Thursday, February 25, 2010
Sweat House Part Three: Earth, Wind and Fire
This story happened about ten years ago... There was a time when the world seemed to be spinning out of control, one thing after another was going wrong. Home, work, even relationships where no trouble had existed before. I was totally confused about what to do. My mother-in-law ( she was Navajo, and old enough to remember first-hand stories of Bosque Redondo) suggested that I speak to a friend of hers named Wilson. He was a "Road Man", a native physician who makes house calls. So I did. He came to the house and we talked for several minutes before he came to the point of his visit. He said, "Mike, I notice that you keep looking at your watch. Is there someplace that you need to be other than here?" " That's not a good thing to try to keep hold of. You strap time to your wrist as if it were something that you can control. When it slips away, you begin to worry... that's why you can't sleep, your stomach is all ways upset, and your heading for long term sickness if you don't learn a few simple things." Talk about a kick in the head! The old man was right on the point. What happened next is really cool. Wilson came back a couple days later. And told me that he had been thinking about the best way to go about fixing the problem. First thing he said is "you gotta go to sweat!" Then we will see what happens next. So on the day of the sweat, he came and picked me up in his old truck and off we went towards Navajo Mt. We got to his sheep camp about mid day and it was a beautiful sight. There were two hogans, both male and female, sheep pens and horse coral. And way off to the side, what looked like a big mound of dirt. Turns out it was the sweat house. We went inside the hogan and sat for awhile, neither of us talking and then I looked at my watch and he started laughing. It was then I took it off and gave it to him and said you keep it. He just smiled and said that I could take it up to the sheep, maybe they might want to use it. After what seemed like hours of sitting and doing nothing I was about to go stir crazy, just when he said," It's OK Mike, I know that you feel that you need to do something so we will." When we went outside, it seemed as if the sun barely moved. Over by the sweat house there was a huge pile of wood. "Let's go chop some wood for the rocks, then we'll get the fire going." So he started chopping and could tell that I wanted to get my hand in there too. So he handed me the axe and told me to take my time and he would be inside making something for us to eat. It felt good to not have anywhere that I had to be. Just swinging the axe, hearing it split the wood, and smelling fresh cedar. He called in a soft voice that I thought was wind for a moment. Only when I turned around did I notice that it was Wilson calling my name. I had a pretty big pile split by then, but he said come and eat so that would do for now. When I went into the hogan, I was met with the smell of hominy stew and fry bread. We ate, then he asked if I could use a nap, because he sure could. We weren't going to sweat until later that night. Wow, what a nap that was, in the cool of the afternoon, with no watch or alarm. Wilson woke me up in about an hour and said that we needed to go start the fire. The wood gets arranged standing on end in a circular pattern, layer upon layer until it's about three feet across. The rocks are put on top of the wood and the fire is lit, with prayer and thanksgiving more wood is put on and the fire grows and takes on a life of its own. A really beautiful sight when all you're used to is a city fire in a BBQ. The rocks are volcanic in nature, and as Wilson said, they are done being mad so it doesn't hurt them to get really hot. And throw water on them and make them sing. It took a couple hours to get the rocks to where you can almost see through them. During that time, Wilson spent time by singing and playing his drum. One of the most beautiful sounds I've ever heard. It was time to go in. And the monsoon had kicked up and it began to blow. A storm was going by a ways off in the distance, and lighting could be seen... Wilson called over to get ready, and he was already out of his cloths and had his Chicago bulls trunks on. Really cool. And here I was in my old gray sweat pants that were cut off at the knee. He threw the blanket back that was covering the door and said to crawl inside. Time to go for now, I am What I am.