The original "Posts from en route"

The original "Posts from en route"

Oak Lake and Brookings, SD; Atlanta, GA; and Berkeley, CA, USA, July 27, 2010 - September 21, 2010

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Editorial note: Again, the Posts from En Route that I will post frequently are an experiment to capture daily scenes that will inform a forthcoming book combining memoir, ethnography, and academic theory to give an account of my path to and through advocating for anti-colonial Indigenous science and sexualities. This post is an excerpt from the original “Posts from En Route” published in the volume He Sapa Woihanble (Living Justice Press, 2011) by the then Oak Lake Writers Society. We have recently changed our name to the Oceti Sakowin Writers Society. Since this was published over a decade ago, I would change some of the language today. My friend and co-editor of that volume, Craig Howe, located a copy of the manuscript for me since my books are all in storage at present. He was so helpful that he “pulled off the side of the highway” and found it on his laptop. He is always bombing around the country roads of South Dakota. Again, I will record these vignettes directly to the Substack platform instead of using audio editing software. Thanks for coming along on some of my rides around the planet.

Oak Lake Field Station, South Dakota, 7/27/10

Oak Lake writers are working on a book about the Black Hills. As a Dakota, the Hills are a place I drive through from California, home to the east and back again. I leave it to a Lakota to speak of their sacredness. I’ve known them as Black Hills Gold dreams committed to legend or to small white boxes in the dime store jewelry case. In my mind are raggedy tourist traps, a hyped motorcycle rally, the U.S. military, and fake dinosaurs to amaze kids who’ve hardly been anywhere. “Great Faces, Great Places” chirps in my head: South Dakota’s license plate logo rings a reproduction of the four dead men’s granite-carved heads.

One summer at midnight, I saw all of it punctuated by forest fires. Hulking black landforms with orange glow-balls tucked between. Then I drew the wood smoke in deeply like a sacred thing or intoxicant until I had to let it go. Six months pregnant with no place to stay. Evacuees filled hotel rooms all the way to Pierre. The winds were warm and strong. They pushed through the night quicker than cars slowed by haze and disorientation. In yet another summer’s night, I drove west into Rapid with bolts hotter than sun zigzagging the sky and striking the land all around. Those are the moments when the hills out-stand their twentieth-century market and empire formations.

Brookings, South Dakota, 7/28/10

I drove south to Flandreau last night to meet my uncle for dinner. A steakhouse with fans whirring and a view of the Big Sioux, moving like syrup to the top of its banks. I wanted to touch the river like when I was twelve, but I am not afraid now.

The boy stroked, an eel between

the struggle—the current of river pulling me. River coursed my body.

Put the boy’s hands on me.

I slipped in the flow to the bank. I rolled out the brown water.

Water rolled from me like blood. I stumbled under a full, hot sun. Ran to the old woman’s house.


my body, the loot in the dark.

My uncle told stories of townspeople and their tribulations. He softened things a bit. He made me laugh and sometimes wince. If I could write fiction, I would change everyone’s identity and I would make it all seem profound, which it probably is. We hugged goodbye in a parking lot crowded with shiny trucks below a heavy canopy of sky.

I haven’t been home in five years. I’ve flown many times over and back, but I didn’t touch my feet to the ground or to the water. Driving north again, over I-29, thunderstorm clouds like celestial bodies loomed too near to earth: majestic with their potential for killing. The clouds made me think of the alien ship stalled over Johannesburg in the District 9 film. But the smell was of home—sweet grass and rain in the air. Filled with pleasure and sci-fi beauty, I was struck by two thoughts. I can’t keep blaming the land for the people or temporal people completely for the land. This is a beautiful place despite the imposition of row crops, colonialisms, and unsustainable lives. And second, I prefer living en route to being “rooted.” Being “routed” keeps here strange to me and brings the beauty through.1 When I was a child, my vision was filled with gold-headed rows of corn, higher than my head, stretching farther than I could walk. It was bad magic like fields of poppies in The Wizard of Oz.

A Nomad’s Sleep2

North American plain, stark in the sun.

The wheat color blinds like snow. Two sisters embrace under white-breath screams, a hectic sky.

This day, one is leaving.

Closed in the dark rib-cage of a plane,

She shoots over Shannon, Tehran, towards Delhi to a hastened sunset, sudden morning.

In the nomad’s comfort of flight & disorientation, she sleeps between stars and lights dotting Earth, seven black miles beneath her. She dreams:

Running the circle of the dance grounds. Dancers come in, gray-haired women, old men.

Speed past; don’t get in their way as they dance in like Grand Entry. The circle elongates

to the size and brightness of Dakota fields. Run! Run!

They are close behind. In mouth, runner’s

spit thickens. Reaching in to pull the sinews out like the spider’s sticky thread, mouth-water beads in black, white, and red

filling cheeks. Spitting handfuls. Can’t get all the beads out.

Can’t get out of their way. Old people dance slow.

Run fast! They are close.

In the sky of India, the nomad wakes certain: flight’s in her story. The story predictably tethers her.

Atlanta International Airport, 8/17/10

It strikes me that I am suffering in my own small way the wages of empire. I have had an offensive week with the airlines: over- full flights, cannot maneuver for bad weather, missed connections, exorbitant fees to change a ticket. I couldn’t get home to catch another plane on the same sorry airline.

Several full-body pat downs: best to pack under-wires and go to the airport breasts sagging. I wait for the day that the disciplinary minions—the TSA workers—want to stick their metal detecting wand between my legs. I will walk from the terminal that day and give up flying. I am almost there. The old woman in uniform did all but that today. “Do you want a private room to do this?” she asked. “No.” They should do it in front of everyone. We should all see what it’s come to. And besides, I am not ashamed that they make my body the object of interrogation. I have nothing to hide. An old woman pressing my clothed chest with the back of her hand doesn’t bother me. It’s the whole context that bothers me.

Inside the terminal, long lines at the help desk. More overbooked flights, missed connections. I have pictures in my head of Russian breadlines in the 1980s. Military is everywhere here, uniformed soldiers and sailors. When all we do is pay for war, this is what we get. No regulation, no passenger rights, and strong, young bodies in a time of high unemployment trained to detain and kill roaming the concourses. I don’t know why they’re all here in Atlanta, but the sheer number of them looks imperial. The soldiers in their digitized camouflage have serious, unreadable faces. The navy boys in spiffy white suits and blue scarves smile and they swagger.

I am inside the high-security, air-conditioned building. I have food before me and a four-dollar coffee. I have a 500-dollar plane ticket in my purse. I have a California driver’s license and a gold credit card. I am one of the lucky ones in empire, but that doesn’t mean I feel safe. It just means I am more comfortable for now.

Cyberspace[at]LBL.gov, 9/20/10

“We walk around drenched in neutrinos, which fall right through us by the trillions every second.”

The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab3

My fellow thinker about technology’s cultures, Craig Howe, told me last summer when we sat inside the Oak Lake air about a coming transfiguration. A Black Hills gold mine would become laboratory, the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Lab at Homestake (DUSEL). Since then, I’ve been thinking about vast lengths of cavern and ghostly particles falling through matter.

Lawrence Berkeley Lab, up the hill from my office on Berkeley’s main campus, will design DUSEL. I read its introduction to the science that will happen there: neutrinos are other than dark matter, which, along with dark energy, constitutes 75 percent of our universe. Neutrinos do not quite fill the rest. Created during the big bang, neutrinos continue to be created in the “hearts of stars” and by Earthling technologies—accelerators and nuclear reactors. LBL.gov’s poetics take me only so far. Wikipedia explains that neutrinos are elementary particles, electronically neutral, that travel close to the speed of light, almost without hitting anything.4 That is, they interact very weakly with ordinary matter. That helps, a bit. I see now why they are spirit particles. They move through us “as if we were transparent.”5 Perhaps then it is we who are ghosts. At DUSEL, scientists will study the role of these particles in the creation of matter and antimatter at the beginning of the universe: neutrino creation narratives.

Federal agencies and a rich man who gets his name on things will fund the laboratory to seek the story, a multi-layered worker hive for experiments, one mile and more inside the Black Hills. From Chicago, ten hundred miles away, a Cold War-era lab will beam neutrinos to the mine. The beam will come straight through rock under the curvature of Earth.

Homestake was mapped light as a ghost in my cultural landscape until Craig reminded me of it. I am a follower of genome science and its mining of Indigenous bodies. I’ve paid no attention to mining for minerals and lab space. The gold-rush era place sustained itself on nineteenth-century photos of dusty miners, hoary or corseted tycoons-cum-philanthropists. At the twenty-first century’s front edge, a well-coiffed physicist comes like Hearst from the Pacific to help South Dakota build yet another economy based in technology and science. Hearst built the mine in the body of the Hills. Lesko, “neutrino hunter”6 and principal investigator, will build the lab. Stark, gorgeous photos show cavernous undergrounds filled with massive technologies. I am moved by visions of ordinary matter, both that created by cosmic events and that shaped by men. I glimpse the physicist’s, the engineer’s mirage: the a-human deep past and (post)human future simultaneously. Temporal cosmopolitans, engineers, and physicists seem at one with the now and forever. While miners are caught in Old West dioramas, the Indians too perhaps, although in planning documents, the Indians are absent, even in sepia remembrances.

What we see are schemas of the mine’s hundreds of miles of shaft and tunnel.7 A New World will be built below. The Old World lies above: inartful mine company buildings, discarded machines and tools all about, the ruins of outmoded industry. Born of that history, townspeople look on as intrepid twenty-first century scientist-explorers make grand plans with maps and instruments. Lesko’s PowerPoint entrances as he de-links the lab and the world below from the past, from mining, from military, and profit: “Science sets the priorities.”8 Sigh. Do I need to say it—that profiteers, miners, common people, the land of Lakota, THE war, and the Cold War, set science? But Lesko’s vision is more easily set to music.

Berkeley, California, 9/21/10

I see stop signs around Berkeley, where I am often the one cyclist to heed them. I get a close look. They’re altered with white spray paint: STOP Driving. STOP Flying. Living en route depends on things that will not be sustained. Twenty-first century nomadism, cosmopolitanism, free as it may feel of binaries and oppressive categories, is not simply liberation. Our distances and routes were constituted along with coal and rails, war and oil, cars and jet planes. Building them took suffering. Shrinking them will as well. I imagine graffiti critics making more fundamental STOP signs. What would those be? STOP Paying for Big Science and Technology?

STOP War works. But STOP War Co-Produced with Science does not work. The technoscientific culture critic flying and cycling around the empire doesn’t have a pithy thing to say.

Updated note: I just came across this Business Insider article, dated February 28, 2024, on the renamed Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE) that is one of the subjects, in a much earlier iteration, of this post.


1.  I thank Jim Clifford for his work that helps me articulate the value that I see in circulation, in “routedness” versus simple “rootedness.” See James Clifford, “Indigenous Articulations,” The Contemporary Pacific 13, no. 2 (2001): 468–490. Also see James Clifford, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997).

2.  Poem previously published in Gatherings: The En’owkin Journal of First North American Peoples, Volume XII Transformation, eds. Florene Belmore and Eric Ostrowidzki (2001).

3.  Paul Preuss, “Nature’s Unending Surprises: the Neutrino. The first of two articles on neutrino science at Berkeley Lab.”

4.  See Wikipedia’s article, “Neutrino.” Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutrino, last visited February 1, 2024.

5.  Preuss, “Nature’s Unending Surprises.”

6.  Ibid. See also Paul Preuss, “The Surprising Neutrino: Concluding a two-part article on neutrino science at Berkeley Lab.”

7.  See “Homestake DUSEL Conceptual Design Report,” Chapter 4: “Homestake Project Goals and Requirements,” January 9, 2007.

8.  “The Homestake Underground Laboratory,” presentation by Kevin Lesko, April 15, 2005.

Indigenous affairs, cultural politics, anthropology, and decolonial analyses