Written by Win Blevins
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of his book Stone Song, author Win Blevins looks back at the forty year path the book has taken him on.
Up a creek without a paddle. When I was a kid, that was what we called it.
1976. I’d made some bucks and spent a year reading the history of the West and driving across its deserts, running its rivers, and climbing its peaks, looking for its heart and soul. I wanted to find the right story to get the land and the people to speak their hearts and sing their souls and let me write down their song.
A young man’s foolishness? As it turned out, no.
I found the story—the life of the extraordinary Lakota (Sioux) leader Crazy Horse, Tashunke Witko, His Horses are Crazy. But for one damnable reason I couldn’t write it. He was a man who lived his life guided by visions. I’d stopped believing in visions when I walked out the door of the church twenty years before, and refused to go back. So how could I possibly understand him, see into his soul, hear the song of his heart?
I was mesmerized by him. I had to tell his story. And I couldn’t. Absolutely not.
A single discovery opened a door. I needed to stop looking in books. The kind of knowledge I needed, to feel his truth so I could tell it, lived in experiences, not in books.
So I went into the sweat lodge, as he did. I went over and over. I smoked the pipe. Though I didn’t know exactly what, I felt something real in those gestures, something less important to me as a writer than as a man.
Still uncertain of the path I was walking and where it led, I became a pipe carrier, which is a kind of minor priesthood. And something dawned on me. I had had an extraordinary, trance-like experience more than a decade before.
I went into the sweat lodge with my mentor. He counseled me about what I had seen. I came out with two realizations. I saw that even before I tried to find Crazy Horse, I myself had had a crucial, life-changing vision. And now I must make a pledge to go on twelve vision quests and allow other… whatever they are… to come to me.
I will complete the twelfth quest sometime next month, the twentieth anniversary of the publication of my story of the life of Crazy Horse, Stone Song. I gave it that name because Crazy Horse tied a small stone behind his ear and listened to its wisdom.
In the intervening years I have had scores of what people call visions, though I prefer the word “trances.” I have danced the sun dance. I have shed my blood ceremonially. In short, I put my foot on the red road as an act of trust, and walked where it has led me. Forty years along the path, I am a far different man.
The actual writing of the book came in the middle years of those forty. In the early 1990s I wrote and wrote, asking to be open to gifts of awareness I did not have. Awareness came, partly from Lakotas who told me the stories that they have passed down verbally about their great man. Partly from what seemed to be the presence and inspiration of the man himself, Crazy Horse. Daily I spoke to him gratefully as Tunkashila, Grandfather.
The reception of the book exceeded all my hopes. I went to sun dance at Wounded Knee shortly after publication. There the impossible happened.
One sun dancer made the blood sacrifice to the sacred tree in an extraordinary way that should not be described here. When he was finished, chest running red, he looked around at the scores of people who stood witness to his act. His blood entitled him at that moment to take his sacred pipe to anyone he chose and offer that person the opportunity to make a wish on it.
He chose me. Impossible, because he had never seen me before, had no idea who this stranger might be, but… He chose me.
I took the pipe from him. What, said my inner voice, are truly my hopes for Stone Song? They cannot be simply for me. Somehow they must embrace more.
All Lakota ceremonies end with the same two words, mitakuye oyasin—We are all related. I asked myself for a wish for all of us, and the words came.
“Pipe,” I said silently, “may Stone Song change a million hearts.”
The book has had many, many readers—I will never know how many. Some have told me that reading it changed their lives. Such is the gift of that pipe on that elevated day.
Now, on the twentieth anniversary of its launch into the world, as it continues to enter minds and hearts, I make the same wish. May Stone Song change a million hearts. And then another million, and another, and…Buy Stone Song today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | iBooks | IndieBound | Powell's
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