2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK
“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. The sky is round, and I have heard that the Earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls, birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.”
The remains of old Fort Fetterman sit high above the North Platte River at a point just north of Douglas, Wyoming. It’s a cold fall day as I pull my dust-covered rental truck into the inconspicuous gravel parking lot. No other vehicles are in sight. The fort is closed, which is my favorite time to visit.
The abandoned forts, trails, and battle sites commemorating the nineteenth century on the northern plains are best visited alone. It is in silence that these windswept artifacts tell their stories about the winning—and the losing—of the American West.
I pull my wool hat down over my ears as I ascend the ridge before me that conceals the remains of the fort. My Lakota medicine wheel necklace bounces gently on my sweater as I walk. Tumbleweeds dance and dart in front of me. The wind and my footsteps are the only sounds. I am facing north toward the Bighorn Mountains, toward the Little Bighorn River, and toward the Montana goldfields that created the necessity for this fort and the Bozeman Trail that passed through it.
Parade grounds sit at the center of all the Western forts I have visited. As I follow their sharp edges with my eyes, I can’t help but think how closely related a square is to a circle. All that is required is to bend the corners.
The abandoned flagpole and supporting metal guide wires whistle in the wind. My feet crunch with each step on the narrow gravel path. Without thinking, I begin walking more aggressively and deliberately so that I can hear that sound, the sound of marching. I move in rhythm, accentuating each step down the faint outline of the old parade grounds. I am in no hurry. I have nowhere to go.
Circles and squares define the northern plains. Nature makes the circles, and men—a product of nature themselves—then turn them into squares.
The hills roll.
The rivers bend.
The grass swirls.
The seasons come and go.
Day turns to night.
Life emerges and then fades.
It’s all a circle.
Yet the plains today are equally dominated by squares.
From the air you see property divided, square after square.
Houses are square and fence posts travel in straight lines.
To the Sioux and other plains tribes the circle is sacred, for that is how life travels.
There is much to be gained from seeing the circles that surround and define us all. While no two human journeys are ever the same, our lives do share a pattern that nature’s rhythm commands.
Consciousness itself is a circle. We are born full of innocence. The time and place of our birth then begins to pull on us and makes its mark. Eventually we come of age and the opportunity to awaken presents itself. Our degree of consciousness then defines our experience until we return to our place of origin and rejoin the innocence, which is also the place of knowing.
Consciousness is the state of being awake and aware. Birth is the invitation to acquire it. But to gain consciousness we must know where to look. In a world full of chaos and distractions we must learn to look within ourselves, where consciousness resides.
Consciousness once created can never be destroyed. We carry it back with us and gift it to the collective human memory and the shared learning of the Universe. Even consciousness—or the lack thereof—travels in a circle.
“We Indians think of the Earth and the whole universe as a never-ending circle, and in this circle, man is just another animal. The buffalo and the coyote are our brothers; the birds, our cousins. Even the tiniest ant, even a louse, even the smallest flower you can find, they are all relatives.”
—Jenny Leading Cloud
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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.