Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Walking down that long, lonely road

In one of my excursions in Northeastern Oregon, I met a man.  A native american from the Nez Perce tribe.  We had many talks and I was intrigued about his family history.  Also of his people.  He talked about how they lived in the  Wallowa Valley  of Northeastern Oregon.  He gave me insight to the grand father, Tuekakas    (Chief Joseph the Elder) as the leader of the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of Nez Perce   and the Chief's famous son; Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it  in Americanist  as orthography, popularly know as Chief Joseph, or Young Joseph ( March 3, 1840 - September 21, 1904) Young Joseph was famous for leading his people out of the Wallowas to evade the U.S. Solidiers that were sent to capture him because of rebellion against U.S authority.  I will not go into that in detail, but he was finally caught and surrendered.  Thus the famous quote was heard and instilled in the hearts of Nez Perce.  "I will fight no more forever!".

   With that, my friend invited me to his homestead in what he called "The little Park" located just west of the great Wallowa-Whitman National Forest about a mile or two north of Medical Springs in Baker County just south of the town of Union in Union County (La Grande area) of Northeastern Oregon.

I give you those last two photos so you can possibly see the contour of this area that was my friend's home; a 10 acre parcel nestled between these high mountains.  Forgive me for the photos, they do not show the elevation as they should be.  Rising more than 2000 feet or more from an elevation already at about 2700 feet at 'The Park" meadow.

One of my friend's tribal rituals was taking 'a cleansing of the Spirit' sweat in a hut. .  

The sweat hut in this picture is not exactly what he had made, but very similar.  He made it out of willow branches, a pit was dug towards the back of the hut.  He actually used army canvas blankets for covering over the willows.  The door was also made of a  canvas blanket.  A tarp was laid down on the floor of the hut, except near the fire pit. This hut worked well in holding the steam, and providing an almost airtight environment.

He invited me and a friend to come to his place, and to be cleansed of the evil spirits  and experiencing the ways of the Great Spirit.  He had been intrigued by some songs I wrote, and thought this would give me more inspiration of the wonders of our great land.  

One morning we arrived at his ranch about 9am.  We immediately hiked up to the back part of his 10 acre ranch.  There we found a small pond  capturing the run-off of the winter snows of the Wallowas. on the North side, and this sweat hut he had made.

Our task was to build a another fire pit in front of the hut by 10am;  Then as the fire embers burned hot , selected rocks would be put into the fire with a shovel to heat up.  

All the while he was giving these instructions, he gave us the lore of his ancestors of what we were going to experience.  He explained that the Elder Chief Joseph, who was now one with the Great Spirit,  was watching over his people and this land.  Those that followed the rituals in respect of the Great Spirit would receive the bounties and prosper into the future.

He explained we would do this by building this fire, heat the rocks, then take them into the fire pit in the hut and douse water on them.  Thus, giving us the steam, cleansing our spirit.  When we had pleased  the Elder Chief Joseph and Great Spirit, there would be a loud clap of thunder signifying that it was time for us to exit the hut and jump into the pond.  When we surfaced, there would be more thunder and rain would fall from clouds in the sky.   Sure, sure, sure my friend and I thought.  Like this is going to happen on a very dry summer day with clear blue skies.

While we sat there by that outside fire, and him explaining all of this he past a ritual pipe around.  He assured us these events he described will happen.  It will take about 2 hrs for the catalyst rocks to become hot and prepared for the hut.  He stationed me inside the hut about 15 minutes before that time and my friend to assist him in carrying with a shovel, those heated rocks into the hut.  

Then he had me enter the hut carrying a bucket of water filled from the pond. As I sat on the tarp waiting, he and my friend each brought a couple of hot rocks from the fire pit and dumped them iinto the smaller pit in the hut.  I doused them with water each time they were brought in, and about every 30 seconds or so as he instructed.

After all the rocks had been brought in, both he and my friend entered the hut and closed the canvas door.  I continued to douse the fire with water from the bucket. He would tell me when to stop.  He said we would sweat out the evil spirits of our soul.  

After about fifteen minutes, we all had our faces down on the ground near the edges of the hut, trying to get fresh, cool air from outside.  We were dripping wet with perspiration.  

Suddenly, there was a roll of thunder, just as he had predicted from what was otherwise a clear blue sky with no clouds.  Then it happened: lightning and thunder.  My Nez Perce friend was estactic, he was chanting and yelling; ""Ohhh Great Spirit!' We see you are well pleased with us! Please cleanse our souls and give us guidance for a good life!"

So as we purified our bodies and mind, we scrambled out of the hut and jumped into the pond.  When we surfaced, the rain was pouring down on us, just as my Nez Perce friend said it would.

Yeah, it was a little hard to believe, but it was happening!  After two hours of building the fire pit, jumping into the hut and having a good sweat for about 15-20 minutes.  There was thunder and lightning on what was otherwise a very clear, no clouds, sunny day.    ?????

I was so impressed.  How could this be?  Okay, so some of you have got this already, I was a young man.  It was something that I had never experienced.  But the beauty of it all was that it was so right!  So peaceful! So fulfilling! And I never have felt such a cleansing of my being, let alone my skin was so soft after that sweat.  My mind was so clear and comforted.  If anything, the ways of these people were to be totally respected, for they knew Nature and its beauty.

But I later found out that it was a pretty common weather pattern with a clear blue sky morning, the clouds would build up around Noon and within minutes a clap of thunder and lightning followed by a good rain for this particular area nestled under the west foothills of the Wallawa-Whitman National Forest.  Duh!  For we were located on the western edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness that had peaks with elevations of over 10,000 feet.

But given the ritual, legends, beliefs, and the feelings of oneself in experiencing this event, its ominous in the fact that it happened while one's imagination went with it.

Do we indeed put too much into reality and not let our beliefs and imagination set in when it relaxes our soul?  If anything, this was definitely well worth experiencing, although I would give caution and warning in the use of sweat huts; be sure the exit is made such that with a slight push outwards you can open it up.  Do not block the entrance and do allow for ways of breathing outside air quickly when needed.

Until this day, I do take steam baths.  I think of the times I had with my friends in sweat huts.  I think of the beauty of this "Little Park", and because of the road to travel to this unique place, a song that it inspired me to write about.

I will share that will you now:

Walking down the long lonely Road...

Does anybody know what tomorrow may bring,
What the future holds for Love?
I'll tell you the answer in a song for you
For its written in the stars above.

Truckin' down the road trying to loosen my load,
feeling empty since you've been gone.
Wasting the days, until they past by,
Until I'm with you from now on.

"cause I'm walking down that long, lonely road.
Telling everyone I meet, where I go,
I'm walking down that long, lonely road,
Doing everything I please and heading back home.

I remember the places and the times
Of the moments I shared with you.
Now my mind is lost in the memories 
Of the happiness that we knew.

Does anybody know what tomorrow may bring,
What the future holds for Love?
I'll tell you the answer in a long for you
For its written in the stars above.

Copyright 1975, All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Speak to me Softly....

   I know its been awhile since I posted on my blog here.  Matter of fact, the last post was just this Memorial Day weekend 2015 and previous post was back in 2008!  A little blushing and red-faced here.

   Some friends have encouraged me to write again and share more songs that I may have.  So, here it goes.

   Speaking of songs, some of the most beautiful melodies can be heard by just taking a hike through a park, nature trail, mountain trails, wooded pathways, along river banks, or meadows.  All one needs to do is be calm, quiet and listen.  Birds can provide such beautiful music with their mating calls, cooing, singing, and chatter.  All one has to do is find a secluded spot, sit and listen, or walk  quietly along a trail in the forest.

   One afternoon I had returned to my campsite, after a nice hike and found that I had been ROBBED!  Well, actually, not really robbed.  I had left a loaf of bread out, and not packed away.  I know, stupid mistake for an experienced camper/hiker or woodsman.  Whatever, I was careless and paid a small penalty for it.  For my camp had been invaded by Camp Robbers.  Yep! These birds are actually called Camp Robbers.

   Well, everyone I knew called them CAMP ROBBERS. But they are also called the GRAY JAY (Perisoreus condenses), also CANADA JAY or WHISKEY JACK.

   They are actually one of my most favorite species of birds, for they are not afraid of humans and literally will eat right out of your hands.  Loud noises, quick movements, etc., of course will scare them away.  They travel in groups and sing when they approach or leave.

   When I was a child, living at my Grandmother's place, we used to have a group of these birds that would visit on a regular schedule in early morning.  My grandma had a plywood platform about 2 feet by 2 feet mounted flat on top of one end post of her clothes line outside.  She would faithfully put bread crumbs up on that platform to feed these birds when they arrived.

   If you put a bread crumb in your hand, one would land on your palm and take it.  Sometimes another would even try to crowd in which would cause a minor fight over who could get to sit, usually dropping the crumb to the ground where another would swoop down and grab it and fly off to a tree limb. 

   Then the BAD GUYS would come in: STELLAR JAYS. 

 (we called them Blue Jays, but after I became an adult, I found out that Blue Jays are yet another species; white body and blue wings)

 The Stellar Jays are a beautiful bird, but are more aggressive to the Camp Robbers stealing their crumbs and fighting with them, chasing them off.  My grandma would always yell at them and try to shoo them away, until the Camp Robbers would be done eating.  Then she would allow the Stellar Jays to have some bread crumbs too.

Back at my campsite, I was smiling to myself while remembering the Camp Robbers and seeing them again, friendly as ever.  I grabbed a couple more pieces of bread, broke it up to feed them.  As I sat there, they came closer and finally warmed up to me.  Landing on my shoulder, knee or arm, taking bread crumbs and flying off to a tree limb to eat. I finally had a slice of bread myself.  But I put a little bit of peanut butter on mine.

After a little while, the birds were done and mainly sat in the trees around me.  Then they started singing as they finally flew away.

With their singing, several other types of birds started chirping or singing as well.   Yes, including some Stellar Jays that were apparently following these Camp Robbers in case they found some food.  With the fond memories that were rekindled by the visit of the Camp Robbers, I wrote the following song that I will share with you now.

Speak to me Softly...

Click here if you care to listen to this song

Speak to me softly
All you birds in the trees,
And I will play you a melody.

A song about love
As it flows through the night
And vibrations
Of holding you tight.

There will come a day
When we'll be drinking our Wine
For I know that our love
WIll last a lifetime.

Some people go through out
Their various lives
Of this feeling high

Then I often think 
About the birds in the trees
And their chirping
Of this melody.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

In Memory of a dear friend...

   Memorial day is tomorrow, May 25, 2015.  I have suppressed so many memories of my own experience, but I think it is time for me to share a memory of a friend.  It has been 47 years since he  touched my heart. Many events of war and troubled times have come to past since then, but this one… this one… has affected me so deeply that I do not know how to express it any other way than to write it here. Hoping that someone will read, and look at this soldier with due honor and the Great Spirit’s forgiveness,  and knowing that he did his best in a time of war.

    It was 1968, Viet Nam, I was not in the army infantry or drafted as such, I was an Airman, actually at this time classified as E-5, Staff Sgt. I was an airplane mechanic in the air force. Deployed in a Combat Crew Training Squadron. (CCTS)   Our main unit was Tactical Air Command (TAC), on temporary duty assignment (TDY) to Viet Nam. Stationed out of Clark AFB in the Philippines, we frequently followed or flew with our aircraft to sorties in Viet Nam.  Our pilots flew their 100 sorties (missions) and then rotated back to Clark AFB. On this particular day, we were deployed to Cam Ranh Bay.  This day was one of the North Vietnamese special holidays in 1968. With that being said, they launched an offensive campaign that was massive and without regard to their own lives but in celebration of the holidays.
    I was working in Transit HQ, where our squadron and a few others were located on this temporary assignment. From out of nowhere, you could hear mortar shells and rocket explosions again and again. And the klaxon alert siren was going off. We ran for the nearest bunkers as we were taught to do. From here we would be issued our weapons and ammunition. Meanwhile , a line of F102 aircraft, and some F4’s were being hit by the incoming rounds, the shrapnel was flying everywhere, and you could see sizzling twisting objects with their smoke trails going off in all directions.

    Apparently it was a big push, North Vietnamese infiltrating the outer perimeters and making headway into the base.

   Before I knew it, an army soldier, jumped into my bunker apparently from one of those patrols on the outer perimeter. I looked at him and could not believe my eyes. He was an old high school buddy. He had been drafted and almost close to his end of tour of duty. At least he had an M16 rifle with ammunition. So far, all I got was a screwdriver. The Master Sergeant was trying to get us the weapons, but the ammo dumps were being hit by shells and almost impossible to reach.

   My buddy, yelled something unintelligent and ran back out towards the fighting. Suddenly, more explosions all around.. then it was relatively quiet. Small fire going on.. out front. The flight line superintendent came by again giving us M16’s but he could not get any ammo clips for us, except for one magazine. At least we had the bayonets. More explosions and then my friend, packing an injured soldier on his back, hit my bunker. He was yelling medic! Medic! Eye’s crazed. I cannot begin to tell you, how emotional the next moments were for me. Here was this soldier that my friend rescued but he had been hit multiple times when carried back to my bunker. He had no pulse and eyes glazed. He did not make it. My buddy was devastated, all that for naught. And it appears that my high school pal was saved from being hit by those rounds that killed this soldier.

  As suddenly as it started, it was over.  My buddy crying, and I was not one for lack of tears….

   Several years past, and I was again stateside on leave to my hometown.  I was downtown, and had stopped at a light and saw my buddy coming out of a bar there.  He had been drinking, but he said he was glad to see me and that I had made it out of the war.  I had thanked him for all that he tried to do that day and some ammunition he gave me.  He was looking pretty spaced out and kept asking me; “What do you want in your foxhole?  A friend or an enemy?”  I was confused and did not understand him, but thought he had too much to drink, and so I called a cab for him.  I tried to comfort him and told him it was best for him to go sleep it off and if he needed me for anything just give me a call.  I slipped my phone number into his shirt pocket.  I gave the car keys to the bartender back in side the bar and left.

  And again, some more years past, and I had returned to college, where I received a newspaper clipping from my grandmother.  It was my friend, his obituary.  He apparently took his own life one afternoon, not able to deal with the war and what he had been through. I wish I knew the circumstances surrounding his Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and why he could not go on with life.

He was a hero to me, a true compassionate soul that cared for the lives of others when put to the task.  He tried to do that, and for me, he DID do that.  I will always remember my friend from high school, and especially on Memorial Day.