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Pine Ridge vignette: windy day sweat

It was windy again. Too windy to plant carrots. The wind blew steady all day at about 30 to 40 miles per hour, with gusts up to 60. Irritating to stay out there too long. Yesterday and the day before were the same. Unrelenting wind. A week of it. The water blew sideways out of the pump.

Everything not nailed down got blown away, and some things that were nailed down got blown apart. And after the wind blew first from the south, then the south and east before returning to the prevailing west, all the paper, plastic and trash that had blown away was back where it started.

People began showing up early, with the door either flying open or slamming closed as they entered the house. Tom Cook and Manuel Martin and Lupe' came up for morning coffee from down over the hill where they were working in the greenhouse, planting seedlings to later be distributed across the reservation to those participating in the gardening program.

Then Bo Davis stopped up for coffee and a game of chess. He too, was working on finishing up one of the two new greenhouses that had been framed up last summer by the Foxmaple timber-frame people from Maine. In between moves and 50-mph wind gusts, I picked up blowing trash and rebuilt my arbor that had been blown apart last week.

The crew all left, then returned again around noon for bean, cheese, tomato, onion and avocado burritos, and commodity macaroni and cheese. Watecha (leftovers), who used to be Sandy's dog, but has been hanging around for a month or so, chased the trucks down over the hill, and later chased them back, awaiting Fuzz's daily ration, since he took a bullet to the back of the head and can no longer eat nor guard the place.

Those guys went back to work, then showed up a couple of hours later. "It's too windy to work," they said. Better to stay up here, drink coffee, thumb through literature and listen to the BBC.

About 3 p.m. the old man showed up on foot.

"How'd you get here?" asked Tom.

"I walked," he said. "Ran out of gas."

"Walked?" It was about three miles, by the way the crow flies, from his house to here.

"How'd you get across the river?"

The old man made a walking motion with his fingers.

"You walked on water?"

"Waded across," he said. "Took off my shoes and socks and pants and tossed them to the other side. It's about this deep," he said, holding his hand palm down, level with his chest. "Used to do it all the time."

"Eeeeeeeeee. Wasn't it cold?"

"Yep," he said. "That water's stillll cold. That sweat lodge is going to feel good tonight."

About 4 p.m. the guys began showing up, heading straight out to the lodge. Owen Warrior, Big Mike, Ron Holton and another guy, a first-timer, went out and stripped down the lodge, partially disassembled by the wind.

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They began the twice-weekly ritual of prepping the lodge for ceremony, cleaning the firepit and rock pit, pulling the mats, stacking the fire and chopping wood.

Then Uncle Solomon Red Bear, from way out on the other end of the reservation at Potato Creek, showed up with his daughter and wife, Rachel. Leaving the women in the car, Solomon came in the house, with his pants hanging low on his ass, Lakota-style, finished the last burrito and sat on the stool smoking a cigarette with a quaking hand.

After the fire had been going an hour or so, old Uncle Ike Yellow Bull showed up, shortly before four or five of the Red Cloud boys. Then Lupe's son, Chachee, showed up with his wife and little girl. A bit later, Misty Sue Davis showed up with her two daughters, her sister, and her friend Vickie, followed by a couple of other Lakota women whom I didn't know. They wanted to sweat here because it was safe, and they wanted to avoid the sexual harassment they were getting where they had been going, someone said.

There were people from Porcupine, Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge village and Potato Creek, along with the core group of locals. Soon everyone was gathered around the fire, waiting for Joe American Horse, who'd just returned from Germany.

"How many rocks?" asked Uncle Solomon.

"All of 'em, plus two."

Avery Red Cloud pulled out a water drum, and Tom sang four peyote songs at the fire as the old man stood smoking a cigarette and looking off to the west for Uncle Joe's car. Here he came.

"Get ready. The old man's going in."

Everyone scurried to the cars, and soon there was a long line behind the four uncles, who we respectfully await to enter first. Then everyone else behind them.

"Won't be able to lay down tonight," people said, teasing one another about having to sit up.

Twenty-four went in, making it a packed house, and unusual for a Wednesday night.

"Pack it in. Four more." People kept coming. "Make two rows."

People were practically sitting on top of the rock pit. All the rocks came in glowing red.

After the first door, six people went out to catch their breath. Two of them didn't return. After the second door, the little girls and another half-dozen people departed, glistening with sweat in the light of the fire, some of them flopping down on pieces of carpet, steam rolling off their bodies. Someone out there exclaimed, "Jesus!"

The old man was driving them out. Uncle Solomon went out. Some sat out a door, then came back. Everybody else was panting, and grateful for the dipper of water when it came around. Some were sprawled out flat on their backs, finding room to lay down when people left.

Twenty-two people exited the lodge at the end, like the cartoons of a multitude of Indians coming out of a tiny tipi. People dried off and got dressed, shook hands with one another and stood around the glowing coals of the firepit under an almost full moon. Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Mars shone brightly in the western sky. You could hear the water running in the White River, down over the hill. The coyotes were quiet. The wind had stopped.

Victor Glover, a Native writer, helps out elders on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.