Momaday’s Pilgrimage to the Ancestors

Pulitzer Prize winning author N. Scott Momaday wrote The Way to Rainy Mountain in 1969 as an offering of love to his ancestors and living relations, the Kiowa people. The Kiowa live in what is now Oklahoma, though their ancient origins are in the Montana region. Momaday’s relationship with his land, the land of North America as he intimately experiences it, is rooted in the human being’s instinctual identity in place and peoplehood, a vital experience now forgotten among many contemporary Americans.

Rainy Mountain is located northwest of the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma. The Kiowa people came to this region after encountering conflict with the United States Cavalry, who eventually forced the Kiowa into Oklahoma during the tumultuous 1860s, though migration began as early as the latter 18th century (the 1700s).

Momaday returns to Rainy Mountain as one returns to a home that is longed for, searching to understand his and his community’s storied places with maturing devotion to people and place in a new era for Indigenous communities. It is a journey that is a pilgrimage to his honored grandmother, now an ancestor who sleeps in the earth. Through finding her grave, his visitation here is also a way back to his people, the Kiowa, searching for their sacred story as told through their own lives in the language of landscape.

The next morning I awoke at dawn and went out on the dirt road to Rainy Mountain. It was already hot, and the grasshoppers began to fill the air. Still, it was early in the morning, and the birds sang out of the shadows. The long yellow grass on the mountain shone in the bright light, and a scissortail hied above the land. There, where it ought to be, at the end of a long and legendary way, was my grandmother’s grave. Here and there on the dark stones were ancestral names. Looking back once, I saw the mountain and came away.

This piece was originally posted online as an answer I wrote in response to a student question on enotes.com

Photo by Chris Schog on Unsplash

Benedicite

The following is adapted from a letter recently written to an acquaintance.

Well, sir, you showed up in my dreams for the past two nights in a row. It’s a record. I’ll keep you informed if you-or-your-apparition shows up again. You never can tell, these strange days on the wide earth, who’s who wandering where in the Lord’s lands.

I’ll take it as a clue from The World that you must be greatly anticipating the transcription of our interview. Ha! It’s on its way. I’m learning how remarkably full one’s time becomes when one starts a business. I hope to not believe too greatly in it, however, and to remain utterly insubordinate. Tom Robbins warned, “Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business.”

Here’s hoping my rambunctious exit adieu to the school staff didn’t make you blush too hard, now.

Let me know if you get this. I think once in a different time I emailed you or something and I didn’t hear back. Or maybe I dreamt it –who knows? Something about meeting an old blind woman with a dog, and my helping to walk her home, and there was our country made new again. It really happened, one night, when I was the last of all souls to leave. But I think you either did not receive it, or were like, “whatever.” :)

What dreams have come to visit you? It’s in this time of the darkening, turning year that these animal dreams of humanity do ache in the chest all the more. Visions seep hind-wards and earth-wards into memory of family and home, the recollection of fire, the passing of faces across the grey sea between one pair of closing eyes and another.

Benedicite,
Amber

“I kneel to sow between the Lord’s fingers
by way of the Almighty’s hand
on this earth that is growing
this glade that is coming up.
Old woman of underground
soil-dame, earth-mistress,
now set the sward pushing up
the strong earth heaving!
The earth will not want for strength
ever in this world
while there’s love from the givers
and tending from nature’s daughters.”

                The Kalevala of Finland

“How Far Did You Get?” by Christopher Bursk

How Far Did You Get?

by Christopher Bursk

 

Often the first question other boys would hit a boy with,

as if the kid hadn’t gone out on a date but tried to swim the English channel,

and they knew he couldn’t cross such a distance without their help,

and this was their way of helping him.

“Go on, tell us exactly how far,” not knowing yet

how to understand what a boy did with a girl,

except by measurements: how long, how often,

the precise calculations of sex.

What was a kid to say to his buddies?

“It was like grabbing hold of a boat

and being pulled aboard after treading water for days.

I lay there like someone who’d been rescued,

looking up at the stars as if they’d been part

of the search party, too,

the breeze on my neck, the whole dark sky.”

Imagine a boy telling that to his friends.

It is more than they wish to know.

 

Source: The Mysterious Life of the Heart: Writing From The Sun.”

The Names of Friends: Species I Have Known (in the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains of California)

Early in July of 2017 I visited my homeland region of the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s something gentle to my heart, a mystery why this place keeps calling out to me with such love over such distance, across time and space. The Sierra Nevada mountains of California, I have long held, are what a heaven shall be like when the great celestial places come to settle their love on our small and intimate Earth, it is told, in the life of the world to come. How I love this cathedral range, mountains of gentler snow and light and love.

I journeyed into these mountains of mine for two days, alone with my little car and a quietness in me, on July 6th and 7th. I stayed at extraordinary Mono Hot Springs, where I wish the likes of me could somehow live with my sweet husband, our two cats, and a sure chosen family-community for the rest of our lives. Of course, this magical little town of a dozen-or-so is seasonal, arising out of the glitter-snows of winter for half the year in hotter days of late spring through early autumn. There are real true springs, there: warm, lovely scented (a good smell of the washing and comforting earth!) sulfur springs welling up from the high meadow paradise grounds. It is said the Original Peoples ventured there, the Mono and Miwok and other ancestral, indigenous travelers from over the range. I speak prayers of thanks and friendship to them while I walk, barefoot and lightly clothed in rectangular fabric, the paths of the little mountain meadow hillsides where these springs of warm renewal rise.

Walking this land, this place I love likely more than any other I have tread or even seen depicted by the captured frames of light, my heart jumps in happy greeting at the sight of familiar specie-friends. What a happy revelation to find that the days of searching and studying the knowledge of these plant and animal species truly does create clearer eyes in humans who go walking int heir homelands. At various times in this visit to the Sierras I was, at turns, lovesick in my heart for feeling, at once, such a great love for this place yet missing my husband and our two little cats back in my current home of the Puget Sound. I wanted, with longing, that all my loves would be gathered together –as we hope for in heaven. No wonder that the images I have dreamt of my original family resurrected to life is of our meeting in these Sierra Nevada mountains.

And here, friends, I speak your names once more, a litany of love and homecoming, of belonging to the profound and sacred heart-comfort of this place. I recorded your good names in a notepad to remember you, that I should not forget I have seen you again. I shall see you again.

Western Juniper – Juniper occidentalis

Douglas Fir – Pseutotsuga menziesii

Ponderosa Pine – Pinus ponderosa

Jeffrey Pine – Pinus jeffreyi

Western White Pine – Pinus monticola

White Alder – Alnus incana

California Bay Laurel – Umbellularia californica

(Up and down the way through Oregon:) – Interior Live Oak – Quercus wislienii

Mountain Dogwood – Cornus nuttallii

Oregon Grape – Berberis aquifolium

Poison Oak – Toxicodendron diversilobum

White Stem Raspberry – Rubus leucodermis

Thimbleberry – Rubus parvifolus

A Gooseberry Unknown

Manzanita (Greenleaf, likely)

also Pinemat, Whiteleaf

Bracken Fern (whom I thought was Lady Fern, mistooken)

                    Pteridium aquilinum variation. pubescens. Rounded lobes.

Lady Ferm pattern: little tufts along her spine,

                                        Athyrium falpestre var. americanum

Lupine – type? Who, among so many names.

Miner’s Lettuce – Claytonia perfoliata

Paintbrush – Applegate’s, Indian? – Castilleja applegatei species.

Jepson’s Pea –a brilliant pink of hearts! – Lathyrus jepsonii

Prickly Pear

California Poppy

Gay Penstemon, happy, joyfulPenstemon laetus! –Laudete!

 

Animals, Animalia, Kingdom

the Ones through Whom God looks out through all eyes.

Golden Buprestid, a Beetle of Brilliance

Sierran Blue-winged Grasshopper

Marmot

“Northern & Boreal Bluet”, Common Blue Damselfly – Enallagma cyathigerum

and female var. E. boreale

Western Fence Lizard! Blue-Belly!

Sandpiper (almond orchard, down in the San Joaquin Valley)

Turkey Vultures (different from Condors, the greats)

Coyote, always!

Mourning Dove, whose song I love, who greets the hot day

and makes her mourning into singing.

Northern Mockingbird, the scout-flapper-flier.

  – Do not all these deserve the same love?

American Robin – Turdus migratorius – steady on laws to remind us, to cheer us

Saw somebody with a yellow belly, not sure of his name yet, fine feathers of turmeric.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Stellar’s Jay – his eyebrows stripes of vertical white are different here

                                                             than in the Puget Sound. Two light-blue

                                                             eyes stripes vertical!

Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis

Brewer’s Blackbird

European Starling

California Ground Squirrel (distinct white back)

Brown Creeper

Raven – Corvus corax

                                             harbinger unto the end

 

 

 

 

Into the Dark of the World

The seasons turn, and we go with the eternal turning. It will not be fought, nor resisted, nor contested. No plea is accepted; into the mouth of the great gaping earth we everyone of us softly go. Autumn, the sign of the unstoppable wheel, alighting in fire the humor of our petty resistance to old age and death –to the very vitality awaiting within the acceptance of old age and death! Here is a holy time of contemplation for facing beautiful harsh reality, Elder of the midnight hour, the silver lines as mountain rock of an ancient’s cold hair. Grandma, guide me. Home of memory, place of my hearth and birth, call me homeward once more. The living World is as it is. Acceptance of this absolute reality without a constant yearning to always change it points the way toward loving reality as a fully dynamic place of living, natural magic in its own right; not as a fallen, temporary or resented state of being.

I am petulantly weary of the dull platitude, “change the world”. The World doesn’t need to be changed. The World is alive and doesn’t need us to save it. It is our human behavior and attitudes that need to change. “Obviously,” you say, but it is not so clearly obvious to those who unthinkingly project the dimness of humanity’s notorious myopia unto the holy life of the The World itself. For even we, small hominid creatures of momentary candlelight, are a flame’ breath in the wind of The World, dying and undying, all our passing cultures themselves being also an homage to the world-wheel we swivel upon.

A long time ago there was a man named John Burroughs, and this is what he said,

It is good that fire should burn, even if it consumes your house; it is good that force should crush, even if it crushes you; it is good that rain should fall, even if it destroys your crops and floods your land. Plagues and pestilences attest to the constancy of natural law. They set us to cleaning our streets and houses and to readjusting our relations to outward nature. Only in a live universe could disease and death prevail. Death is a phase of life, a redistributing of the type. Decay is another kind of growth.

Grandpa, give me joy in my days, in my work, in the labors of my life. Watch over me with pride, where you now live in the shining mountains of the world-without-end. Let my efforts be for good and beautiful endeavors, that I may make our people proud, our land a country of the rightful-hearted, softened by the gentle wisdom of elders and children, and toughened by the versant endurance of ages. May I always run to the roar of the night that is frightful, knowing that within what we fear is the fortitude we most desire. May my existence be a light and a blessing unto the beautiful Dark where I tread. Do not forget me, my ancestors! Sustain me, flame of origin! Remember we who yet way-find through our days in these human shapes, and keep us always in your affectionate embrace. So may it be.

The Greatness of Soul in All Its Varying Forms

In mythos and fairy tales, deities and other great spirits test the hearts of humans by showing up in various forms that disguise their divinity. They show up in robes, rags, silver sashes, or with muddy feet. They show up with skin dark as old wood, or in scales made of rose petal, as a frail child, as a lime-yellow old woman, as a man who cannot speak, or as an animal who can. The great powers are testing to see if humans have yet learned to recognize the greatness of soul in all its varying forms.”

― Clarissa Pinkola Estés

A Candle in a Business Meeting

Cheap purple cloth hung from the rickety table; who puts a candle in the middle of a business meeting? The answer is someone who wants to make you think it isn’t a business meeting. This way, emotionally hungry people end up spilling more than they planned to. Afterwards you look back and are embarrassed you fell for it. The boss is still driving this ship even if you open with a song to the earth.

Some trends in business look humanely promising, like we’re about to all feel so cozy together at work, right at home. But I don’t believe it. I watch these trends, these “guided meditations” conducted by the development company before teardown of the house the old woman was evicted from. It is still a business meeting. In my demand for truth in writing I have demanded the truth of life. This means acknowledging the unhidden subjective reality of what is happening, in addition to objectivity, all elegantly complicated. It often isn’t pretty or ideal. It breaks through edited thoughts that, like the truth, aren’t edited beauty.

So when companies gather us together for a big company party to make us feel warm and trusting, I don’t believe it. They are lying to their workers’ hungry hearts. This is where truth-telling gets daunting because it’s damn disruptive, doesn’t make a safe LinkedIn cover, to tell this kind of truth. If a company can fire a person for any reason, at any time, this place is not a community. It isn’t mutual. If a company offers you a nap on a cot mid-shift it is not because they care about your wellbeing. It is because they want to get more productivity out of you. If getting productivity out of you for the dollar means killing you, then kill you they will. If they mean to get you to feel beholden to everybody as if you all were a family, especially to feel this loyalty for your boss, know that it will be your heart to suffer when you are no longer of use to them.

All of this isn’t to say that companies shouldn’t have uplifting business meetings or offer exhausted employees places to take a nap on their breaks. I, too, wish to make money and have comfort and prestige. I have come to see that lying to survive can be a moral value in its own right to human beings, lying about the truth of our hearts past the place of no return in life when we can nevermore be truly trusting before trust is earned, if we can ever be truly trusting at all. It is simply the strategy of our economical ecology. Seen in this light, the heaviness is taken out of it. It doesn’t need to be heartless. Now I have become shrewd enough to understand this, that the metaphorical killing-off of the time of childhood involves sacrificing half of one whole truth to survive by another. We must pay rent and buy food. We must, we always will, do attain our survival. So, too, do the smallest and greatest of beasts. But these motions are acts of survival, then become pangs of the heart. When the press upon your throat for survival is passed down from management, remember what you are capable of.

Karoshi is a Japanese word, meaning “overwork”. Overexertion. Men sleeping in train terminals and marching to death down fluorescent-lit halls are the demons of the modern Japanese work-culture, the death cubicle of endless hours because they think their companies actually care about them. They have been taught to believe they owe their corporation some kind of devotion. Great Corporation loves you as Father loves you. Americans have, until latter years, often been a bit too shrewd for this. We once were the unionists –with all of the problems and corruptions that came with it. Now, it is trendy to force “collaboration” by getting rid of privacy in the workroom. It would be more sincere to admit it.

A Harbinger in Autumn

 

Rufous autumn leaves, cold day,

lambent at sunset, grey skies.

Love, welcome. Winter fire logs

from the tarn. The colors of

my youngest cat; golden brush-brown,

streaked black is the good earth below me

and the colors of my eldest cat above:

fluffy white cloud belly, grey-blue, deep silver.

Sweet little purr-bears on my lap, my back;

leaves fall and flutter to the dampened ground.

The wind, the tidings-bearer, harbinger

of the whole wide-overhead come down to visit.

Ye creaking bones of time gone-by, coming up for

another dance, find life anew this second spring

where your progeny more lithely sing; enter, soul,

this body new and here-below

to vivify the heart of our Creator;

living, moving imminent in earth

the wheel, the firmament’s rebirth.

 

written by Amber MV

In Search of American Peoplehood and the Strangeness of Being Human

Hello, good people! I am new to this group. It’s a conspiracy: I seem to have entered some longer conservation already underway among you. Allow me to chime a new tune and introduce myself to you.
 
It is the same old strangeness, finding myself here, waking up in the garden of Eden past dark. The Gardener is hiding in shadows and the fruit of the tree of knowledge lies half-eaten at our feet. Even the snake is nowhere clearly seen, and we feel only our own hominid nakedness in the night. Where are the skins of the ancestors, thickened and fur-lined? How vulnerable is this humanity.
 
I see that the conversation I have entered is a passionate one. I do have a strong instinct myself to run headlong into a fight for the true and the beautiful. But I joined this group to find lovable centrist and conservative friends that I can engage with face to face, not on the darned internet! What a sorrowful fill I’ve had of that in my dumber days. I say, if we argue, let’s do it with laughter together, live in the body! I’m all for hashing things out, but my heart is tired of not trusting or even knowing my people. And who are my people? We Americans are, and now I shall not be moved from it. How I want to live in peoplehood together. How I have stupidly missed this before, looking everywhere for this providential identity I already have. This peoplehood of we Americans: I want to keep my eyes on this, look forward to this, carry this with me.
 
The older strangeness of being human never ceases to tug at me. It hangs bittersweetly on the heart, you know. It follows at the back of my neck, just there under the hairline where the stem of the reptile branches into the tenderness of mammalian affection. What to do with this strangeness, this knowledge we carry of our hearts’ own utter defenselessness?
 
I have set out to find this country of my birth. Where are you, my people? Where are you, my mountains? I am in search of the flowering of the spirit.
 
 
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