This morning, we woke up to a record-breaking heat wave. Suffocating in our own breath, we peal ourselves from drenched sleeping bags and turn on the air conditioning in the car. A short drive away, we emerge onto brittle earth, and cross the deserted remains of Fort Rice. Beneath our feet, an underground labyrinth of prairie dogs is alive and active. They entertain us for over an hour as we guess which hole they will pop out of next.
Stopped at a red light, a man in the car next to us asks what The Nomadic Project is. He is reading the magnet on our car. We give him the short elevator pitch before the light changes. At the next light he slows down and hands us a CD from his car to ours. “We are playing a concert downtown this weekend, if you are still around,” he says. We thank him, and pop the CD into our stereo.
His name is Chuck Suchy, and the album is called Evening in Paris. We listen to the album again through the car speakers while I paint outside on the capital lawn. I am working on the painting inspired by South Dakota – the state we just left. This piece will be displayed at a gallery in North Dakota. There is never a time where I am not deep in paint or dreaming up the next piece. I realize at this moment. In the quiet shade in Bismark, this process has gotten easier. It took 26 states and 7 months but I finally feel like my concepts are clearer and my brush strokes are more intentional. I am comfortable painting in any unconventional “studio” space, and am more confident discussing the project terms to prospective galleries. There is no time for “painter’s block” or hesitation when the wonders of the next state await us. There comes a point that you just have to leap…and have faith in yourself. This new life-style has begun to feel normal. We are leaving a trail of artwork in our path…why not?
Later this week the “Long Soldier Powwow” is taking place in Fort Yates, so we won’t be able to attend Suchy’s show in Bismarck…another time. The architecture of the capital building is similar to Louisiana’s state house. It towers tall, and lacks a tradiation all dome. It is interesting how unique each capital is. In front of this building, red and white flowers spell out “NORTH DAKOTA,” and remind me of an end zone. I pack up my paints, and we head off to Fort Yates.
After a much needed rainfall – providing little relief from the intense heat, moccasins sink into the earth on the Standing Rock Reservation. At first glance, one feels immersed in this unfamiliar culture. The language, dress, and food are unique to this area, this nation. Yet, amongst tepees stand nylon tents. Camp stoves have replaced woodfires. Harmonic chants sound over the beat of a central drum, but are overwhelmed by the intermittent voice on the loud speaker. Teens, adorned with feathers, braids and fringe stand off to the side with cell phone in hand. This is a modern day Powwow, and here at Fort Yates it is clear that ancient traditions and beliefs have faded slightly into silhouettes.
The dancers dance, but not in celebration of a successful hunt. The dance is a competition, numbered and judged. Stories of the past fall upon deaf ears, and seated around the base drum, men are dressed in t-shirts and ball caps. The princess is chosen by academic achievement and merit and all the horses stand corralled at the Rodeo next door.
This is America, a melting pot. Turn the temperature hot enough, and all become moldable. Burnt to the bottom of the pan are memories of the old frontier. Pavement hides the land where bison once roamed. Yet without roots, a tree is merely a stick in the mud. So I wonder, has the “home of the free” loat its freedom? I continue to watch, I think to myself “Dance. Hold onto the history of your soul, for without it you and I are no different than a machine.”