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.

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