Monday, February 10, 2014

Mato Tipila

Monday, February 10, 2014

In the spring of 1997 I spent nearly four months living and working on the Rosebud Lakota Sioux Native American reservation.  I was sent there by the New England Province of the Society of Jesus.  During my adventure (this is how I look back on it now in hindsight) I had the privilege of being to travel to some nearby popular destinations.  I visited Yellowstone National Park in May of that year.  It was interesting to see Yellowstone Lake still thawing out in May!  Prior to that I visited Mato Tipila, more commonly known as Devil's Tower.

Devil's Tower was so named due to a mis-interpretation of Colonel Richard Irving Dodge's accounting of his expedition to the site.  Located in Wyoming Devil's Tower is a prominent geological feature that inspires wonder and an enthusiasm for climbing.  The Lakota people call this site Mato Tipila...also known in English as Bear Lodge.  More information about this site sacred to the Lakota people can be found on the Sylvan Rocks Climbing School and Guide Service webpage located here.

Below is a recounting of the legend of how Devil's Tower came to be:

Long ago, two young Indian boys found themselves lost on the great prairie. They had played together one afternoon and had wandered far out of the village. Then they had shot their bows still farther out into the sagebrush. Then they had heard a small animal make a noise and had gone to investigate. They had come to a stream with many colorful pebbles and followed that for a while. They had come to a hill and wanted to see what was on the other side. On the other side they saw a herd of antelope and, of course, had to track them for a while. When they got hungry and thought it was time to go home, the two boys found that they didn't know where they were. They started off in the direction where they thought their village was, but only got farther and farther away from it. At last they curled up beneath a tree and went to sleep.

They got up the next morning and walked some more, still traveling the wrong way. They ate some wild berries and dug up wild turnips, found some chokecherries, and drank water from streams. For three days they walked toward the west. They were footsore, but they survived. How they wished that their parents, or elder brothers and sisters or tribe members would find them as they walked on what is now the plains of Wyoming. But nobody did.

On the fourth day the boys suddenly had a feeling that they were being followed. They looked around and in the distance saw Mato, the bear. This was no ordinary bear, but a giant bear, so huge that the boys would make only a small mouthful for him.   He had smelled the boys and came in search of that mouthful. He came so close that the earth trembled with each step he took.
 The boys started running, looking for a place to hide, they found none.  The grizzly was much, much faster than they. They stumbled, and the bear was almost upon them. They could see his red, wide-open jaws full of enormous teeth. They could smell his hot breath.
 The boys were old enough to have learned to pray, and the called upon Wakan Tanka, the Creator: "Tunkashila, Grandfather, have pity, save us." 

All at once the earth shook and began to rise. The boys rose with it. Out of the earth came a cone of rock going up, up, up until it rose more than a thousand feet high. And the boys were on top of it.
 Mato the bear was disappointed to see his meal disappearing into the clouds. This grizzly was so huge that he could almost reach to the top of the rock when he stood on his hind legs. Almost, but not quite. His claws were as large as a tipi's lodge poles. Frantically Mato dug his claws into the side of the rock, trying to get up, trying to eat those boys. As he did so, he made big scratches in the sides of the towering rock. He tried every spot, every side. He scratched up the rock all around, but it was no use. The boys watched him wearing himself out, getting tired, giving up. They finally saw him going away, a huge, growling, grunting mountain disappearing over the horizon.
 The boys were saved by Wanblee, the eagle, who has always been a friend to our people. It was the great eagle that let the boys grab hold of him and carried them safely back to their village.

I can easily recall the beauty of this place and the awe I felt when I gazed at it in person. The bright spring sunshine cast sharp lines of shadow and light upon its contours.  It was amazing to behold.

I've been thinking of the bear lodge lately because I've been noticing a growing desire to hibernate like a bear would.  Yes indeed, winter is starting to wear on me.  Some days it's the cold that irks me.  Other days it's the still prevalent darkness.  But underlying those realities is the more significant reality of the apparent death of the natural world outside.  Intellectually I known the hibernation must one day end as the sun's power grows stronger each day.  But that intellectual knowledge doesn't necessarily easily translate to a warm and sure feeling in the heart.  At least the evenings are now starting to be brighter; I can go dog-walking at 5 pm with sunlight still filling the sky.

Today is the last time my friend Arlene will be driving me to my therapy appointment.  It also will hopefully be the last Monday I am not more substantially employed.  I feel ready to begin doing something new.  I've been on the road to recovery for what lately has felt like a very long time.  I want and need a new lease on life.  I declare that it is time for it to be so.

Yesterday was somewhat difficult for me.  The sadness I felt on Saturday in the time immediately following my Listening course stayed with me.  Though I put it out of my mind when I later went to what turned out to be a very fun party it was back in the forefront of my awareness when I woke up Sunday morning.

When I awoke this morning I felt better than I did yesterday.  I am grateful for that.  I plan to go to the gym later today to continue my dedication to rigorous exercise.

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