Friday, April 3, 2015

Chapter 3: The Corn Palace

Mitchell, South Dakota

I'd started noticing these billboards about a tourist trap called the Corn Palace. It seemed its claim to fame is that everything there is made of corn. I thought, "what the heck."  Driving to wherever in the hell I was headed to was tiresome so I took a short detour over to Mitchell. I wondered if Mitchell's only claim to fame was the Corn Palace or if I'd find a decent place to spend the night and some food that didn't taste like cardboard.

The palace place was actually pretty amazing. Words really can't describe this giant structure created from corn. It's construction is Moorish revival architecture and each year the outside displays change. Giant murals created from corn, as well as, the palace itself. I paused by this huge "corn cob" statue to snap a selfie. I wasn't even sure why I had brought my phone as I kept it turned off about 90% of the time.  It didn't seem wise to cloud my head with conversations. I knew I was seeking something and needed all of my concentration to get there.

Stepping inside I paused every few feet to look at the photos from years past, each one a corn masterpiece. I found it amazing that people could get so creative with corn when I can barely be creative with crayons. It took a couple hours to wander around the place and then I headed back outside into the brilliant South Dakota sunshine. The street was dotted with quaint little stores and on the corner I came upon a tea shop. Although I was trying to be conservative with my funds, I ventured inside. As soon as I opened the door the smells enthralled me. The aroma of fresh teas wafted through the shop.

I stopped over by the Yogi tea display, my favorite brand. I internally debated the benefits of each. With a box of Soothing Caramel Bedtime in my hand, I read the claims that it supports a good night's sleep. Bone tired at the end of the day I still tossed and turned and dreamed crazy dreams. Hmmmm. Then my eyes fell on the Honey Lavender Stress Relief and smiled to myself when I read, "helps calm and ease tension."  Decisions, decisions. There was a sign by the display announcing a buy one get one free sale so I tossed them both into the little plastic basket I had picked up by the shop door. 

When I drew close to the checkout counter there was a shelf of mugs.  One in particular caught my eye. It was a sky blue color and featured a dragonfly soaring through the air. I consider the dragonfly one of my totem animals along with the raven. Fox has taught me a few lessons too, mostly about keeping my mouth shut and observing. Of the three though, dragonfly is my personal ally. I picked up the mug and placed it gently into the plastic basket. When dragonfly shows up it's time to take notice.

The dragonfly totem carries the wisdom of transformation and is about adaptability. It is connected to the symbolism of change and light. When it shows up in your life you must pay special attention to the light.  If possible surround yourself with it. It reminds us that when our deeper thoughts come to the surface we must pay attention. There are lessons to be learned and these thoughts are in part responsible for what we bring forth in the world around us.

I carefully counted out my change to pay with the exact amount and nodding goodbye to the cashier I headed to my car. I was already thinking about the tea and how nice a soothing cup would be in the evening. Perhaps with the tea I might manage a dreamless night or at least one with happier dreams.

I'd asked at the Corn Palace about places to eat. Marlin's Family Restaurant was mentioned by several people so I entered it into my cars GPS and with my mouth watering I started following the route displayed. Pulling into the parking lot of the restaurant I noticed it was fairly busy, which is a good sign as far as eating places go.

An hour later, stuffed with meatloaf and mashed potatoes, smiling, I headed to Thunderbird Lodge. Thunderbird featured cheap rates and a free buffet breakfast so I was hoping it would more than make up for my tea splurge.  It didn't take long to check in and I hopped in the shower immediately. Washing the South Dakota dust from my skin and lathering on the generic body wash the lodge provided felt like heaven. The water was so hot it stung my skin but I stayed under it till it turned cold. I pulled my damp hair back into a pony tail and lathered Cool Amazon Rain shea butter on my parched sunburnt skin.

Wrapped in a towel, I looked, not for the first time at the red bead attached to the twine. It was clear and pretty. In fact it seemed like a good quality bead and I wondered why it was attached to a cheapo piece of twine. The beads were crisp and cool in my palm but seemed to warm slightly at my touch. Twirling the twine between my fingers I wondered again about the ravens. Like I said earlier they don't frighten me. My heart didn't beat with fear about an impending death, although looking back perhaps it should have. They just felt like a puzzle piece, a snippet that didn't fit right now but still belonged to the bigger picture. My head started to hurt from trying to out this maze I found myself in.
I slipped on some shorts with a tee shirt and crawled into bed. The sheets were silky smooth and felt luxurious against my skin. My body was weary but my mind kept spinning in ever increasing spirals. Touching first on one thought and then on another. There was no longer that restless uneasiness that I had been feeling over the past year. It had been replaced with something else. It was a feeling I had experienced before. A sensation of something hurdling at me in the darkness, just outside the realm of consciousness, shifting as I shift, stopping when I stop, matching me step for step. This new reality I was living was undefined, almost shapeless and I didn't quite know my place in it. Like an awkward new student I searched for my seat.  Once in my quest to understand it, I had hypothesized that it was another me in another dimension and that when we got too close to each other this vague uneasiness ensued. If it wasn't another me I was dancing with then I wasn't sure what it might be.

As I lay in the dark room, headlights would occasionally bounce off the curtains and illuminate the room briefly. I didn't even bother turning on the TV, unlike some people, the flickering TV kept me awake. I'm not sure how long I lay there curled in a ball, cocooned in the clean sheets.

I had just started to drift off to sleep when I felt myself suffocating. A shadowy shape seemed to hover right above my face, stopping the air from reaching me and pressing me into the bed. It's not the first time I've had such an experience in a motel room. It's claustrophobic and I started to panic. I tried to talk myself out of the sensation; calming myself and thinking of other things but in the end I had to get up. I sat shaking in the chair at the desk and sipped the tea I had made to calm my nerves. I've no idea of what it means but I remember the other times it has happened to me, two other occasions, both times in motel rooms. Sometimes I wondered if it was the lost spirit of someone who died in the room and now they are stuck searching for contact with the world they had once known.

It was a long time before I climbed back into bed. When I finally drifted off to sleep I entered the twisted, chaotic world of dreams that were half memories and half fantasy. Waking up in the late morning hours, I rubbed my gritty eyes and thought about the dreams filled with strange creatures and forgotten truths. The dreams were drudged up from the dark depths of my memories because they contained the Devil Dogs. Yeah, the farm again.

A few years back, I had started hearing and reading about chupacabras and they reminded me of the Devil Dogs that roamed the pasture at the back of the farm, near what we called the silent woods. Mom thought they were attracted to the dump. Back in those days we didn't have trash pick up, you just found a gully or ravine on your property and used it to eliminate as much trash as you could. Now chupacabras are all the rage as far as myths and legends and "sightings" go but back then they were just plain scary. The Hell Hounds or the Devil Dogs, whichever you prefer to call them, roamed that pastures and the hill sides and ridges back toward the bluff road that was to the north of the farm.

I'd made the connection to chupacabras once when I was watching TV.  It got me seriously thinking about these strange hounds that roamed the farm from the silent woods all the way back to the bluff road. They were hunted by many but shot by none.  We first assumed they were a pack of wild half starved dogs that had formed a pack for survival. We thought that until we noticed how they seemed to be able to move without being seen, appearing first on one hillside and then on another. My mother started carrying her pistol with her whenever she walked down to the dump or in the woods around our home.

According to the TV show, the first reported sightings of the creatures were in 1995. We encountered them on the farm well before '95. The episode reminded me of the Hounds of Hell and made me curious as to their origins. We described them as jackal like so they do not necessarily sound like the hairless, dry roughed skinned Chupacabra...but it just makes me think...if there are creatures out there roaming that are either a "new animal" or a deformed animal that reproduces in kind then maybe the Hounds of Hell were a freak of nature rather than supernatural....ummm.... although it hardly explained how they could disappear from one hill side to appear on another...or how they so swiftly avoided bullets .None the less the world holds many unexplained things...whether of this world or another.

In my dreams, first I hunted the Hounds of Hell and then they hunted me, in a never ending cycle of pursuit and escape.  The dream was so vivid, when I closed my eyes I could see their red gleaming eyes watching me.  Those eyes reminded me of the red bead and I looked for it.  It wasn't in my tangled sheets. Panic started to well up inside me and I frantically tore at the blankets, coming up empty.  Slipping out of bed, something brushed against my bare foot. Looking down, the red bead rested against my foot. Quickly I snatched it up and looked at it again. It was pretty but ordinary really but getting dressed  I tucked it into the pocket of my jeans.

Long Ago

The sun blazed high in the sky over South Dakota, in this land called "mako sica" or "land bad."  by the Lakota. The rugged terrain, lack of water, and extreme temperatures made life difficult here. In every direction the soft sedimentary rock had eroded in the dry climate forming a magnificent display of sharp spires, gullies, and ridges. It went on for miles in all directions.

She sat on the rust colored boulder and spun the twine between her wrinkled finger tips. It was strong and worthy, plucked from the garments of a mighty warrior. She wondered, as she so often did, about the times ahead, the years that flowed through her dreams were blurry and broken, with few details to place them into any real order. She knew there would come a time when this would be needed. When this simple act of hers would provide power to those who needed it. It would not be in her lifetime but many moons from now, this she knew. She would be long forgotten and the world a strange and different place.

There is an old Dakota saying, "we will forever be known by the tracks we leave behind us."  She would be, both known and unknown, by her tracks, for no one would know her name or her role but she cared not. She did not seek glory or even wisdom, because in truth this task scared her a bit. This vision, while full of light, attracted the darkness somehow and even now she felt it swirling around her. In her vision quest she had watched herself weaving the twine into a broad sturdy bracelet with the three red beads nestled among the coarse twine.

The quest had been many winters ago, in a time when she was young and strong, feeling the power of her youth. She had welcomed the task, drawing energy from the knowledge that she would play a part in this great story. She had called upon Raven many times, seeking to clarify the vision, for what the eyes see is not always the truth. She wondered if Raven denied her the clarity because she was not a male. Yet she doubted that because Raven had come to her many times about other things. 

Spring turned into summer and fall and winter followed over and over again. The days, while numbered, are seldom counted by the young and even though she grew in years, her spirit remained unchanged. The kaleidoscope of years blurred together and Raven, nor nothing else for that matter, came to guide her on this path. She started to believe that it had been her own thoughts rather than a clear vision. She doubted herself.

The years of her life had slipped by so quietly that she hardly noticed. She had all but forgotten the vision until the dreams reminded her. The dreams were troubling. In them, a blood moon, high in the sky cast little light upon the earth, strange voices called out in fear, and something else, some force that snagged and ripped the soul, indulged in a desperate feeding. It was with urgency she wanted to complete this task, to be done with it, as she feared her days were drawing near the end. Each day it took all of her strength to overcome the weakness that grew inside her. She smiled to herself because she now had the twine and was waiting for the beads. She did not know how they might come into her possession but she felt certain that they would. And soon, very soon.

She had thought previously about weaving a medicine bag, like those the warriors wore to protect them in battle but in the vision she had clearly seen a bracelet. So even though her fingers were gnarled and aching, she was determined to replicate it. Although the word was foreign to her she knew it would become an amulet. An object to be worn to magically bestow power and protection to the wearer. Power and protection were things she did know about, for in the long cold winter months she chanted to Mother Earth to sustain them and she called to Father Sun to warm the earth again. Now as she waited the warm sun wrapped its arms around her in an ancient embrace.

200 Miles to the East

The church was small, with hard uncomfortable pews, as only old church pews can be. Designed most likely to keep the sinners awake during services, a chore they did quite well because who could sleep on such an uncomfortable surface.  Shifting to ease the strain on ones back or to awaken a numb behind, served to keep churchgoers awake, even if they were not listening. Outside the two ravens circled the tree to the left of the church, climbing higher and higher in spirals until they were two tiny specks of black in the blueness of the sky.

Inside the sanctuary, the old priest stood beside the baptismal font and watched his quivering hands reach into the water to pick up the beads. They had lay nestled there at the bottom of the water for as many years as he could remember. Over the years, as he had added more holy water, he had watched them shift and dance across the bottom but he had left them there. Had not even considered removing them. He wondered about how they had come to be here, in this old church of hewn logs and dirt floors, they seemed too beautiful to belong.

He had traveled here from Boston many years ago. It had been a long and treacherous trip but he was young then, full of ideas about saving the world one soul at a time. Originally he had planned to stay but a short time, spreading the word of God and bringing comfort to those in this dreary and bleak part of the country. However, it seemed he had stayed a lifetime among the rough people of the west, where death came early to so many. God had blessed him with a long life but he knew his days were growing short. He knew somehow that the beads were important but how so or what he was to do with them he couldn't fathom.

The new church was about a half a mile away. It was two stories tall and the steeple was even higher, a beckon in the distance for travelers. Now this one, the old church that he had first come to serve, was to be destroyed. Destroyed?  Even though it had served its usefulness, it seemed almost barbaric to tear it down. Yet the time was near for just that to happen which is why he stood now with his hand dipped into the water retrieving the three red beads that he had spent a lifetime wondering about.

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