Dancing with Takhoma

Takhoma 09.17

            Opening up our new pajamas on Christmas Eve, elaborate Halloween decorations throughout the house, there some things my family just does. Most of us play volleyball, basketball or were runners in high school. I fell into this last category as I have poor hand-eye coordination. Competing in Track and Field in Spring and Cross Country in the Fall, running was a focus of mine year-round. One summer I recall we ran at least or close to 1,000 miles, I am still quite proud of this. While in school I was unaware of this incredible gift my coaches, Phil “Mister” English, Robert Price and Antony Stewart showed me. Molded by the intense summer heat, I owe my passion and inclination for endurance sports to these mentors and my setting. One tradition I was never taught though was dancing in pow wows. Both my sisters, my mother and my three uncles danced and competed in pow wows. This tradition was something I would have to seek out for my own and adapt my energy toward. All of my energy had been devoted to running in the streets, then trails and these days in the mountains. Please, let me tell you a story of how an Urban Native taught himself how to dance at the feet of Takhoma.

My red ribbon shirt – traditionally worn by dancers during pow wows. Seen here while skiing down Kulshan via the Easton Glacier.

            As I press for more adventures in the alpine, I continue discovering how connected everything is. It is one thing to have this told to you by an elder but quite another to experience it. Recently, I experienced a new perspective of a common phrase in Indian Country – All my relations. On Thursday July 23rd I set out from Me-yah-ah Pah, an old Yakama hunting ground on the East side of Takhoma. My goal was to explore parts of the Northern Wonderland Trail. Like dancing, no one had told me of Me-yah-ah Pah or its significance for my people. Often, I think of when my ancestors visited this place, the source of water and life, Takhoma. All of my relations, past, present, future even. Those current, The Cowlitz, Nisqually, Puyallup, Suquamish and Muckleshoot visit Takhoma from the West. But how do fit into this saying – all of my relations. How do I relate to all my relations? Unsure of my own connections, it found me on a long run where I started at none other than Me-yah-ah Pah. I will not ever forget the sunrise. Crimson and salmon-pink rays glowed on the upper mountain as I sipped instant-coffee and munched on blueberries. Between all of the sights and smells, I knew I was in for a good, long day of my favorite thing in the world in a place which has been home to me before I have even walked these plane’s or climbed to the top.

Crimson and salmon-pink rays on a day of skiing w/ Micheli Oliver – Photo by Micheli Oliver

            Visiting the top about a dozen times before then so much was left to learn. The true gift of Takhoma does not lie at 14,410’, it lies all around him. It has taken me a long time to figure this out, but I am learning to sit in this growth I have gone through. Don’t get me wrong, I am still driven to get to the top of places. I just know I will learn more if it is not my priority and, on this day, it was all about learning and seeing. Bounding up and down the valleys was unforgettable. Spending most of the day in long sections of being alone, the open rolling spaces kept me from feeling it. Throughout the whole day, no matter how tired, thirsty, hungry or whatever, I always felt like I belonged there. This feeling kept with me pushing into the 13th hour of the day. Driving up in elevation and mood, the discomfort of this run had been unlike any before. Just as the sun was setting, I headed back to Me-yah-ah Pah. As if the day were turned upside down and reversed, the sky looked the same but felt more familiar this time. Striding out the downhills and plopping my legs in a grinding walk uphill, I threw up a Black Lodge Singers album on my phone – something I enjoy doing every now and then. I was always curious why my grandpa, mom or my uncles enjoyed listening to pow wow music, but they had danced in their lifetime. Maybe that’s why they enjoy it. The stadiums full of people, drummers, dancers, singers, everything. Sitting there always as a spectator was me with my grandparents who hardly danced in their elder years. But this day, I was the only person in the stadium. Running to the beat now, my heart and the drums were competing for the tempo only to succumb to the terrain but, even then I stayed on beat with Takhoma, we stayed on beat together.

P.S. See this Strava Post detailing the stats on my run!

Black Lodge Singers closing the day out

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