Medicine Wheel. Research.

I read my essay “A Whole New Life” (previously posted) in critique group last week, and Susie said, “What’s a medicine wheel?”

I had looked it up a few months ago before my trip to Wyoming because there’s a medicine wheel in the Big Horn Mountains. It’s at a height of about ten thousand feet and only without snow two months out of the year. I got that it was like a Native American Stonehenge. Its rocks were aligned such that during summer solstice, one can sit in an accurately placed cairn and see spokes of rocks that point to the rising and setting places of the sun. This was exciting to me because I was going to be there the day before summer solstice. I really wanted to see it. My sister and I tried to hike the two miles to the wheel, but alas, it was not to be, for snow still covered the trail. One slip, and I’d be at the bottom of the mountain, dead.

After Susie’s comment, I did some research. One of the three R’s of creative nonfiction is Research. Information is the reason for the genre, the reason for the story. Teaching the reader. And I discovered information that contains implied Reflection (another R) and takes the story to a whole new level.

So in first-step revision my medicine wheel paragraph has evolved into this:

“Then there’s a circular herb garden, fifteen feet in diameter, outlined with stones, with a square-stone pathway inside it running one side to the other and top to bottom, forming a cross, plentiful with parsley, sage, rosemary, sweet mint, and thyme. It’s made like a medicine wheel, an ancient Native American stone formation, laid out in a circular pattern that looks like a wagon wheel, its arrangement of rocks and cairns pointing to the rising and setting places of the sun at summer solstice. Early on, Native Americans observed that there are no straight lines in nature. Nature expresses herself in circular patterns, from a bird’s nest to the cycle of seasons or the cycle of life—birth, death, rebirth. Thus the wheel represents the universe and also one’s own personal space or personal universe. It’s a mirror that lets one see what is going on within, how to realize and reach her potential, how to heal. The word “medicine” refers to the power or force inherent in nature and to the personal power within oneself that can enable her to become more whole or complete. The wheel symbolizes harmony, connections, and peaceful interaction among all living beings on Earth. A medicine wheel is a sacred space, a place for meditation, a centering device for one’s consciousness. I tried to hike to the Big Horn wheel in Wyoming on summer solstice this year, but the trail across the forty-five-degree, steep mountain slope was covered feet-deep in snow, and treacherous. I couldn’t make it. I was afraid and turned back.

Turning north, the stone pathway I just completed passes a bed of plants I’ve mostly begged off my sister and friends—Siberian irises, black and blue salvia, coreopsis, cannas, creeping jenny, Carolina jasmine, ajuga, nandinas, forsythias, and other things I don’t remember the names of. North on the medicine wheel represents coming to my time of winter. North is wisdom, healing, a time to be grounded within myself, a time to rest and contemplate this wisdom I’ve been given.”

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