The use of the pipe represents this communion with all things of the earth. A story I picked out for the park website, related by Black Elk, says the following (bold represents my emphasis):
The bowl of this pipe is of red stone; it is the Earth. Carved in the stone and facing the center is this buffalo calf who represents all the four-leggeds who live upon your Mother. The stem of the pipe is wood, and this represents all that grows upon the Earth. And these twelve feathers which hang here where the stem fits into the bowl are from Wanbli Galeshka, the Spotted Eagle, and they represent the eagle and all the wingeds of the air. All these peoples, and all the things of the universe, are joined to you who smoke the pipe - all send their voices to Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit. When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything.I had deliberated first whether to get a pipe for myself, and then upon deciding to get one, what design. There are as many designs of pipes as there are stars in the sky; even similar designs vary quite a bit in the details and the quality of the carving and of the stone. I had thought about acquiring a bison effigy pipe but I didn't find one that looked exactly how I wanted. I chose a pipe made by Travis Erickson, who is a self-described "aggressive quarrier" of 28 years, and whose pipes are included in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. The design I selected is a "wrapped eagle feather," which is a rare design that is a variation of the standard T pipe. At a glance, it looks like a T pipe, but a closer look reveals that the bowl is delicately carved to look like a tree trunk and a carefully designed eagle feather carved as though it were wrapped around the base. There are delicate grooves that look like bark and a "knot" in the front of the tree. It is an excellent piece of stone, deep red with very few speckles. The carving also illustrates the difference in color when the stone is finished with beeswax (deep red) versus the raw stone (pink), giving the eagle feather its lighter details.
I knew why it had appealed to me - it seemed to allude to the connectivity of the earth, the living things of the earth, and of the sky in a subtle way. One of the reasons I picked the eagle feather pipe is because it reminded me of a story told about the creation of pipestone. According to one Sioux legend, a great flood wiped out all the people except for a young woman who climbed a hill to escape the water. While there, surrounded by water, a giant eagle landed near her. The eagle then turned into a man and told her that all her people had been killed by the flood, that he had come to save her, he wanted to marry her. Together, they would re-establish the human race. After this, the water receded and the blood of her people pooled and formed into stone in this place - pipestone. The story underscores that this is a very sacred place - the idea that they are quarrying the blood of their ancestors is a powerful idea - and is one of the reasons many of the petroglyphs found in the area include bird tracks.
Geologically, the pre-Cambrian rock is far too old for the story to be true, but the story is an interesting interpretation nonetheless (and, without any other concept of geologic time, compelling enough). Another interesting point the story alludes to is that this ground is, in fact, a bowl-shaped depression on a highland, near the subcontinental divide between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.
Nearly a week after I bought the pipe, I asked Travis about the design. He was working on a pipe in the visitor center, and, as usual, he was covered in pink pipestone dust. He said he likes the theme of trees because he is "a very earthly person." He isn't just of the earth, he is commonly found down in "the womb of earth-mother" in his quarry, as he puts it in the park film. He also said the design with the feather is representative of my relationship with the spirit world, "a reminder of who you are." Birds, trees, earth, a knot in a tree for critters to hide - do these sound like things that remind me of myself?
As the colors begin to change, lighting the landscape hues of yellow and red, there has been plenty of movement in the animal world. Many more turtles were hatching in the park this week, and since many nests are alongside the paved trail, there is a threat of people stepping on the little guys right after they hatch and begin their journey toward the water. I took a boxload of turtles that had wandered into the parking lot into the tall grass near the pond and set them free there, and had a chance to tell a school group about snappers when one of the kids found one crossing the trail. Good luck, little guys!
Saturday was National Public Lands Day, which meant free admission to the park. Our volunteerism project for the day was seed collecting for revegetation efforts in an area of newly-acquired disturbed land that had been a farm field. One person showed up to volunteer and help out the resource management staff. Lame! I just couldn't get the retirees visiting the park to go out and help!
Today (actually yesterday as I write this late at night), Minnesota Public Radio aired a story about Pipestone. Travis Erickson and my boss Glen Livermont were both in the story. When the narrator talks about the schoolkids there, he understates the FLOOD of 150 3rd and 4th graders that I was handling ALONE. Listen to the story.
I had a couple surprises in the realm of birds this week. A northern harrier showed up; I saw it circling but not hunting with its distinctive low-to-the-ground technique. Maybe that is what the crows have been so upset about. Flocks of robins have been forming and making all sorts of noise throughout the park.
Sometimes I see the most interesting things out the window, though. From my computer in the office, I can see about four square feet of a dogwood bush out the window, and I happened to catch out of the corner of my eye some unusual movement. I went outside and got some very close looks at a bird darting between the branches, flitting this way and that, nabbing insects at an incredible rate - a vicious killer for a cute little bird. I wasn't sure what it was at first, but a little research revealed it was a ruby-crowned kinglet. No wonder I had blanked on what it was while watching it - ruby-crowned kinglets only arrive here while they're migrating, and I just wasn't thinking "migratory birds" when watching it. Ruby-crowned kinglets are abundant in Glacier National Park, and it is easy to hear them singing all over in the summer, though one almost never sees them. The next day (Friday), I saw a group of about a dozen kinglets in the dogwood bushes flitting around, devouring insects. In all, I spent about two and a half hours trying to photograph them and only have a handful of good pictures to show for it.
With the migrating birds on their way and the fall colors showing, all signs point that it is time for me to migrate again, too. After some time off, I will work a couple of weeks at Fort Larned National Historic Site, my new permanent base, before returning to Theodore Roosevelt National Park for another winter. I will blog about some of the eastern national parks between now and then!