Indigenous Soul Awakens at Black Rock
TYPE OF WOUNDED PLACE
TYPE OF STORY
Story & Experience
I am sitting in the late afternoon sun of a summer evening on ancient limestone rocks on the shores of the Great Salt Lake— a vast desert lake, 7 times saltier than the ocean, an ancient remnant of the prehistoric Lake Bonneville. I am waiting for Tom and Chris and whoever else might show up for the Black Rock location of today’s Global Earth Exchange, a global event orchestrated on this day in June by Radical Joy for Hard Times.
I think about my comrades McKenzie, Charles and Holly, three souls who have come together with me to create a Radical Joy for Hard Times event at the Great Salt Lake in Utah. McKenzie is right now at Antelope Island, Charles at the south end of Stansbury Island and Holly at the north end of Stansbury Island. I think about all the other folks I don’t know who are or already have gathered in wounded spots around the world to share stories and create acts of beauty together. I feel held in a field of like-intentioned human beings, as I cast my attention across the vast openness of the Great Salt Lake and wait.
Tom and Chris drive up in a white sedan. I know they are here for this event by the way they move, as if looking for someone. Other people are at Black Rock—young families with children who climb amongst the graffittied outcroppings of the giant black rock that gives the area its name, and wade in the shallows of the salty lake.
The three of us sit together in the late afternoon summer sunlight. We note the beauty of the lake this evening. Conversation wanders toward the recent oil pipe break in Salt Lake City that contaminated Red Butte Creek, which eventually, as all water from the Wasatch Front Rocky Mountains, will drain into the Great Salt Lake. Such an odd coincidence, given the unstoppable oil leak that continues to flow in the Gulf Coast. We speak of the children. They are the ones who will have to live with the consequences of our collective actions that are creating imbalances in the earth’s natural systems.
In this container, I am dropping into my indigenous soul. Held by the sweeping beauty of lake and sky, in mindful and sacred communion with others, I feel the energy of my work-a-day world shifting. I take up my drum and drum for a bit. Even in “public,” it seems appropriate for the setting of place and time. Then as agreed upon, we three part and for half an hour, walk our own way, to simply notice what we notice in this place.
I walk along the shore, eastward toward Salt Lake City. I notice the footprints of children intermingling with the footprints of shore birds. I notice the brain-like undulations of the dense sand where shallow waters had rippled before receding. I feel awkward about stepping on these beautiful natural sand patterns—but to proceed, I must.
A water-worn piece of wood appears in my path. I pick it up. It is heavy. Waterlogged. A good talking piece. I carry it with me to bring back to the group, admiring its sculptural surface.
I notice the swarms of sand bugs and a flock of seagulls high overhead—both swirling as one giant interconnected organism composed of many, many individuals.
I see the upward thrusting concrete smokestack of the Kennecott Copper Garfield Smelter, rising an impressive 1,215 feet in the air (the tallest structure of its kind west of the Mississippi), and notice its perfect and clear reflection in a stand of still water. No upset, no judgment, just a beautiful mirror image cast back.
Thirty minutes have passed. Walking back to our gathering spot, I note the distinctive footprint of Chaco sandals—my footprints— in the brainlike sand. They make a different yet cohesive-looking mark in the wavelike patterns of sand. My footprints change the landscape, and yet they are not out of place.
Chris, Tom and I gather again, on ancient limestone rocks, in a circle. I place the talking stick that I found in the center, and invite people to tell their story of the last half an hour.
Chris is quick to pick up the stick. She muses upon her realization of just how ancient this lake is, and spoke of the great grace and mystery she sees in its age. The old have their own beauty. Her voice is soft and reverent.
Then I tell my story—of marks in sand, living patterns, and the clear reflection of the Kennecott smokestack in the lake’s still waters . . . I am these patterns and reflections.
Tom is next. He tells of how he is now sitting with his back to the lake, that his whole life, growing up in Salt Lake City, his back has always been turned to this lake. He does not want to face it, and so he walks to the tall reeds on the shore. He tries to penetrate them and they poke him. He attempts to walk deeper in, but when he turns around, finds he has not come far; he can still see the lake. Finally he is able to become fully surrounded by the tall reeds and sits and feels protected.
Gloria joins us. She had come late and climbed to the top of Black Rock as the three of us had begun our solo walks. Getting to the top was easier than she had expected. She speaks of many memories of the Great Salt Lake—stories of Saltair, the Victorian era bath house told by her grandparents, stories of outings and picnics, of her son choosing to be baptized in this lake.
We sit in silence for a while, digesting each other’s words.
Then we are ready to create an act of beauty together. I suggest the open sand beach to the west and we walk there slowly, picking up things along the way that catch our eye. I am deeply in my body, responding to whatever impulse comes up. I take a stick that Gloria has brought and suddenly begin to draw a giant spiral in the sand. Three or four rings around and then a wavy squiggle that ran into the water of the lake.
The sun is now setting in a huge sky, reflecting red on billowing clouds. A magnificent sight! The wind has come up and occasionally gusts with great vigor, as if it were a living thing. Tom points out its mark on the surface of the shallow waters.
Gloria offers some movement. The three women stand inside the outermost ring of the spiral and follow her lead—a slow, reverent Sufi honoring of the sun. We do the cycle of movement twice, it feels so good.
Meanwhile, Tom has taken up the drawing stick and is drawing a lightening bolt in the sand that begins at the center of the spiral and jags east, ending in clouds. I noticed the clouds looked just like the Navajo symbolic depiction of clouds and asked Tom if he was aware of this.
“No, I did not know that,” he replies.
I shout, “We’re in indigenous mind now!”
After admiring our collective handiwork for a time, I sense we are finished and begin to drum to end our time together. It is beginning to get dark. Suddenly, I am inspired to drum into the spiral. I run to the spiral’s opening near the lakeshore in semi-theatrical style and begin to walk in the spiral’s open space, circling toward the center. The group falls in right behind to the beat of the drum. As we come to the place where the lightening bolt crosses our path, I spontaneously exclaim “First Threshold!” and jump over it. Chris, Tom and Gloria follow in turn. As we arrive further into the spiral where the lightening bolt crosses our path again, a great gust of wind comes up. I have to lean with all my might, drumming harder and exhorting loudly “Second Threshold!” Right behind me, Chris steps over and then is blown back! She determinedly steps over the threshold again, and Tom and Gloria follow in suite.
Then we are all huddled in the very center. What next? Drumming faster, we shoot out from the center of the spiral, along the path of the lightening bolt, into the clouds . . . and, as Tom remarks, coming out from the lake, we’re now at the beginning again. In clouds, pregnant with rain.
The four of us are laughing and hugging like children. I see open, shining faces, lit up with joy and hope. Something new has been born in our co-creation, though it cannot be given words. Our actions were unchoreographed yet synchronized. I felt myself in some altered state—deeply connected, to earth and to this small tribe of people who cared so deeply for our planet. Spirals, lighting, Navaho clouds, tributes in sacred movement to the setting sun had come out of us, naturally and beautifully. Our indigenous souls were opened and expressed that evening. What deep liberation!
Lights are coming on at the Kennecott smokestack and the city beyond. The wind is howling. It has blown away our belongings that we had set on the sand. Most of them we recover. We walk slowly together back to our cars, bid each other good night, and drive away toward home.
Indigenous Soul Awakens at Black Rock
- Nebeker Drumming: Kinde Nebeker