Friday, September 23, 2011

Katahdin 100 recap, last installment

After Abol Hill, we have a few miles of dirt road to get to the campground and we're walking all of them. Sikwni is visibly hurting, walking with a limp. Right as we near the finish, my mom insists on a group photo. Myself and probably others are impatient and exhausted but we tolerate the one minute for all to assemble. My mom takes a photo, then says, "Just one more..." but we've gone already. We enter Katahdin Stream Campground to the sound of a drum beating. We've finished our journey, I realize. I hug the others as I am flooded with many strong emotions at once. Everyone leaves in different directions for sleep and rest. My parents set up a tent for me and ask me questions for which I only have the mental energy to respond, "I don't care. I just want to go to sleep." My uncle and cousin have to leave for Long Island and say goodbye. Poor timing, I think. I'd wanted to thank them for joing me on this great journey and ask them about their experience but all I managed was, "Thanks." Then I'm in the tent, on a soft pad, and I am still. Rest has never felt so good.

I wake up in a puddle. The heavy rain outside is flooding my tent. I stumble outside and, oh, that cool wetness feels great. The rain washes the sweat and dirt and stress off my body. And then I turn to see Katahdin, a great giant looking over me. Finally the sky has cleared for us to see the mountain. Usually, the canoeists and runners can see the mountain dozens of miles before they near it. The view makes me so happy.

The Potluck that evening is wonderful. Ribs, corn, bread, chili, soup, fruit. Barry asked me to make a "natural, organic, and wholesome" dish for the Potluck. My family didn't prepare one in advance so my mom improvises a great tomato and mozzarella plate out of the trunk of my car. At the closing ceremony on Monday, Barry revealed that the Potlucks had been growing less and less natural every year, but this year's was very wholesome.

Sunday night, there's singing and drumming under the tarp. But I only hear the drums' muffled thumping from my nearby lean-to as the rain puts me to sleep again.

In the morning, everyone packs up camp and sits in a circle under the tarp for the closing ceremony. The fire burns near the circle despite the continuing rain. Barry's uncle, Butch, a Penobscot Elder, conducts a smudging ceremony. Holding a smoldering herb, he fans the smoke with an eagle's wing towards each person in the circle. Barry says that, to him, a smudging ritual puts everyone on the same page. A carved talking stick is passed around. On it hangs 29 eagle feathers carried from Indian Island on each of the last K100 journeys. Barry gives the one he carried this year to the youth of the group to put on the stick. Everyone is invited to talk about their K100 experience this year. Many, myself included, express gratitude for the warm and generous individuals that made this event happen. When handed the stick, I also want to talk about the significance of this experience compared to my weak condition when I was hiking in Baxter one year ago, but I get choked up before I can begin. Barry says a lot when he gets the talking stick. He says the health of the tribe is faltering and "elders are dying young." He challenges everyone to live this year as if they are preparing to run the 100 miles in next year's K100. The ceremony concludes with a tobacco offering. Others burn pieces of paper and fibers. I ask Barry later what significance that has and he replies, "Indian text messaging," with a chuckle. I gather from what else he says that the objects are symbolic of intentions or thoughts added to the fire, and they rise with the smoke like messages towards the spiritual world.
When the closing ceremony ends, we exchange hugs, phone numbers, K100 t-shirt orders, and go our separate ways.


Two weeks later, my former college teacher, Karen Waldron, asks me to come talk about my K100 experience to her Native American Literature course. The presentation and discussion among friends goes well. For some questions, I am tongue-tied and my thoughts come out in jumbles. Someone asks, "Is it challenging to talk about this experience with others?" I shout yes! The experience means so much to me that rattling off details or statistics or trying to summarize such a multi-dimensional experience is frustrating.
How fortunate and privileged I am to have this completely unique experience of a different people's traditions and spirituality.

To be year from now.

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