Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thunderbirds and Dragons on The Northern Plains

Pictograph of a thunderbird on stone.
Thunderbirds & Dragons on Northern Plains
Spring Returns And With It Comes Legends
By Dakota Wind
GREAT PLAINS - The sun set in a dark cloudy sky. There was very little color. No pinks, reds, oranges, or purples. No fanfare for the setting sun but for a dark blue and black sky. The clouds seemed to absorb whatever colors the setting sun usually paints on the evening sky. The stars flickered fitfully through the haze of those thin gauzy clouds that like to hang in the far upper atmosphere. A cool breeze blew across fields of brown grass, what was left of last year’s growth of native prairie grasses. The breeze itself carried a hint of frost that nipped at the inside of my nose when I inhaled deeply, as if one can truly smell cold but its really no different than one can smell rain, only this was colder.

The family had long since gone to bed. The boys usually bid their mother an innocent “goodnight,” and she usually goes in to tuck them in. There’s no “goodnight” for me. Instead, I like to bid them a “Sleep well and wake,” as though there’s no other way for me to say a simple goodnight, and I like it like that.

The rain began to fall as I was preparing for bed. I say “prepare” as though I’m getting ready for a journey of some kind, but preparing myself consists of raking a comb through my silky fine hair, brushing my teeth with that new foaming toothpaste which I rather prefer to the regular paste, and splashing some water on my face, all before I slip under the covers and wrestle with my pillow. My pillow looks like a regular pillow, but it somehow gains a life of its own as I lay my head down as though it decides to get too fluffy and too hot or my head sinks too far into it. But the damn pillow looks just fine sitting there on the blankets.

I’ll slaughter a goat and offer it to the God of Thunder like the heathens of ancient Europe...

The rain fell in large heavy drops. I thought it was hailing at first, but the news person said that pea-size hail was on its way yet. Well, I’ll tell you weather man, I’ll slaughter a goat and offer it to the God of Thunder like the heathens of ancient Europe, but it won’t change the fact that hail is here and it’s falling with the rain on my car.

While the heavy rain and pea-size hail that the weather man said was going to arrive later fell on the house and my car, and maybe its why I personify my car as though its alive that gives me dreams that my car is a version of Bumblebee from Transformers, that gentle breeze carrying that taste of winter decides to change into a roaring beast that’s whipping the neighbor’s garbage cans and shit through our front yard and down the street.

As I’m listening to the wind and rain, personifying my car and wrestling my pillow, I stop for a moment and imagine what it was like for the ancestors to go through a spring thunder storm. I remember reading something on the internet about long ago giant birds called “Teratorns.” Apparently there are as many teratorn sightings as there are bigfoot sightings, these giant winged terrors.

The teratorn is said to have flown before the storms looking for thermals to carry it above the storm it flew before. It is said to have been capable of carrying off people and even bison.

...their wings were the clouds and lighting flashed from their eyes...

Did the ancestors see giant birds? I think so. We have stories of the Wankiya, the Thunderbeings, or as some call them, the Thunderbirds. Thunderbirds rode in on the clouds. No, their wings were the clouds and lighting flashed from their eyes, lighting bolts flew from their claws when they opened their taloned grips.

The Wankiya were a force of nature, that is they weren’t necessarily good but nor were they evil. They flung to the earth their lightning in an ages-old duel with other forces of nature. No, they cleansed the earth, purified the earth with pure rain and electric wrath. Sometimes these Thunderbirds would stretch out a claw and grapple with Unkcegila. Think dragon or serpent. When the Thunderbird and the serpent fought, the fury of the wind was unleashed and the serpent was carried up into the sky and destroyed. The world was cleaned and the day could begin anew, at peace.

I imagine a world, a mystical world, the world before the horse and gun. When the mysteries of creation were respected, honored, and cherished. When the Thunderbirds were real and they really would snap up the unwary traveler or a bison for a meal. I imagine the ancient world of the Great Plains and the dragon or dragons slithering up and down the Missouri River, filling the flood plains, and charming human and animal alike to enter and drown in the crushing depths of the corners of the river.

...I imagine I’m a warrior in another time and place looking at the front right hoof of my pony...

I wonder that such things are real. Did my ancestors personify the wind and rain and river as I personify my pillow and car? I don’t know. They saw things, Teratorns and Loc Ness creatures, things they couldn’t explain and shared hushed stories around the lodge fire. I’m certainly not sitting around the tv and night telling my boys how my pillow makes me snore or how my car drags its ass when I drive it – I finally got under my car and saw that it was a piece of plastic. And then I imagine I’m a warrior in another time and place looking at the front right hoof of my pony only to find a burr or rock.

As I wrestled my pillow and hit it into a comfortable mass, our youngest calls out to his mother. I experience the impulse to go in there and tell him about how the Thunderbirds would snatch children but I decide to wait until he’s older. I don’t think my wife would appreciate my interjection of culture at the moment, but just the thought of it makes me smile. I cleared my throat and said to her, “Your son is calling you.”

I fell asleep comforted by the memory of my grandparents telling me about the traditional Lakota view of the spring thunderstorms.  The wind and rain doesn’t bother me and I slept soundly, and I dreamt of my car as Bumblebee.