Separateness is an illusion

Below is Whisper #9 from my latest book, 48 WHISPERS, which is a collection of photographs and personal meditations created across a decade of travel to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the surrounding northern plains. 

As I leave South Dakota and the Black Hills traveling west toward the Bighorn Mountains, I inevitably come upon a Welcome to Wyoming sign. The image depicts a cowboy, hat in hand, riding a bucking bronco in the shadow of the Grand Tetons. I stop each time and get out of my vehicle to contemplate this isolated border that invisibly divides a landscape oblivious to its existence. 

Sometimes I imagine a Lakota caravan traveling west during a bygone era. They are headed for the hunting grounds along the tributaries of the Yellowstone River when suddenly they arrive at this curious sign. Puzzled, the nomadic community pauses as the elders discuss its meaning.

When the Oglala holy man Black Elk was born, this boundary line did not exist. When he died, it did. Which truth is real? Each time I stop here there is not another person in sight. All I can see is golden grass, wooden fence posts, and barbed wire streaming toward infinity.

I contemplate a similar set of questions each time I leave Pine Ridge. Those reservation demarcation lines were originally created with nefarious intentions designed to isolate the Sioux until they could be remade as conforming Christian farmers. So what’s the purpose of the reservation’s borders today, and how long shall they last?

It is both important and liberating to recognize that many of the boundaries that surround us are only real so long as we imagine them to be so. Separateness is an illusion.