Winter 2017: “Your Sacred Place” Middle School Winner Isabel Hardwig

Read Isabel's essay, "The Bullfighter," about querencias—and the trampoline where she draws strength.

Isabel Hardwig, an eighth grade student of Katharine Dulaney at Franklin School of Innovation in Asheville, N.C., read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “Why the Founder of Standing Rock Sioux Camp Can’t Forget the Whitestone Massacre.”

In this story, founder and director of Sacred Stone Camp, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard describes how her identity, history and survival are intrinsically connected to the land—and water—that is being threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline. To protect this place, Allard says they have no choice but to stand up.

Writing Prompt: Describe how you would feel if a place that defines you was threatened to be destroyed or taken away. What would you do? Would you fight to save it?

The Bullfighter

A few weeks ago, one of my teachers discussed the concept of a querencia—a wanting place. The term originates from Spanish bullfighting, when a bull finds a section of the ring where he feels safe. As Ernest Hemingway said, “In this place he has his back against the wall and in his querencia he is inestimably more dangerous and almost impossible to kill.” The teacher then asked us to write about our own querencia. It was an easy concept for me—I understand the places in my life from which I draw my strength.

I am a writer, and I have places where my best writing hides. My trampoline is the most important one. I spend hours out there on a good night, throwing a yoga ball against the net and telling stories that I will never write down. People don’t tend to understand it, as it’s something of an unusual hobby, but it doesn’t matter. The best querencias are ones whose magic you can’t explain.

The magic isn’t in the physical place; I can recreate it without too much difficulty. My trampoline is a sacred space for so many reasons. When I jump on it, I feel like I can touch the stars on a clear night. It is sacred because I’ve had it since I was six, and it holds many childhood memories. Perhaps most importantly, it is sacred because it is a space that is wholly mine. It seems like everyone should have the right to a space like this that they can call their own.

When fighting a bull, you take away its querencia. Better yet, you don’t let it find one in the first place. If the bull finds its place—if you don’t get there in time—then you try to take away the wanting place or weaken it. You want to make the bull think it doesn’t have a space where it feels in control.

Which leads to the question: why are we still trying to weaken Native Americans? When they have a place where they find strength, we try to take it away. Do we still believe the harmful rhetoric that they are “savages,” dangerous people who dared inhabit a place we wanted to live? Even now, in the 21st century, when we say we no longer fear what we do not understand, we are whittling down their strength into splinters.

Between beginning this essay and finishing it, the Dakota Access Pipeline was denied approval. It happened this morning. My carpool driver explained it excitedly to his kid. My friends whispered among themselves, “Have you heard? The fight’s over. It’s done.”

I’m thrilled that the protests of people who want to keep their sacred spaces have been heard, but I wish it was never a question. In a perfect world, no protests would be needed. Police officers would not be standing in the freezing cold on Thanksgiving, spraying peaceful protesters with water hoses and shooting them with rubber bullets that do much more damage than their name suggests. Nobody would question statements like, “People’s homes should be respected,” “Water is life and shouldn’t be put in jeopardy,” and, “Native Americans have rights that need to be honored.”

In a perfect world, querencias are recognized. In a perfect world, instead of taking away the bull’s safe space, the fighter tries to find one of his own.

In a perfect world, I lie on my trampoline, my friend twists in her hammock, and my teacher hikes through the woods near his childhood home. The bull rears, and the fighter is ready. The Sioux tribes wonder when the next fight will be, but they’re too tired to think of much other than victory.

We draw our strength from our surroundings, and we look up into a sky that wraps around us until we feel dizzy. Feet on the ground, head in the stars—this is where we return to.

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