RED, WHITE & BLUEBakken, 15, 4/21/57
in windbreaker, T-shirt, blue jeans
like James Dean in 1955 American anthem Rebel without a Cause, on pre-anniversary
of the cleanup of Columbine massacre site. Photograph by Alva Virtue.
Now we have a chance. Now this country can take a hard long look at itself. Now that our rural middle-class white kids are blowing each other away, along with a teacher or two. Finally we can no longer point our fingers at America's inner-city ghettos, at ethnic gangs of underprivileged teens, at trashy Cadillacs and food stamps.
The April 20, 1999, stupefying slaughter at Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado, preceded by a spate of school blood bathsPearl, Mississippi, West Paducah, Kentucky, Jonesboro, Arkansas, Edinboro, Pennsylvania, Fayetteville, Tennessee, Springfield, Oregonhas brought straight home an alarming wake-up that something is dreadfully wrong with Americaand it's not poor people.
This is our chance. To answer that cry erupting out of the national horror. Why? This is what Americans want to know that even all the flown-in psychologists at our tear-stained massacre sites have not been able to tell us. But if, as pre-carnage at our disentitled peoples of color, we continue to point the fingerat kids, at grooming and dress fashions, videos, trench coats, at even gunswhat we see will not be the answer.
Our shocks will gasp on and on. Even more terrifying as inevitably some young cheerleader in a hip tattoo and orange hair suddenly goes berserk with a hand grenade. When shock is finally so horrendous that it breaks us, psychologists and citizens will pull back their fingers and dare to place them dead center into the national soul, that lie we have always idealized as "The American Dream."
Of course, our Native American, Black, Hispanic, and even Asian adolescents have been killing themselves and each other for decadeswith alcohol, drugs, guns, and suicide. This nation never really cared enough to ask that big Why? or do squat about it. "It's just the way those coloreds are." Now America cries out as our national catastrophes veer dumbfoundingly so bloody white.
Yes, it takes that flippy-skirt yell queen forever to want to rip the pin from a grenade. Suddenly she does. But marginalized indigents have sensed and experienced an American betrayal long before any of "the beautiful people." To be lied to by parents, priests, teachers, media, leadersone's own countryis unbearable. Caught between inconsolable hurt and inner ragejust like Vietnam vets who bought it off the wall in the post office: "Be all you can be"any of us becomes one more walking time bomb.
We ought to admit that kids did not start this white wackomania. Road rage eruptedka-pow!out of mom and pop on their way home from Wal-Mart, who nowbelieve it or notare going bonkers above the blacktop on commercial jet flights. And have we forgot who started bullet-spraying the post office, McDonald's, and even the American schoolyard? Regular middle-class white breadwinners.
Hasn't anyone noticed how officially American our national insanity is? This country's most common site of officialdom is not the Department of Economic Security. It is that flag-prominent buildingthere's one in every townwhere all our people converge, whether they collect food stamps or not. The USPO!as familiar as the everyone's-touched-it dollar bill. Or under Old Glory at McDonald's. And for kidsthe perennial Stars-and-Stripes public school system.
It is no coincidence that exploding citizens have charged in with artillery at our most common officially American sites. God help us, we have even named the phenomenon of blowing off desperate indiscriminate firepower "going postal." And an occurrence is no longer an anomaly. Going postal is now status quo, a white American norm, the front page of our USA daily news.
Thus fashion is not the cause. No one is preaching that these grown-ups who pioneer our children into rampage terrorismmodeling how to pop your cork in the 90sare vampire cultists in eyebrow rings and jet trench coats deep into video death play, Natural Born Killers, and Marilyn Manson. Adult shooters who run just as amuck are not demonized like kids whose style sense is startlingas it is in any decade.
So the cranks don't bad-mouth our daddies'-gone-loco country-and-western music and GI camouflage gearthough hat-act guitar wails are obsessed with alcoholism, adultery, self-pity, and bad Englishthough splotched tunics have inspired light-years more lethal wigginess than all the black lipstick in a whole teenage world.
Back in high school, I was harangued by the same proselytizers: my ducktail haircut and a-bop bop a-lu bop! would ruin me, thrill-flick favorites Blackboard Jungle and Rebel without a Cause would suck me into juvenile delinquency. I and damn near every kid in townbound for college or bound hard for hellwore a red windbreaker with the collar up like James Dean in Rebel.
But it's not kids who are manufacturing, promoting, and getting filthy rich on ba-lop bam boom, fad jackets, trench coats, lipstick, boomboxes, bazooking amps, hyperviolent video games, camouflage pants, and firearms. As usual, it's our full-grown American let-the-market-decide pillars-of-the-community entrepreneurs, business lords, and high rollers.
Despite our unadmitted prejudice against adolescentskids are just kids. They are merely following the lead of the many pioneering grown-ups of postal infamy. These kids are just acting out what has already been furiously triggered into the American air: an enraged hail of scattering ka-pows!
So shouldn't we reach deep for the cojones to confess who set the unbridled precedent for kids good and bad, and for every last one of usincluding Ayatollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic? Who taught the all-time lesson in what to do with bigger-than-God anger? Regular good old American adults. The ultimate standardthat greatest, most horrendous, most successful terrorist blitz this world has ever seenis our nation's August 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Whether we like it or not, these historical acts, even though America was at war, are properly defined as terrorism since our bombs were dropped on civilian populations, intended to intimidate and subjugate through unparalleled violence and destruction. That is exactly what terrorism is. And any dictionary says so. Now just wait until nukes are available at the local army surplus store for big daddy and underage camouflage nuts white-hot with corked up darkness.
Sure we stopped the war. But the Home of the Brave never paused to assess the shadow side of what it did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, let alone in the firebombings of Dresdenand since. It was so easy to see Hitler-Mussolini-Tojo as evil incarnatethus ourselves as nothing but good, touched by the Almighty. High on triumph, we plunged giddily right on into pump-up of the American Dream. We would all "Be all you can be"bouncing up to give the "V" for Victory!chosen to rise in prosperity through moral rightness, science, and household appliances.
Every beginning psych student knows that to ignore, deny, suppress, bury, hide from ourselves something unpleasant, disturbing, disgustingguarantees that it will not go away. Just the opposite: from deep underneath where we can't see or comprehend itexactly like toxic wasteit will always be damaging us, via inconceivably shocking mutations and grotesqueries. Now why won't one of these flown-in government shrinks apply this fundamental truth to the exploding American Dream?
Which is just what we've got. America's suppressed darkness waited down there in our collective unconscious, gradually gaining insidious damaging ferocity. Now it is erupting back on us from inside our own American soul. Even grammar school preteens are blasting out their despondency as if it's as ordinary as reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Everything in life, here in this wild living theater of duality, casts a shadow. Our national acting out is nothing more than the darker side of whatever we are so proud of as Americans, a whole wondrous roster of accomplishmentfrom the discovery of plastic and penicillin to putting a man with a golf ball on the moon. And, of course, our invention of the artificial heart.
The truth is that these attacks we call postal are not indiscriminate at all. They are so only in who ends up riddled on the floor with Bugs Bunny stamps or a Big Mac and fries or a spelling test sopping the blood awash there. But these havocs are tellingly discriminate in where they act themselves out: under a flagdesecrating a common American site. So all our horrific unconscious rage is blatant blind booming at something wewhether in military face paint or in Goth lipstickblame on red, white, and blue. Thus the designation "going postal."
What we hail as the American Dream is basically without real heartand eventually more and more of us, particularly if marginalized, have a stabbing experience of this betrayal. Our USA's supreme idealization is focused on the visible material worldand the ego obsessed with insisting that such measurable dimension is "the real world." Every citizen of every color knows our national God is the Almighty Dollar, that everything hereincluding our children's educationis tallied as, reduced to, its bottom line: graspable dollars and centsprofit valueabout all this country seems to understand.
Our young onesof Littleton and since we clambered down out of the treesmust have something shiningly ultimate to blossom around: vital spiritual vision. Not that deadwood of archaic rhetoric, which is how our adolescents maturing into a next millennium experience the post-World-War-II platitudes. And today, with new vision not yet operational, kids are as tortured as adults who have suffered old vision washout.
If you've got gumption, you can get it. Oh yeah, this is the American Dream. A house, two cars, three TVs, and a toaster. All anyone needs is ambition, a real willingness to work hard. Then everyone has an equal chance. That's the lie. Be all you can be. A house, two cars, three TV's, and a toaster. That's the damn lie we buy.
There is no opening in the American Dream through which to partake of the invisible world, the true realm of spirit. And when I say spirit, I in no way mean "religion" or moralist dogma. Certainly not a Sixth Commandment, Just Say No, Pledge to Abstain, Contract with America posted on classroom walls.
The old values are dead. Here at the threshold of a next millennium earnest Americans already improvise unfolding surprise definitions for sex, marriage, family, even Presidential morality. Despite angry conservatives, always insulted and outraged by change or difference, the receding Family Values are like dinosaurs that thrived in their time but won't be back. New perspective, still being created, is yet beyond the horizon. And in our spiritual abyss between, Americans are lost, discomposed, feeling violatedand drawn inexplicably in splotty flak suits or raven trench coats to a symbolic common site to make the ultimate shriek by just ripping a pin and sending themselves out Special Delivery.
Creating new vision out of chaos is staggering hard work for all of us. We don't all survive the gut blows. There's no map, no guidebook of instructions. Just as there's nothing in the burst American Dream to honor a heart that might otherwise be on fire with the invisible flame of spirit. Thus the shriek. And nothing in that ruptured idealization to honor forsaking the old forked national tongue to tell ourselves the truth.
But now is our chancenow with our children's bodies crumpled westward across the country and all over Columbine High, cut down by a cataclysmic stream of white schoolboy shooters. This is our dumbstruck opportunity to take a hard long look. Hopefully shock after shock has been devastating enough that we will stop pointing fingersat the poor, the marginalized, the other-skinned. At Vietnam vets, adolescents, heart-blown shooters. That we will awake to ourselves. And in an absolutely new millennium.
Otherwise we can gasp on out as the Americans who spent godzillions to escape the gravity of earth and take an impossible look at that other side of the moonbut wouldn't dare a red cent to scrutinize our own shadow right here at our feet with all these bodies.Part 2: Going up with Sputnik
[Published in an earlier version in the 7/15/99 issue of The Bisbee News during the first-moonwalk 30th anniversary]
HIGH SCHOOL EGGHEADSDick Bakken, far right, a 17-year-old senior late in 1958, with other high-GPA students at West Valley High School in Spokane, Washington,
all editors of the school literary magazine, Eagle Echoes, co-founded by Bakken
in the spring of 1957 and still extant. Photograph by The Valley Herald.
What a shock! The biggest jolt to America between Pearl Harbor and the JFK assassination: those Russians had shot a beeping basketball-size moonlet into orbit around the eartha primitive satellite called Sputnik.
Today we take such high-streaking "fellow travelers" for granted. But that October 4, 1957, Soviet launch into the Space Age impacted America more than our own landing three astronauts in the lunar Sea of Tranquility just twelve years later. Our quip-prepared "giant leap for mankind" came as the expected climax to a long-touted series of headlines. Pearl Harbor, Sputnik, and JFK came as horrible blasts out of the blue.
And now we have Oklahoma City and Columbine High School. All over again, America is rocked with shock and confusion: Why! Why is terrorismwhich we always feared would arrive one day from the darkness outside userupting from within? Why is our Land of the Free's privileged citizenry so out of control, so ready to pistol-whip some jackass over a traffic discourtesy? Why do pubescent white kids want to spray bullets and die?
This country had won the race for an A-bomband really showed it off in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We had won the race for an H-bomband were damn sure going to be first to kick up moon dust. But in between, America would have to take big blows to the left side of the head. Our Russian nemesis sent up Sputnik, followed only a month later by Sputnik II with our planet's debut heart-pulsing orbiter, the martyr dog Laika. By April 13, 1961, twenty-seven-year-old cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin flashed around home 100 miles up, exclaiming the original, "It looks so bluish!" Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev taunted, "Try to catch us now!"
I was a junior in high schoolas struck dumb as all 1957 USAwhen Sputnik sailed over. Suddenly this great unprecedented push of math and science came down upon usparents, teachers, everyone chuting boys into physics and other egghead disciplines. Whenever visiting home from college, I was quizzed by grown-ups, "And what are you majoring in?" "Math and English." "Oh we need mathematicians so badly!" "English"even repeatedwas ignored as if I'd never uttered the word. "We're going to need scientists for years to come!"
Physicist Albert Einstein, who opened this moonwalk century with his 1905 initial publication of theories, gave humankind E=mc˛. His simple little formulation became the seed for A-bomb, H-bomb, and an ensuing race for enough blastoff to thrust away from gravitational pullback of Earth. Einstein posited theories so far out that some of them are still being confirmed only now as the 20th Century closes.
How ironic that this visionary scientist who formulated the basis for an H-bomb also formulated the bumper-sticker antidote to that grandiose Dream we Americans believe, idealize, and teach in our schools. Here by Einsteinoften referred to as "the greatest mind of the 20th Century"is his maxim: Imagination is more important than knowledge.
It is a lie that honor-roll students are "gifted." Such achievers are "academically talented" and should be labeled so, rather than misnomered as something they are not. I have visited as guest teacher in schools across the United States. Just one of these designated its high-acceleration program accurately. All the others touted a "Gifted Program." But the truly gifted are those like Saint Teresa, Vincent van Gogh and Albert Einstein, who operate beyond talent out in the Starry Night realm of vision, not measurable by any ruler such as GPA.
If you think Einstein's grade-point average would have won a "My Child Is An Honor Student" sticker for his parents, you are out of touch with reality. Little Al's folks were called in, advised to withdraw the boy (who'd begun talking quite late), that he seemed retarded and could not benefit from school. And, yes, it is jolting to see our ego-driven, stigmatizing, designer labels for kids mocked in the populist resentment: "My Child from Lowell Middle School Can Beat Up Your Honor Student!" Especially now in 1999 when someone might just as likely hurl the words "can shoot up."
And if you think Einstein, who dropped out of high school, is some anomaly, you are wrong again. Let's flip a light onat the other end of this vision-gifted gallery. Einstein was the farthest out, but Thomas Edison was the most down-to-earth practical mind of our charge into this 20th Century. He invented just about everything we use but hemorrhoid tucks and Wal-Mart. The only schooling he'd ever had was three months at age seven! His folks got called in and advised to withdraw Tommy, that he was too backwards to learn from education, let alone spell any of the names the other kids called him.
That's rightspelling bees are another hypocrisy of our American school system. Such big ruckus is raised locally, regionally, and then nationally about this insignificant left-brain skill. Top child spellers, spotlighted like star athletes, are paraded with the lie that mere mechanical ability is genius. How insulting to other children, among whom are those growing up to be Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Frida Kahlo, and Amelia Earhart sailing high over the earthboundnot to mention all our future legendary shooters from Pearl, Mississippi, west to Littleton, Colorado.
History is rife with true geniuses who could never blaze forth within systems where the supple-limbed and the skill-brained so winningly shone with talent. The irony isno one needs spelling ability. One can rely on a dictionary (as I do) or hire a secretary (which I was three summers through college). A luminary employing a proofreader like me to correct spelling, grammar, and to clean-type her manuscriptis not seen as cheating or even lacking. But if she pays some ghostwriter to envision the right-brain cosmos of her opus, she is not a genius at allor a writerbut counterfeit, lackluster, a lie.
Which brings me to the local Bisbee News hullabaloo on recent Bisbee High School year-end graduation rituals. A front-page story displayed photo captions "Cream of the Crop" and "Queen of the Hill," to tout highest GPA and scholarship winnersfeaturing Louella Hill, the young woman who garnered greatest dollar amount. How insulting to herto all of usthat this coed's considerable athletic and especially imaginative abilities were mentioned in passing as she was presented in contrast to other students mainly in terms of dollars and cents.
This is our own Great American Lie, so impressed upon us that we all continually contribute to and promote it: that GPAsomehow proof to Americans of brainpowerand dollars are related, the goal of life, and measure a citizen's worth. From one friend of the family I was rewarded $5.00 per "A" (a lot to a kid 195559) each report card during high schoolplus additional bribes from Dadwhich helped propel me into the top-eight-GPA list and win a four-year partial scholarship to the college of my choice. So I am a participant in that American lie I am so loudly pointing at.
What names were hooted down hallways at goofy Edison and Einstein, who had no prayer of ever stepping to a school-awards podium? This is now moot. But Eric Harris, eighteen, and Dylan Klebold, seventeen, soon-to-graduate seniors from Columbine High, had been seen as strange and become the butt of jokes and bitter jibes. AP reports said they were frequently picked on by athletes, quoting Casey Brackley, fifteen"We avoided them because they were different"and Josh Nielson"They were not well-liked in the school." Other wire reports quoted Julie Duran, a senior, that Harris and Klebold were "constantly made fun of at schoolto their faces and behind their backs . . . These kids were tormented throughout their high school years." Pauline Colby added, "They were angry about people not accepting them."
The football backfield, cheerleaders, rich white kids, and other "beautiful people" don't have to question an American Dream and thus school social-class culture that keeps them in orbit. Nor did American soldiers question our national delusions before Vietnam. But look what happened to our vets once America marginalized them. Just like invincibles returning from World War II kissed and paraded, a soldier can't see the picture when he's in it. Though should he step or get pushed out, like invisibles returning from Nam, suddenly he awakes to what is false. But if so unbelievably many of our courageous warriors couldn't see through that shimmer and remain sane, how in hell can we expect kids to?
A melt-pot of misfits in nearby Tucson at Flowing Wells High School hang together in a camaraderie they call "family," as reported in the Arizona Daily Star two days after Columbine's worst school shooting in the USA ever. Tom Chaffin, eighteen, calls them "the outcasts," "the alienated group." "People don't like them." Zach Hannigan, seventeen, says the group "gets picked on by . . . administration . . . staff . . . and the other kids." Renya Alvarez, fifteen, who hangs with the group, avoids the cafeteria in fear of students who lob sodas at her and shout "freak" and "faggot."
Nick DePascal, a junior across town at eastside's Sahuaro High, avoids his cafeteria for the same reasons. "When I was going to Tucson High I got spit on." No wonder one of these very kids has discovered a schoolyard tree, sat in it chewing on lunch, and fantasized his finger snugging a trigger while his popular tormentors flop loose of their Whoppers and soda pops.
Athletics, academics, and dollars are held so high in America that the rest (the fourth "R" is arts!) is marginalized. By such meanness we make misfits of our truly giftedthe saints, dreamers, visionaries, prophets, poets, artiststhose in closest touch with a starry stream of imagination and spirit. All thoseincluding little Al and Tommywhom we tag "strange," "different," "oddball," "goofus," "weirdo," "freak," "faggot," whatever echoes rudest, coolest, and cruelest yelled down a junior-high hallway. Harris and Klebold had been called epithets like "scum of the school," according to The Boston Globe.
This makes epithet targetssuch as minority peoples and races, any who are somehow queer or differentsee right through the American Dream, igniting their deepest reactionary anger. Each is hit hard that his parents, pastors, teachers, counselors, coaches, newscasters, leadershis own countrylie to him, betray him. Everyoneespecially the young like Harris and Kleboldmust have a vital spiritual center. If it is not there, or was but has failedplayed out falsethere is suddenly no meaning. And without meaning we are left with mayhem.
My gone 1950s America thought legions of sober boy scientists would save us. Wrong. I hope that our own Bisbee girl graduate I discussed is one of those many decent young untamed originals who will lead this nation out of its insanity. Just as some schoolboy might shine academic ability but not athletic, another might shine both, or either, but not imagination. This young womanwhich is unusualis accomplished in all three arenas of school endeavor: academics, athleticsand arts. Thus she knows how desperately America needs to elevate arts to the status of those revered first two.
And I do trust that she courses with wildness and oddity, that her hair is not always awards-stage tidy. For what saves us is not her GPA or her dollars and looksbut her vision. We can walk the moon on the basis of brains and billionsonly if we first had an Einstein, an Edison. Imagination is more important than knowledge.
After Einstein died, uncashed government paychecks from various years were found long ignored, in a drawer mixed with his socks. I wonder if Americans can picture the "greatest mind of the 20th Century" as a small boy in school, hopelessly lost, called "gooftop"a little Albert who would one day blossom into a man with such open translucent gazeand alpha-waved hair so charged with receptivity that it lifted toward the ionosphere.
This wondrous weirdo dropout from high schoola lightning rod for revelationsaid so clearly in great healing love for us all: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science."Part 3: Going True to the Heart
[Published in an earlier version in the 7/29/99 issue of The Bisbee News during the Columbus-sets-sail anniversary]
TO THE HEARTA pulsing dove in the hand of Dick Bakken at home in Bisbee,
June 26, 1989, anniversary of the USA's discovery of the Custer massacre site
one day after. Photograph by Andreas Rentsch of Switzerland.
Thip! Like an arrow to the center. That's how it hit me: truth that the proper translation of Wakan Tankathat Sacred Ultimate worshiped by original Americansis "The Great Mysterious." "Great Spirit" was just one more white occupationist lie. This false rendering manipulates language to make it seem those we call "savages" sang praise to a primitive, childlike perception of our own Jehovah. Hooeyjust like "your Great White Father in Washington."
I was birthed in Custer County, Montana, only sixty-five years after Long Hair's last stand, just a hundred miles from that infamous battlefield. After Miles City, Glendive, Bozemanas a seven-year-old out of Helena I guffawed with old-time cowboys at their spring wild-horse roundup. All a-pulse in that mountain camp with the women baking beans, I stood electrified near sundown as a sudden panorama of snorting mustangs came thundering over my close horizon whooped on by a fan of riders slapping their hats.
With the old values deadi.e. ignored and forgottenyouths of this land, including paleface shooters from Pearl, Mississippi, to Littleton, Colorado, are without invigorating spiritual visiondesperately haunted by emptiness. Unless our lost epiphanies are thrilling the blood like my childhood surprise of riders against the sky, they are nothing now but a grand residue of dogmatic moralityeven if there exist websites wishing to quicken them. There are also websites on vanished dinosaurs. A few fundamentalist holdouts are akin to diehards still playing eight-track tapes and yearning them back in vital vogue.
"The Great Spirit" translation for Wakan Tanka suggests singular ultimate personagea Creator, a Celestial Overseereven if he be composed of three or so facets. "The Great Mystery" would suggest some profound Secret, which might finally be solved as that same Creator, Son, and Holy Ghost. But the exacting, accurate "The Great Mysterious" suggests neither personage, gender, nor distance. These words suggest absolute permeation. All we breathe here amongeven rocks, wind, and the dust of our raised armsis utterly alive and holyshot through with the vivifying Sacred.
We who have always viewed this land as real estatestriding onto it as Johnnies-come-lately by millennia, with pistols and cannons, firewater, blankets full of measles and pox, feverish belief in a jealous God, and a dream of goldstole America from its visionary native inhabitantsincluding their holy Black Hills we had treatied to them forever November 6, 1868, with Red Cloud's acceptance and signature. Our USA's youngest, blondest, most ambitious general (who that same November in pre-dawn raid on a peaceful Cheyenne village at the Washita River in Oklahoma had slaughtered 103 men, women, and children) led 1000 bluecoats into the Black Hills in 1874 to protect encroaching miners who had overrun the sacred hills shouting and shooting when gold was discovered. Perhaps our Columbine High butchers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold emulated this celebrated exemplar of the American Dream, who inspired a flowering of barroom art unmatched in this nation's history.
For, as irony would have it, on June 25, 1876simultaneous with far-flung celebrations of America's centennial!more than 2000 Sioux and Cheyenne braves ended George A. Custer's blazing streak for the American presidency when he commenced another surprise attack on a village. Misguessing this one to hold a possible 1000 warriorsincluding Crazy Horse and Sitting Bullhe charged like hell, 262 bluecoat sabers raised and all those spurs a-ching, along Montana's Little Big Horn River, not far from where I slid into This Great Mysterious shrieking my tiny battle cry.
The first time I was arrested was that summer after our wild-horse roundup. Rex, who lived downstairs with Dotty and their sons Star and Tobe, was the realest cowboy I've ever met. On the corral right out our back door I yipped for Rex aloft the bucking dirty-white bronc that was his share of the roundup. Once this cuss of a cayuse had almost stopped bouncing, Rex threw me up on her. Yee haw! And whump! as she scraped me off with the low leafy branch that shaded the corral.
Then stealthing with a nine-year-old sidekick in my hills beyond the corral, I gasped, "Buddy!" Out nowhere a red stallion was tethered alone on a ten-foot rope. Crouching atop a nearby log while my pal clucked the horse around, I could belly-whop onto its back, wrestling a short tricky ride before sprawled down beside the hooves. A teenager in a gingham dress appeared and ordered us away from our steed. But, wily bucks, we just hooted and clambered, Buddy aflop the back, me aflop the rumpas the girl blanched and vanished. Suddenly a young man broke from the pines running. My seven-year-old legs were pumping round the hillside right behind Buddy. But the guy snagged and roared me in a rusty truck to the police stationwhere I was told our outlanded ride had already trampled two wranglersa man killer.
The "goddamn best light cavalry" this world has ever seen were the Native American horsemen of our Midwestern Great Plains. Without saddle or even bridle, a whooping warrior was one with his gallop. He could swoop around the bluecoatshidden but for a fist in that flying mane and one heel over the backsliding side to side, launching arrows from beneath the neck of a mustang at full thunder. Not even Annie Oakley could match this.
So the thirty-five-year-old indomitable Crazy Horse finally rode into Fort Robinson in trust and truce for the good of his hounded, starving people. He did not receive that reservation he had been promised for surrender. As USA's prisoner of war, this most famous of chiefs was pinioned by soldiers in the stockade and bayoneted in the back. More ignoble American strategies not quizzedanswer: 1877!in our school history classes. But certainly a glory for the current rash of maniacal slaughtering schoolboy last-standers to aspire to. Custer did not get to pose as President but did make the cover of time immemorialat least among those smoky stares of this country's sudsing honky-tonkers.
The other time I was arrested was in a vast leafy cemetery overlooking Portland, Oregon, where I often mused by moonlight. In support of soldier-age boys who had boldly returned draft cards, I had recently sent mine to the Head of Selective Service with other above-age professionals demanding the same punishment those boys would get. I was promised prison and got photoed and written up in our Sunday newspaper. One outraged letter to the editor accused me of looking like Buffalo Bill, another of trying to look like Jesus.
But I was more a likeness to Deadwood's Wild Bill Hickok that midnight in 1970 when the officer came lurching downhill toward me in the dark, heading for my VW bus. "Hi!" I chirped beside a big bush, unaware vandals had lately been pushing tombstones over. He swung around in crouch, taking two-handed aim dead into my thumping breast. I lifted my hands as he barked, "You're under arrest!" then a litany of rights. He popped a Portland State University faculty card from my wallet, blurting, "Youa professor!" An image of scruffy suspicion, but verified white and elite, I was immediately let free and ordered to go sit under the moonlight at home.
The arm of the law reached Sitting Bull musing in a reservation shack where he still lived peaceably at 59, December 15, 1890, exactly two weeks before the Wounded Knee massacre of over 200 men, women, and children, USA's final battle with the true owners of this land. Blam! in back of his nickel-image head from an ambitious red-man's Reservation Police pistolfor us whites. Why? Ghost dancers, stirring up a resurgence of spirit in Native American religious frenzy dedicated to the dead"Oh my god that means Crazy Horse!"terrified whites, who feared renewed Indian warsand charismatic leaders yet living. "The only good Indian . . ."
Upon my rooftop May 18, 1980, only fifty miles from the awesome force of Mount St. Helens booming into the air that resonated my chestI knew I'd been dead. Somewhere between 1948 Helena and this explosive lifting of the hairs of my head, I had lost vital visionary spirit. Desperate without it, within five months I sang in my VW ragtop speeding south with my toothbrush, all my manuscripts, and my thirty-nine-year-old corpse. On the radio for days I heard ensuing aftershock of St. Helens blowing over and over again. In San Francisco I was the one who knew what that was in the morning all over everything. My ash scattered by windto follow me via repeating-eruption radio into Colorado and the Southwest I'd never yet drawn breath in.
Through New Mexico, tip of West Texas, Arizonauntil standing at the drop-off of the Grand Canyon as dawning broke the horizon, I marveled Where would I live? I wheeled round and gassed back to Bisbee. St. Helens had blown its final ash that day I had arrived for a look at this hundred-year-old town and to voice poems. Bisbee. For its poetry festivals and artists. But really for its crooked Main Street like my Helena's downtown Last Chance Gulch, those hills up close around. I'd been gallopingly alive there at seven and was ready to awaken that blaze of a spirit.
My breast and anyone's centerbut especially impressionable hearts like those within eighteen-year-old Harris and seventeen-year-old Kleboldabsolutely must feel the quickening of blood that goes with true spiritual vision. Without feeling there is no meaning. If cultural values have degenerated, failed, and died so that our young ones cannot access genuine inspiriting, they will quicken with what is available: "sex, drugs, and rock and roll." And with such abysmal void that these ready stimulants can't give much of a simulated voltage, everything is already lost. What remains is meaninglessness, despair, and maybe some hyperdrive jump from Custer-style heartless butchery to last stand.
Two millennia back, our old epiphanies were charged with lightning. A man a-horse such as Saul could be knocked from his seat in blinding visionary revelationthen resurrect himself as Paul. The faithful faced the onrush of terrible beasts circled by a thunder of cheering onlookers. Spirit meant more than a Sunday sit in the pew. It was a wily ride, coursing into our very veinsand all going to the heart.
But this electricity has devolved in 2000 years from vitalizing spiritual vigor into a stiffening regimen of morality, such tellingly pallor-faced dogma, now just a rigor mortis called "Family Values." We cannot make living religion out of rulesnor inspirit young people's heartsno matter how many schoolrooms we post Commandments in. We cannot lie to children about the ignominy in our 400-year occupation of this landor the horrors in our 2000-year history of Christianityand not expect eventual social and spiritual insanityand even annihilation.
It is too obvious to be coincidence that the news of Custer's absolute demise reached Helena, then our closest national urban center, on the Fourth of July during riotous celebration of America's centennial. By working far into the night, the editor of the Helena Herald printed a late Extra dated 4 July 1876. As the hugely devastating story was being read by a shocked populace the next morning, it was flashed to Salt Lake City and from there to the East.
Up my own old Helena's crooking Last Chance Gulch pranced a troop of mounted bluecoats with the Seventh Cavalry flag a-fly to drumming and bugling. Pompom girls strutted while baton tossers turned cartwheels through horse splats. It was annual Frontier Days when for a week male citizensincluding lawyers and priestswere not to shave or females to wear makeup. Anyone who did was dragged from home or office to jail by Western "deputies" enforcing this holiday. The shimmering blue riders lead wigged, reddened men by lassos to their necks wailing in war paint and turkey feathers beside a high-stepping tuba-booming school band of flashing brass and boys with shotguns.
The float in my memory is a pine corral around a wild trio of streaked whoopers, who'd roped two cowboys to a post with real flames licking up from the pile of sticks engulfing their boots. The painted up wig men would draw branding irons from that blaze, caterwauling savagely, and plunge them red-hot against cotton-shirted breasts with horrific sizzle-pops and hissing steam. Those tortured screams that echoed up and down Helena's deep canyon of storefronts above the heads of beauty queens and rodeo clowns still ring in my ears. And it's not because I was seven years old . . .
Like that apocalyptic lightning ka-racking! low between the flashed houses of a Helena midnight, buckling what has been built up untrue. Terrified in a small bed with the walls fallen away, with Mom and Dad bending to assure in rain chinging down . . . "Everything is all right, Horsy." Suddenly in those four lit-up eyes you see they are just as scared and helpless as you. And thunder cannons around the hillsides.
Part 4: Going into the Vision
[Published in an earlier version in the 8/12/99 issue of The Bisbee News during the Woodstock 30th anniversary]
HI-YO UNDER OLD SILVER!Dick Bakken as 25-year-old English professor in his Portland State University office during late spring 1967. The Summer of Love is only a few days away, the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band only a few weeks.
Photograph by Craig Hickman, from PSU Viking 1967 yearbook, p. 59.
There is no such thing as time. This we learned from our high-school-dropout Albert Einstein as the 20th Century was opening. It means that the absolute sequence we seem to experience reality inwhich we automatically believeis subjective, our own delusion, and not actually there. Advanced physicists for a century nowconfirm what shamans, medicine men, sorcerers, and other visionaries have known for millennia. Ordinary reality can bend, flow, and jump into the magical non-ordinary.
Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut who walked on the moon early 1971, went through "a change of consciousness" during that long plummet back to earth, in celestial epiphany that altered his life. Crazy Horse, Ta-sunka-witco, becoming known as a young man of extraordinary vision among a people of wide-awake dreaming, got his new, startling name and trajectory in similar transport, in the hallowed Black Hillsand the power to lightning through Custer's bluecoat bullets. Even Paul, that first Christian moralist, changed name and destiny as result of a vision coming forcefully enough to wallop him off his Roman steed, sear him in blinding light, and boom out with voice.
The Navahohere long before our New World was "discovered"have been aware of timelessness for eons and enshrined this wisdom in their language, which does not distinguish among past-present-future. But our more primitive Einstein had been struggling years for an answer to the effect motion has on electric-and-magnetic fields. Finally he'd just had it. In May 1905 he gave up. But upon awaking the next morning everything else fell away and he knew. Einstein experienced satoria great flash of insight that occurs only during the momentary rare union of body, mind, and spirit sought by Japan's Zen Buddhists.
The result of this vision, wild-haired Albert's "Special Theory of Relativity" and later his "General Theory of Relativity," would shake the world with front-page banners like that atop The London Times: "Revolution in Science: Newtonian Ideas Overthrown." Time is not a uniform constant. Time and space are not separate but slip back and forth into each anotherand matter and energy, which likewise slip back and forth, are part of that same whole thing: matter-energy creates gravity, a curvature of the time-space that surrounds it. Thus the solution to Einstein's problem and his emergence as a spokesperson for physicistsand, I'll say, visionaries: "People like us . . . know that the distinction between past, present and future is only a persistent illusion."
If these sober astronauts and Nobel scientists can space out into visions that electrifyand alter planetary historyif the Father of Christian Dogmatism can sprawl in the dirt beamed in divine photons, then anyone can slip into warp and go to sacred non-ordinary reality. For those put off by wonked-out artists and witch doctorsthere is our long list of visionary Christian saints and mystics. And in spite of Paul, this roster does include women. One of many exemplars, with papal certification as a mystic and fabled for her visions, is Hildegard of Bingen (Germany, 10981179), a Benedictine nun renowned as musician, composer, poet, artist, illustrator, critic, who also wrote treatises on prayer, philosophy, medicine, and designed a sewer system for the convent in Rupertsberg where she became abbess.
"Hildegard of Bingen" has a ring to it like "Louella of Bisbee," that multitalented high-school graduate I pointed up in Part 2 as one of the potential untamed originals who might grow into vision that will lead this nation out of insanity. The parallel is better if Hildegardall-around "renaissance" whirlwind 300500 years ahead of her timedid have athletic ability. She certainly was energetic and spiritedrosy enough to live to eighty-one, quite an accomplishment back in her century, half way through the 2 x 1000 years that took us from the birth of Christianity to the moon.
Now we enter an accelerated, more self-empowered, electrified millennium, where outside print shops, libraries, and authorities on health information are rapidly ceasing to be so necessary. Serious seekers of the epiphany can also become more personally responsible in spiritual quest. Now each of us has access to the sourcesymbolized in that July 20, 1969, first lunar landing: "By stepping onto the moon, humanity has reached and is able to explore its subconscious universe" (my summation of Isabel Hickey, author of Astrology: A Cosmic Science). Pilgrims of the holy can now more instinctively journey into a collective unconscious, archetypes, symbology, take steps into their own Sea of Tranquility and deepest vivid feeling, all represented by that ghostly sphere which illuminates our common dream-drenched nights.
The cathedral dome of stars and all templates for vision in America have been in place since long before the first Puritan shoe struck shore. Power doctors from Black Elk (a Crazy Horse second cousin, who at thirteen witnessed Custer's finale) to Hyemeyohsts Storm (our contemporary) have given texts illuminating indigenous wisdom for palefaces. Those revolutionary late-1960sa meteor-shower preview of this opening next millenniumburst out in joyous receptivity to Native American vision, values, style, and even domicile.
That peak-stream panorama climaxed with the first moonwalk, manifesting here on earth as the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Within a month after Neil Armstrong's "great leap for mankind," Americansincluding womankindexperienced (Good) Woodstock and (Bad) the Charles Manson murders, and a few months later (Ugly) the killing by National Guardsmen of four students at Kent State University in Ohio and by police of two at Jackson State College in Mississippi. Just like that mooneverything has its dark side. Even the USA and Christianity.
What guidance, what mentoring did American Dream elders offer Columbine High seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold six years earlier when these boys were ready for initiatory Vision Quest?and after? Thisto pocket the boys' allowance and pizza paychecks: virtual reality videos of horrific violence, high-tech artillery, ammunition, and instruction booklets, music and movies showcasing despair and machine-gunning, and mythic black trench coats that billow behind heroic celluloid shooters.
Should our two young Custers have hunkered in church for a stupefying dose of moralitymere rules, Commandments, dogmaalong with the requisite marinade of guilt, shame, and humiliation? Should these impressionable American-Dream-bombarded boys have knelt before their Good Book elders, to endure gauntlets backflashing the zealot crusade, the punitive inquisition, the tortuous elimination of heresy?
It is time, as a new 1000-year calendar flips over, to suggest that we begin to valueand even experiencethe more advanced spirituality of the original Americans whose homeland we occupy. From the beginning, originals and pretenders have been Siamese twins of fate here. I mean we are actually joined at the hipif not at the unrealized heart. Let me give but three examples, moving east to west just as we ravaged across a land not ours. Whites may be surprised.(1) From the East CoastWe, who would not have made it through our first snows here without the saving gracethus Thanksgivingof "savages," received something else from our East Coast hosts: an American vision of government. Our touted USA separation and balance of powers is a direct imitation of the three-bodied council of the Iroquois Five Nations Confederacy, which had been flourishing centuries before we arrived, along with right of popular nomination, right of recall, and woman suffrage (which we were too primitive to copy!). The official ancient symbols of the Five Nations Confederacy were a point within a circle, a bundle of arrows, and a watchful eagle. Every citizen should flip a dollar bill over and look at the official "Great Seal of the United States."
This governmental systemnot devised by whites but by "barbaric primitives"came via visions to its originators, Dekanawida and Hiawatha, back in East Coast antiquity. Much further back in a pre-Mayan world below North America, an ancient Circle of Lawdreamed on to the chosen northern Dekanawida?included separation and balance of powers, equality of men and women, all born free (we too primitive to copy!), two-thirds vote making majority, and every-four-year renewal of leaders and laws. Need I say more? How officially Siamese can we get!(2) To the HeartlandWell, within our new century the greatest monument in America will become Thunderhead Mountain Crazy Horse Memorial in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota, 8 feet taller than the Washington Monument. In fact, this will be the largest sculpture on earth, a 27-foot nose lifting toward the heavens almost 600 feet from the mountain floor. Recently on the 50th anniversary of the first dynamite blast, the visionary warrior's nine-story face was dedicated as finished. His face is so large that all four neighboring Mount Rushmore presidents could be stacked within. When solid-granite Thunderhead Mountain is finally carved out, there will sit Crazy Horse on his pony, arm stretched far toward the horizon, pointing beyond. This massive memorial will be almost visible from a moon shuttle, to our mixed-blood great grandchildren . . . and surely to my ghosted grandmother born 1892 in a log cabin at the foot of a then Lakota-immaculate Mount Rushmore.
Of course it was from this vortex of sacred ground of dream and vision, just south of Rapid City on November 11, 1934, that the first two humans literally lifted away into space, sailing 72,000 feet into the stratosphere, farther than anyone had ever gone into our physical cosmos, in an Army Air Force balloon, wearing helmets borrowed from the high school football team. Thus a historical marker"The Stratobowl"commemorating human lift off into the beyond.
The United States of America had been birthed at 4:47 p.m. on July 4, 1776, in "the City of Brotherly Love" with the signing of our Declaration of Independence. Just breaking the horizon at that moment in Philadelphia was 7 degrees and 33 minutes of the sector of heaven called Sagittarius. The Rising Sign, for a person, even a nation, represents the image with which such entity projects itself into the world, the way that it "dawns on" the rest of us. Thus the official astrological image for America is the free-ranging centaur, that man a-horse shooter to the stars.
But deep behind the worldwide picture of the American as cowboyor as skywalkeris the Native American horseman who rode the same Midwestern Great Plains that produced the cowboy image. And this actual archer at one with his gallop needed neither saddle nor bridle to guide such surging vital forceonly the touch of his spirited heathen knees. This native pagan faith-possessed centaur was more free, ranged farther, and aimed higher into the stars than the usurping fabled American cowboy . . .(3) And on WestwardFor Sagittarius symbolizes the hips and thighs that propel our swim kicks and greater leaps, the arrow that flies high from the bow, and so also the far-seeker, the visionary, the unlimited cross-cultural spiritual guide and traveler.
From these same Dakota plains, twenty-one-year-old Sacajawea lead the Jefferson-envisioned and -decreed 18041806 Lewis and Clark expedition through 753 miles of the wildest, most dangerous territory imaginable, resulting in the United States completing possession of all the rest of the land to the Pacificfrom sea to shining sea. When an expedition riverboat overturned, it was Sacajawea who buffeted the current to secure all those invaluable documents from crashing down the river into oblivion. She thus heroically swam the USA to safety while at the same time rescuing her child from drowning.
Back in 1948 Helena, galloping around our driveway at seven years, I was always the Long Ranger, that unrevealed American who rode with and whose life was saved over and over by an Indian. I didn't ever notice until after I was eight in Spokane, Lone Ranger on a comic bookand wondered how and why it could have changed.
I am not suggesting that paler Americans become Sacajaweas and Tontos or that we appropriate Native American spirituality as we have their land. But as our most famous white dropout said from his mountaintop of honorary degrees, not to mention a Nobel Prize and moniker as "greatest mind of the 20th Century": "No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it." Einstein also said we use only five percent of the brain and explained just what is behind scientific research, with bang-on lucidity: "The cosmic religious experience is the strongest and noblest force . . ."
In 1839 American linguist H.V. Hilprecht saw the astonishing visionary scenario in a dream that enabled him to solve his impossible problem of translating secret Assyrian fragments of 1300 BC. In 1869 Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev saw in a dream how to solve the frustrating problem of ordering the elementsand published his periodic law. In 1913 Danish physicist Neils Bohr finally solved his elusive problem by seeing in a dream the model of a hydrogen atom. In 1961 German chemist Friedrich Kekule saw snakes in a dream holding their tails to form the pattern of his long-sought molecular structure of benzene. These, along with Einstein's own earth-shaking May 1905 satori, are a litany of only a few of a multitude of well-known visionary eurekas in the history of so-called cold, rational science.
Our own pallid American Dream has hobbled and doomed us. By offering to citizen-spirit and the young no more vision than morality and making money, we create a stable of shooters without high aim. Without that higher aim, the vital forces gallop loose in stampeding mayhemthat even a saddle with bridle can't rein ina runaway pony express. And in our dark without stars, we just don't "get" the postal missives Harris and Klebold and so many like them are maniacally sending to our masses.
As long ranger, I am an artist-poet-performer who depends on visionary lift to each next consciousness. And I surely must have come to Bisbee to call back my childhood heart. I was so scared finally on July 10, 1987, that I felt all day about to throw up. So I carried a bucket with me to my ritualistic improvisation downtown at Cochise Fine Artsand set it beside me with the satchel that hid my props.
In great leaps for all-kind, I shouted old Lutheran basketball cheers slipped back and forth with a grade-school spelling joke and 1950s doo-wop, howling again and again into my refrain, head thrown back to a full-silvery-illuminated skyWoof woof woof hellooooo! I pulled an antique black phone to my ear, cord spiraling into the satchel at my feet. Woof woof woof hellooooo! In poetry high-crying I raised up a big plump red satin heart to my breast, where it floated as if by magic. Woof woof hellooooo! to our spirit moon over Cochise, receiver at my ear whirling line to my shimmery scarlet heart.
Woof woof hi yo! as I echoed Hi yo! Hi-yo, Silver! and the long awwwaaaaay! soaring into Woof woof hi yu! native chant. Hi yu niva hu, hi yu niva hu, ya hi yu niva hu!with the toe-step and chingling fur-and-bells in handsuddenly lifted with left-clutched Helena childhood forty-eight-star Old Gloryin shrieked, shockingly hysterical sobs subsiding to a pause . . .
Straight into eyes of my audience one after another in purified boyish aweWoof woof hello. Woof woof hellountil joyous responses came hailing back from all round. "Hello! Hello! Woof woof! Hello!"
For months after, I would hear "Hellooooo! Hellooooo!" called from passing car windows, front porches, sometimes from I don't know where, just resounding off the hillsides like all that lightning and thunder.I believe it's over. America is dead and finished. Our schoolboy pony express shooters are just now getting their gallop up. Going postal is on its way to messages we can't even nightmare. Our full volcanic compression of 400of 2000!years of lies and hypocrisyso darkly denied, buried, suppressed to ferociously hellish explosivenessis blowing like St. Helens back into our present.
And I believe the Native American will save us yet again. Though we made a joke of every treaty, as even Republican presidential candidate John McCain says: "We know that this nation entered into solemn treaties which have been continuously violated for more than 250 years." Not long ago the Lakota Sioux, what's left of Crazy Horse's peopleone of the poorest populations in Americawon an award of $300 million after the longest civil proceeding in American juris prudence, for land stolen from them in the 1870s. They have refused the money, these terribly terribly poor people. They want their Paha Sapa, their Black Hills back.
And I believe those great dreamers we fooled cheated betrayed tortured massacred will embrace and release us. Redeem us. Re-dream us. How can I know? Because the long ranger focuses beyond the horizon. Because I believe the Kemo Sabe are that noble.
All we have to do is ask. Oh yes and we will. Though we are ashamed to teach we got our superior American vision of governmentand so much morefrom hatless people in animal skins. White kids are loading their book bags with pipe bombs now. There is no need to seek or want forgiveness. If you have betrayed your heart, if you have betrayed your childhood, if you have betrayed your original inner wildness . . .
Cry out to that heart, call to that childhood, invoke your divine native epiphanal vividness . . . for startling lucidity. It has been waiting within oh! so many years. And suddenly America will be not ravaging but embracing its own red hip-and-heart twin.
I was the age of pony boys Harris and Klebold, there with my grandfather (18921975) in the half light as he began to speak of himself as young manand of a best friend, Rueben-Looks-Twice. Back there in time when Grandpa was training for a leap that would make him the first American ever to high jump six feeta dusty wagon rattled up to Black Hills Blacksmith where he was apprenticing . . .
Two young bucks in front, an old blind man cross-legged staring out the back, like that alone a full hour. Deep inside, the smithy and other silhouettes around the fiery forge spoke with such hushed, reverent tone. As the wagon pulled away, back toward Pine Ridge Reservation, my high-sailing young grandpa asked, "Who was that." Silence. It was Red Cloud, signer of the betrayed treaty of 1868, so wizened and blindsoon to swim on over his holy hills at eighty-seven in 1909seated backwards upon the rattled buckboards gazing sacredly into the receding flow of time to my strong-thighed grandpa.
My grandfather was silent long in our shadowy room. He aimed one more arrow . . . "They were the noblest people who ever lived."
I always figured Grandpa was spinning yarns. Then two decades after he died in my armsin the dawning of our new millennium, I open a ragged envelope that includes his obituary. Grandpa did make that greatest leap in the history of America.