Vi Waln: It's starting to feel like spring at Rosebud Reservation

It is starting to feel like spring. The meadowlarks are back on the Rosebud. Many people look for the robins as the harbingers of early spring. I always listen for the meadowlarks’ song.

When I was a small child, I used to look for magpies. I remember the adults in my life were always disgusted with the magpies but I thought they were great. I guess the feelings of disgust were felt by the magpies because they don’t come around here anymore. People say they died off when the prairie dogs were poisoned.

When I go to HeSapa during the spring and summer I always see magpies. There are some big ones that live at Mato Paha. I am always glad to see a magpie. I would not want to think that manmade poisons put out to slaughter prairie dogs also killed every magpie on earth.

I remember hearing the meadowlarks’ song my whole life. I grew up in the country and there were always lots of birds around. When I was still a child my family planted a grove of trees. We found a meadowlark nest on the ground with some eggs in it. The nest was very hard to see. There were three small eggs in it. We weren’t allowed to touch it.

I see those little barn swallows that build their nests out of mud. I have watched many times a pair of barn swallows take an entire day to build their nest. Barn swallows will build their nests in the same place every year unless something happens to compromise it.

For instance, I think it is wrong when hateful people throw rocks or other projectiles at those mud nests to knock them down. It should be a crime to destroy a bird nest. I know some children will do this and I think it is up to the parents to teach them not to destroy the home of a bird. Still, I suppose it is not fair to always blame the children because some have parents who carry a mean, destructive streak.

There are other small birds that will build nests in barns. I remember seeing nests in the barn as a child. We would climb up as far as we could to try and see the nest. Sometimes if we got too close the baby birds would think we were their mother coming with food. All of a sudden the quiet nest was full of wide open, screaming beaks. It always looked funny. I used to feel bad because it seemed like the baby birds were always hungry.

This time of year is one of my favorites because I get to watch all the little birds come back for the summer. I have a giant evergreen tree in my front yard and it is home to many birds. Some family members say I should cut the tree down because it is too close to my house but I do not have the heart to kill that tree. I watched my grandparents plant it and I believe it would be wrong to cut it down. Where would all those little birds live if that tree were cut down?

Some of the little birds are pretty tough because they stay all year round. I keep bird seed on hand during the fall and winter because after a blizzard or when the temperature drops below zero those little birds are all out there searching for food. I try to spread the seed around because usually a whole flock of birds will often show up to eat. It is very interesting to watch them eat the seed. If you watch birds long enough you will see they all have their own personality.

Summertime in the country is a fascinating time to watch small birds. Robins, goldfinches, woodpeckers and red-winged blackbirds are some I can identify. But others I cannot. I only know they come around in the summer. Some birds have orange heads. Others I see have lots of blue feathers. And still others have green feathers. Sometimes I think I should have been a professional birdwatcher and then maybe I would have figured out what each of these birds is called. Some of you are wondering what kind of birds I am talking about. If you don’t see the birds I see then maybe you aren’t paying attention.

Another bird we sometimes talk about but might never actually see is the Thunderbird. This bird is seen in many depictions. Our logo for this newspaper, for instance, shows the Thunderbird in the center of the eight pointed star.

I do not profess to be an expert Lakota on anything. I do know that we believe in the Thunderbird who brings the storms. Some say that the Thunderbird is Wakinyan. There would be no life for humanity without Wakinyan for they carry the water which nourishes Unci Maka every spring so everything can grow again.

Wakinyan is one of the greatest powers of nature we will ever witness. If you don’t believe Wakinyan has any power then you’ve never been in the midst of a powerful summer thunderstorm. Many people are afraid of thunderstorms. The loud cracks of thunder and the flashes of lightning can be very intimidating.

There are those of us who revel in thunderstorms. We are excited to hear the first rumble of a thunderstorm! We have to be outside to see those beautiful lightning shows the Wakinyan gift us. I say a prayer and offer tobacco every time I hear thunder. I give thanks for the life the storms bring to us.

During the month of March, usually around the time of the vernal equinox, many Lakota make a pilgrimage to HeSapa to trek to the summit of Hinhan Kaga Paha to acknowledge the Wakinyan for another season of life. I want to say Wopila to all of you who offered tobacco, song and prayers to welcome the Wakinyan.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at vi@lakotacountrytimes.com.

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