An Ojibwe immigrant to Ohio says, “Love the land you’re with!”

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Exurban Sweatlodge

An Ojibwe immigrant to Ohio says, "Love the land you're with!"

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I have just completed my own personal-use sweat lodge in my suburban back yard. I can already hear the clucks of amusement and envision the rolled eyes of my Indian relatives and friends.

Since my neighborhood doesn’t allow open fires, I bought a “patio fireplace” from Lowe’s for heating the sweat lodge stones.  It came complete with a tasteful cover for when the fireplace is not in use. In keeping with the spirit of tastefulness, I put a final layer of cotton canvas (taupe) over the traditional mish-mash of blankets covering the lodge frame. The result is sort of “reservation meets Martha Stewart.”

Here on the edge of an urban county, very near the Appalachian Highway, we flirt with many things rural.  This location and the habits of my most immediate neighbors in this high-density sub-division emboldened me to construct my lodge. In the interest of community harmony, I shall call them Neighbor X.

They often conduct complex at-home repairs of their numerous vehicles, including the great rusted husk of a station wagon that is more storage unit than transportation. I still recall the day I first heard them fire up the behemoth. It was a quiet Sunday morning. A great “Wack-a, Wack-a, Wack-a” issued from the beast, slowly declining in volume as it headed off to God knows where.  About an hour later, I heard a distant grinding noise that eventually distinguished itself — “Wack-a, Wack-a, Wack-a” — as the car drew nearer. Loud bursts of complaint continued to issue from the machine long after the engine was turned off.

Some other folks on the block cringe at the sight of Neighbor X’s grease stained jean legs sticking out from under one of many cars. Their suburban sensibilities are offended by such antics. Neighbor X has been known to tear down giant commercial dishwashers for scrap metal in our side yard. They also carry on all family disputes in a lusty, public manner, screeching their tires in a (probably) satisfying display as they leave an argument. Having lived among all manner of folks, we wisely keep our distance and the peace. I listen noncommittally when some of the other neighbors complain about them but I secretly relish their displays and the human mess they add to a community in danger of taking itself too seriously. I like to say that Neighbor X keeps me connected to my reservation roots.

A tree grows in White Castle.


Why, you may wonder, (I know I certainly have) have I waited so long to put up a lodge? Although the sweat lodge is not in our tradition, we Ojibwe also use the lodge for prayer and therapeutic health reasons.  Until now, my sweat lodge experiences have all been on Indian land, far from here —  land, I might add, that is liberally decorated with working and non-working Indian cars. For me, the lodge experience is a leap of faith, a trust and giving over of my connection to this earth my home. 

My family has lived here just over 10 years, and up until now I have avoided calling this place home.  I think my reluctance has stemmed from the seeming lack of spirit in this land.  Covered by endless strip malls, it feels so abused and forgotten, its heart gouged and forced into man’s foolish vision of comfort.  I pass by these sights daily, pointedly ignoring their seeming ugliness as I go about the business of life. I have come to realize that this is a dangerous mistake, both for my spirit and the lands. I have begun to feel that this land needs to be loved and cherished.  The rangy empty lot with its ghost of a White Castle drive thru menu has a kind of heart, a heart worth honoring, if only because no one else will.  The earth here is alive, especially noticeable in the spring when no amount of concrete can keep the new plants from growing. Complete with suburban Indian cars, this place is now home (although my Indian friends say a car can only truly be called an Indian car when it is used to house visiting relatives.)

And so I have decided to own this place, to love this land here as it is.  Way beyond my comfort zone, I will embrace the quirkiness of this place so unlike my homeland in Wisconsin with its huge tracts of forest. I will crawl in to my lodge and thank the Creator for this place and my ability to finally see its beauty.

 

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