Salvation: the practice of healing


Ode to the bog in winter

i see you as you are
dry golden stalks
broken, tattered
blowing wildly in the icy wind
the water at your base still flows
but it is frozen in patches
dark and foreboding
the footprints of creatures crisscross the snowy path
crows and owls hover in desolate trees
the only evidence that life is active on the bog now
darkness descends and for the time being
you are laid open with nothing covering you
in the frigid grip of winter

i see you as you have been
you were — not that long ago — green, pliant and alive with activity
birds singing around you and settling on your branches
calla lilies, cinnamon ferns, marsh marigolds bursting with color
while your spring-fed waters meandered toward the mighty Mississippi.
along the edges, in the woods, trillium unfurled as anemones fluttered into bloom
on the marsh, turtleheads took their sweet time to show off those funky white blossoms
and duckweed provided food for shy turtles, paddling waterfowl and other visitors
on hot, sunny days, snakes basked lazily on the wooden boardwalk
kids and dogs toggled between curious and scared, despite their being harmless and shy
by the time that dragonflies ushered in the late summer
you felt as full to bursting as a new mother’s breasts,
mushrooms populated the forest at the edge of your marsh
jewelweed blossomed in bright eye-popping shades of yellow and orange
leaves turned golden — even those on the tamarack trees — and fell to earth
the season turned

i see you as you will be
in March, when the pussywillows bravely reveal their plush, silvery buds
in April when tender fiddleheads arise from the crispy, matted undergrowth of dead cattails
in May, when red-winged blackbirds and migrating songbirds declare their arrival
and cheerful yellow marigolds make a bold statement that the flowers are back too
in June, when warmth returns enough for the snakes to take their places out in the open
and native plants — like mad-dog skullcap — offer their healing powers

who bears you up through the dark times?
what gives you the strength to withstand this harsh moment?
do the roots of each plant grow stronger by connecting to one another?
what happens beneath the surface that provides you with energy and direction?

even without these answers
seeing how you withstand winter’s threatening hand
and knowing that you will once again — as always — surge boldly to life
it is enough to believe that renewal is part of our universal nature
that hope is real
and that a larger force of Goodness is at work
— Dana Boyle


 Afternoon at the Mound
By M J LaVigne

There’s Indian mound near the freeway exit, a conical earthen structure, three stories tall and centuries old. It stands on the high ground between the Mississippi and the Saint Croix Rivers. At its foot there’s a natural fountain, a spring that even flows in cold weather.

It’s the last day of the year, my birthday. I tie a skirt over my snow pants, pat the tobacco pouch to make sure it’s around my neck, slip cleats on my Uggs, take off my glasses, put them in my ski coat, get the dog out of the car, and crunch off toward the mound over the ice-rutted parking lot.

When I was here earlier this week I could see a hole like a raw grave half-way up the side of the mound. I do not walk on mounds, so I dared not get too close. But I have come back today with the things I need to offer a proper prayer.

When you are in ceremony you take off your glasses so that the spirits are not repelled by reflections from your lens. The tobacco is an offering, the skirt a gesture of respect. This place is passed by thousands every week, but protected by that obliviousness which tends to descend on auto-encased humans.

This is Dakota homeland, in particular the Mdewakaŋtoŋwaŋ the Spirit Lake People. At the center of Minnesota’s state flag, an Indian horseman rides off to the west. This is our foundational fiction. The Dakota have not gone. Nor have we leveled all of their landmarks, or yet felled every ancient oak. They stand in our midst, protected by our not noticing.

The dog and I stop at the springhead. Without my glasses the tor looms larger in the muted midwinter light. I strike a match to sweet grass and smug my head, my hands, my feet, and the dog. I put some tobacco in the open water, which burbles from the breast of the earth, as it surely came forth when this mound was built. Pidamaya ye. I say thank you. I call the land aloud by its rightful name “Mdewakaŋtoŋ makoce,” Spirit Lake homeland.

Now I walk toward the mound. The hole yawns darker against the dusting of snow.  The dog does not follow, but waits at the foot of the hill. I do not go up all the way. I do not look down in to the hole. That seems too bald an act, or perhaps I not brave enough to see what’s there.

Doubtless, those who dug in to this mound told them selves they were salvaging. I can understand the desire to dig. I want to know what lies below too. I want to salvage. But it does not need my salvation. The land has protections I don’t understand.  I am here mostly for the diggers, for those of us who trifle with places old and holy. We do need prayer.

I string the prayer bundles along two dried and sturdy weeds a little ways below the wounded hole and say aloud, “I’m sorry.” I say it in English because I do not know how to apologizes in Dakota.