Though physical travel is limited these days, many of us are traveling far and wide, emotionally. In today’s installment of That Thing With Feathers: Hope and Literature in a Time of Pandemic, Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk writes from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation, sharing her journey to the tree house, to the river, toward healing.
The Treehouse That Caught Me
by Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk
I open my eyes, my surroundings look like home but feel unfamiliar. I start my day as always with coffee and loving conversations. Feels normal, but for the life of me something is just not right, but what? We step out of the house and the world spins and the surroundings look the same, but I just can’t put my finger on it. Reality? Curfew is soon approaching at 7:00 pm. My loving partner sips on that magic drink that is known for transforming people into those we don’t know. The irritation of feeling like our freedom and leisure is gone. Is it a right or entitlement? Either way the loving tone disappears. Conversation shifts to situations closer to our own families, now the world becomes dark. He has fangs and a sharp tongue. A monster has appeared.
The situation has fully blown up and words are spewed, leaving me feeling like a floodgate has been opened and I can’t close it no matter what I attempt. I close my eyes trying to hold back the tears and suppress the pain. I am asking myself, how did we get to this place? The pressure and stress darts at me within subjects, the curfew, mask-wearing, handwashing, and disconnection to the moment. Several weeks prior, the world started closing down, and now my relationship seems to be sinking like the Titanic.
Republicans blaming the Democrats. The local school district decided to go to online delivery of education for the remainder of the year. Restaurants, my favorite coffee shop closed, and shorter business hours at the local grocery stores. Limits on quantities one can purchase of meat, toilet paper, and now cleaning products? Yesterday we received news that my children’s father passed away, in Montana. Today the news is the uncle of my eldest daughter has passed. Who will be making the arrangements, who will be allowed to attend and how many people can attend and support families? In two days, my graduate school course is having the final class session online. I am smiling trying to navigate the situations. I should be the one transforming to beast mode, but I am dealing with all that is around me. If there was a magical being who could help me in this moment, I am clicking my heels, clapping for fairies, and praying with every ounce of my inner spirit.
“...I am on foot and clapping like a maniac and clicking my heels like a championship clogger at a hoedown.”
Unfortunately, the beast has the upper hand, and now I am on foot and clapping like a maniac and clicking my heels like a championship clogger at a hoedown. I make my way to a door where three little ladies catch my fall. Darcy offers me her bed allowing me to get some rest, the other brings me something to eat, and the youngest presents me with water to drink. When morning comes, I must determine, do I continue to retreat or safely assume the beast has transformed back to himself? No! The magic drink that is packed full of spirits still has a hold on him.
COVID-19 pandemic has affected our days and nights. Days, weeks, months, and seasons blurring together. That familiar feeling of traveling through time has been upended in this strange new norm. They told me that when other epidemics affected our communities, the people just kept moving about their duties. This illness has wreaked havoc on the world unlike just a tribe, community, county, or state. Our tribal leaders have closed access into our communities, the essential workers still busy within. Travel into the nearby town is strongly discouraged except for essential shopping trips. It has now been determined that our celebration for the spring season is officially canceled. No bear dance this year.
“I yearn to breathe a normal breath. Feeling suffocated and fatigued, I just want to dance!”
Restrictions, death, bear dance called off, curfew, face coverings, and the stay home order. I yearn to breathe a normal breath. Feeling suffocated and fatigued, I just want to dance! Could this be the same sentiments the beast is feeling? I throw my hands in the air and start making phone calls. I hear a voice at the other end of the line, calm and offering a solution. Turns out a beautiful option presented itself. Two super women will be arriving soon.
It was a beautiful day for a ride. I’m welcomed with open arms to what almost appeared to be a tree house, perched high above the road. Emotionally and physically exhausted, I settled in. Turned on the cute party lights, fixed a cup of hot tea, but just couldn’t sense any sort of peace within. Falling into a slumber only because I was so exhausted.
“A momma deer with her fawn roam in a nearby pasture, a little fox strolls by in the same manner the neighbors drive by in their vehicles. How special was that to witness?”
Morning arrived and it looks like a normal day, maybe. I am waking slowly and feeling not so normal. Where am I? In a tree house? There is a memory that is coming over me but from where? I hear the songs in the distance, some sort of drum beating and vaguely some rattles. Are those female voices I hear along with humming of the guys? The volume of the song gets louder and closer. Strangely as the song gets closer, I am slipping away. Where am I going? A momma deer with her fawn roam in a nearby pasture, a little fox strolls by in the same manner the neighbors drive by in their vehicles. How special was that to witness?
I walk to the nearby river with a gentle heart. I am reminded of the value of water to my people, the Utes. The soothing sound of water, its cool temperature and strong spirit all clearly present. Prior to arriving at the tree house, I felt as though I was one person with my spirit split in two different places. I strongly desired to be reunited, rejuvenated and whole. Experiencing that a part of me was lost, I found her crying by the river. I reached to touch the water and reaching close to her, we united with the tears. We walked away from the river as one and now I sing. My star-filled night in the tree house exposed the song, revealed the path to the water, where my ancestors filled their season in this valley. My healing journey to the tree house hugged me tight and now it will release me to return to my home at the foothills of the mountain to the southwest.
The deer, fox, stars, mountains, water, and my ancestors have reassured me we will come through this moment as though it was a dream. To heal is a song and drumbeat away, we just need to believe and have faith in the higher power. We are merely beings of this moment with its pandemic, pain, and hope and only the higher power knows what is next. No worries, I give it up to our Creator who will handle in his time. Be patient, kind and gentle to each other.
Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk was born and raised in southwestern Colorado. She is a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of Towaoc. A contributor to Red Rock Stories from Torrey House Press, she has spent ten years in the information technology field, working for Chief Dull Knife College and the Southern Ute Indian and Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribes. In October of 2013, she was elected to serve as a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal leadership. She is a former co-chair for the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and education director for the Ute Indian Museum in Montrose. Currently, she is seeking a Master’s of Environmental Management with Western Colorado University.
This project has received funding from Utah Humanities (UH). UH empowers Utahns to improve their communities through active engagement in the humanities.
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