Medicine in the Mountains

By D.J. Vanas © 2008
News From Indian Country 10-08

“Stop trying to poke your sister in the eye,” I scolded my nearly-three-year-old, Bella. She was picking on her big sister, Gabi, who is seven. I figured I’d intervene since Gabi looked like she was contemplating a Tae Kwon Do move on her baby sister – she’s a brown belt – and I was nervous.

My wife was gesturing wildly, talking on her cell phone to her mom as the “Kidz Bop” CD was loudly belting out kid’s voices singing cover tunes to ‘80s hits which is its own special brand of torture. My stomach was now rolling from shotgunning my coffee and a yogurt (bad combo) so we could get out on the road to our destination. I wondered, almost out loud, “Why are we doing this again?”

My family and I were heading to beautiful Pikes Peak for the day. It is an icon of Colorado, standing constant vigil over Colorado Springs. At a glorious height of 14,110 feet, it inspired Kathy Lee Bates to pen “America the Beautiful” after a visit in 1895. On the drive up, we stopped along the way at a gorgeous blue green lake that serves as one of the sources of drinking water for our city. There was a gift shop there that sold bags of dirt embedded with different gems and minerals for kids to find in a water-filled sluice, playing the role of miners. The girls squealed with delight as they found their treasures of amazonite, rose quartz and moonstone. Finally, an activity they did together, willingly and without eye poking.

Next we went up higher to a picnic site at the edge of a picturesque alpine valley, gobbling up our lunches and occasionally sharing a chip with the pack of chipmunks that surrounded us. Next, we made it to the summit and getting to the top of Pikes Peak is an anticlimactic experience. Sure, it’s exciting to stand there and see the vistas around you, but it was 33 degrees, winds over 30 mph and the lack of O2 brings on headaches and nausea (why are we doing this again?). I was standing on a promontory, awed by the views, feeling close to the Creator and about to deliver a moving oratory when I found myself alone. My wife and the girls sought refuge in the gift shop where they munched on homemade doughnuts and fudge.

On the way back down, the baby passed out, but Gabi was still thrilled to be on this adventure. We stopped on the way down and we hiked around together. My wife, weary from the altitude, was content to stay in the truck with Bella and thumb through a fashion magazine. Though she was excited at the prospect, Gabi was nervous to climb along the boulders strewn across the floor of a quiet alpine valley. I held her hand and guided her up and over, giving words of encouragement and pointing out the brilliant purple wildflowers growing between the rocks. Her confidence grew. As we quietly scaled down, Gabi lovingly offered me her hand to help me down a rock. “Take my hand, Daddy.” She took my heart.

Though the whole day was a joy, the time with Gabi in those waning moments of the day were magical. We could hear our own heartbeats, but no ringing phones or TV. We could feel the sunshine and smell the pines without darting through traffic, or trying to keep a schedule. We talked about all kinds of interesting things, without rushing through or discussing politics, work, the war, the economy or the next coming crisis to our nation. We walked back to the vehicle, hand in hand, and she said, “Daddy, I really love being with you.” I choked back the lump in my throat and returned the sentiment. Now I know why we came.

We are all busy people anymore. We live in a hectic age full of challenges and confusion. We get caught up in the fast pace, becoming addicted to it and wearing our level of activity as a badge of honor. “I'm so busy, between work and the kids, I don’t have a moment to do anything but catch a breath.” Then another person chimes in… “Oh yeah, I’m so busy I haven’t eaten in a week. I haven’t had a good night sleep since ‘88. Last week, I forgot to put pants on before I went to work.” What are we doing to ourselves? What makes us think that going full blast until the wheels fall off will bring us happiness?

In our Odawa language, mshkiki (mush-kay-kay) is our word for medicine. It is derived from two words, “mshki” means strength and “ki” means earth. Together, they make a word that literally means strength from the earth. It’s not just a pill or potion as modern society views medicine, but anything and everything that keeps us healthy and strong. Even if we know our medicine, we must actually use it for it to have the healing and rejuvenation we seek. Not having the time is the most common excuse we use to deny ourselves this prescription. There is no time in life to do anything – only what we make time for.  What is your medicine? Are you making the time to use it to strengthen and refresh yourself? If not, get to it now – doctor’s orders!

We all had things to do that Saturday – people to call, e-mails to return, bills to pay, errands to run, rooms to clean, etc. – but I’m so happy we made time to do what we did. It was medicine for me and I know it was for my family as well. We started this week feeling renewed, optimistic, lighter on our feet and grateful for our blessings and for each other and hopeful about things to come. I may not know all the answers to make this world a better, stronger place, but I have a good idea of things I can do to make me a better, stronger person and maybe that is part of the answer.

Well, I’ve got to go for now. The baby is poking the big one in the eye again…   

D.J.’s upcoming schedule:  October

3-5 San Diego, CA

8-9 Accenture (Washington, DC)

12-13 Indigenous Brain Injury Association (HOLD)

15-16 Siletz Self-Sufficiency Program (Lincoln City, OR)

17-21 DCI Tribal Leadership Conference (Honolulu, HI)

22-23 Native Caring Conference (Coos Bay, OR)

30 U.S. Office of Personnel Management (Denver, CO)

D.J. Eagle Bear Vanas (Odawa) is a nationally acclaimed motivational storyteller, success coach and the author of the celebrated book, The Tiny Warrior: A Path to Personal Discovery & Achievement and audio CD series The Warrior Within. D.J. uses traditional warrior concepts and wisdom to inspire people to achieve their best in life, school and career and owns Native Discovery Inc., a company dedicated to “building the warriors of tomorrow…today.”


He can be reached at (719) 282-7747 or at