For many, the holiday season serves as a reminder of the ones who have passed on. But just because they aren't here physically, doesn't mean their spirits aren't with us. Read more →
Turtle Mountain Blessing
Moriah set her packs down on the grassy hilltop that she’d just “summited.” From base to top, her climb had taken 20 minutes.
Calling this hill ridge the “Turtle Mountains” was amusing to others, like herself, who had lived near actual mountains, but understandable considering that North Dakota was mostly flat as far as eyes see. Even trees didn’t interrupt the smooth panorama. Pine trees that were breathtakingly lofty in their reaches everywhere else, were short here; their reaching had been subdued by the fierce and relentless North Dakota wind force.
Now at the pinnacle, she would not allow her eyes to luxuriate in the spacious view of this beautiful, tiny Turtle Mountain reservation until her little camp was set up just right, the way the olden time grandmothers of these, her people, would’ve approved. She wished one of them could advise her now—place camp against the backdrop of the juneberry trees over there or here, out in the open?
“Everywhere in North Dakota is out in the open,” she murmured. Out in the open therefore. She spread her bedroll then arranged her camp gear and the two dura-flame logs. With her small spade, she dug her fire pit, and then finally she stood, her arms and eyes reached out. Moriah regarded the panorama of deep green plains, brush, trees, and richly colored homes that dotted the landscape. Here she stood, on one of the rarest of places in North Dakota: a very high place, and she was here to camp alone, to look within, to see what she would see.
No one had ever taken this spectacular hilltop, with its eye widening view, to build a house and Moriah knew why. She had found this high hill years ago during the annual family vacation. She’d felt in her spirit a singular and sweet mystery on the little high place. She learned that others of her family had the same experience. Unspoken agreement, Indian way, the place was honored and undisturbed.
“Is this where answers are?” she whispered as she stepped towards the southwest area of the hill and faced a setting sun in all its golden warmth. Moriah’s father had walked on to the next life, there was no other “Wise One” in her life, no one to offer advice. Inexplicably, friends sought her out to pour out their troubles and heartaches, to which she could only offer sympathy and prayer. She had no wise answers, not even for her own heart-sore problems.
She settled down on her heels, deciding to do nothing but enjoy the waning sunglow, and let the beauty and blessing of this place fill her spirit. As what usually happened when she became solemn, her mind did a flip flop and an old timey spiritual song came to her, and she gave in to it, singing out in a deep voice—“Nobawwdy knows the troubles ah seen!” And with that, Moriah fell onto her back and giggled until she was breathless.
“Now if that’d happened in church, I’d a have some ‘splainin’ to do!” she exclaimed to the groves of juneberry bushes behind her. “Should I be fasting?” she wondered to herself, as she regarded the nearly overripe fat little berries. She’d not eaten in her rush to come to Belcourt to make the ascent to this, her spirit hill.
Deciding that those berries would make a nice breakfast, she left them on the bushes, and went to gather kindling. With that done, she returned to her campsite and nestled herself on the bedroll.
Moriah’s thoughts drifted in tandem with her eyes, slowly scanning the horizon’s faraway details. Her ears were charmed with the tunes and trills of the birdsong. As the evening star appeared, the despair that she’d kept locked in a fist grip behind her moved in close, as if the tiny light had beckoned it forward.
Beebee, her beloved God mom, the only mother she’d ever known, had just recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. At 44, Beebee was so youthful, more fit than anyone else they knew of her age. Moriah herself, had a spinal/brain disorder and faced possible life-threatening surgery. She felt overwhelmed and so very alone. She had her two small beloved girls to raise. And there was Beebee, fretting over Moriah having to care for them without her help.
Time to make fire, she decided, before tears and sorrow stole away the special night. Soon, sorrowful thoughts and amusement over her earlier silly song faded, as she became mesmerized by the shimmering flames. She remembered someone had said there were cougars seen in this area.
“Not here,” she assured herself, knowing somehow that she was very safe. A long-ago memory surfaced of her Dad reminiscing about a small village of their people who’d been massacred by white soldiers long ago and who could actually be heard singing in their ghost camp somewhere on this rez, “Maybe here,” she whispered.
Moriah considered this idea a moment. She tilted her head and gazed at the sky, the stars, and then around herself at the tidy little fire crackling in its bowl of earth. A smile from her heart found its way to her face as she remembered the biblical words, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…” She knew then that they were here, that they the ancestors saw and watched her, even now at this moment and at this time in her life.
A new feeling arose in her spirit, one of tenderness towards these, her people, who had walked on . . . and now watched her. Moriah stood with her back to the fire and spoke to the witnesses of what they already knew—
“But we who trust in the Creator will find new strength;
We will soar high on wings like eagles;
We will walk and not grow weary;
We will run and not faint …”
Celeste A. Keplin is a student at Turtle Mountain Community College.