by Rev. Gail Collins-Ranadive
This article was originally published in Gail Collins-Ranadive (2014): “Chewing Sand, An Eco-Spiritual Taste of the Mojave Desert”, Homebound Publications.
“Remove your hat,” the Shoshone women admonished me as I joined the circle in the predawn cold. “Show some respect.”
I was totally taken aback: cap, sunglasses, and water had become such standard equipment for desert living I was no longer even aware of them. Plus, I could have protested that in my childhood church, women were expected to cover their heads as a sign of respect. But that religion had not done well by these people now gathering here to welcome the sun…
Most of this landscape still legally belongs to the Western Shoshone: they never sold nor ceded their Nevada territory; they simply signed a treaty of friendship allowing pioneers to use an overland route to California and the railroad to be built.
But they badly misunderstood the way of white people: we have been trying to seize the land ever since, by right of ‘eminent domain.’ Payment for it is being held in a trust by the U.S. government, as the tribe continually refuses to accept it.
Most recently, two Shoshone sisters have taken their case to the U.N and won a judgment against the U.S. for removing their cattle and horses when they refused to pay for ‘grazing rights’ on the land that they’ve claimed for 10,000 years. But our president had already leased it to the gold mining industry.
Meanwhile, this landscape that is so sacred to the Shoshone has become the most bombed place in the world, with over 1,000 nuclear bombs ‘tested’ upon it. In response, each spring the young men of the tribe circumambulate the periphery of their homeland, planting willows for healing.
And now I have unwittingly added insult to injury! I pull off my baseball cap and stuff it in the pocket of my jacket as we all join hands and begin to walk counterclockwise in a circle.
I am so overwhelmed with both personal and collective remorse that I can barely pay attention to where I am going. I’m unable to get into the rhythm of the drum with the placing of my feet until I suddenly notice a singular desert marigold sticking up from the path, its yellow face brightening with the sun’s rays. In response, I pull my part of the circle outward, trying to make another path away from the flower.
The Shoshone woman who has criticized me does likewise, and soon we have the whole group carefully avoiding the fragile bloom. Once the sun has risen, and the full moon has set, the ceremony ends. I squat over the blossom to brush off the dust from the dance.
Everyone else has left, except for the woman; she’s there still. As our eyes meet, our worldviews merge into our mutual respect for a singular desert wildflower.
Published with the author’s permission.
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