Hours of eating dust have taken their toll on me, my eyes are gritty and bloodshot, and I am covered in a fine dusting of badlands dirt. The smell of sagebrush permeates the air around me as I step into the canyons. The summer sun beats down on the landscape baking everything under its intense heat. I shoulder my few belongings, and begin the second leg of this exciting trip. I am not on the hunt, nor am I on a sightseeing trip, this is more important than that. I am heading into the South Dakota badlands in search of answers to my questions, things like. Who am I? What is my purpose here? And where am I going in this Journey we call life? The badlands here are believed sacred by the indigenous peoples; this is why I have come here. The canyons are an intertwined maze of bentonite hills and sandstone ridges, narrow passageways meet with sheer cliffs going in all directions. A person could become hopelessly lost in this place and never be seen or heard from again.
Nightfall finds me sitting upon a small ledge of stone; I am naked to the waist except for the medicine bag around my neck. In my left hand, I hold a braid of sweet grass, in my right I hold an eagle feather I found in the late evening. The sounds of the night seem to hold strange sounds I have never heard before, on the wind I swear I hear drums playing and people singing in a strange language. I send prayers to the heavens throughout the night and into the early hours of morning. The cold morning air moves around me bringing a chill to my bare skin. Still I pray to the creator asking to be blessed with some sort of a sign. For four days, I pray, often I see and feel things around me in the night and throughout the days heat I see horsemen in the distance moving through the heat waves on the horizon. As dawn on the forth day I drink the last of my water and place the feather upon the ground beside the sweet grass braid and walk away from this sacred spot. I am disappointed with the outcome of my four-day vigil and walk through the canyons and arroyos in a somber mood. I was sure the creator would have given me a sign of some kind after days of prayer and dedication. Near where I entered the badlands I find a medicine wheel drawn into the sand with a stick, an eagle feather stands in the center of the circle and a white stone is placed beside several red ones. I sit on the ground and cry as I realize someone has watched me these past days and has taken the time to honor my pilgrimage to this sacred spot. The red stones represent the people, the white obviously represents me and the eagle feather is a sign of the creator in the center. I later learned that a Lakota elder followed me to the site and spent four days watching over the young wasicun who decided he was ready for a vision quest despite the request of the elders to wait until he was older. I did not receive a vision on that trip into the badlands but did learn a valuable lesson. No matter how prepared, or ready we think we are to face the mysteries of this world, no matter the prayers or preparations we conjure up, we can only communicate with the creator if we open our hearts , minds and souls to whatever he chooses to show us. The newness of youth is long gone for me, but the excitement of enjoying all things sacred and natural remains strong as I enter into my prime. I am blessed to enjoy the wild places and feel the power moving all around me in the wilderness.
In recent years, the sacred sites across the U.S. have come under attack; oil exploration and progress have reared their ugly head. Several native tribes have stood in the forefront of the battle to save the sites from being desecrated and in some cases completely wiped out. The medicine wheel on the big horn mountains has a giant observatory built overlooking the site; the sacred black hills are graced with the faces of the men who helped to destroy the native tribes and their way of life. I am not one to delve into the political side of things or get into a heated discussion about who is right or wrong concerning these matters. However, I do believe we should remember we are not the only ones who share a heritage on this great continent and should try to preserve the history as best we can.