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Staying in touch with Mother Earth

Common GroundBill Kight

When I grow discouraged, oftentimes I reach for a book I’ve had for so long I can’t remember when it came my way. It is called “Touch the Earth, a Self-Portrait of Indian Existence,” compiled by T.C. McLuhan.The book contains words of modern Indians. There are also words attributed to past Indian leaders trying to present their viewpoint of life to those taking over the land and trying to dominate it, rather that live with it. I say “attributed” because sometimes translators took great liberty in recording what they thought was said rather than what may have been spoken.Much is lost in translation. What remains is the power behind the words uttered by indigenous people trying to make sense out of losing a way of life that had served them well for thousands of years. Pictures by turn-of-the-century artist Edward Curtis add beauty to the book.Being sick with a stomach flu the last few days has driven me to read through “Touch the Earth” for inspiration and healing.One quote in particular reminds me that, sick or well, I need to be thankful. Ohiyesa, a Santee Dakota physician and author, said, “In the life of an Indian there was only one inevitable duty – the duty of prayer, the daily recognition of the Unseen and Eternal.”Plans had been made to participate tomorrow in a sweat ceremony conducted by a Sioux friend. Though I certainly need the purification and healing of a sweat, going inside the lodge with the fever I still have would not be wise. Having written about sweat lodges before, suffice it to say they are a special way to connect with Mother Earth. There are many other ways to stay in touch with the earth, to renew the connection to our place of origin. One elder I know performs a simple ceremony by offering a prayer of thanksgiving while gently placing sacred tobacco on the ground with his palm resting on the earth as he prays.We seem to have so little room in our lives for rituals and ceremonies that we seldom go out of our way to offer thanks to the Earth for all her bounty. You don’t have to be an American Indian to “touch the earth.” Create your own rituals and ceremonies. The simpler the better.Next time you ski or snowshoe into the backcountry, make time to find your own way to celebrate the very fact that you are able to enjoy such a special place in which to live and play.One November, while with a Ute elder and friend in the backcountry, we came upon a special place. Both of us felt the need to make an offering. Not having any tobacco or sweet grass with us, the elder merely reached down and scooped up a handful of snow. With the earth as his altar, he placed the snow back on the ground acknowledging its power to bring life-giving water with a prayer of thanksgiving.With more than 25 years of experience in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories with readers every other week.


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