Spring After A Very Hard Winter
~ Maureen Brucker

As a former heavy smoker who quit 41 years

ago in June, I rarely pester people about their

tobacco habits. Unless you are bringing your

second hand smoke into my breathing space,

I generally say little or anything. The closest I

come might be to comment on the misuse of a sacred herb.

That said, I have the following message. For those still smoking tobacco recreationally, please take the time to seriously consider what you are doing not only to yourself but to those around you.

This winter our very small branch of the Afraid of Bear – American Horse Sun Dance tiospeye lost two vibrant elders well before their time. One died of COPD which she had suffered with for a number of years. The other went to the doctor this fall to finally get some answers about various aches and pains since he recently was able to get some health insurance with his newly designated disability. The answer he received in mid October, rocked our small group to the core – stage 4 lung cancer.

Both were pipe carriers. Neither near old enough to draw a retirement check. Both also were recreational users of tobacco as well. All tolded, there are less than a dozen families clinging to our small branch of the tiospeye. While there are many children among us, there are now only three pipe carriers left, one of whom lives 130 miles south in Colorado Springs. We are grieving.

Juele was a vibrant singer who knew all the sacred songs and was gifted with a gorgeous voice to deliver them. Over the earlier part of her life she had actually been a professional singer who had studied music and voice at the local college.

Later in life, when I first met her, she lived in the hills above Loveland, Colorado, on about 40 acres of land with a sweat lodge in the valley and a labyrinth made of crystal infused rocks on the hill above. The house was strictly off the grid with both wood and propane heating. It was solar powered with a bank of panels on the roof.

A massage therapist and a very insightful herbalist, she was known to collect and dry medicinals from all over the northern Colorado front range. In the late summer, she could be found picking choke cherries that would be later made into sacred food for our annual June dance.

Juele was the type of extraordinary friend who, while terrified of city driving was willing to face her fears and drive me to Denver for several doctor's appointments. She was white knuckles all the way but she trusted my directions and knew I needed the transit. She was a quietly selfless woman in that way. When I was behind the wheel, she was a really good road companion.

Thus, it was with sadness, during the dark of the moon, on January 7th in the morning, that Juele took her journey.

About fifty miles up I-25 stands a set of rock outcroppings known locally as the Blackfoot Fort. Local lore has it that during starving times in the early 1800's, a large hunting party of about 60 Blackfoot warriors ventured south through hostile Crow territory in search of game. They were trapped in the rocks by a larger band of Crow. No Blackfoot survived. Today, the fort is split by Interstate 25 with only the eastern side accessible. The rocks have become a refuge of sorts for illicit drug use and commerce. About 6-8 years ago, I organized, with Chris's help, a number of clean-up weekends to the site. We loaded not only beer cans but dirty needles, broken glass, and other trash into his pickup. Then we had ceremony and a meal of thanksgiving for the sacrifices of the warriors who died there. Chris then disposed of the trash appropriately through the local detox center.

Chris's wife used to be head cook at that local detox center. While those professing to be Christian had the option to be transported to any one of several church services, traditional natives did not have any such supportive option. Thus, the Sunday night pipe ceremony was born. Chris, as a long time sober recovering alcoholic himself, was the ideal leader. The program was well received with Chris spending quite a bit of time working with this underserved population. The program eventually ended when Chris's wife quit working at the location.

For as long as I have known them, the Salazars have had a garden. Shortly after the year the family went to sun dance with me and Chris worked as fire keeper, he began to grow sage in that garden. As the sage grew and became plentiful, he started making sage sticks for sun dance. The object was that our friends could take home prayerfully gathered sage made into sticks to burn throughout the year rather than tearing up what little sage was in the area. It was a more than generous thought taking up quite a lot of time as I typically brought up at least one and sometimes two black garbage bags full along with everything else in my little rav4. While his family could not afford to attend, this wonderful giveaway permitted Chris to join us in spirit.

In the calm of weather, before a spring snow storm, as the last quarter of the moon was upon us, on the morning of March 27th, surrounded by family, Chris Salazar took the journey.

Such community caring, from Juele and Chris, will be missed.

As you begin your journey to quit cigarettes, place the money allocated for your habit in a jar or envelope. Monthly take that money and post it to the EREZ fund at www.whispernthunder.org. Then ask employer to match your contribution. Help the elders as you help yourself. You will never regret your efforts on either front.