In August 1991 I visited the Dances With Wolves film site. How I ended up there was as interesting as being there.
In 1987 my Dad died, and it hit me hard. My first published book, Freedom’s Just Another Word, chronicles the events around the time he passed away, because it was such a critical time for me. Several years later, I became very curious about a certain time in his life. When his drinking hit bottom, I was 17 years old, and we were living in Oklahoma City. My aunt and uncle came and got my Mom, sisters and I, and we went back to Fort Worth to stay with my grandmother. My Dad disappeared for a while, and I realized many years later, I never thought I would see him again – I thought he would die from his drinking. The rumor was that he had gone and worked the wheat harvest, which he had done in college one summer. My Mom said he had told her something about having a spiritual awakening during that time. He returned to Fort Worth, sobered up and began quietly reclaiming everything he had lost, including his family. He never talked about that time, and I never knew what happened. Then he died.
I realized in around the fall of 1990, that I wanted to explore what I thought might have happened to him. I wrote the first two chapters of a novel, and suddenly realized two things: first, I had a powerful story here. I could feel it. And second, this was a story of hope, which was the theme I had wanted to explore for several years. I sat with that awareness for a while, and mentioned it to my creative buddies. During that same time, I had started getting together with a couple of friends to explore our visions, dreams, and destinies. They were in support of the concept, but for me there was a missing piece.
“Someday, if I’m ever going to fully write this book, I’m going to have to go on the wheat harvest, to be able to describe that part of the story well. I think it will also help me figure out what had happened.” One of my friends told me later that he waited until I had made similar statements 3 or 4 times, but then he quietly mentioned one night at dinner “Dan, someday, if you ever want to go work on the wheat harvest to finish your book, I have relatives in Oklahoma who work the harvest every year. I could probably get you on with them.” I did a huge mental gulp at hearing that, and reacted like I usually do when I’m in shock, and sat there with a stunned look on my face, saying nothing. I thought about that for a long time, because I felt like the spiritual ante had been greatly upped on this whole book project!
The whole thing just took on a life of its own, and by May of 1991 I was living in a trailer with 6 farm kids in southwest Oklahoma, learning to drive a grain truck. (I do want to mention here that I am planning a book entitled “Then I Went to Find My Father” about the whole experience of me ending up on harvest. So if I compress some details here, I’ll pick them up there.) We heard all summer about how our trip would take us to Sturgis, South Dakota by August, and we’d be not far from the area where the movie Dances With Wolves was filmed. Of course, I thought – that would fit right in with the amazing summer I was having, following in my father’s footsteps and finding out where he had gone, and what he had gone through.
I remember vividly being on a dirt road north from Rapid City, driving a huge grain truck, pulling a trailer with a combine on the back of it, my fears of driving such a rig many miles to the south, now in a comfort zone and able to look around and enjoy myself. We came to a T intersection, where we were to turn left to go over to Sturgis, and the landscape looked incredibly familiar. When we got to Sturgis, I found out I had been looking down over the valley where they had filmed the Indian village scenes from the movie. Of course!
About a week later, after rains had stopped the cutting for a while, I got to go to the film site! The movie had affected me powerfully, all about finding your true self, and getting outside who you thought you were. I had seen it several times in the fall of 1990, when I was just fleshing out the idea for the book about my Dad. So to actually be on the ground where the movie was made was like a spiritual experience, within the larger setting of a vision quest to find out about my Dad, and walk in his shoes! I savored the experience, and the effect of it stayed with me long after we had gone back south at the end of the summer. So that’s how I ended up having the picture at the top of my blog page. (The book about my Dad on harvest, entitled “Nothing Left to Lose”, had several agents interested, but I haven’t yet published it – long story, which is the topic of my next book, “And Then I Stop.” I plan to publish both books)