General, Location, Research

Building a sweat lodge

The idea behind The Badger City Gang, book 7 of the Bride Train Series, arose from the day I spent with three studly men helping to build a sweat lodge.

Yes, folks, authors have to make sacrifices for their craft. I had to watch muscles ripple and glutes flex in snug jeans while a couple of cowboys assisted the equally buff owner (in shorts and yellow shirt).

I’d just arrived in Montana for almost a month of research as a paying guest on a working cattle ranch. That first day I ended up at Badger City, a beautiful property that slants toward the south and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness (944,000 acres).

It was a perfect day, one that proved Montana deserved the name of Big Sky Country. Though early June, it was warm in the sun. In the distance the Beartooth Mountains glistened white with snow.

First stage

First stage

The frame lodge had already been constructed of fresh-cut branches twisted and woven into a dome shape, then tied with cloth. Since this ceremony was for those of us unused to the real thing, concessions were made. For instance, a circle of foam covered the dirt. It had a section cut out. This spot went over the hole dug into the ground where the hot rocks would go, to my right as I entered the structure.

At least a dozen comforters, sleeping bags, and thick blankets were placed over the frame so that it was entirely covered. When we were done I went inside and checked to make sure not a speck of light penetrated under the edges or between the covers.

The rocks had to be a type which could be heated and then have cold water poured on them without having sections split off in an explosion. The fire to heat the rocks could use only one match. If it didn’t start, all the wood has to be removed and the process restarted.

We shucked down to our bathing suits before entering. My yellow bikini had, like me, seen better days, but at least it was dark. The word didn’t quite fit when the sky was carpeted with stars that city folks never have an opportunity to view.

Ready for use

Ready for use

It was tight with five men and three women inside. The rocks had been in the pit for a while and it was already hot. I had a well-built, half-naked blond cowboy to my left, and a dark-haired one on my right. The temperature went up a couple of degrees. At least, mine did.

I was handed a thin branch with leaves to hit myself with when the heat got too much. Yeah, right! I thought. I’m a wimp when it comes to discomfort. I wondered what the heck I was going to do when cold water hit hot rocks.

Cope. Cowboy up. Deal with it. Get ‘er done.

Lots of phrases, but what it came down to was mind over matter. I wanted to do this, and would persevere.

I discovered that slapping your face, neck, and shoulders lightly with aromatic leaves really can distract you enough to last through what you might never think you could tolerate.

The experience gave me a tiny view of what my heroes and heroines might feel when faced with physical challenges. It also gave me the courage to tackle the challenges I faced during the rest of my research trip.


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