After nearly roasting alive at the donkey pie party, it seems a tad strange to report that this wknd was as hot of a party, but in a different way. My nephew Dave (semi-affectionately known as "gold bug" because Cebah called him "golden boy" when he was a baby.) and his wife, the ever delightful Nancy, came for a visit and Dave pressed his idea that we convert the old brooder house into a sweathouse into action.
Building such things started with Cebah, in a way, not that she'd go in one. When I was a child she showed me how to make little shelters out of the long red-gold grass we call "sagegrass". She would bend a ring of the grass into a conic hut shape and tie the tops together with a handful. It made a wildly inviting hut for a little savage to hide in.
Later on, when I was half-grown, she showed me how to bend a ring of saplings into an overturned bowl shape, weaving and lashing horizontal rings on until the form could support a covering of bark, or a tarp, to make a wigwam. I don't know if there was some sort of ancestral thing going on there or just plain inventiveness. I continued making wigwams through my teens and twenties. They became the sites and centers of some memorable parties.
In the 90s there was a period of desert exploration. For nearly a decade of Springs, I went on llama treks into the back country of the Utah Canyonlands, and it was in one of those remote canyons that I helped build the first sweatlodge. I understood the procedure intuitively. It was a wonderful surprize to discover just how relaxing, meditative, inspiring, and hilarious time spent sweating could be.
Back home in dandyland, building annual sweat-wams became something of an institution after my sister Ruth Ann & I built one after my dad's funeral. It really seemed to help us get through that wknd. Inside the dark, hot and steamy space, especially once the heat gets to you, there's something about being under that woven dome that suggests the relativity of time and space ~ and there's a feeling that people have been doing just what you're doing, for a very long time, and that feeling is supported by fact.
I was lucky to be invited to help build and participate in a pre-buffalo kill Lakota sweat-lodge. I learned there how to build a better stone-heating fire, and a lot of other very interesting things. The Lakota sing in their lodge. It's something of an understatement to say that being packed as tight as sardines in a very hot lodge with 40 Lakota singers all going at it with every bit of heart and soul is a transporting experience. I asked the leader of the group about the protocol for singing, since I knew I would want to, but I don't speak Lakota and didn't know the songs. He told me just to follow what happened, and maybe it was because we were so tightly compressed together that all 40 bodies acted like a single pair of lungs, but much to my amazement I found that I was singing the songs in Lakota just like everyone else, with every ounce of strength that I could muster. In between songs we prayed so intently and fervently for everyone and everything that a few hours could have made a month of sundays. The sun dance that followed is a whole nother story.
In Japan, Tommy and Chisato & I went to a mountain hotspring where the water (not sulphurous like the Lightning Fish stuff.) was heated by a volcano. Community baths are a thing in Japan, Chisato and Tommy loved the wigwam sweatlodges we had here on the farm, the closest thing to the healthful hot water soaks of their native land, and Chisato would stay inside longer than anyone, long after everyone else had melted into pools of hot jelly.
I first experienced the Finnish-style sauna in Ireland. Our brooder-hot-house is somewhere in between the sweatlodge and that. It worked like a charm and by the time we finished at midnight all our muscles felt just like butter and our minds were blissfully blank. Why this venerable custom and healthy practice isn't a part of every household is a mystery to me. Even the uncalled for heat of the donkey pie party had a certain binding effect, fusing us into a glob of humor. I think our national family values would be enhanced by hunkering together in a little dark cosmic space to sweat out our communal and individual impurities in the hot brine of our origins.