From David Anthony Hohol…
Riding my trusted horse over the rolling plains always made me feel free and comforted me when thinking of the reason for my journey. An open horizon, a setting sun and a dancing hay field; the air was warm, familiar and hospitable. A purple hew of color splashed itself across the horizon, filling me with a sense of the beautiful and the true. The endless prairie looked like an ocean of green, welcoming, into the light of new beginnings; a calming merchant of freedom and infinity.
Atop the rolling hills bison and elk sunned themselves, while taking their fill of the lush green beneath their feet. The widening valley brought with it a sparkling clear-water creek, and on either side of the valley’s walls were reminders of how times were changing. The open plains were slowly turning into farmland, and crops were now appearing in the midst of the prairies. Golden fields of oats and barely danced in the wind; the bright yellow magnificence of a vast canola field in bloom blinded me with its beauty, and the rolling grasslands sparkled with wolf willows and prairie sage. I sometimes felt as though a spell had been cast upon me, as I rode atop my horse amidst a place of such wondrous and heavenly beauty – and I somehow reached another plane of existence.
There were moments when my past crept back into my mind, as it often does when one looks for purpose. It’s sometimes hard to look back on our lives and see the truth about the ones we love, but the only way to understand our own stories is to return to the beginning and do just that. When I think back to the first empirically recorded time of my existence the mystical colors of my memory swell, once again touched by the hand of life. The sleeping giant that is the mind then stirs, awakening the ghosts of my past. Recalled in the midst of such heavenly beauty, brought with it such a complete sense of serenity. It was the stillness of a comforting cloak of forgiveness and it looked at you with a mother’s eyes. I got used it after while; I didn’t even notice it was there anymore; it felt like I was home.
I was forever wondering when the rolling hills and valleys would bring me another passer-by; I watched for any signs, hostile or otherwise, of other souls crossing the plains. A pair of male bison squared-off in a fight for dominance of their herd, when I saw a white plume of smoke to the south. I knew it could only be a white man, because only he would be stupid enough to announce his presence for all to see in the middle of a lawless and open nowhere. When our mind isn’t focused on our surroundings and the dangerous veracity that comes with the beauty of this place, we’ve lost touch with reality. The truth about just where we are disappears – dangerously. I lived my entire life out here on the plains and knew the realities all too well; I felt its maddening beauty, its dangerous charm watching my every stride.
“Even a child would know better.” I said aloud to my trusty companion beneath me, patting his muscular and elegant neck with my gloved hand.
I almost forgot the surprise that comes with the territory. One never really knows what he’ll come across on a long journey across the prairies. I’d done a good job so far, having stayed clear of even the slightest sign of civilization, and continued to do so moving north of the smoke plume. Even if one day I went blind, I could still ride across these plains. Always in the embrace of a deep sense of peace while amongst them, the prairies were a part of me and I part of them. After all, for a man of my position, to be disconnected from the world around him would be inexorable.
No one may ever know of it, but the feeling that comes with being disconnected is one of loss and despair. Like the sound of a knife slicing across your finger; you never forget it, you can recall it in an instant, and when you do, the hair on the back of your neck stands on end. I’d felt this way before, but it had been years. I learned to work with the land around me, and more importantly with myself, thank God.
In the end, we will always be more in conflict with ourselves than with others. If we don’t achieve a peaceful sense of connection, we often turn loose the savage within us. We cannibalize our very souls from the inside out. Ripping ourselves, and everything around us, into pieces in order to better understand often has the opposite effect; the whole is lost. When it becomes your nature to reach into the center of everything in your life, rather then simply embracing its circumference, the cannibal savage has won. Stopping all that comes at us in order to rationalize its internalities, instead of simply letting life flow through us, always leaves us held hostage by one of the strongest forces of nature – self-doubt.
The word ‘loss’ ran through my mind for a while. After a short pause at the creek, I ventured further into the stillness, along the creek bed, round badger holes, between the towering walls of the valley, the sound of my horse’s hooves plodding through the water echoing ever so slightly. Just ahead were the woods I needed to pass through in order to arrive at my final destination. The flowing branches of the willow and poplar trees always made me feel safe. Winding through the woodland, I confidently strode with purpose and pride. It made me feel like royalty, yet it was not an altogether uplifting feeling. After all, if this prince is coming home, his father had passed on, which was just the case, and the reason for my return.
What my family would say I could not imagine. I hadn’t been to the see our tribe in more than six years. For me, my journey strode towards self-awareness; but I strode just a little bit slower, as I wondered what would be waiting for me. The open channels within the forest seemed to widen as I rode through them, but as I looked back they closed behind me. They seemed to be closing the door on who I was back in the world. It was then I knew I could only be the man I was before I left; the son of a chief who abandoned his tribe to live in the white man’s world.
I strode deeper and deeper into the forest. As the sun began to set, the comforting sound of tribal drums could be heard in the distance, from beyond the weeping poplars, floating in the air above me, welcoming me home. What these drums meant I knew exactly.
The evening brought with it a cool rush of air; my tribe was celebrating the life of my father, and high-pitched chants now joined the beating drums. I felt like a traveler from the new world, returning to a patch of earth that was highlighted by the beginnings of my soul. I soon thought of myself as regaining my birthright; the knowledge and connection of what lived inside me to the outside world. At that moment, I discovered only this place would ever do that for me. Without being seen, I arrived at the top of the large hill that looked down over my tribe’s summer village in the valley below. The vision was one of buffalo skinned teepees, saddle-less horses, a burst of choppy bellows and yells, a swirl of arms, of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies leaning, of eyes dancing, under the velvety comfort of a crescent moon.
My trusty companion almost seemed to nudge me forward. It was then, six years later, I journeyed back into my tribe, my family, in the midst of an open display of love and remembrance. They were worshiping, remembering, mourning – all at once. They were isolated from the basic understanding of the civilization that lived beyond them; that was coming toward them; but this is what connected to them to their world; the only world that truly mattered. For six years I watched people float through their lives like ghosts, wondering and fearful, as any normal person would be when witnessing the disproportionate, self-serving, materialistic world that seemed to revolve around the idea of I acquire therefore I am. The simplest lessons of life seem to be lost upon the white man. I see the world they are creating as headed for disaster.
I saw my father’s body wrapped and waiting on the pyre. My grandmother was the first to see me. At that magical splinter of time, I knew I would never leave my village again and all that I’d take with me from my six year journey… would be the memories of why I had to return.