It wasn't easy to accept. As thousands of people partied, willing to wade into Wyoming traffic jams that went well into the hours, my full-on solar eclipse took an unexpected turn. Not that there wasn't excitement, wonder and heart-stopping awe. Daughter Hope flew up from New Mexico. We spread our blanket and placed our chairs on a ridge that faced the powerful monolith, Mato Tipila, known in the common lexicon as Devils Tower. (Mato Tipila is Lakota for Bear Lodge, the name given the rock formation by the Indians who lived at its base for ten thousand years. How it changed to Devils Tower is a question I answered dozens of times a day in my summer stint as a park ranger.)
I should have known I was in for an extraordinary experience. I had queried several Natives about the upcoming eclipse and received similar responses. Cheyenne, Lakota, Kiowa ... all spoke of great tension building with earth's new birth, heralded by the eclipse. And as we know, birth can be a perilous time. Natives hung prayer bundles at her base every day. They repeatedly mentioned that Mato Tipila was a portal to other dimensions. Spielburg wasn't too far afield when he chose this location for Close Encounters of a Third Kind. Her power was palpable.
We chose a knoll where we would be alone and positioned ourselves an hour before the eclipse, predicted to be at 98%. Climbers were already on Mato Tipila's top, having crack-climbed the 867-foot vertical face in the average four to six hours. We put on our glasses as the light began to dim. Nature was quick to respond. The drone of cicadas was replaced by the nighttime song of crickets. Two Peregrines sailed from the cliffs and landed in a nearby ponderosa pine. Nuthatches' incessant calls ceased. The warm wind that enveloped us turned cooled. So far so good. Exciting and fascinating as darkness swelled. Then ...
And just like that, light returned and birds began to sing. Ala Disney; the Peregrine Falcons lifted off.
Hope and I hugged but stayed silent. Something monumental had happened at the base of the nation's first national monument. A warning given as the earth birthed anew. This, as I birthed Wild Road Home. This, as the Comanche man requested I hang his prayer bundles. This, as a native woman spoke of "special energy" and placed a white beaded pouch with sage in my hand.
Soon the hurricanes hit. Forest fires burned Montana alive. Nuclear war was threatened against North Korea.
The soul-crushing news does not stop but hope must prevail. The earth is on life support; in the midst of the next mass extinction. If one is to trust the unfolding I point to the miracle genesis of a people who changed course on the threshold of nuclear winter, real or metaphor.
I didn't name my daughter Hope for naught.
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