A week ago, I was at the foot of Devils Tower, a land mass rising out of the earth like the upturned hoof of a giant horse. It's a geological fascination,inspiring Sioux legends and even the film Close Encounters. Devils Tower is what drives Richard Dreyfus to sculpt his mashed potatoes into a monument; Devils Tower is the site of his meeting with aliens. Unlike most close encounters, these aliens are benign, and Dreyfus ascends with the ship to safety.
The Sioux recount of tale of what we now know as Devils Tower; and they might mention that Devils Tower is the white man's name, as most Native-Americans know it as bear rock. As told by Lame Deer, the legend recounts the tale of two boys, who venture out into the prairie and get lost for 4 days On the fourth day, they are pursued by a giant grizzly who chases them for miles. The boys pray to Wakan Tanka -- The Great Mystery -- asking for pity, asking to be saved. And the God responded. He shook the earth, and the land thrust itself upwards of 1,000 feet, carrying the boys into the clouds. Ever in pursuit, the giant bear clawed around the side of this tower, etching deep grooves into the rock still visible today. In this version of the tale, the bear relinquished his pursuit, vanishing into the horizon, and the boys were lifted to safety by an watchful eagle. In other versions, the boys are young girls and are transformed into stars. In still another, several girls are slaughtered, while others are spared.
So the tower of rock invokes a rite-of-passage story. The mad, man-child or the young venture out from the safety of family and are threatened by forces they cannot combat. They call out to be saved. And, as is the case with legends and film, they are.
Last night, the teen son of one of the cyclists, a rider himself, recounted the recent suicide of Lennon Baldwin, a 15-year old boy from Morristown, NJ. Lennon was bullied by three students from his high school. One assaulted him -- an assault caught on surveillance tape. When suspended from school, the assailant harassed and then coerced Lennon to tell school authorities that the assault was a prank. Lennon did just that. Three days later, as a warning, the boys assaulted and robbed Lennon. Weeks later, the boys were charged, but then released under house arrest; one day later Lennon took his own life.
In the legend, the good, great spirit and kind save and protect, and I am again reminded why legends are told again and again. Tales tell us what we must do.