I’m in flight from Salt Lake City, and I’ve had a seriously harrowing summer. There is no other way around it. So please let me spill my diary all over you.
Utah. The land of one of my heroes, Ed Abbey, arid and pure and raw. The sunset lit up pink and orange hues I had never imagined tonight, just from the airport tarmak.
Abbey saw me through a lot of pain, via his books, Black Sun and Desert Solitaire. At one point, he wrote, and I seared it into my heart, like a black sun blazing, “If my decomposing carcass helps nourish the roots of a juniper tree or the wings of a vulture – that is immortality enough for me. And as much as anyone deserves.”
That juniper tree is pretty much my roots and stalk these days. My cancer treatment was supposed to be “over,” now it’s continuing, and continuing, and just when I thought I had my life back.
I’ve been commuting every other week to a hostel in Vancouver sponsored by the Cancer Society – say what you want about them being big NGO shills, but they rock. (And thank you, the government of Canada, for, at least, a million dollars worth of health care.)
I’ve moved back to the USA, where I am a citizen, thankfully, and mucho hat tips to my friends, Bob and Susan, with whom I live among tall fir trees and persnickety chickens in a very lovely house. But I’m uninsured, going through a divorce, scared, and I’m still ill. It’s also really weird that I wrote about uninsured musicians who have died, just one month before I was diagnosed with cancer, in this magazine. It’s all really weird.
Being back in Seattle is also odd, it’s like a yuppie wet-dream I will never experience. I live in a neighborhood of craft houses, with, three blocks away, a cozy, pricey, Portlandia-esque farmer’s market – complete with cowgirls in faded boots and teeny-tiny mini skirts and worn straw hats selling grass-fed, organic, garlic-fennel-pork sausage for $10.00 a pound to hungry, middle-aged men – and there is the new organic grocery store that anchors also-new condos shoving up the skyline by ten stories going for $2,000 a month. It’s called the “Evil Empire” in the hood, among the yuppies who moved here before the store opened, thus hipster cred, you know.
All of my 30- and 40-something friends are on their career tracks, or shedding their former selves in mid-life crises, or bummed about their ex-girlfriends, sexting too much, grumpy, loving their kids, worrying about stuff, like Clinton versus Sanders – things I, honestly, no longer care about. Seattle is a house of cards. By the time this article is published, I wonder if the stock market will make Seattle’s dream world into a dystopia, if Amazon.com already hasn’t.
You have your health? Cherish it.
So, I’m on a plane. I’m my way to the Pine Ridge Reservation, to try to sniff out a story. We’ll see how it goes. It might go nowhere. It might go somewhere. Its a dream come true for me, though, to visit this sacred place.
I might talk to some AIM members, some grandmas, see a rodeo or a Pow Wow, hear some women sing, eat some fry bread, camp, look at the stars.
I’m so lucky to be able to visit Wounded Knee, to offer wildflowers to the graves of the worst massacre site in the history of the United States, where more than 300 native americans were slaughtered in 1890, to pray and meditate on the horrid violence that was inflicted that part of the West, and left, indeed, a deep psychic wound of broken promises. I’m humbled and grateful to pay homage to those who really did lose their lives without any reason.
My cancer might have a reason – my choice to dose myself with hormone-heavy birth control for years, my past weakness for drugs and alcohol, the constant stress and poverty of a 15-year, loveless marriage – but there is no excuse for what occurred at Wounded Knee. It’s a haunted place.
I worry about cancer? Pfft. Try being an Indian. The violence is daily, through guns and alcohol and drugs and suicide and poverty and despair, things I know about, in my own way, although I am a white woman.
II’m looking at an old photo on my laptop as I land in Rapid City, It’s from the AIM Occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. I see a Lakota man, with braids hanging down his back, wearing cargo pants and a wool-flannel shirt, and he brandishes a gun. He watches over six white men with their hands above their heads. His profile is strong, proud, and stern. Theirs, the white men? The ones negotiating for the U.S. government?The bureaucrats? Cowardly.
The photo is an old, romantic reminder of Wounded Knee. But it’s also an inspiration.
Please, carry my heat to Wounded Knee. Leave some wild flowers there, on the site of the massacre. Let me gaze at the sky, wide and open.
Published in CounterPunch Magazine, September 2015