RURAL FALCON RIDGE
June 10, Sunday
Charlie stood on the south side of his cabin, coffee mug in hand, gazing upon what remained of the sweat lodge he and Eaglefeathers built. Its skeleton was in shambles. Weeds and small bushes, even a young Douglas fir, had overtaken it to the point of being unrecognizable.
Like his grandfather, it had returned to the Earth. Now a sacred place. Disturbing it didn't feel right.
He should build a new one.
He went inside his cabin to get what he needed for an offering. As the tobacco touched the ground he asked the Earth Mother for permission to use some of her resources and prayed that his efforts would be accepted by Maheo. He sat back on his haunches, sobered by the memory of his first ceremonial sweat.
Stumbling through a vast field of grass that towered above his head. Legs moving full speed with the predator's breath hot on his tail. He was a mouse who'd wandered too far from its den fleeing the fangs of a hungry fox. Other nightmarish visions assaulted him as well. Fiery eyes. Fangs dripping with venom.
He exhaled hard, trying to dismiss it and any potential for a rerun, when its symbolism abruptly made sense—running aimlessly away from the safety of his roots while the white man's world tried to consume him.
A clear message he wasn't ready to recognize, much less accept, back when he was a stubborn, rebellious youth lost between cultures.
What a blind fool he'd been.
Times changed. He changed. No longer renounced his heritage, which offended the grandfather spirits. This time would be different. He was different, not the same person he was back then.
Building a sweat lodge needed to be done according to specific traditional procedures. The first time was when he was fourteen. Uncle Joe Whitewolf's ritual fast on Novavose. Accomplished according to his grandfather's directions, then he served as its door keeper. It was a lot of hard work, something he was instructed to do. This time his efforts would confirm the commitment he'd previously lacked.
Peace swelled in his heart with the firmest of convictions there was nothing more important he could do that day.
Determination renewed, he fetched his tool belt and a band saw from inside, then perused the ground around his cabin for the right place. Intuition led him to a relatively level grassy area surrounded by a grove of trees.
He closed his eyes and thought back to helping his grandfather construct the old one, also when he was a youth. Its memory prompted him to sing the Badger Song, a tradition for when such a task was begun. A request and invitation for Badger's blessings and access to Novavose.
While he sang a warm glow settled upon him as if to welcome him home. Another prayer asked that the site be acceptable to and protected by Maheo, then forever after revered as a sacred place.
Sweat lodges were usually built at the onset of spring, when the rising Sun guided the structure's eastern orientation. With it now closer to the summer solstice he hoped compensating for the calendar violation with a compass was acceptable.
He measured and roughed out the structure's eight-foot diameter, including a two-foot circle in the center for the stone pit. To his relief, the good feeling he had earlier resumed as he confirmed the cardinal directions with a compass, then dug in his heel to mark each point.
Eighteen choke cherry trees would form the structure. He glanced around, trying to remember where he'd seen any that were tall and sturdy enough. Another intuitive nudge led him to just such a stand where their branches stretched to at least three times his height. His hand grasped the trunk of the nearest one, satisfied with its girth when his fingers failed to meet.
He removed the saw from his tool belt, then thanked each one for its sacrifice before he severed its trunk several inches above ground, leaving a few lower branches to give it a chance to rejuvenate.
Upon closer examination, he realized some had done just that. He smiled. No wonder he felt as if he were led there. This was the same stand from which he and his grandfather built the last one.
After dragging them back to the site, he set two of the largest trees three feet apart on either side of the eastern heel mark for the door. Then, exactly opposite them on the west, he lined up two more.
He secured all four firmly into the ground, then bent them over and tied east and west together with hand-tanned buckskin. The two resulting arches formed the first section of the dome.
Next, he secured one on the north side mark and another opposite on the south, then bent them over and tied those two together.
After that he added two more trees on both sides of the north center tree, two on both sides of the south, then tied them together over the top. The dome was now complete with two ribs running east to west and five north to south.
The remaining four trees would serve as stringers, secured parallel to the ground to reinforce and stabilize the structure. He began at the left side of the doorway and tied one to each of the ribs on the south side fifteen inches above the ground. With another tree, he did the same from the right side of the doorway along the north side, then tied both trees together in the rear. He repeated the same reinforcement process with the last two trees, this time thirty inches above ground level, then tied them together in back.
He checked all the ties, tightened them one final time, and added additional ones until he was satisfied all eighteen trees were lashed together into a sturdy structure.
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