There’s so much to tell you about our time at Standing Rock. You can be sure that more is to come, but I’ll leave you with this for now:

We stopped for gas about 45 minutes out from Standing Rock. I went in to pee and as I walked back out to the car, a man held the gas station door open for me. Having experienced only super-friendly Midwesterners on the trip thus far, I was a little surprised when he answered my cheery “thank you!” with a curt, silent nod, but I didn’t think much of it. But, as I crossed the lane to our car, I could feel the eyes of another man, wearing flannel and a ball cap, staring me and Leo down. He began to curse at our group. “You fuckin’ lowlifes. Get outta here, you long-haired hippies. No one needs you here. Get outta here, you fuckin’ lowlifes.” We could sense the dark hatred in his tone and quickly jumped into the car and drove away.

As we got closer and closer, I began to imagine our little caravan as white blood cells rushing toward an infection, staving off bacteria along the way.

Or better yet, we were like imaginal cells that transform a cocooned caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. At the beginning of metamorphoses, a few of the imaginal cells appear in the caterpillar’s body. But, these imaginals are treated as foreigners, intruders in the system. The caterpillar cells actually begin to attack the butterfly cells, perhaps even shouting, “Get outta here! We don’t need you!” Against all reason, the imaginal cells grow in number, urged on by some ancient knowing that this caterpillar is meant to be a butterfly, dammit – which, consequently, is the same knowing that impelled the caterpillar to cocoon itself in the first place.

What causes the cocooned caterpillar to resist its own beautiful, transformed future as a butterfly? Is it fear of the unknown and unimaginable? Fear of flying too high, seeing too many breath-taking sights from heights never reached as a caterpillar? Anger at not being able to chew leaves anymore, relegated to a life of drinking sweet nectar from fragrant flowers? Fear of losing a chubby, grubby, slow-moving body for a form as light as the air, floating and soaring with the flutter of shimmery wings? How silly a caterpillar must seem to a butterfly!

One night at camp, Leo and I sat on the cold ground, patiently waiting for a can of soup to warm over a Sterno stove. I wondered aloud what the “other side” must be thinking and feeling. Tears rose in my eyes as I thought of the tender hearts beating beneath bulletproof vests, the same arms that hug children and wives wrapped around weapons. How scared and angry must they be to respond to prayerful, unarmed protestors with such violence and hatred? I felt the stark difference between their energy of pushing away against the welcoming embrace I’d experienced from the moment we joined the water protectors.


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