June 11, 2010- Mike the Medicine Man

Kate Murr

Mike picked us up about a half mile before the road turned to gravel. His eyes were kind, his hair kinetic, his truck smoky. He asked if we were really going to ride our bikes that way and said he was about to fix hamburgers and French fries with his boys. We were welcome to come to his house, just down the road, and he would take us to the end of the dirt road in the morning. Though we hadn’t made it very far, we thought that sounded like a good idea.

We were on a detour because the bridge at Bear Lake was closed. Gone, actually. A man had stopped us on the road to warn us (thankfully) a couple of miles before we came to the gaping hole in the road. We hadn’t seen any detour signs because they rerouted most of the traffic on the interstate on the other side of Platt City. We called the highway department from a yard where the kids played tag, and we learned we would probably have to backtrack quite a ways to cross. Instead of backtracking, we decided to hang out beside a busy gravel road to ask a local which way to go. That is how we ended up at Mike’s.

Samuel and Garrett

Samuel and Garrett, ages 15 and 10, greeted us upon our arrival to their home, which seemed in all respects to be the habitat of boys, and they politely put on their shirts and took the kids and Stuart on a tour of the farm. There were baby peacocks and parrots. The house sat in the middle of a vast cornfield atop the rolling hills above the Missouri river valley. Mike, Samuel, and I made dinner, although Mike forbade me to unload the dishwasher. My latent kitchen-cleaning reflexes suddenly flared, and though the urge was difficult to suppress, I also didn’t clean up after dinner. Mike’s disapproval commanded significant respect.

At dinner we talked about music: with all the instruments reclining about the house, it made sense that mike Mike gives guitar lessons, and the boys determined Stuart looks like a young Eric Clapton. Jane piped up about how she wants to play violin; or maybe she asked him if he had a violin. Mike trotted right down to his basement and brought up a half sized instrument.  He told Jane to write him at the end of her journey, and, if she was interested, request the violin and he would send it to her.

Mike's Gift

I was shocked and excited about the gift, but Jane donned that face she has when something gets to be too much; it’s a claymation-style smirk and vacant sparkle eyes that make me wonder if she’s taken an internal retreat. When Mike showed her how to exercise her fingers to make them strong for practicing she came back. She nimbly exercised her left fingers and danced in her chair.

After putting the kids to bed in Garrett’s generously donated bunk bed, I chatted on the phone with a friend on Mike’s porch, surrounded by stars and fireflies. Full of night, I joined Stuart and Mike who were just finishing Stuart’s third guitar tutorial of the trip. Samuel and Mike picked up one of the several guitars at random and would play a riff, a song, experiment with tuning. Their guitars were habits, appendages, friends, and when I asked Mike to play his favorite song, he played one by a western troubadour about love and afternoon.

Then Mike shared the story of his name, which translated from Pawnee means roughly, “He brings plenty”. When his dad died, he dreamed a rotating silhouette. He dreamed it over and over. He thought it over and over. When he talked to his mom about his dream and waking vision, she recommended that he speak to a tribal elder that had been his father’s friend. The elder told Mike to record his dream, to meticulously write down all the details of his visions. Eventually, Mike was able to recognize that the silhouette was a vision of himself wearing the shirt of a medicine man. He made the shirt. From heavy hides, feathers, beads, and the legs of wolfs he constructed, over 18 months, an exact replica of it. He made a medicine wheel. The elders came to ceremoniously name Mike. He was introduced to his grandfathers who had given him his visions. Now the grandfathers guide and protect Mike, and they give him visions that he must see manifested or they’ll cut him off. He teaches his children about the one God, and he has also named them in the tradition of his grandfathers. He wonders if the nine lines he painted on his shirt are representative of the grandsons he’ll someday watch over.

Mikes Medicine Shirt

As Mike translated a lullaby with his guitar, he mused about his life’s path. While he would have formerly dismissed us as crazy people on a gravel road, he was happy now that he had stopped to extend his hospitality. He is clear that he did it for himself, that the peace he feels from helping others is unmatchable. He practices this regularly, as it turns out: he and the boys volunteer at a Kansas City homeless shelter on Saturdays.

We said goodbye to Mike outside a diner near Atchison after we all took shots of the elderberry juice provided by Robert, the Katy Trail Shaman. In Atchison an Amelia Earhart sculpture boasts the following quotation, which added befitting punctuation to our time spent with Mike: “ Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.”

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