In The Beginning.
I have a trunk full of memories. I do. And stories. My, my, my the stories I could tell you. And I will tell you, in due time, and as our relationship unfolds, Dear Blog. But there’s one story in particular that I want to tell you tonight. Listen up. Come close. I don’t tell this story often, I only ever tell it when the mood strikes me, and even then only to people that I trust. I think my hankering to tell you tonight is perhaps inspired by my beloved pink moon, which lights my way yet. And during my drive last night and the night before around these long slow curves under this big big California night sky lit by that perfect pink moon, all the details of this remarkable event in my life came flooding back to me, like I was driving through a dream …
It was a few years ago, here, at home, in California that it happened. Under the pink moon, as a matter of fact. The first full moon of spring, the season of planting, the moon of new beginnings, of rebirth. I was back in the barn after a very late and very wild night of cruising and parties, rehashing the adventures of the evening with Pearl, the shiniest black Caddy you have ever seen, and an old and dear friend. My sister, if you will. We had stayed out too late, laughed too loud, drank too much, smoked too many cigarettes, and generally raised hell out and about in these California hills. We were only barely aware, if at all, of the fact that as we plowed ahead with a lust for life that would rival the passion of Johnny for June, we left behind us a rather large wake, the nasty emissions and gas guzzling the least of it really, when you consider the broken hearts. I mean, look at us, the broken hearts were inevitable. We laughed about how there were several times when we almost went off the road on the way home, but in retrospect I really don’t know how we did stay on the road. We were, to put it mildly, too far gone. I don’t know how we made it home.
Anyway. Pearl finally lowered her headlights, and with one last delightful secret shared, closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. I looked at her, still smiling about the secret she had told me (we tell each other everything), and felt how much I loved her. My engine was off, but I felt it stir in gratitude for my life. My fun and friendship with Pearl. My deep bond with Neil. My life on this beautiful ranch in California. I’ve had a good life, I thought. I am lucky. I am lucky to even be here at all, given my penchant for the high life. God knows I love the good times. The parties! The glamour! I laughed out loud. How did I make it through? I didn’t know. But here I was. I was deeply satisfied and ready to settle in for the night in the barn, feeling almost proud of myself for my rare moment of introspection, and started to pull up next to Pearl, who was by now purring softly in her deep sleep like a large black cat. But as I started to lower my own headlights, something caught my eye outside the barn door. It was the pink moon. Lighting up the barn, the dirt road, the hills all around me. Ah. I couldn’t resist taking one last ride around, and slipped quietly back out into the night for one more turn around those long slow curves.
I didn’t get far. As soon as I was out of sight of the barn, I stopped dead in my tracks. There under a giant redwood tree was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, a beautiful woman wearing something pretty and white. But she wasn’t a woman at all. She was so pale she was almost transparent. What the hell? Was she some kind of hologram? I drew nearer. Was Neil filming a movie or something? I looked around for Bernard Shakey, my oil already starting to boil over the fact that he might be making a movie without me. But Shakey was nowhere to be found. There was only this, this hologram, this apparition, this vision. And me. And the moon. And the silence. I stared at her. She stared back at me, for what seemed like forever. Finally, I had to get closer. I was drawn to her. I approached, slowly, but without hesitation. As I drew near, she smiled, and called me by name.
“LV,” she said, in a voice that had the intimacy of a lover, a mother, a sister, a lifelong friend.
“How do you know me?” I asked, more curious about that than who she was even, because let’s face it, once a diva always a diva. Even in the face of an apparition, it’s all about me.
“We have been watching you for many moons,” she replied simply, and as she did so, an Indian stepped out from behind the tree, carrying something wrapped in an ancient looking Indian blanket of many colors carefully in his arms. I couldn’t make out what it was that he was carrying, but I could make out the shiny black braids that framed his weathered but ageless face, the two astonishing long, long necklaces that hung around his neck, one of turquoise and silver, and one a simple black suede cord with a small silver heart, and his magnificent headdress of only worn brown leather and feathers, the most beautiful pure white feathers I had ever seen. Without my asking, the shimmering white light that was also somehow a woman said, her voice almost a song, ”I am the Lady of the White Buffalo, also known as The White Buffalo Calf Woman. And this,” she said, pointing to her companion, “is John Lame Deer.” The Indian nodded to me, his wise face wearing what seemed a kind of permanent bemused expression, as if he held not an object but a secret there in his arms. I slowly flashed my headlights in answer.
“We have been waiting for you for such a long time now,” the Indian said, his voice sounding as much a part of the earth as the dirt road that crushed and moved beneath my tires on my drives around the ranch. It was as if that familiar pop and crunch that I loved so well had always been talking to me in some kind of code, and now had suddenly become unscrambled into the words of this wise Indian, just like that.
In the presence of these two supreme beings, whom I would describe as otherworldly or unearthly in their sheer magnificence but for the fact that they were more of this earth than any being I have ever encountered, I was suddenly and acutely aware of the exhaust coming from my tailpipe, the noise from my idling engine, the glare of my headlights. My face flushed and I dimmed my lights, then shut myself off completely. I raised my darkened headlights into the silence now, and looked at my companions expectantly. I saw both of them smile at me as I heard their voices say “Good,” in perfect harmony not only with each other but with the earth, though I know their mouths did not move, they never said a word. It was as if I was feeling their thoughts. As if, in their presence, I too was no longer on the earth, but of it.
The Lady of The White Buffalo and John Lame Deer drew close to me then, and sat on the ground. John Lame Deer laid his mysterious bundle between us. I thought I saw it move, but everything was so strange now, I couldn’t be sure. The Pink Moon shown on us like a light show, its beams forming changing patterns on the ground beneath us, filtered expertly by the boughs of the giant redwood that now sheltered us all. As we sat together under the pink moon in one of the most comfortable silences I have ever known, I didn’t even wonder what was happening. I knew, somehow, that I was where I was supposed to be, and that I was with whom I belonged at that moment. I wondered, though, about Neil. My best friend in the world. Where was Neil? It seemed like he should be there, to hear whatever it was these two were about to say. John Lame Deer suddenly smiled and said, as if reading my mind,
“Do not worry, LV. Your friend sees us here tonight, under the shade of this redwood, in the light of this pink moon. He dreams of us even now. Come morning you will tell him of our time together, but he will already know.” That made me feel slightly better, but I still wished Neil was sitting in my driver’s seat. I was comforted, though, by the fact that N. was one of those kinds of friends who always believed you, no matter how far fetched your story. Finally, Lady of The White Buffalo and John Lame Deer began to talk, to tell their story. John Lame Deer began:
“Do you know, LV, that until 1860, there were more buffalo in America than people?” I didn’t think he really wanted an answer, so I stayed quiet. I love to talk, but I can also be a really good listener. He went on, ”History and progress conspired against the buffalo, sacred to my people, the Indians of the Plains. Yes, we killed them, but for our own survival, and sparingly. We did not ever think of ourselves as bigger or smarter than the buffalo. We did not regard the buffalo as being in the least subject to our will. We knew that the buffalo were a gift from the Great Spirit.” I nodded slowly. I thought I saw a tear in the Lady’s eye, but I couldn’t be sure. When I looked again it was gone. John Lame Deer continued, ”A gift establishes a special relationship between the recipient and the giver, LV, if it is given and received in grace. We felt that we had a special relationship with the Great Spirit, because of the buffalo.” I nodded again, and he continued, pleased that I seemed to be absorbing what he was telling me. I could tell it was important to him, what he was saying, by the way he talked, and by the intensity of his gaze. “The buffalo is noble and brave. Unlike some other animals in the wild, the buffalo never use deception to protect their young, but confront their enemies, adversaries and obstacles head on, fighting without regard for their own safety,” he said, gravely.
Where was this going I began to wonder. Although I was fascinated. I could listen to this guy talk all night, I thought to myself, he just had that way about him. And I had seen buffalo wandering these nearby hills and it always made me turn on my lights, slow way down. They had a majesty about them. The Indian forged ahead. “The buffalo, LV, heads into the storm. Into the storm. This is highly unusual for an animal.” He paused here, significantly I thought. He really wanted me to understand what he just said, or maybe what was coming next.
“The buffalo is an ecological miracle, LV. Unlike cattle, who wear grooves in the soil, killing the grasses, the buffalo who used to roam freely all over this great land grazed in tight, wandering herds, eating the grass down to the soil, then moving on, giving grassland as much as two years rest before they came around again. In the spring they rolled around, shedding grass seeds caught in their coats since the previous fall. They replanted the soil, LV! Replanted the soil. They gave back, fertilizing the prairie with their nitrogen rich urine and, eventually, their decomposing bodies.” I glanced casually at Lady to see if she might have a tear or two at the mention of the dying buffalo, but she only smiled. I felt foolish, and turned my attention back to the Indian. He continued on about the ecological importance of the buffalo. “It was a good one hundred and thirty years or so after massive slaughtering of all the buffalo herds in this country before scientists and preservationists committed to the dream of restoring the American prairies realized the buffalo’s ecological importance to the grasslands,” he said. “Sometimes, our impact on this earth, for good or ill, is not understood until the passage of great time, LV.”
I thought I maybe knew what he was getting at. But why me? Why me.
“You are the chosen one, LV,” the Lady of The White Buffalo said softly, slowly, her voice still sounding like a song to me. I got the feeling she was trying hard not to frighten me. Which of course only succeeded in scaring me half to death. ”You are the beginning and the end, the past and the future. My friend, you are … ” At this the Indian cut her off gently.
“Not yet, my Lady, not yet.” She seemed unaffected by his gentle reprimand, though I thought her light faded ever so slightly. The Indian went on,
“In the 1880’s, LV, my people, the Indians of the Plains, had lost a way of life that had lasted for thousands for years. Gone forever, the only world they had ever known. One night, back then, I had a vision. (I thought: He was alive in 1880?! This was when I knew John Lame Deer was a ghost, though he was as real as you, or me.) A vision for a return to the life we once knew. The life we knew and loved. The earth we knew and loved. And the way of my vision was The Ghost Dance.”
The Ghost Dance? I was intrigued.
“The Ghost Dance was a ritualistic dance that we would perform for days on end,” John Lame Deer expained. “It was performed almost completely in silence. Like a ghost. The Ghost Dance held great power in its silence,” the Indian said softly. “You could lose your self in it,” he added looking sidelong at The Lady and smiling ever so slightly. I glanced at her then and thought I saw her blush, but of course that could not be possible because she wasn’t even made of flesh. Maybe it was just the light of the pink moon. The Indian went on. “My vision showed me that through the power of The Ghost Dance, the earth would roll up like a carpet with all the white man’s destructive ways, all the white man’s fences. And underneath this rolled up white man’s world we could find again the flowering prairie, unspoiled, with its herds of buffalo and antelope, its clouds of birds, belonging to anyone, enjoyed by all.” John Lame Deer paused to make sure I was listening. Understanding. I nodded eagerly. I wanted him to keep talking. Everything about him had me mesmerized. Slowly his face darkened. “But the white man became frightened of The Ghost Dance. They did not understand it. They banned The Ghost Dance among my people. When we refused to stop our dance, the white man became more frightened, and began to speak only with guns. There was a massacre at Wounded Knee Creek. When more than 200 of our brothers and sisters died, we could no longer feel the dance in our feet. We lost hope. The Ghost Dance died that day along with our brothers.”
The Indian stopped talking and slowly stood up. He was tall, lean, strong. Beautiful. He began to move slowly around me, bending at the waist, first forward, and then back. His motion was so fluid, so silent, it seemed as if he were floating. Around and around he went, and then he began to chant softly. I couldn’t make out the words, it was barely audible, like a whispered prayer, but I heard “ghost” and “white” and “buffalo” again and again. The Lady joined the Indian then, making a circle around me in the opposite direction. Her movements were different. She was slowly spinning round and round, her pale long arms reaching up above her head as if she were holding hands with heaven, as she made her way around and around me again and again, gently touching hands with the Indian as they crossed paths. Their dance was hypnotic, beautiful, mesmerizing. I felt like I was part of it. And I was hoping that they would never stop. But they did stop, and when they did, it was the Lady who picked up the story now.
“When the Plains Indians no longer had The Ghost Dance, LV, they began to lose hope for a return to a better world. And this is a very bad thing. A people must never lose hope.” I nodded. She went on. “This is when I came to do my work among John Lame Deer’s people. This is when we became great friends.” They smiled at each other and touched hands, breaking my heart somehow. “Where John Lame Deer’s vision of The Ghost Dance left off, mine began. I taught the Indians sacred ceremonies, rituals of hope. And I bestowed upon them a sacred legend, The Legend of The White Buffalo.” Here The Lady paused, and lowered her head. She leaned forward and gently kissed the mysterious bundle lying there on the earth between us.
“Buffalo are the ghosts of American history, LV. Being with a buffalo is like touching the past,” she said. I nodded. “Kind of like how for many people being with you is like touching the past.” I smiled and laughed.
“Yes, I suppose so,” I answered. She smiled and went on.
“The Legend of The White Buffalo says that I will one day return in a time of need, and my arrival will be heralded by the birth of a white buffalo calf.” She looked at me pointedly. “White,” she repeated. She went on. “About 10 years ago, very near the site of the massacre at Wounded Knee 106 years before, the massacre that also murdered The Ghost Dance, a rare white buffalo calf was born. Do you know what they named that white buffalo calf, LV?” Of course not, I thought. I shook my head no.
I was startled. White. Wheel. My mind was starting to race now. The Lady and the Indian smiled at each other then, and The Lady continued her story. “Medicine Wheel was born to a buffalo owned by Joe Merrival of the Lakota Indians on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, in the single poorest county in America.”
John Lame Deer chimed in. “Our friend, a Lakota Indian named Floyd Hand Looks For Buffalo, said at the time that seeing that white buffalo calf born to them was like seeing Jesus himself lying in the manger.”
“But the world was not ready yet for Medicine Wheel, LV,” the Lady said softly. “Medicine Wheel was only a foreshadowing, a sign.”
“What happened to Medicine Wheel?” I asked.
The Lady and the Indian hung their heads. “He was killed of course,” the Indian said so softly I could barely hear him.
I closed my eyes. My mind was moving so fast. I could usually stay at least one step ahead of anyone I was talking to but now I felt like I could barely keep up. When I opened my eyes, The Lady of the White Buffalo and John Lame Deer were standing next to me, at the driver’s side door, the mysterious bundle in the arms of The Lady now. The Lady smiled and said,
“Do not be afraid LV,” as John Lame Deer opened the door. (Why did she keep saying that?!) In one fluid graceful motion, The Lady of The White Buffalo leaned into me, and laid her bundle on my seat, on the passenger side, but near the middle, close to the driver. John Lame Deer walked around me and opened the passenger door. Together they lifted the beautiful old blanket, revealing the mysterious bundle at last. Of course I knew what it was. Do I have to come right out and say it?
There lay a newborn white buffalo calf, the likes of which I have never seen and will probably never see again. Like The Lady, he was so pale he was almost transparent. Translucent. He was beautiful. Perfect. Awakened by the new environment, he lifted his head, let out what sounded like a “bleeeet” and laid his head back down and promptly closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
I turned my attention back to my two friends. Much to my surprise, John Lame Deer and The Lady of The White Buffalo had shut my doors, and were moving away from me now, heading to the front of the car. “Wait!” I cried. “Where are you going? I don’t know what this all means! You have to tell me more, tell me more. I don’t know what to do!”
They paused at the front of my hood, and put their hands on me. I felt their power surging through me. It was electric. The Lady of The White Buffalo looked at John Lame Deer and he smiled, nodded, and said simply, “Yes, now, Lady, it is time.” The Lady looked at me with great love and said,
“LV. You are the one. You are The Ghost Dance, now. You are the White Buffalo Calf. For you have the unique ability to honor the past while you move into the future. And we must hold hands with the past if we are to ever truly embrace the future with new energy, and not repeat the mistakes that came before.”
“What?!” I thought. I pleaded with them then. “But what about this baby white buffalo? You can’t just leave him here!” I cried, not at all sure what was happening but knowing I wanted them to stay with me. The Lady just smiled and said,
“That is Medicine Wheel LV. Medicine Wheel will always be with you now. Medicine Wheel will show you the way.” She was already disappearing. I could barely make out her form now.
“No!” I cried. “Don’t go! Please. Don’t go!”
But she was already gone. John Lame Deer stood there for a long moment with his hands on my hood, and then suddenly he put his hands over my hood ornament. To my amazement, another just like it materialized in his hands. He smiled, and attached it deftly to the long black suede cord that hung around his neck, the one with the small silver heart. He held the necklace up to the moon, and then put it to his lips, kissing it, and said then, “Good luck, White Buffalo. Do not be afraid. We ride with you.” I knew he was talking to me. He turned then and walked to the giant redwood and disappeared behind it. I quickly started my engine and pulled forward, but he was gone. They were both gone.
I stayed there under that tree for a long while, watching the baby white buffalo calf there sleeping peacefully on my front seat. I wondered if I had been dreaming, but no, there was this calf. Slowly, so as to not disturb the baby buffalo (unbelievable!), I drove back to the barn, through the fog that had settled in. I closed my eyes and waited for morning. For Neil.
When I woke up, Neil was there, looking me all over. I was very glad to see him. I couldn’t tell if he knew what had gone down, or not, but he was wearing a Buffalo Springfield t-shirt. I doubted that was a coincidence. Buffalo! I quickly looked around for the baby buffalo. The old Indian blanket of many colors was there on the seat, but the baby buffalo was nowhere to be found. “He’s gone!” I cried, desperate. Neil stuck his head in the driver’s side window then and said,
“What’s the matter, LV, what’s got you all riled up this morning?” But I could tell by the way that his eyes were dancing that he was up to something. I told him my story, down to every last detail. He listened to every word. But he said nothing. Finally I said,
“I’m scared, Neil.” He said, simply,
“Don’t be,” and slid into the driver’s seat. As we backed out of the barn, I said,
“What about Medicine Wheel? I’m worried about him! Where is he?”
Neil simply patted my steering wheel as if to say “Don’t worry, I’ve got it all under control,” as he does sometimes. We drove and drove. I knew where we were going. Finally we stopped right in the exact spot I had been the night before.
“Here,” he said, his voice a question and an answer all at the same time.
“Yes.” I said.
“Amazing,” he said.
“Truly,” I said.
Sometimes we talked like this for days, me and N., it was like we communicated on a whole other plane or something. We sat there together for a while, in the fog, the birds were barely singing, it was early yet.
We saw it at the same time. Neil hopped out and went to it. He picked it up, brought it back to show me. It was the most beautiful pure white feather. “From John Lame Deer’s headdress!” I said excitedly. We looked at it there together for some time. Then Neil tucked it up behind the driver’s side sun visor, where it remains, to this day, and started the engine. I said, as we started to move, “Neil?”
“Mmm?” he said.
“Do you know what to do?”
“You were the one with the visitors,” he said, smirking slightly, the way he does. I laughed. I knew he was teasing me. I knew, too, that he knew what to do. He always does. I noticed we were driving toward the gate. Going off campus.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Kansas,” he said, simply.
“What should I do?” I asked, finally.
“You’re a buffalo, aren’tcha LV?” he answered, his eyes dancing. “Put your head down, face into the storm, and go.”
And with that, we drove on in silence, traversing those long slow curves together, and I knew I was leaving one world and entering another. And as we bumped along that dirt road, just before we reached the gate and headed east, I caught the look in N.’s eyes in my rearview mirror, and I knew that in the crush and pop of the dirt under my wheels we both heard the Indian’s voice again, showing us the way.