It smells like home.
My cousin gave me a sage garland to place in the house, a memory of my time at the Sundance. I take the garland into my office where I can smell the memories.
The sage smells like the plains, where many Lakota gather at summer’s start to fast and pray. My uncle tells me missionaries tried to stop Sundance gatherings but traditions have prevailed, and daughter Wee-Hey and I were invited to observe.
In the car I take the helm, and we drive from Rapid City to the Pine Ridge reservation, passing a ghost town and abandoned mobile homes, turning down dirt roads until we reach camp. Without my uncle as guide we would never have found the gathering.
Family members and friends unfold chairs and sit under an arbor of pine boughs that circle an arena. A felled cottonwood tree has been sunk into the center of the arena, where banners of white, black, red and yellow cloth, tied to the tree, wave in the wind.
Uncle says the colors represent the four directions: west (black), north (red), east (yellow), and south (white). And there’s tunkashila (blue) and unci maka (green).
We watch the dancers—men and women alike—who have pledged to follow the traditions, committing themselves to a spiritual path. My cousin is dancing, in part, to honor and help heal his father.
At the end of the day, as we are getting ready to head for home, my cousin walks over with the sage garland. Put out your hands, he says. I open my palms and he places the garland in my hands—four times—and then says, you can put the sage on the west side of the house, and pray, if you like.