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COMING CLEAN (standard:other, 5640 words)
Author: Austen BraukerAdded: Jun 10 2006Views/Reads: 2464/1481Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
A boy who has severely hurt some classmates in retaliation for raping his girlfriend is cleansed spiritually by taking part in an intense sweat lodge ceremony conducted by his mentor, a wise Odawa veteran who has befriended him.


Jale floated down the river with Crane. He was in the front of the canoe
and Crane guided it from the rear with no sound of a paddle splash. 
From the east there was a slight wind that blew through the leaves, 
revealing that they were hardening, just starting to dry up, getting 
ready to call for the winter. A guilty sensation of reality accompanied 
the sad rustle. Everything, even the forest itself reminded him of how 
he hurt those other humans, how he made them suffer. A blue heron took 
flight a few feet above of the tip of the bow. Long legs dangled 
beneath. It lofted its lanky body with powerful cupping wings and 
gently rounded the bend, landing in a tall dead tree. As they floated 
by, it repeated this relocation procedure two or three more times, 
until it finally flew away, off over the treetops. The bird almost 
seemed to be leading them, though Jale knew it was just following the 
river. He saw the stick poking up through the water that he had pushed 
into the bank a day earlier for a marker. They were coming to the first 
trap. Something was moving. There was a beaver there, bitten in the leg 
by the steel. The traps weren't designed to kill, so it was still 
alive, and it started thrashing as they approached. The beaver pulled 
at the deep stake to which it was tightly chained. Jale smashed it with 
one blow of his gig stick. It was a short wooden club, weighted with 
lead at one end. The beaver stopped moving after the single sharp 
strike. Jale looked back at Crane and they made eye contact for the 
first time since they hit the water. "I saw you there that day. " Crane 
said directly. Jale turned away and removed the beaver from the trap, 
untangled the chain and reset the metal jaws. The maneuver was second 
nature to him now. He tossed the beaver into the center of the canoe 
and they floated silently to the next trap. Jale could feel the eyes on 
the back of his neck, but didn't turn around in response to them. The 
next one held a muskrat. They checked the whole line without talking 
and then Jale finally spoke. He was looking forward, still too 
embarrassed to face Crane yet. "I thought it would make me feel 
better...I mean...I thought they deserved it...I don't know...but I 
don't feel good about it now." It was a choppy, stammering confession. 
Jale looked at Crane before he continued. "When I heard them screaming 
and rolling around in pain..." He stopped, a tear formed in his eye. 
His voice broke. "I'm so sorry...I don't know what to do..." "I do." 
Said Crane, and they pulled the canoe to the shore. For four days, 
Crane made Jale do a sweat lodge ceremony. It began like this... The 
elder traced a circle on the ground and made him dig a hole, about two 
feet wide and a foot deep. It would be where the super heated rocks 
would eventually be placed during the ceremony; where the steam would 
rise from the offering of water. Around this center point, they 
constructed a framework of willows, bent in a dome, about four feet 
high. It had four horizontal rows tied to a series of vertical poles 
that formed arches. Each arch consisted of saplings pushed into the 
ground, then bent and tied together. From above, the eight poles made a 
pound sign, just like a domed, three dimensional tic-tac-toe board, 
with four more willow bent over, making an X over that. There was one 
doorway facing east, looking directly to where a larger pit was dug, 
about ten feet away from the lodge, for the fire. Crane told Jale to 
make a crescent with the dirt around the East Side of the fire pit, 
with just enough room for the fire-keeper to walk between it and the 
flames. It also served as a depository for the used rocks when the 
ceremony was over, providing a place of honor for their sacrificed 
selves. Crane called them grandfathers whenever he referred to the 
stones. He said they were the bones of Mother Earth and should be 
respected as elders, like ancient grandfathers. Jale picked a paper bag 
full of flat green cedar, at Crane's request, careful to remember his 
tobacco offering whenever he took a gift from the woods. He did it just 
like he was shown. Jale was told to leave a sprinkle as a gift of 
thanks each time he took something. He felt funny the first time but it 
felt good after that. Crane used the dirt from the hole in the center 
of the lodge, which he called the navel, and made a mound between the 
doorway of the lodge and the fire pit. It looked about the size and 
shape of a pregnant woman's belly. This was the altar. Blessings were 
bestowed upon items that were laid here. Things were spiritually 
cleansed. On it he sat his pipe, after asking permission from it to be 
joined together, along with an Eagle wing fan and other assorted sacred 
items. The pipe stem pointed upward to the sky at an angle, toward the 
direction of sunrise. Crane walked around the entire area, starting in 
the east and making a clockwise circle, spreading the cedar as he went, 
singing softly to himself, barely audible. The fire was roaring now. It 
crackled and popped in agreement to the song. Inside, the rocks were 

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