Cardinals and Feathers

Stories abound. You just have to be on the lookout for them and be willing to record one or two of the most meaningful. The moments don’t have to be over the top, complete with a full orchestra or the heavens parting. They just have to be something that you experienced or observed.

Here’s a quick example. One of my daughters and I had brunch together at Chick fil-A on my mother’s birthday, and as she told me about her early morning walk with a friend, she said a red cardinal had appeared off and on throughout her walk. To my daughter, the bird’s appearance represented a visit from her grandmother who had passed away nineteen years ago. As she talked, I could see a chirping little bird flying ahead of Carrie, alighting on a wall or shrub as my daughter approached. It was a beautiful image, and to Carrie, the redbird’s presence said, “All is well.”

I can still see Carrie’s “visitor” in my mind’s eye. If she hadn’t shared her walk sightings, I never would have known about them and their association with my mother (Carrie’s grandmother). Sharing the morning’s impressions also told me that my daughter, like me, sees beyond this material world in which we move about.

Here’s my moment, my story. It happened last week in Wounded Knee, South Dakota. On the way to the Wounded Knee cemetery, I stopped to chat with a woman named Cathy who was selling dream catchers and jewelry late that afternoon. She had several bracelets for sale, all beaded and hand crafted, and I had no problem choosing the one I liked best. It was small, beautiful, and unpretentious. Beaded, there was also a tiny piece of wood with a feather painted on it.

Cathy saw me looking at the feather and explained, “My people believe feathers help carry messages to the Great Father.”

“I love that way of thinking,” I said as she fastened the bracelet around my wrist.

We walked across the road to the cemetery where nearly 200 slain Lakota Indians lay buried in a mass grave (, and when we left about an hour later, Cathy and Emerald were gone. We felt fortunate to have shared a few moments talking and listening to them and were gratified that we had arrived in time to do so.

As we rode the long way out of the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the largest in the United States, our minds soon turned to dinner. Tired of paying for overpriced but mediocre food, we considered our choices and quickly realized there were few (if any) restaurants on the way to Rapid City, nearly two hours away. No Wal-Marts or Targets either.

“What do people who live here eat?” I pondered aloud.

“What do you mean?” my husband asked.

“Just that. And to be specific, what will someone like Cathy eat tonight?”

“She doesn’t eat like you do. She lives off what’s around her.”

A little annoyed, I said, “You mean, like WE do, not just me.”

I looked at the views all around me and saw lots of grasses, tall and short, and a few hills—but no trees to speak of. I saw the ubiquitous cow everywhere; some were munching grasses while others stood stock-still. There were horses, too, and on several occasions, we saw two or three standing near a fence, their heads and noses touching.

So what would Cathy eat that night? I was still wondering about that as we went through a Sonic drive-thru in Rapid City a couple of hours later. He got a burger and Coke. I waited until we got back to our room where I nibbled on a leftover baked potato, a banana, and half a bagel, saddened to realize that Cathy would probably have none of those choices at her disposal.

A few days later as we sat in the MSP airport waiting for our plane, the hubs said, “I hope Cathy had a good breakfast today.” Me too. I can’t remember what the life expectancy is on Pine Ridge Reservation, but it’s the lowest in the United States. Ninety percent of its residents live below the federal poverty line and can’t afford healthy food.

Today I’m back in my Wal-Mart, Target, Chili’s world. But I’ll never forget our hours on the reservation or my conversation with Cathy. And I’ll never whine again about leftovers.

About jayne bowers

*married with children, stepchildren, grandchildren, in-laws, ex-laws, and a host of other family members and fabulous friends *semi-retired psychology instructor at two community colleges *writer
This entry was posted in Native Americans, stories, story telling, travel, traveling, Uncategorized, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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