Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day 16 Coldest night

Somewhere in the mid 80s I began reading a lot about Native American spirituality.  I read Medicine Woman by Lynn Andrews and all the rest of her work.  Somewhere in there I recognized something in myself.  I was working at TRIMS and had an apartment in Rice Villiage to save me the miserable commute in from Clearl Lake and from some of the craziness that was going on at home.  I think I felt the need for a spiritual connection that I wasn't getting from religion as I had known it.

I was so taken with the connection with nature and its rythym that the Native American culture had and with their concern to maintain respect for all living things, the care and respect of the land and all its inhabitants.  There were few people I could talk with about all this spiritual stuff that was going on with me but my friend, Ann, a fellow artist and art therapist in training, was interested in the same stuff.  She was a single mom and in the process of discovering who she was to be in the world.

In January out of the blue I received a letter from Dick Prosapio, a therapist in New Mexico, inviting me to come to a Long Dance in Chaco Canyon in March.  To this day I have no idea why I got the letter or from whose mailing list it came but there it was.  The Long Dance was a Native American ritual to celebrate the Spring Equinox and invite one's cleansing of old stuff and honor of new beginnings.  The dance began at sunset and ended at sunrise with a sweat lodge.  I was fascinated but didn't want to go by myself so I recruited Ann to go with me.  We each arranged for a week off from work and got busy with the preparation.  We were to bring camping equipment, food, and water for a week and to prepare a banner to be hung from a pole and something to wear while dancing all night.  We designed these full dresses out of muslin with symbols painted on them and fringed at the bottom.  They were large enough to wear over layers of clothing if it was cold.

The day finally arrived and we packed my little Toyota sedan to the hilt and took off.   Arriving in Albuquerque the day before the arrival day, we stopped at a Motel 6 to get a good nights sleep and shop at KMart.  I had brought the makings of my banner with me but was clueless as to what I was going to put on it.  That night I woke up in the middle of the night with a clear image.  I bought spray paint at the KMart and while Ann shopped for food and ice, I laid the banner out in the parking lot and painted it added a moon and stars and a hummingbird with acrylics.  And we were off to northern New Mexico.

The directions sent us through Cuba and then onto a dirt road out in the boonies.  There were no houses, no cars but we were to look for a red, yellow, white and black streamer on a gate.  Finally we saw it and turned and headed down a smaller dirt road wondering what the hell we were doing.  I was afraid we were going to drive up into a circle of Winnebagos with their air conditioning and music going but not so.  As we drove up, a tall nice looking guy with a mustache walked out of a circle of tents and small campers to greet us...Prosapio otherwise known as Coyote Man.

Ann and I unloaded the car and got busy setting up camp.  I had brought a little tiny pup tent and finally got it upright, Ann set up her tent and after laying in sleeping bags and blankets, we made a makeshift table.  Others had been there much earlier and were getting busy working on a sweat lodge and digging a latrine out somewhere in the brush.  The sun was shining brightly and the sky was a brilliant blue and we started a stew on our little stove. 

I think we were the last to arrive and soon Dick called a meeting to tell us the agenda and what we would be doing for the next couple of days. He warned us about snakes and things going bump in the night, to wear plenty of sunscreen and drink lots of water. It sounded so exciting.  First order of agenda was to build the sweat lodge.  He had brought the materials for it...long poles, blankets and black plastic, string and a shovel and large volcanic rocks.  After dinner in the dark near a big fire in the middle of the camp ground, it was time to hit the sack.  There was to be an early rising to greet the sun as it came up. 

It was already getting pretty cold out and Ann and I were really tired. Dick had warned us all to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and I was glad that we had loaded up.  The dry air left us parched most of the time.  I said goodnight to Ann and crawled  into my itty bitty tent and wriggled out of my heavy jacket and crawled into my sleeping bag with all my clothes on including my socks. A breeze came up and my tent didn't want to stay up but I finally managed to anchor it and crawled back in.  It was getting colder and colder.  I zipped my sleeping bag up to my chin and fell asleep for a little while but then needed to go to the bathroom.  So I grabbed my flashlight, found my boots and crawled out of my tent and made my way through the brush in the direction of what I thought was the latrine.  Damn but I was freezing.  My hands were so cold I could hardly unzip my jeans to squat over the hole.  I am a miserable squater and was terrified that I would get my pants wet or that something would crawl up them.  I worked as fast as I could and hurried back to my little tent and crawled back inside only to have my tent cave again.  I was freezing, god, I've never been so cold in my whole life.  I finally gave up, made it out of my collapsed tent and went to Ann's tent and woke her up.  Help, I said, can I join you?  I am freezing my ass off and my goddamned tent has collapsed.  Besides you will be warmer, too, if there are two of us in there."  She was good with that and I threw my sleeping bag in beside hers and crawled in.  It took me a long time to get warm but I finally got a little sleep before we were called out to begin a new day. 

When we crawled out of our tent that morning, we found our 5 gallon water bottle had frozen during the night.  It took a full day of sun for it to all melt.  It must have been at least in the 20s that night.  Brrrrrrr.    The next night was the dance and though it was cold, we were moving all the time, either dancing or drumming.  But I will never forget how cold I was that first night and miserable. 

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