Will Thacker Pass, At Last, Be Still? [Dispatches from Thacker Pass]

On a late April morning in Thacker Pass, where some Paiute ancestors have been buried and some massacred, where some people want to dig out the dead to dig out lithium, I woke to a strange, wet snow that fell overnight a day before temperatures in the 70s were forecast. It seemed a bad omen.


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Paiute elders teach that very bad things happen when the dead are disturbed. I knew this must be true. So many industrial projects in so many places have destroyed so many burial sites. The cracked bones of the slain have been cracked again and again in the frantic search for coal. Old, spilled blood turned to soil has been mixed with new, spilled blood by those who murder for oil. Now, in Nevada, if the lithium miners have their way, those brave Paiute who died resisting American soldiers will finally be forced onto the reservation when machinery agitates the dust formed by those Paiute bodies and the wind blows that dust to coat the homes of Paiute descendants at Fort McDermitt.

Either these desecrations have caused the world to go to hell or the dead, disturbed, have brought hell to Earth.

I pondered this while pondering the surreality of the spring snow. As heavy as it was, the snow didn’t weigh the ghosts down. Fingers that once clawed with shock at bullet holes, clawed through mud made by their own blood. The ghosts climbed through the sage brush roots and volcanic rocks, to drift over the snow and confront the living with the reality of history. Moans moved with heavy clouds. Screams, sometimes, did too. Raven wings stirred the death hanging on the air. The wind blew with their last words in a language I never knew.

Though the language was strange to me, the meaning was clear enough: each generation’s missing and murdered grieve for the next. A meadowlark, landed on the tip of a nearby sagebrush, and began to sing. He sang: “While there’s still time for some, there’s no time for grief.” He told me to let them grieve.

I threw some cedar on the fire and watched my prayers rise with the smoke. I wondered what the wind will do when there are no more dying words to deliver, what the dead will do when they are confident they will not be disturbed, what the ghosts will do when their lessons are remembered. I wondered: Will Thacker Pass, at last, be still?


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