It was essential that the fire pit, located five steps outside the door, line up toward the east with the stone pit inside. He marked the stone pit's center with a stick, then used another one to mark the fire pit's proposed center. When checked with the compass, their orientation was slightly off so he adjusted the markers accordingly.
The next step entailed stacking the wood. He hoped there was enough already cut and split. Building a sweat lodge was usually a tribal activity. A time of bonding, sharing, of mutual support and cooperation. Loneliness settled around him, missing the comradery, yet doing so alone served him right.
He'd shunned such things, back when he deemed sweat lodges torture chambers rather than sacred places for physical and spiritual renewal.
The sun and his stomach told him it was nearly noon, so he returned to his cabin to grab a bite to eat. There was just enough elk roast left for a couple sandwiches, which he ate with some tortilla chips. As he consumed the last one he realized he'd be starving by suppertime.
He took his last venison roast out of the fridge's small freezer, put it in a pot with the contents of a bottle of water, then set it on the propane stove's smallest burner to defrost and simmer while he worked.
The afternoon promised to be hot, so he turned to grab a few water bottles, then realized he'd poured the last one over the roast.
His well-water was fouled and unsuitable for a sweat. It would offend the gods and possibly kill him with its toxic vapors, depending on which pollutants it contained.
He grabbed his keys and headed for the store. He returned with three cases of bottled drinking water, enough in gallon jugs for when he did a sweat, plus a bag of produce for the stew.
He turned the frozen roast over in the pot, added more water, then went outside to check the woodpile. Enough remained with a six to eight inch diameter for at least one sweat. To heat the stones initially required the blaze to last for an hour and a half, then another hour and a half after that to keep them hot for all four rounds.
He laid the four-foot lengths side by side, oriented east to west, made sure they were straight, then stood, rolled his shoulders, and stretched.
Now for the stones.
A small-scale, individual sweat could get away with using twenty-eight. He winced at the thought. Eaglefeathers frowned upon such deviations.
Do it right or not at all.
Gathering up the needed forty-four, one to honor each of the Cheyenne chiefs, would take considerable effort. It wasn't as simple as collecting big rocks the size of a grapefruit. The only ones acceptable were volcanic in origin and thus capable of withstanding extreme heat. The prospect loomed as a daunting task, in both time and energy.
Maybe he could use the stones from the one he and Eaglefeathers built.
When he returned to the old site he stood there a moment, touched as never before. His vision blurred, heart aching. What he wouldn't give to be with the old man one more time. He wiped his eyes, then pushed aside the overgrowth to make his way inside.
The stone pyramid in the lodge's center, as expected, was undisturbed. Goosebumps chilled his neck and arms, breath stolen by an involuntary gasp. He knelt before it, mesmerized. How many times did Eaglefeathers bless those very stones?
Memories besieged him.
Sweet grass smoldering, fragrant smoke rising.
Soulful strains of the Grandfather Song.
More than ever he recognized the site was sacred. Disturbing it was still wrong.
Ashamed of being too lazy to collect new ones, he got up to leave. Grandfather spirits fell upon him as autumn's first snow blesses parched ground.
Use the stones, grandson. They bind us together in ways you cannot know.
He fell back to his knees. Tears kissed the stones during his grateful prayer. He opened his eyes, yet remained a while longer to absorb the moment. Gentle hands caressed those on top, then lifted each one with the same reverence bestowed upon the ceramic jar given to him by his amasani. Then, one by one, hefted them to the fire pit.
The best ones served as grandfather stones which were placed in the four corners and center of the log base. The remaining ones filled the space within, then stacked to form a pyramid. He checked it's stability, then cleaned up all the leaves, twigs, wood chips, and other debris from around the lodge, inside and out. Not to be wasted, it filled gaps between stones, then as kindling. After that he surrounded the pile with upright four-foot lengths of split logs.
Satisfied at last, he returned to the cabin to retrieve his grandfather's sweat lodge buffalo hides to cover the structure, which took a few trips due to their size and weight.
After tying the last one in place for the door he stepped back and exhaled hard. He wiped the sweat from his brow and smiled. He'd just built a sweat lodge entirely by himself. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to.
Of critical importance was the fact it was constructed correctly according to Tseteshestahese tradition. A worthy abode for the grandfather spirits. Certainly a step toward becoming an honorable Tseteshestahese man.
"Good work, Naalnish," he declared aloud. "You earned Amasani's name for you today."
His warm rush of accomplishment mingled with the approval he felt coming from Eaglefeathers, whom he'd sensed nearby since retrieving the stones.
He ducked inside and sat cross-legged on the far side of the stone pit facing the door. It was darker than night. The smell of freshly hewn choke cherry branches and buffalo hides provoked memories that flickered like the shards of light teasing the door.
Tired but content, he sang the sweat lodge completion song, feeling as if he weren't alone. He finished with a prayer that Maheo and the spirits would be there, then remained a while longer, soaking up the sense of peace before going back outside to admire it again.
Its readiness beckoned, but it would be at least a week before he could use it. Loneliness flared again that he'd be its sole occupant.
If you follow the way of Maheo, as I have taught you, Okohomoxhaahketa, then you will never be alone. He will always walk with you and be with you.
He smiled with the realization he just built a sweat lodge by himself. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to. Certainly a step toward becoming an honorable Tseteshestahese man.
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