you hear this - but you're crazy if you don't listen'.
Before I ask for guidance from what I refer to as the ancients or spirits, I often notice signs they've placed before me to get my attention. Many, I am sure, I disregard because such signs do not neatly fit within what I recognize as the logical construct of my life. But, when I do notice, I really notice. When I am shown something I am supposed to see, it always creates a pivotal point in the course of my life. So I've learned to pay closer attention.
I will share with you two of those pivotal moments.
In 2003, EnCana was planning to drill in our area and, of course, this was long before the time of their landowner relations department. This was a very ugly, ugly time and we and our neighbors experienced a great deal of intrusion into our lives by a company that was behaving like a bully. It was overwhelming, and I and my family in particular had devoted endless hours to organizing and facilitating community/company meetings, none of which seemed to amount to anything beyond hope and placation. I struggled to repeatedly invest in this method of resolution and saw it dangle, fall and shatter again and again.
Blackcloud was never one for meetings. He knew there was a time to talk and a time for action. He let me do most of the talking and possessed unqualified faith in my abilities. Meanwhile, he confined his involvement to the sidelines. Blackcloud was imposing to those who did not realize that his nature was one of extreme benevolence and reverence for all of life. To the unsavory pad rats that ran EnCana's operations at the time, he appeared a foe not to cross. This was a good assumption on their part, for Blackcloud could also be quite fearsome. I would not want him as an enemy. EnCana had learned that he stood by his word, and while he would bend and while he would strive to be fair - if he felt his family or his home were being threatened, he would not break. Something or someone else would have to give. He feared nothing and certainly no one. This is a man who had faced death many times in his life and career as a Marine, law officer and internal investigator, not to mention regular guy who always seemed surprised when he placed himself in precarious situations requiring immediate corrective action or medical care. Those who knew him well, knew him as a man of deep conviction who lived his life with an adherence to his spiritual beliefs. He believed every day was a good day to die. I guess this makes some folks nervous - especially bullies.
Despite all the neighbors meeting with EnCana, and despite drafting a list of our concerns which EnCana said they would honor - then failed to, 'discussions' with EnCana had finally come to the breaking point. EnCana brought in a dozer to tear into our access road and Blackcloud and another neighbor were planning a peaceful sit-in on our right-of-way to stop EnCana's illegal access to the Schwartz site - (the shallowest point in the formation, and a hot-spot representing the potential for loads of cash). We had alerted the sheriff and local media. Several local folks caught up in the drama were coming out for the big show. I had not slept in three days, striving to once again bring together neighbors and EnCana for a meeting.
EnCana, meanwhile, had been working diligently - and fairly successfully - to disrupt those activities by winning individual favor among neighbors with various promises, trinkets and so forth. Then the phone rang. A woman's haggard, concerned, yet compelling approachable voice said simply, "What do you want?" This was my first association with who would later become the head of EnCana's new stakeholder relations department, and my first inclination the ancients had dispatched a gift my way. I was to pay attention, they said. 'We are helping,' they whispered.
"All we want is a meeting to sit down and share our concerns." I said. My family and I had made it clear all along - and continue to - that we are not ‘anti-gas development’. We are against stupidity, greed and flagrant disregard for health, safety and environmental protections. Blackcloud had said specifically, "If you do it right, I'll direct traffic for you."
But doing it right is only now beginning to be viewed as a valuable consideration in corporate operations. At the time, and I suspect it’s very much the same now, doing it fast and doing it more were the orders of the day.
EnCana's representative established a meeting between themselves and landowners the next day (though only myself and the sit-in neighbor ended up attended). In thoroughly preparing for this most desirous of meetings, I knew I'd have only 15 minutes to rest before time to head to town. Luckily, I'd gone a long while without sleep before so knew if I tried to sleep I'd crash and not surface for fifteen hours or better. So I thought I'd make the most of the time by meditating (some people call this a power nap). I recall looking at the yellow daisy in the bud vase beside my bed and admiring its simplistic perfection. I lay down and closed my eyes. In order to accelerate the relaxation process I envisioned a place of peace. A very special place of peace actually - and a place where I spent three formative years of my youth: the Crystal River. And beside its remarkable, clear, healing waters I envisioned white daisies nodding with the breeze. And I asked for guidance.
When I awoke, fifteen minutes later, feeling particularly revived, I was stunned to see the yellow daisy had turned completely white - just like those I envisioned while meditating. I knew the ancients were with me - or at least supported me.
As far as expressing our concerns for EnCana's intended use of our road, the meeting went well, and EnCana seemed to understand that they had no legal claim to its use. But of course, determined to access the Schwartz site in all haste, EnCana negotiated a different access though a neighbor's place, utilizing part of the road anyway. We believe it was this spirit of haste and reckless desire to develop the site that led to problems later when thousands of feet of cement was lost from the well casing which was later found to have contributed to the toxic seep in Divide Creek. Then, as now, our concern was for condensate tanks and air emissions polluting the environment - but the state had already approved the permit. I hadn't actually dreamed that a well positioned a long distance away from what would become known as the "main seep" could or would pollute the waters of West Divide Creek.
All in all, other than stating our case and indicating our intentions, the meeting had been pretty much useless; a separate work-around agreement had been forged with a neighbor disinterested in any united cause; and, the equipment began rolling in.
I went to the top of our drive and stood looking at the devastation. Months earlier I stood at the cliff and watched as a dozer ripped ancient cedars up by their roots and flung the centuries-old trees over the edge of the canyon in order to accommodate a pipeline. (far side of the Summerhawk photo above). To us, these were living beings deserving of consideration and honor. To the driver of the dozer, they were simply in the way. To take from life's rich pool to live is a part of the human experience, but to do so without giving back, to do so without reverence is without humanity. But this manner had come to symbolize EnCana's approach to everything. Perhaps they could have gone around the trees. We couldn't protect those cedars, it wasn't our place. The landowner had apparently given the go-ahead to clear the way.
Based on our other experiences with EnCana's operations, we were genuinely fearful of what might befall my family and this amazing place which we are blessed to call home.
Condensate, stored in tanks near a well site, laced with known carcinogens and even unknown constituents had spewed into the air one night previously and filled a neighbors home with fumes (those neighbors have since moved, and EnCana now owns the property). Another well experienced an earth-shaking "kick", the tremors of which reverberated up to at least a mile away and nearly knocked my mother off her feet while she stood at our kitchen sink. The raw gas pumping out of the well at that time belched vast clouds of black particulate hours into the evening. (The photo on the homepage of this site shows some of that activity). Of course, the state inspectors had assured us that such a thing was impossible - that we could not feel those effects so far away, that such a thing could not even occur. During this same event, one neighbor's home was knocked askew on its foundation. The same kind of thing happened around the same time in New Mexico and had resulted in the evacuation of 700 people.
So, we braced. And we prayed. As I looked at operations underway I felt sickened by what was allowed to happen. It was all happening so fast, one catastrophe after another and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission passing out permits like paper napkins at an ice-cream social. It was like running through a dark cave being chased by a pack of dogs during an earthquake. Just so much, so fast and only my family (not even our neighbors) seemed to comprehend and appreciate the potential for devastation under the conditions. Industry was having its way and that was that.
So, I stood there, at the top of the drive, looking over at Schwartz's - a piece of spectacular land that the owners inherited and I don't believe have ever even seen. I stood there thinking about the way in which EnCana went about gaining access, the speed with which they sought to extract the gas, the singular, narrow persistent intent behind their actions, and I began to weep, not feeling sorry for myself - for, like my father, I too believe that every day is a good day to die. I wept for my family. For this mountain and for all the living things that stood in peril because of the greed-driven actions of a marauding industry aided by federal and state regulations, and a county afraid to take action. I wept for all that would lay asunder at the feet of grinding dozer tracks - and everything those course actions represented. And I wept because I had failed. Failed to protect our Earth. Failed the ancients who have given and continue to guide my family and fortify us with tremendous faith despite our failings. "I don't know what else to do." I said to them aloud in what must have sounded like a truly defeated whisper.
Then the wind began to blow in that way that has always said to me: '...listen to us, we are talking to you...' I turned South-East to face the direction of the wind, and my heart heard the ancients say these words so matter-of-factly it chills my blood to this day: "...we'll take care of this one..."
This truly humbles me still.
Later that day, in a conversation with a friend, I explained the experience. She asked if I suspected what they meant. I said, "I don't know," and I didn't, "but it feels like an Earth force, something catastrophic and related to the Earth."
Days later the seep was discovered.
And, despite the shadowed rumblings of an industry bent on pillage, and despite the ardent effort it took to raise any awareness at all, even among officials - let alone the public regarding this situation… despite all of this, overnight many eyes as far away as Washington, D.C. and L.A., California turned to look at what industry had caused right there where I had been standing, powerless and feeling defeated, while in the wind, there were stirrings of a different kind.
This will always humble me.
They know. The spirits of the ancients somehow know and hold more in their ethereal hearts and hands than I can even imagine.
I cannot interpret this event beyond what I felt and know in my heart to be true. I have only the words and the certainty I was shown. I suspect the actual words were a mere translation fitted to me, perhaps even by me, in a way I would be receptive to. But the intent and sense of unfolding events behind it was bigger, denser, and nebulous. I wonder if I was, for the tiniest moment, included in the foreknowing of some event that was to be imminent. Did this utterance refer to the drawing of attention to an inappropriate action and its devastating consequences? I can't say. I only know the next year of our lives would be a living hell.
Media, hearings, interviews, tours, conversations with hostile government representatives as well as those fearful for their jobs... meetings, meetings and more meetings, phone calls, panicked neighbors, pissed off neighbors, attorneys... people, trucks and equipment rumbling over the ground and down into Summerhawk drilling monitor wells, collecting samples, installing remedial paraphernalia. The look on the face of my daughter, as we stood on this sacred ground and watched EnCana's people and the COGCC's people stooped over our pond, disbelieving our claims, sampling the water, as though it were fruitless, one more demand upon their day and disconnected from what was real beneath their feet. All through this, I stood on the cliff, surprised by a bobcat who was as surprised as I when he came crashing up out of the brush in an effort to evade the clawing feet of a huge yellow machine winding its way into Summerhawk. He had crashed into me as he was running, looking back over the cliff, fleeing the rumbling machine that had just invaded his world. Through all of this... we scrambled, fought, negotiated, fought and scrambled some more. Through all of this I remember walking through a clearing and coming upon my father standing beside Divide Creek in the sacred act of sprinkling tobacco to the four directions offering his prayers and humble blessings to the spirits, to the wind, to this extraordinary, blessed, invaded land.
For the last several years there had been a moratorium in place on new drilling in this region. Four wells have been drilled in the vicinity, relatively quietly, to the North, just past the ridge where the burial ground lies. Other than odor and underground vibrations, during - presumably - facing operations (which are sadly to be expected), I am not privy to any mishaps from these operations.
But now, EnCana has decided to slam in 40 wells within a mile or so of here, all within fifteen months. Again, the corporate mantra seems to be "do it faster, do it more." But this time, there is a new state board of Oil and Gas Conservation Commissioners. There is a new Governor. There is a new Director of Natural Resources.
And Blackcloud is off the chain.
|the will of spirit endures...
When Blackcloud was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July of 2006, he had previously undergone several surgeries - all within 18 months. One was for prostate cancer. During his prostate surgery his heart stopped beating, but he restarted it before they could hook him up to the crash cart. From this surgery he battled an infection for a year due to a piece of suture which protruded from the abdomen wall through his skin - but which the V.A. couldn't seem to locate. The last round, months later, prior to pancreatic surgery was a triple bypass. He had been diagnosed as having had a 100% blockage on one side of his heart and a 90% blockage on the other. In other words, he’d been running on 10%, with a persistent infection, and was still kicking ass and taking names. He had had a heart attack and didn't even know it.
Tough hombre is an understatement. This is a guy who, twenty years ago, broke his back in three places, drove himself home then finally to the doctor when he noticed something wasn't quite right. Later, a third and experimental surgery in Denver cut him in two. Unfortunately, it was during a hospital strike.. He flew home 24 hours after the surgery taped and held together at the spine where he finished his recuperative care at home on his own.
Back at Salt Lake, after his bypass, his team of surgeons had decided there was a good shot at getting the cancer, so he and they decided to go for it. I had gone to Salt Lake to stay with him through this time while the remainder of our family waited at home. Given what he had endured at the hands of surgeons over the last eighteen months, our family knew we could well loose him on the operating table - an unfit way for a man of his fighting nature, grace and dignity to go. I remember standing at the window overlooking the courtyard at the VA hospital and asking the ancients that if they could not treat the cancer, to at least allow him to come home with his family and live out the remainder of his days here on this mountain - his beloved home. At the time I made this request, there were at least a dozen people hovering around the waiting room. Ten minutes later a surgeon came walking down the aisle looking down and dragging a pencil along the cinder block wall. I knew he was coming to talk to me.
"We couldn't get it all." He said. "We just sewed him back up. He's going to be in intensive care for a while. I'm sorry." Then he turned to go.
Another gift, all in how you see it.
I immediately went into the ICU and stood with him beside the gurney in that wretchedly detached and sterile place. He was already awake.
He looked at the clock on the wall in front of him and saw that it was noon. He knew that had the surgery gone forward he would not have come out until several hours later.
He looked over to me, holding his hand. "They couldn't get it, huh?"
I don't think looking at a clock on the wall is how a man should find out. But maybe so. I don't know. I squeezed his hand, tears in my eyes for him.
"That's the breaks, kid." He squeezed my hand and smiled, edging tears from his eyes - for me, for his girls.
For the next eleven days, I slept in a chair in his room, tending to him the way his should have been cared for at home. While perhaps a necessary evil, I am not fond of hospital environments and will beg shamelessly at the nurse's station until I am allowed to slip quiet as a mouse into the room and glue myself bedside until my loved one is released.
Once Dad was well enough to go out and about, two or three days later, he flopped into a wheel chair with his mobile IV unit and charged for the courtyard ready for a smoke from his pipe. He asked that I go to the van to retrieve his tobacco and fill the pouch.
I reached the van and stood beside it opening the can of tobacco, feeling grateful that I were able to do this for him. I had been prepared to carry his body back home myself, which I had already made arrangements for. If I had to sneak him out and make a run for the border so be it. Like Lonesome Dove, you know. I just prayed that our old van would make the trip and not crap out in the middle of the desert. Our friend from the oil and gas industry offered us her van in case we needed it. A gesture I'll never forget.
I was about to place a pinch of tobacco in his pouch when I recalled the ceremony Dad always conducted in Summerhawk, where he scattered bits of tobacco to each of the directions after he prayed. While he was not here to do that, I felt it was appropriate that I do so on his behalf, thanking the ancients for their gift of allowing him to come home with us. Somewhere within me I carried great hope that he would beat the cancer as he had overcome so many other life-threatening obstacles throughout his life. I always have and will always put far more faith in the human spirit than in a doctor's prognosis.
I gathered a small pinch of tobacco and raised my hand to the sky, beginning to say my prayer - thanking the spirits for their amazing gift and asking them to please guide and give him strength through his journey toward healing. But my prayer was intercepted before I could even inwardly articulate it.
Over the Wasatch range came a wind that at once blew through me and hit me like a freight train.
This wind wasn't just talking to me, it had reached in, gathered up my spirit, held me firmly and spoke into me in a way which I could not ignore. This wind, filled with the spirits of Native American warriors, screamed across the parking lot and the tobacco was swirled away. There was not a sense of femininity among any of their number - and I sensed at least thirteen or fourteen. Images were all around me, as was a tremendous sense of strength and purpose. I was awed by this feeling, and utterly leveled by the few simple words they spoke to me: "...we need him...". The spirits shared no indication of when they would take him, but his surgeons had given him six months. Certainly, from that moment forward, there was no question that he would be joining their world. During this moment my heart railed against one thing in particular, and these spirits heard me clearly.
As a child, my father, the first born son - and viewed as an unwanted interruption to a promising nursing career for my grandmother - suffered a deeply unsettled boyhood. This both crushed and freed his spirit, and helped forge him into the man he became. One who reached out to others, lifted and carried others, but always undervalued himself. Dad first left home when he was six. A police officer found him on an overpass and brought him home. He left home for good at twelve. He rode fence with an outfit in north-western Oklahoma, then punched cows a little longer at the King Ranch in Texas. Turning fifteen, he finally headed for Alaska on the back of a watermelon truck. He lived his life on his terms which brought its own exquisite blend of joy and pain - always, its own reward for the choices made and the lessons learned. I asked these warrior spirits if Dad's spirit would find peace once he joined their world. For this was all I ever wanted for my father - who, at times, I strongly butted heads with. I received an affirmation of this pending grace that completely released any discord I might have held within. 'Yes,' they said to my heart, at the very moment of his transition Dad would understand the pain, the sense of wild isolation he'd built and suffered from all his life - afraid to allow anyone to love him. In that understanding would come peace - and strength. And these spirits said to me that it was this vast strength and influence they needed uniquely from him. I stood grateful for this extraordinary gift of grace, which I then knew he would receive. Then all the words, all the sense of these entities swirled away in the wind, as suddenly as they had come, and it was as if I could see with my heart the world as it was to be. I had been assured that the moment his spirit entered their world he would understand all the doubts that deeply troubled his spirit - he would understand all those things that had caused him to crush his self appreciation and stifle his own reward as he had been embodied in this physical plane. And with this understanding would come not only perfect peace, but tremendous power in the way of influence, such that these ancient warriors needed. There was a great need. A vast-seeming, almost worldly need. Dad is a humanitarian, and a warrior. A defender of Earth - the only Mother he ever truly knew.
As far as a warrior goes, I can think of no other more suited to taking care of serious business, and his connection to the Earth has always been extraordinary. He's been affectionately referred to as 'The Missing Link', 'Godzilla', and, most recently 'Shrek'
Once, as a recon Marine in California, he had been out drinking with his buddies on R and R. I forget now what he had been drinking, but whatever it was, at sunrise he woke up under a flag pole on the grinder with no idea how he had gotten there. He asked his buddies what had happened, and they informed him that he suddenly rose from his chair, walked outside, crossed the parking lot and scaled with his bare hands a sheer forty foot cliff, disappearing over the top and into the woods. He had been gone for three days. The only memory he had of finding his way back to base was of a female white wolf that found him and ran with him in the forest, caring for him and protecting his spirit. I don’t know of any kind of liquor that produces an effect like that. But he never was one for cages – figurative or otherwise. Maybe he just needed a break from the stifling life of a government-issue Marine.
Later, as an officer in northern Oklahoma he grabbed a seven-foot dirtball who had been terrorizing the town for years, put him in a half-nelson and rode him out of a bar and into a snow bank. That's when he earned the nickname Godzilla.
Once while on an investigation in a swamp down south he lay in the reeds and muck on a stake-out – the hot humid steam producing sweat which dripped from his forehead and down his nose causing a steady drumming on the ground. The sound eventually drew the attention of a copperhead snake. He noticed the snake’s movement from the corner of his eye and spent the next hour in quiet communication with it suggesting that should it decide to bite him, the two would surely go down together. "Better to just move along," he said to the snake, "I'm too big for a snack." Fortunately, the snake saw the wisdom in this and chose to move along. But it had to ponder things for a good while before doing so.
Another time, Dad walked into the house with a sleeve and pocket ripped off his suit jacket and a slash down one pant leg. He had been off duty that day but pursued a suspect into an abandoned, flooded-out area of our subdivision. The suspect had been on drugs which whacked him out and lent him super-human strength. Dad didn’t take his gun as he was only going to follow the suspect. In the end, he had to attempt to apprehend the man who, of course, had a knife. Three hours of hand-to-hand combat with some armed druggie nut, and Dad came out ripped up and exhausted, but triumphant.
There are so many stories like these. Hollywood hero stuff. Bringing down an entire, corrupted sheriff's department with a five shot revolver. One day I'll write that script. It's easy to see why boys and men revered him so quickly and so much. For many he was a father figure, for others, the man they wanted to be, for still others, just a hero to look up to. And he took that reverence seriously. He felt responsible to all those who looked up him, and many did. In his quiet, confident demeanor, he simply inspired admiration and loyalty - though he was the first to admit he was just like anyone else.
So, for all the bad hombre-isms that defined Dad, he had a side that was extremely sensitive too - and frankly, I think that's also a side many men could identify with and longed to connect with within themselves. In a world full of dirtbags and in the lines of work he often found himself, it was a side he rarely had the opportunity to demonstrate. But he loved kids, and he loved the environment - and every chance he had, he gave to and protected both. He was a guy who would give anyone in need everything he had, going way beyond the proverbial shirt off one's back. And he'd give away what wasn't his either. Once, he gave this one guy my car battery! I could've kicked his butt.
When he and my mother were much younger, he learned that a waitress which worked with my mother couldn't afford to buy her son a bicycle for Christmas. So - on an officer's and waitress' income, with his own young family to support, he decided that he and my mother would take care of things; and, on Christmas morning they parked the bicycle with a big red bow outside the door of the woman's apartment. No one ever found out who left the gift, but, of course, that's not what mattered.
Taking kids in, providing for others, doing the jobs no on else could do or wanted to do... that was part of Blackcloud. The other part was a spiritual guide, writer, artist, and craftsman. He made his own clothes, built his own house, fixed his own cars - he'd been to law school, med school and at one time (for a decidedly short time, was a senior executive at one of this country's largest corporations). He had walked away from med school when, while interning in a hospital, he saw a homeless man left with a temperature of 104 degrees to die, forgotten. His own father had been a Harvard trained M.D. - both of them had turned their backs on the establishment. Dad went on to self-study study naturopathic medicine. In the later years of his life, he led many men on vision quests and performed, for them, a number of different ceremonies -- all as a gift of his love and his time. I'm not glorifying or romanticizing him because he was my father. He was, like any of us, imperfect - and he and I were enough alike in many ways to fight like hell. But he was, in every sense, larger than life. And he poured abundant energy into his spiritual and emotional growth, however awkward or painful, every second of his life. And, given his particular circumstances in the course of his life together with his particular combination of skills and talents, he did one thing exceptionally well: He never, ever gave up.
He had come so close to death so many times, and yet, lived to see another sunrise again and again.
So, when the spirit world a handful of warriors to boot says they need him, I can’t imagine what it might be for; but, if anyone... he is capable of that kind of mission.
So, standing there, beside the van, the vision I then saw was of his spirit integrated into what I can only describe as some kind of warrior's council, as if he were to join this particular group of spirits for some particular purpose.
For me, I lost my father standing there in that hospital parking lot. Not when the doctors diagnosed and predicted his future. For only he and the spirit world can truly know that fate. I lost him when these spirits assailed me in the midst of a prayer in honor of his ceremony and in honor of their gift of him to his family - for as long as we may have him. I did not want to hear how long we might have with him. I know I quite subconsciously shut down my reception of that information had they wanted to share it. It did not matter. I knew in my heart in the way I always know with certainty when the ancients speak to me. So, I made it as far as a lobby in the building, then sat and cried for five minutes. Cried for the unspeakable loss, but also for this immeasurable and gracious gift of true fore-knowing. The gift of time. The treasure of home and togetherness. The knowledge that his spirit would receive a peace that transcends the self-made shackling doubts of our lives here, on this plane.
When I reentered his room, I shared the vision with him - for it was as much his as mine. He said he knew. That he had, truly, known for a while.
After we came home from Salt Lake, I learned the time of my vision was around the same time that the Osage spiritual leader had been participating in a Sun Dance ceremony and had prayed for Dad while summoning his people and spirits on Dad's behalf.
As the winter set in my family and I shared those next few months, grateful for the opportunity to care for Dad in a way which brought all of us many spectacular gifts of which I still consider myself utterly unworthy.
As Dad's illness progressed, there were times when he seemed to detach from our world and enter another. At times this would last only minutes. Other times, it would go on for hours. He would not speak, only look... as if to see something he was intent on figuring out. I don't believe these were drug-induced departures. Those kinds of departures most likely influenced by narcotics were different and short-lived, usually lingering for only an hour or so after a dose of medication. He never spoke of where he went during or after the times when his attentions would drift, but it was evident by his behavior that he was engaged, actually engaged, elsewhere. When lucid, he spent a lot of time studying his spirit medicine which we placed on the wall opposite his bed. At times he would take objects down and hold them, such as the ceremonial pipe he hand-carved from a cedar which had been struck by lightening here on the mountain. He loved this mountain. Having traveled the globe and searched for 'home' in the wild lands between British Columbia, Alaska and all three coasts, he connected with this place the moment he saw it, even revealing to an uncle, while conducting my uncle's naming ceremony in Summerhawk, that he felt he had transitioned the physical realm here once before.
In fact, years ago - long before any of us knew about this spectacular place - my mother had a vision of my father and his brother leading a tribe from these mountains ahead of an invading cavalry or perhaps militia. My father, at the time in the vision was a spiritual leader, and he led one half of the split band to safety, while his brother - a warrior in the vision - led the other half. They met south, near or around what we call Summerhawk valley, in the place where we now live. The man who Dad considers his spirit brother shares the same sense of this vision, and it was he who delivered Dad (in the form of ashes) to us after a snowstorm last February.
I think thoughts on reincarnation are interesting, and for me at least, such reuse of energies is speculatively plausible. I've heard many anecdotal stories of folks rediscovering one another from former 'lives'. Like the couple who were simultaneously drawn to a place - a home near a river - and instantly recognized one another. It seemed that years before, a woman had accidentally drown in the river and her distraught husband followed, also drowning. Who really knows what is possible. Under certain circumstances, if reincarnation is in fact a reality, perhaps some entities are drawn together again in another time, for another purpose.
I do know this: love is the strongest force of all. I think it easily defies all others, is timeless, is fearless and boundless. Who is to say what can come of the connections we can feel with those in whom we recognize a deep spiritual connectivity. It's the sparkplug effect. An arc of electricity jumps the gap, and we can construct complimentary components to make it do that. We can harness and manipulate it - because we know the effects of it. But do we understand it... completely? At all... really? What do we really know about the spirit of a living being?
So, in the days that Dad's illness progressed, he would talk about leaving his family and what he wished for us to do should he not recover. He also talked about things he planned to do in the Spring. His lapses into what I can only describe as his subconscious were compelling, and once (the only time he did so) he spoke while in one of these trance-like states.
He began walking across the room, away from me, when he paused and looked away from the direction in which he was moving -- as if he were seeing or perhaps hearing something. He lingered for a moment, watching, as if observing something and contemplating it... as if he saw his own involvement in some future event. Then he uttered quite simply and matter-of-factly a statement which ensured that his mission was one of global significance and it would, with certainty, be accomplished. Seven words. A statement that clarified the object and focus of his very clear intent. It is a very specific, sacred and important mission against malevolent earthly forces of evil and greed. At the time he spoke, it was as if he were in some other place and certainly not talking to me. In fact, it was as if he were completely unaware I was even in the room behind him. Why he spoke this intent at all is a mystery, but I'm glad I was able to hear it. A couple of seconds later, he seemed consciously present again and carried on his way. At the time, of course, I had no real reference in which to place such a statement, because we had not been speaking about the subject nor had we for many weeks; but, I remember the entire moment because it was so unexpected and appeared detached, completely detached from anything relevant to the moment. It doesn't take a genius to see what threatens the future of this planet and everyone on it. You know how dirtbags always say, "Is that a threat? Is that a threat?". In confrontations with these unsavory types, be they white collar, blue collar or no collar, again and again (though not with the same dirtbags) I'd hear him say "That's not a threat. That's a promise."
Dad never broke a promise, and he made this one maybe a month before he transitioned to the spirit world.
Four days from his transition, I experienced a vision in which several Native American dancers were gathered around him, and one moved forward to place the tip of an eagle feather on his chest. We later learned that my aunt, who has also since joined the spirit world, also saw these dancers and one said to her that Dad would have only a few more days to prepare for his transition. Of course she could not tell us this, because she, herself was struggling with the fact that he may not recover, and did not wish to speak of her vision. My aunt had powerful snake medicine. Once, while living in west Texas, she had awoken during the night to get a glass of water. Without turning on the light, she crossed the floor of the kitchen, retrieved her water and returned to the hallway. Another aunt heard her milling around and flipped on the light to the kitchen. There, in the kitchen, on the floor, on the counters, the table - everywhere, were rattlesnakes. More than anyone could count. They were alert and watchful of my aunt which had crossed through them - not stepping on any one of them to fetch her water. The other aunt of course was just totally wigged out. Powerful medicine, indeed. It was this aunt with the snake medicine who had called and spoke with the Osage spiritual leader about praying for Dad. This spiritual leader had prayed over another aunt's husband when he had hit the floor and fallen into a coma for a month, later going on to recover.
These kinds of visions and things are relatively common within my family, so we don't always mention them to one another, only occasionally sharing something significant... under what auspice is anyone's' guess. Who knows how much more we might discover or be able to confer if any of us actually spoke more about these things.
Three days before he transitioned, Dad began to prepare his path.
During this three day period, Dad acknowledged that he may not recover, and proceeded through a brief period of what I can only guess to have been a mix of surprise and maybe depression -- as if he'd just been handed a ticket to a destination he hadn't really planned on going. Then he embarked on a lengthy period of what might be seen as a mixture of peace, joy and sorrow.
It was extraordinary. He somehow knew. And they say that often people do know. He had grown so calm, introspective, dignified and beautiful. Peaceful. I believe he was in strong communication with the spirit world long before this time as he had begun participating in what I can only guess would be his new form... sense of life... place, purpose - all of it which is far beyond my grasp or telling. I can only attempt to articulate the few aspects I actually experienced.
The day he transitioned, I alone was by his side administering a breathing treatment. My mother had left the room to gather herself from an episode only moments before when he had been unable to catch his breath. Twenty minutes or so previously, as she came into the room to relieve me and take over his care for the next several hours, she leaned in to kiss him in their customary greeting. He placed his hands on either side of her face and kissed her much like a mother might kiss a child with tens of pecks all about her face. It was the most tender display of joyous affection I've ever seen - and their last... as he was in our physical world.
He smiled at me and lay back to rest as I prepared his nebulizer treatment. He seemed so accepting, so at peace. So much bigger than and far beyond the moment. Looking back, it was as if he were waiting for the moment when he would cross over. If was as if he somehow knew and had been preparing. It was a striking and extraordinary thing to witness and be a part of, and something I will forever be grateful for.
As he lay lightly breathing in the mist of a nebulizer treatment which I held some inches off to the side, I noticed his breathing had begun to slow. I knew that this could be a normal aspect of the illness and knew that a person can go as long as 20 to 30 seconds without breathing and then recover themselves. I counted the time to his next breath. 15 seconds. The longest he had gone before was 10. Still though, he suddenly seemed more relaxed, and I noticed him staring ahead - like he often had in those trance-like states. His eyes opened slightly as if perhaps, now beyond words, this was the conscious body's last expressive vestige of reluctance. I mentioned that he should blink or something so he didn't frighten my mother when she came back in the room. He didn't respond, and a long time had passed since his last breath. I reached over and gently tugged his lashes a tiny bit over his eyes, but they only opened again. I looked deeper into his eyes, and saw an expression in them... and then I knew. He was moments from his transition, and I was so grateful that I was there to simply hold his hand, to tell him we would always be a family, and we would always love him - more than anything, always and forever.
But this he knew, and still knows. Love is, after all, boundless. A hundred years cannot be enough time to forget those you truly love.
I know he heard my words, felt my intent. I know he did not want to leave his family. I've never known a man to love his family more completely and desperately. I had said to him at an earlier time, sometimes we have to give up the old ship to let the spirit go free. He understood that, and I think he was glad that I did, too. He was a man torn between staying with his family yet compelled to transition into the spirit world.
I watched as his expression turned from one of study and attention to one of awe. Complete awe. Gradually, he developed a look as if to say, "How does this work?" as if, once he were there, he could hardly wait get into it and figure it all out.
He drew a final sudden breath, exhaled slowly and joined the spirit world.
I have never had the privilege of sharing such a moment with anyone, and that it was wholly embraced and met with such strength, grace, dignity and participation is nearly more than I can fathom let alone express.
We stood by him and held his hand as the warmth left him. We closed his eyes, and kissed his forehead.
Though it was February, we opened the door and the promise of Spring flooded the room. My mother and I stood over him, cleansing him with sage and cedar, inviting the spirits to embrace him and receive him into their world.
My mother and I carried him from our home long before either of us were prepared to and we relinquished him to a hospice worker and the county coroner. Had he had his way, and if this were another time, he would have been bound for a scaffold burial overlooking Summerhawk. But law dictates how our loved ones shall be physically prepared, which is a barbarous assault to one's spirit, wishes, dignity, and family - about which I will say nothing more here.
They placed him, with the sheet he had been carried on, in the steel bed of a pickup truck covered by a topper, and he was taken to Glenwood.
Knowing my father's sense of humor - and the fact that he and I once spent several stupid hours in kitchen 'surgery' picking steel fibers out of his eyes with paper towels and a jeweler's loupe because he had refused to wear safety goggles when buffing a walking staff with steel wool - he probably found this makeshift Hertz amusing. Under the circumstances, however, my mother and I did not.
But, in life and in 'death', there is after all, the solemn and the ridiculous. He would remind us of that.
|three steps and full flight ahead of
Before we authorized his cremation, I wanted to verify his condition. No weird things done to him - know what I mean? No makeup - no hair combing. His hair was always wild and out of control. We wanted it left like that. My daughter had not been present when he transitioned nor when he rode off into the sunset in the back of the county truck. But she was with me that day. Just she and I.
Now, Dad and I loved one another very very much. More than words could ever express. So much so that time itself will never forget. But we fought. Because sometimes, in guarding his own heart - especially when he was much younger - he would say hurtful things. He would assume too much. Take things for granted. He was probably too much of a he-man for his own good. So we adored and protected him, and he loved us more than life, but was careful to never let us get too close to his heart. To never really expose that vulnerability, and take that chance on maybe not really being loved back. As if that were possible. So, there were many misunderstandings. And lots of tears and wounds that didn't heal - on both sides. And because he wouldn't let me into his heart, I closed mine to him simply to survive him - and this is how we functioned. How can two people love one another so much and somehow exist so far apart. It sucks. And one of life's lessons is to get beyond it. Which we sometimes did, tentatively, but deeply. And I think, in the last weeks of his time in our physical plane, he got it.. he got that, yes, we actually, really did love him. And he accepted, and he softened, and in those last days, he became whole.
But, of course, I still dragged around my old baggage. Barriers that, were I to break them down, might open some kind of flood gate of feeling, some kind of acknowledgement that I had allowed him to hurt me by loving him and caring about him openly. Just to avoid being hurt by his insensitivity to my own feelings, I had to pretend I was beyond being hurt. That shutting him out didn't bother me. That I had shut my heart, and it was done. In his famous words, "End of discussion". And ordinarily, I don't look back. I really don't give in. But, in this case, it was all just a way to survive him. I mean, love can just trash you. So. Good for Dad. He finally learned what receiving love was about. He could go on to his mission. I could go on just going on. With my baggage. My closely guarded baggage, thank you very much. Simple. Uncomplicated. Well, complicated, yes, but guarded. And guarded was good. My daughter hadn't seen him since he transitioned. He basically raised her as his own daughter. But, she was stoic... her style being to run somewhere far away and deep within. The funeral home was in sight - there by the river. The river. Thank God. How would she deal with this? How would I deal with this?
We pulled into the funeral home as Unchained Melody came over the radio. We looked at one another. It grew louder. I fought to hang on to my baggage. No - you can't have it, you sneaky bastard! It's mine! It's my baggage and I need it to guard my heart, damn it! But the weirdest thing happened. The song kept growing louder and louder. It filled the interior of the car, commanding our complete attention, and literally shut out our awareness of anything else. So, I sat down my stupid bags and together I and my daughter wept, and breathed, and just let it all be. When the song ended, we gathered ourselves and walked to the front door of this horrible, commercial, cold and distant place - the funeral home.
I noticed a single crocus blooming by the door. It was beautiful. The only sign of spring. Stunning in its affirmation of life after a long period of rest. I pointed it out to my daughter. We paused to take it in, to love and appreciate the gift it gave us simply by choosing to bloom there. We walked inside.
Dad was waiting for us. On a stainless steel table. His chest swelled, something weird with his eyes - like they were glued shut. And his hair combed. I hated it. He had been violated, and I could do nothing about it. I wanted to take him from that place - that cold, indifferent place which dealt in the 'business' of 'death' in such an efficient, superficial fashion. I wanted to kick some serious ass. Many people might have found some sense of comfort in the artificiality of it all. But for me and for my daughter - it was inappropriate. An affront to a dignified man. A dignified life. What had been a beautiful, dignified transition.
We worked out the purchase of a cedar bowl, but how could we leave him? How could we not accompany him to the cremation chamber? This was not our way. None of this was our way. And this very young man in a suit and loafers with certainly no appreciation of my unusual concern for the respectful handling of Blackcloud's body tried to listen as kindly as he could to my explanation that the body is a record of our lives. On a molecular level, until it is given to ashes and finally reconstituted differently and anew, it is a living record of the moments of our lives. The steps we've trodden, the hands we've held, the beauty and tragedy we've seen. Our physical visage, is in every way, a lasting and unique instrument of the lives we've lived - etched in bone, imprinted in our eyes. Sacred. "Do you understand?" I asked. Blank stare. "Okay. Whatever, here's your check."
We left. We stopped to pick up something to bring home for dinner. Sitting at the booth in a local restaurant, Time in a Bottle played. Out of the blue. The only song to play. Good grief. We cried again. We went home.
When we got there, we told my mother of the gift that Dad had sent to us in the car, and the song he sent to us at the restaurant, but we didn't tell her which songs he chose to send. We wanted her to experience it as we had. So my daughter burned the two songs on a CD. As we placed the CD player on the kitchen table and held hands, each of us felt Dad's presence envelope my mother. We were poised to play the songs for her when the phone rang. It was the young man from the funeral home. "There's a problem," he said. "we can't get the door to the cremation chamber open."
"Well, can you not get him in, or can you not get him out?" I asked.
"We can't get him in."
"Oh. Well, we're in the middle of something, perhaps you could wait a few minutes and then try again." We hung up and played the songs. My mother wept - we all did, but we felt Dad's presence so strongly, so surely.
I called the young man back. "Did the doors open?" Yes, they had. On with the show.
The next day a blizzard came and whitewashed the valley. It had gone from soft Spring rains to frigid snow-packed and icy roads. Every time I contemplated driving to Glenwood to pick up Dad up, I heard his words, "Are you out of your damn mind? Forget it. I don't want you on those roads. My ass will be fine right here 'till the roads clear. Besides, I'm already home anyway."
Dad's spirit brother called from Woody Creek. A reclusive, beautiful and extraordinary man, he called and said he was going to get Dad and bring him home the next afternoon -- blizzard or no blizzard. Happy day! We planned a feast!
The next morning, Mom told me she had awoken the night before to an odd scent which she couldn't place. It smelled like something baking, and she worried someone might have left the oven on -- even though no one could remember cooking.
In planning for Dad's arrival home, somehow, despite the chaos, the tears and the pain, the turkey got done, the rolls didn't burn and the potatoes were perfect. His brother pulled into the snowy drive, and he took Dad's ashes from the front seat of his Jeep and handed them to Mom. We were together again, and before the sun would set, in the scattering rays of its warm, fading light, Dad would be free of the plastic bag which held him and drift a little in the wind as he poured into his new temporary home - even if we had to do it with a huge spoon and a stew pot.
Bing, clink, there went his factory installed titanium parts. It was Dad, all right.
Later that night, after Dad's brother had gone home from his time praying with Dad on the mountain and down in Summerhawk, Mom took the items which had accompanied Dad's cedar bowl from the kitchen table. A withered crocus adorned the lid of the bowl. The very same one my daughter and I had seen two days prior.
She smelled it. Warm honey. The same smell that had awoken her from a sound sleep the night before.
His ashes reside at the kitchen table where he sat each morning with a cup of coffee and some favorite non-fiction watching the sun rise over Summerhawk. Soon, as he wished, his ashes will be released upon a scaffold on the cliff overlooking Summerhawk.
|beyond touch, within reach...
Since that time, Dad has manifest his presence again and again... physically. Tilted photos in frames. Tilted pictures re-tacked to the wall. Placed and falling feathers. Lights turned on and pull cords repositioned. Desk chairs slowly rotating 360 degrees. Objects moved. The weird behavior of our one cat which seems to thrive on his energy. These occurrences don't surprise me, because if anyone could communicate from the ‘other side’ and desire to, he would. And he knows we would be expecting it. He demonstrates his connectivity in different ways to each of our family members, speaking more to me in the wind and through dreams, but he is highly interactive with my mother. Touching her shoulder, holding her hand, resting in bed, flipping her hair behind her – his ornery humor ever evident.
I certainly do not profess to know how the spirit world operates. But there have been times in my life when I have been invited to peek inside. Invited even to participate. My purpose for writing this is not, however, to convince, it is only to share. Because, as I said, this time we have someone on the other side, and whether in spirit or physical form, this is his fight as much as it is ours. He was never one to rest idly by while his family was put in jeopardy. And too many events align with recent events to dismiss his involvement.
The oddest thing of all is that (and I have this on good authority from the spirit world some years ago, and which Dad confirmed some months ago) we are here to learn to love. And, you know, for a human being, that is a pretty tall order given the emotional baggage we drag around. And, given the state of the world, we don’t seem to be doing that great of a job of it either. Perhaps our greatest challenge is to learn to love ourselves. And here’s something else that Dad told me himself after joining the spirit world. He said all the physical things we tend to worry about are irrelevant, because time is irrelevant and our things are only artifacts degraded by our marking of time. They are temporary really in the grandest sense. The only pursuit truly worthy, is that which guides us toward greater love for one another. So, if these edicts are true – and I’ve no doubt about it, then one must wonder where in the greater scheme such events as this fall, you know, the 40 wells... the pillage of the Rockies in pursuit of gas. And what of our place in these events? How shall the spirit world intervene but for the greater purpose of good? These are questions far beyond me, but which I ponder as a participant in my daily affairs having solicited the aid of the Great Spirit to guide me.
|leap and you will fly... faith will
give you wings...
The day that I learned of the wells which EnCana plans to install over the next year, I walked to the cliff’s edge and first yelled like a mad woman, then I yelled some more – startling, I am sure, every living being for ten miles. I demanded of the ancients what the hell it was they expected me to do. Sometimes, though I try not to be, I can be such a pain in the ass. Yet, they are patient, and knew I was only frustrated. This was evident when my shouts turned to tears. And I gave myself over, as I know is required, to hear anything of the truth. I gave myself wholly, and I embraced inwardly the guidance they would show, only to turn it outward again and give it freely, wholly to those who gave it first to me. For the spirit world needs our prayers and strength too. The world needs our prayers and strength. So I always take only what I need, allow it make me stronger, then give it all back plus some. And I asked for the ancient spirits to guide us in this situation and to grant us the strength and wisdom to accept that what ever will be is meant to be. And I asked for them to intervene, if appropriate, and bring all benevolent spirits to bear in this fight, because it is so much larger than any of us. I asked them to bless and guide this land and the creatures upon it. The water that flows through it, the wind that traces along the canyon walls.
Anger, despair, triumph. I’d not had such a fit since I was sixteen, when I raced screaming into the dark night down the road asking for the spirit world to take me with them. Which they refused to do. Big surprise.
I, of course apologized to the creatures in the canyon, for disrupting their peaceful afternoon berry-munching and what not.
I did not share with my family the fact that I had gone to the canyon to pray, that afternoon. To pray for them, to pray for this incredible place, to pray for all its inhabitants, to pray for the spirits who inhabit the spirit world – and ours…
Yet, later that night, after I returned from a very long day in Glenwood, my mother said that there had been spirits around the house, only one of which she knew was Dad.
I asked her to explain. She said there was spirit activity everywhere, things were banging around upstairs, the animals were acting crazy and she saw several shapes move in front of her. One broke a beam of light, another was a silver, cream-colored shape, another was grey – all were moving around all over the place. I then told her I had asked many spirits to come and intervene on behalf of this mountain and my family, and that perhaps this was the result of that request. What I said reminded her to get something off the living room table. She brought two pieces of paper tucked inside a worn piece of plastic. She said she had been compelled that evening, nearly led by the hand it seemed, to go to a box known to contain old photos which hadn’t been opened in years. She said she felt compelled to dig around toward the center of the box where she saw these and pulled them out. She said when she retrieved them, the whole experience absolutely gave her chills. I asked to read them. One was a piece of hand-lettered parchment which read:
“I’m not here"
Don’t stand by my grave and weep
For I’m not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond’s glint on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn’s rain
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circle flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there, I did not die.
Beneath this paper which bore neither signature nor date, was the hand-drawn picture of an eagle in flight against a blue cloud-filled sky. On this sketch were the words; “I’m not a human going on a spiritual experience, I’m a spirit going on a human experience.” The drawing was signed by Ken Rainbow Cougar ’94.
She doesn’t recall how it got there or who might have given her these two pieces, or even under what circumstance. But, she was certainly compelled to find and bring them out the night I asked the spirit world to help us in our fight with this powerful industry.
As I said, you can judge for yourself who is involved in this struggle. For my family it spans and integrates two complimentary realms.
Industry, it seems, mistakenly believes it involves only them.
The next afternoon, I walked with my mother to view the well site under current construction. She and I both sensed an intense presence of spirit activity in the vicinity. Not on our property, but concentrated on the property East of the well site, on Price's place (Juniper)
guided greatly, we are given...
What will be will be. We will do as much as we can in the face of overwhelming odds. But it brings a peace unlike any other when you acknowledge your own limitations and as a good friend in the oil and gas industry recently said: “let go and let God.”
The fossil fuel industry, unwilling to adapt to the sustainable demands of a changing world and a world imperiled, assumes, through this attitude and all the systems and processes to further it, the position of destructor.
Those who see the fate of the Earth tipping toward the weight of that destruction are, because of personal and communal commitments to defend its stability, in a position of stewardship.
If you are inclined to not only believe what I’ve shared above, but share, through your faith, our awe and reverence for these things we may not know nor fully understand – then we invite you to pray for the benevolent spirits that have taken this task in hand.
I suspect, given what was revealed to me in that parking lot in Salt Lake, it is perhaps as big a fight for the spirits in their realm as it is for us in ours.
He stands with us still.
|Standing on the bank of West Divide Creek. This is near a spot where, upon
each visit, he offered prayers and tobacco to the spirit world in brief,
quiet and solemn ceremony.
He designed and made the moccasins he's wearing.
Quite the fashion statement, he actually possessed incredible fashion taste and talent, once designing and making from scratch a stunning, red velvet empire-waisted evening gown for my mother. [September, 2005]
Blackcloud working on a sketch of clay
|Sampling and scarfing a few choke cherries. These tantalizing native berries
make delicious wine, jellies and pies. Because we share this extraordinary
habitat with resident bears, we always leave most of the berries for the
A naturalist, Blackcloud often took long sojourns into the wilderness, where he was never more at home with his horse, and when he was still with us - his beloved dog, Griz.
There Blackcloud challenged himself to learn more about and live comfortably within the wilds around him. From crafting a lounge chair out of cordage and saplings, to stewing a mess of nettle, the wilderness was always his home and mother.
I doubt that has changed. [September, 2005]
This tree teaches us that bleakest adversity is no match for enduring strength of will, blessings of guiding spirits, and the surety of gentle fate.
This stone, regardless of how hard and pervasive it seems, will one day deliver, as grains of sand, nutrient to the roots of future generations of this pine's seedlings. "And the fire burns on..."
View a portrait of Summerhawk in the colors of autumn
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otherwise noted are copyrighted by Lisa Bracken, 2007. All rights are