In Mitchell, South Dakota, population 16,000, I wait for the weather to warm up and the Great Plains wind to die down, so I can sleep in a tipi for two nights on the Rosebud Sioux reservation. After Rosebud, I’ll continue west across the state to the Pine Ridge reservation and sleep at the Singing Horse Trading Post, where I’ll learn about the Oglala Lakota and Red Cloud, one of the last Sioux warriors to make a stand against the U.S. Army in 1868.
I’m outside of the normal tourist season for South Dakota, but that’s not the only reason everyone here seems so, well, nice. In person or over the phone, South Dakotans are a welcoming bunch. Even the lodge in Mitchell, where two nights have turned into a full week, extends a level of hospitality above the norm, a soft reminder of the friendliness found in family-owned places in the Midwest. And just like that, I miss the comfort and togetherness of my Michigan family while typing away in this quiet, pet-friendly room with the perfect writing desk set against a large window for me and you-know-who to look out, our view that of green grass instead of snow and ice. Still, my family, I miss them.
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Since I’m on the far east side of South Dakota, I’ll visit as many of the nine reservations on my driving path as I can where descendants of Lakota, Nakota, Dakota, The People of Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires, aka “Sioux” reside. As I experience more, I’ll share more but only after I’ve seen the resting place of Red Cloud and paid homage at the Wounded Knee Massacre, visited the monument of Crazy Horse, another Oglala Lakota, and listened to the wise spirit of Sitting Bull, a Hunkpapa Lakota. When I’ve acknowledged Oceti Sakowin and the travesties that took place, I will look upon the presidential faces on Mt. Rushmore, knowing we cannot undo the past but wondering what have we learned really, as a nation and as a new people. Is it enough to prevent us from repeating manifest destiny-like mistakes and to alter the now we live in today?
This afternoon, I drive south to the Yankton Sioux reservation where the Ihanktonwan Dakota Oyate reside, but I’ll miss a chance to participate in one of their PowWows, usually occurring in the middle of July. Do something with me: pronounce the name out loud, giving it the nasal accent previously attributed to Sioux dialects and found in today’s American Midwesterners: Ihanktonwan Dakota Oyate
/Ee-hunk-too-wah Dakota Oh-yah-tay/
Is that not the absolute coolest sound? But really put your heart into it and envision a great warrior announcing his clan.
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Before leaving Michigan, I printed out 335 pages of a rough draft of my novel (renamed), “In The Land of Oz.” I took the title of a blog post I wrote from Australia, when once before I journeyed out so I could find my way home again. This unexpected delay in Mitchell is, of course, allowing me to stay close to the story, keeping a creative momentum going instead of the anxiety and sleepless nights which can follow when I drive for too many days in a row. But that’s not the singular cause for the lack of sleep ….
Act I: Good Morning
I have upended her daily program again with our drive out of Michigan. This is not the only reason she disrupts my sleep, the hour later than what it seems because we left the east and entered a central time zone. But I am recovering from driving mode, unable to nod off until after midnight, sleeping longer than normal in these windy South Dakota mornings.
It begins with the soft pawing on my cheeks until I emit a grunt, the blankets still wrapped around my shoulders and neck. Always, she’s the first to lull me from my dreams, which I resent because they’re thought provoking; I need more time in them to remember whatever it is that my subconscious is trying to teach. But the paw brushes against my cheek again, then again, until I push out a second grunt then a third.
Act II: Get Up
Strolling over my body, she begins at my ankles, slightly zig-zagging upward, moving her languid legs over me, back and forth, until she is walking across my chest. Sometimes she pauses there or on my arm if I’m lying on my side, the full weight of her 12 pounds pressing into me from her front paws.
Refusing to open my eyes, I shake my shoulders and mumble, “Stop it.”
She leaves my upper body and does another walkabout, back and forth across my stomach then my thighs then back up to my abdomen again. I know the moment eye contact is made, meowing will begin. Oh, but I have passed out of the depth of sleep that would allow me to return to dream state. Why so early? I know what she wants, as I feel her shift then jump off my body, crouching on the side of the bed near my head, her breath close to my own. Even though I cannot see, I can sense her wide-open stare, those blue eyes impatiently waiting for my still closed brown ones to open. She inches closer and closer until a furry muzzle is almost under my blanket. I can resist no more. My eyelids flutter open, and even though the tip of her face is buried in my blanket and her eyes are no longer facing mine, she knows I am awake. A tender meow confirms.
“Yes,” I laugh, “I know what you want.”
I lift up the covers, creating a makeshift tunnel, a place she can burrow into then circle around until she plops down, the length of her body stretched against mine. I scratch the sides of her mouth, wondering if she’ll let me fall back to sleep, each stroke I offer matched by a droop of my lids. Ah, but I know better! If I try to nod off now, the knuckles of my hand will feel a slight pressure from her teeth, harder each time I hesitate the scratch. Sometimes the pawing to my cheeks will come back, but this time with the ever so light touch of a claw. She will not be satisfied until my hand moves from her face to a soft belly rub, and this is when the purring begins. If I fail to stay awake and the belly rub stops, a slight meow comes just before the not-so-tender love bite.
“Ow!” I say in my owner’s voice.
She backs off but not until she feels the scratching again.
Act III: Real Sleep
An hour later, I have showered and dressed. Two hours later, she is fast asleep on the spot where my warm bodied once laid. If I try to disrupt her sleep as she did mine, I am reminded with a quick swipe that one of us has wicked sharp nails and it’s not me. After sleeping for two hours on the bed, she lifts her head up and looks for her owner. When she spies me, her lethargic cat body raises itself up, arching first her spine for a long stretch followed by one or two back legs. The next time I notice, she is standing by my chair, looking up in expectation, waiting for me to stop typing and to pull away from the table so she can land safely on my lap. I click SAVE. I know the routine. She wants a new, warm place to rest and until she gets this, there will be no error-free typing.
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So I am sleeping but not sleeping in South Dakota, in the Great Plains, where buffalo still roam. Maybe I’ll feed her to a bison when I get out to Rosebud or Pine Ridge. Some photos from my visit to Mitchell’s Prehistoric Indian Village. And, the director told me to let you know that they appreciate all donation$!