Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Sons Of The Ghost Dance-With The Lakota Struggle At Standing Rock Against The Dakota Pipeline In Mind

The Sons Of The Ghost Dance-With The Lakota Struggle At Standing Rock Against The Dakota Pipeline In Mind

By Fritz Taylor


Brad Fox, a little late summer September sunburn showing on his face for his efforts, was talking to Zack James, his old friend from high school in growing up poor Riverdale and later on the dope-strewn merry prankster yellow brick road during the high holy days of the 1960s counter-cultural movement, about a demonstration that he had attended earlier that day in support of the Lakota Sioux and their allies’ struggle against the Dakota pipeline. Brad had rekindled his friendship with Zack after a number of years when the two coasts separated them Brad returning home to Riverdale to run his father’s specialty carpentry shop after he had had a stroke and Zack remaining on the West Coast in pursuit of his journalism career. They had reunited at their 40th high school class reunion in 2004 and had since that time several times a month gotten together either at their old hang-out Jack Kelly’s Grille in Riverdale or at Zack’s slightly more upscale watering hole, Barney’s in downtown Boston.

Brad had called Zack up to report on the demonstration and the issues involved around stopping the pipeline something Zack, now retired from Rock Age magazine, had heard about on the news but had not followed closely but more importantly something that had happened at the rally that had reminded him of the time they had been out in Joshua Tree in California in the early 1970s. Brad had over his cellphone sent Zack photos of the rally which had started at Park Street Station the historic spot on Boston Common for all kinds of events since about colonial times and of the march that followed through downtown Boston, Back Bay and after crossing a footbridge over Storrow Drive ending with a water-cleansing ceremony at the Charles River.

He quickly highlighted the struggle of the tribes who had gathered out in the badlands of Dakota to stop the desecration of sacred burial lands and the continuing pollution of their water sources by the unchecked construction and destruction caused by the pipeline headed from the Dakotas to Illinois. He told Zack that he would provide links to sites which could fill him in on the specifics (which he subsequently did do) and then went on to describe the particulars of the support rally. It was that aspect of the event that caused Brad to envision long ago memories that he knew Zack would have remembered without much prompting.                   

After some of the usual milling around time always associated with almost any political event before the organizers gathered themselves for their tasks all the fifty to seventy-five attendees were called to form a healing welcome circle. Then one of the organizers, a Native American woman who had been delegated by the tribes out in the Dakotas to speak for them, passed along the circle to distribute some good spirits incense in the form of smoke with which to insure the well-being of the participants. Then she and a male Native American organizer stepped to the center of the circle after she had put the remnants of the incense vessel on the ground. Then the male began beating lightly on his hand-held drum increasing the tempo as he went along. All of a sudden he started chanting the ah, ah, ah, oh, oh, sounding chant that made Brad flash back to the early 1970s out in Joshua Tree. The female organizer began to chant as well and both did so for several minutes. Brad knew he would have to call Zack immediately after the demo to see what his reaction would be.

Zack almost before Brad could finish describing the ceremony blurred out “ghost dance in Bryant’s Canyon” and Brad smiled the knowing smile of the initiate. Before Brad could continue with his version of that long along story Zack started talking about their old friend the late Peter Paul Markin whom everybody had called the “Scribe” in those old high school days after Frankie Riley had christened him with that moniker. Markin had earned the title after faithfully serving as the mouthpiece, flak for Frankie, the leader of the boyos in front of Tonio Pizza Parlor over on Thornton Street in the old hometown. The Scribe had been the guy who had set all the corner boys heading west after they had finished high school and during that uprising of the young associated with the summer of love, 1967 and all the mad dope, rock and roll, sex escapades that followed. He had been the first to head west in that year. Brad and Zack followed later in the late winter of 1968.  

Of course the way to travel in those days for poor boys and the adventuresome was to follow the karma of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road which was mandatory reading for the footloose youth of America, particularly the male portion, and hitchhike out. That is what Brad and Zack did one cold day as they headed for the truck depot behind the Coca-Cola plant near the Charles River entrance to the Mass Turnpike where they expected to start grabbing a ride from some lonesome or talkative long haul truck-driver maybe going to Chicago or some other point west. They got a ride although that first one was only to Cleveland but after a series of shorter rides they wound up in Denver where they met Smiling Jack and Handsome Johnny who would form the foursome who would wind up in Joshua Tree and who would wind up serving as the vessels for the ghost dance which would brand them forever as among the kindred of ancient warriors. 

But that is getting ahead of the story slightly because that Denver stop after meeting Jack and Johnny on Larimer Street one afternoon when they were looking to score some dope and they were passed a huge blunt by Johnny meant they would stay for week in the Humble Pie Commune where Jack and Johnny lived. There they would be introduced to the ancient delights of peyote buttons and other magic mushroom delights. It was there that the newly endowed foursome would decide to go to California by the southern route as fast as they could going through desert country that none of them had ever seen before. After a short stay in Phoenix and a couple of short rides they wound up getting a ride from a Volkswagen van with four or five travelers inside stoned to high heaven (to this day neither Brad nor Zack could be sure of the number in the van when they were picked up right at Needles on the California-Arizona border).  

This crew with the four add-ons decided to stop at Joshua Tree one later afternoon since there was no place to stay cheaply if they went further that day. So they made camp at one of the primitive campsites (then primitive anyway) near a broad and beautiful canyon that had several layers of rock in various colors showing. Needless to say by the time they had gotten to Joshua Tree they were in the language of the day “ripped.” Had also started taking peyotes buttons to chill out with after smoking so much weed. Somebody, maybe Sunshine Mary, the driver of the van’s girlfriend, neither were sure on that detail  forty years later,  started a huge and glowing fire and as the sun went down to the west the shadow of the flames made crazy patterns on the layered canyon walls. The young woman also started to put a big pot on the grill to make a hell-bent soup. 

While the young woman was preparing some vegetables Smiling Jack suddenly got up and started to slowly dance, not a rock and roll dance, but a dance like he had maybe seen the “Indians” do on television when he was a kid. As he danced he began to take off most of his clothes and to slowly writhe in the coming light from the fire. He began an ah,ah, ah,oh,oh chant slowly picking up the tempo as he moved around the circle. A few minutes later Brad who had just eaten another peyote button, as he said later “flipped out,” and began to get up and follow Jack in his circle, kept his clothes on but chimed in with on Jack’s chant. A few minutes later Johnny and Zack followed suit. They did this for at least an hour without stopping, or not stopping much. As that hour approached though Zack, Zack the then college drop-out to “find” himself because he knew no Indian languages began to call on some ancient forebears out in the canyon to give him strength to fight the “white devils,” to avenge the rape of his lands, women and culture. The other three soon joined in grabbing some soil and some water to paint themselves up as warriors. Then just as they were at fever pitch as if on command all the heat of the day, the lack of food, maybe water too, the long exertions and above all those fiery drugs they all collapsed almost simultaneously in a heap in front of the fire.       

Zack would later write that as best as he could understand what had happened that night for one minute he and his brethren knew what it was like to be an avenging angel warrior going back ten thousand years to turn the earth back to mother. And thus these days to support the struggles out in Standing Rock. 


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