Source — (Pixabay)

Revisiting the Sacred

Since those long ago summer days the group dispersed in all directions and lost connection with each other. They had been such an intimate group back when they did the ceremonies together but now Jack had no idea where any of them lived or how to get in touch with them.

He thought it would be a grand idea to have a reunion at the old site but since he was unable to contact any of them he drove out to the site himself. He had sent out psychic messages to each member of the old group but he had no expectations of that working. He had searched for them on the internet but could find nothing whatsoever. It was like they all disappeared.

Jack parked his SUV at the end of the dirt road. He put on his straw farmer’s hat to protect his face from the blazing desert sun and got out of the vehicle. Looking all around him, he slowly walked the barely discernible foot path leading up the hill that he had walked so many times before, so many years before.

Taking a deep breath, he was flooded with memories. Everything smelled the same as back during that summer. The smell of the desert was one of Jack’s very favorite smells. As he climbed the small hill he walked past sagebrush, cacti, blooming chamisa, and small shrubby juniper and pinon trees. The only sound was his footsteps.

It did not take long to reach the top of the hill. Jack stood there for a long time looking down into the dry arroyo where their camp used to be. It was the group’s sacred site. They met there once a week for the better part of a year to conduct their spiritual rituals. That was over thirty years ago.

Eventually, Jack proceeded down the path to the site. Surrounded by hills on three sides, the tiny little valley was big enough for only one campsite in the very middle; the only place where there was any flat land. The dry arroyo ran next to this flat space. Jack had never seen any water flowing through it but judging by the carved channel there had obviously been times, especially after thunderstorms, when it did.

While the hills on the east and west of the tiny valley were smooth and rounded, the hill to the north was rocky and jagged. Back during that magical summer there had been a red-tailed hawk who had a nest on a rock outcropping near the top of that hill. She had one baby hawk that she was raising that summer. Looking up at the north hill Jack neither saw nor heard any birds.

Reaching the bottom of the hill, Jack walked into the center of the site and was amazed by how everything had reverted to its natural state. There was very little evidence of the activities of thirty years before. This is how it was meant to be.

But he did find some evidence such as the earthen altar that had been in front of the sweat-lodge. It was just a small mound of dirt where offerings to spirit were placed before the sweat-lodges commenced. Jack wondered if the crystals that they buried in the earthen altar were still there but he would not dare desecrate the altar by digging them up. A desert sage plant was now growing on the side of the altar. He squatted down and pulled off a small branch of it. Rubbing the oily leaves between his fingers he then put it under his nose and took a deep breath. It was one of his very favorite smells on this planet.

The circle where the sweat-lodge had been was now completely covered with plant growth. There was no way to see that a sweat-lodge had ever been there.

Jack then walked over to the fire pit. It, too, was covered with plant growth but upon closer inspection he could tell that the earthen barrier surrounding the pit was still there underneath the plant growth. A few feet away was a pile of rocks that had been used in the ceremonies. He walked over, squatted down and touched some of those rocks.

There were nine members of the group; five males and four females, seven adults and two children. It was a very small tribe. Jack had never known the other people before that summer and within a year after that summer he never saw them again.

After a day of fasting the nine members met in the late morning at the site. After greeting and talking for a while, once everyone was there the work commenced. Everyone had assigned tasks to prepare for the ceremony. Jack’s official chore was that of fire-keeper.

While the others collected fire wood or made prayer flags Jack went to search for the rocks to be used in the ceremony. He needed to find eighteen rocks each of which was about the size of a cantaloupe. Before he could touch and pick up a rock he had to first ask the rock for permission to use it in the ceremony. Not all rocks granted that permission. Before picking up the rock he would pinch some tobacco from his pouch and spread it on the ground around where the rock was as an offering to the nature spirits for disturbing the area by removing the rock. The collecting of the rocks had to be done in a state of empty mind and spiritual presence. During that long ago summer Jack acquired the ability to communicate with rocks through his hands.

Eventually there was a pile of rocks on the right side of the fire pit and a big pile of fire wood on the left side. That is when Jack began to build the bonfire. With the biggest logs on the bottom, he built a large pyre with the rocks scattered throughout the fire wood. At the bottom he placed wads of dry grass between the logs.

But before the bon fire was lit everyone gathered to be smudged and to sing some old Indian songs. Only then was the pyramid of wood and rocks set ablaze. It was a raging bonfire and it was Jack’s job to keep feeding fuel to the fire to keep it burning as hot as possible. The rocks had to be extremely hot before being brought into the sweat-lodge.

After the fire had been burning for over an hour and everyone had thrown their prayer flags into it the little tribe got into the sweat-lodge. With a shovel he had brought, Jack then scooped up the blazing hot rocks and brought them into the sweat-lodge dropping them into the circular pit that had been dug in the center of the sweat-lodge.

After half the rocks were in the pit, Jack threw more branches on the fire to keep it going then entered the sweat-lodge, closing the flap door behind him. The pipe-carrier who led the ceremony then sprinkled water on the hot rocks creating an explosion of steam. He kept doing this until the sweat-lodge was thick with steam and the heat was extremely intense.

The heat inside the sweat-lodge became so intense that the only way to survive it was to surrender to it; to release the thinking mind and enter into a spiritual trance-like state. Entering spirit, each person went beyond the earthly physical heat.

After a long while the pipe-carrier would fill and light the sacred pipe. Pulling the smoke into his lungs he would say his prayer and then release the prayer with the smoke to spirit. He then passed the pipe around the circle (always in a clock-wise direction) so that each person could do the same.

At a certain point when the heat began diminishing, Jack would exit the sweat-lodge to bring the rest of the hot rocks in to be placed atop the first round of rocks. Back inside with the flap door closed everyone went through the same process again as the pipe-carrier sprinkled the new hot rocks with water.

It was a difficult experience for Jack the first time he did a sweat but he quickly grew to love it and look forward to it.

After a sweat everyone would break their fast. In the wonderfully cool evening air outside a cook-out ensued. Usually it was bison meat and vegetables. Everyone was famished and ate with great vigor while talking and giving thanks.

Taking his hands off the pile of rocks, Jack stood up. In the silence he missed those sweat-lodges and he missed that little tribe of nine. He missed the food afterward and the many smells and the joy and laughter and conversation. He missed those people.

Walking around the sacred site some more Jack could not remember much of what everyone talked about. There was a lot of talking and sharing but so much of it was lost to the memory. He did remember that everyone shared their life stories and spoke about their plans and goals in life. He had no idea now if the others had followed their paths and accomplished their goals. His own life path turned out to be very different than he thought it would be like. The last thirty years were truly wonderful, though, even if it was not exactly as he had envisioned it back then.

Jack realized that the path of his life since then would not have been so wonderful if not for the experience of that summer of sweat-lodges. His life took a radical spiritual turn that year. He wished that everyone could meet there again so that he could thank them.

After wandering around the site for a long while Jack finally headed back over the hill to his vehicle. Halfway up the hill he suddenly saw the pipe-carrier standing on the path facing him, his long brown hair blowing in the breeze.

Jack shook his head and blinked and the pipe-carrier was gone. Then he closed his eyes and he could see him again in his mind’s eye. The pipe-carrier spoke, “Do not worry, Jack. We will all be together again…

…just not in this life.”

The pipe-carrier disappeared from his mind and Jack opened his eyes.

Just then he heard the shrill cry of a hawk. He turned to look at the north hill and saw a red-tailed hawk take flight from the rock outcropping near the top of the hill. Surely it was not the same hawk as the one who lived there thirty years ago. It probably was not even the little hawk that hawk was raising that summer. But Jack felt that it was surely the progeny of that hawk from that long ago summer.

For a very long moment Jack watched the hawk as it flew away while continuing its shrill cries. The sound reverberated throughout his being.

Copyright by White Feather. All Rights Reserved. This is a work of fiction.

See all of my Native American stories here:

Earthling — Lifelong novelist & essayist —

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