Our third night visitor arrives with a two-year-old in her arms. She’s a young mother, staying with her husband and son in one of the tents in the park. She settles by the fire with the child in her lap and I detect a slight European accent as she begins to speak.
She’s a filmmaker living in Berlin, Germany, and has come to the U.S. to research the life of one of our Pow Wow’s Native American performers for an independent film that will be produced in Germany, then later released for the American market. I am inspired by her spirit and energy – taking on such a project and travelling so far with a small child. She doesn’t seem to be seeking any Fire Medicine for herself, and I wonder why she has come to us in the middle of the night. The boy starts to fidget, his big blue eyes wide open – ready for play instead of sleep.
“He’s afraid of the tent,” she explains. “I can’t get him to stay inside and fall asleep.”
“You may sit with us as long as you need,” Rick assures her. “We’ll be here all night.”
We continue our fireside conversation and after a while the boy calms down, his eyes becoming increasingly heavy as he slowly drifts off into peaceful slumber. The young mother smiles and rises to her feet with her sleeping son in her arms. She wishes us both good night and heads back to her tent.
Rick stokes up the fire again and we return to sharing stories, but I find my own lack of sleep starting to catch up with me. Our exchanges are more sporadic, our movements seem to be in slow-motion, and the sacred fire has taken on a dream-like quality.
It seems as if our world has been reduced to just me, Rick, the fire, and the small periphery around us….the rest of the sleeping camp is now a million miles away.
“It’s OK if you feel you need to rest your eyes,” says Rick.
“Just sit back and look for stories in the fire….You can close your eyes from time to time….that’s what I do….”
His voice trails off….a calm silence falls between us….my eyes close for a moment….I open them again….
Fire…seems to have changed….
Golden…. Each flame a separate entity….
Almost in a dream state….
Eyes open…. Fire changes again….
Look for stories….
What’s there?……In the middle of the flames…..
It’s still there…..Red……
Flames are now white………
Raw heat………ancient, primal………..
In a place before time………..
A chill suddenly comes over me. The fire is fading and the damp night air has found its way through my layers of clothing. My mind starts a rebellion.
I really need to sleep.
Perhaps I can sneak away and take a nap in my car.
I can’t stop shivering.
This is crazy. Whatever made me think I could stay awake for 36 hours? What am I doing this for, anyway?
I want my nice, warm bed……….
Wait a minute! It’s….It’s….
I made it!!! I made it through the night!
I can hear the Hallelujah chorus playing in the background.
Rick gets up and admires the sunrise with me and pats me on the back. “Good job, firekeeper! But we still have work to do! We have another full day ahead of us!”
I don’t even have time to think about the stories from our sleepless night. We take our chairs out of the circle and smudge inside and out to clear the energy for another full day of pow wow activities.
A firekeeper’s work is never done………