Early one Saturday we gather in the parking lot of Custer [S.D.] Lutheran Fellowship — a caravan of pickups and trailers loaded with ponderosa pine, cut and split. We drive south out of the Black Hills and then east, through a wilderness of billowing fields and across the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to Wakpamni Lake. Statistically this is one of the poorest areas in the United States.
A slimy mud road leads to Bernard Little White Man's home. There a crew of Lakota men helps us unload. White and brown hands fling lengths of wood to make large piles by the fence line. We work steadily until the trucks are empty.
Then I walk up to the house where women from our group gather around Bernard. About 70 years old, he is gracious and graceful. He explains the need for firewood: "Not many people heat exclusively with wood anymore. But burning a little wood lowers heating costs and comes in handy when the electricity goes out."
The conversation continues in fits and starts, with more silence than I'm used to. Finally Bernard tells us, "Some women are getting lunch ready at the church."
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