Cool air from the North,
Arrived enveloping the land
The sun angles, shifts lower
Casting indigo and umber trails,
A time of long shadows and shorter days...
Early autumn, time of harvest
Dried corn and squash and plump orange pumpkins
Golden trees along the country lanes
There is a wisdom to this season
A sense of coming stillness...
Arriving upon the land
These bright colors, urgent calling
Fleeting, the year becomes and
Harvest Home demands its labor
Cornucopia, then falling leaves and naked trees
The season will be done
Trails in the woods
Stretched over time
Mark the passage of ancestors
Forest little changed
For these thousands of years
Cycle of seasons, rhythm of life...
Memories flicker in my mind's eye and
Descend from ancient limb and bough
Like October's falling leaves...
First week in February
the sun, still hidden below the horizon
the snow covered landscape...
turning rose and lavender.
It is cold
the temperature falling below 0 and beyond
during the darkness
I feel the brisk wind on my face
60 plus years of greeting the dawn!
Far away in a forest preserve
the Canadian geese trumpet
they also give homage to the dawn's rays.
Tobacco and a prayer of thanksgiving
the smoke curls into the heavens
carrying my prayer
"Thank You" Great Mystery
endless depths of abstract wisdom that You are.
The minute hand advances
more color blazes across the sky
Father Sun arises, brushing away the last shadows
of the night.
Whenever the politicians, strategists, and military leaders would arrive to sign a treaty with the red man, they always showed up with beads, baubles, and most importantly, barrels of whiskey. Alcohol, sugar, cholera, small pox, venereal disease, and bullets. Eden was forever compromised..
Sadly, alcohol and a host of other drugs (including the drug of power) still exert their disastrous effects today, but not only on the red man ... I see the white, black, and yellow races equally devastated by addiction. Deception, illusion, and death. Lives disconnected from the bond we share with the Earth mother ... children unable to comprehend the sacredness of their own lives, not honoring the rituals of life passages that mark our stages of growth, the accumulation of our years.
Yet I have begun to see a change, like a too long winter that finally breaks into spring. All across this land, Native Americans are re-embracing the old ways: vision quests for self understanding and sense of purpose, sweat lodges for rites of purification, listening to the wisdom of the elders, and preserving the legends of the ancestors. I see the children of the white man looking to the old ways of the First Nation peoples to help them honor the stages of their own growth, the rites of initiation into adulthood ... overcoming their fears, learning of their power, walking free of outworn habits and limitations. Vision quests, sweats, pow-wows, learning to embrace the shadow self.
Like the passage of water under my footbridge, we are each one swept away in the passage of the river of time. To honor and make sacred our individual lives is the best we can hope to do for future generations. As the future is constructed on the past, so it is that our accumulated wisdom is the greatest gift we can pass on to generations yet to come.
Walking home, I reflect on the fact that it has been a day of exceptional beauty ... filled with the promise of warm spring days and new growth on branch and bough. Scarlet, crimson, gold, and purple blaze on the western horizon as day retires to become night. At home, a warm fire beckons me, faces of ancestors reflected in the flickering embers, shadows of those who held sacred this place three hundred and more years ago.
The white settlers arrived here on the Fox River in the 1830s, staking out settlements up and down the watercourse. Abolitionists opened up a significant spur of the Underground Railroad, rescuing the black man from the fields of slavery, displacing and ultimately exterminating numerous indigenous peoples. The illusion of logic, the illusion of justice.
I lift my gaze to encompass the trees along the bank of the river. Shadows of ancestors populate water’s edge ... harvesting fish for the campfire, catching water in gourds and pots, allowing the sediment to settle before it will be drinkable. Young males test their skill and courage in deeds of cunning, tricking the river out of its submerged possessions, states in the ritual toward manhood. In summer, braves will steal ponies from a neighboring Sac hunting party, their stealth an act that brings honor. Such innocence ... they have no concept of the coming white man’s guile and deception. Strong young warriors and beautiful maidens living in harmony with the land, honoring the passage of their life.
A little over two hundred years ago, to the east of here, George Washington signed a treaty with the Mohawk nation promising that as long as the mountains stand and the grass is green, this treaty will exist. Ten years later, the Mohawk were left with one out of every ten acres, a broken treaty, and a precedent established that still typifies US-Indian relations today.
I sense the presence of ancestors here with me in these woods today. Images of wikiups made from birch and branch, reed, skins, and earth. Dwellings that quake in winter’s cold caress. The people are strong and joyful … able to adapt to the season’s changes. Men tip arrows and assemble war clubs for the coming spring. Women stir the stew and carry wood to keep the fires going ... no one ventures far from camp ... and at night they sit close around the fire pit to tell stories of creation, stories of war and conquest, stories of gods and heroes from the past.
This winter day the temperature is low, struggling to get into the teens, and the Canadian honkers gather in clumps along the river bank, foraging in the brack at water’s edge. Some thoughtful soul has left dried corn scattered along the walking path, and some of the geese graze on cracked corn and snow. They retreat in respect of my passage, and I feel a twinge of guilt for not having brought an offering of my own … on tomorrow’s walk, I’ll be more responsible and mark my trail with wild bird seed.
Snowflakes and starlight, magical season of winter, the arrival of that time of year when your breath becomes manifest in front of your eyes, testimony to the beating of the heart, the rush of warm blood, and the palpations of expanding-contracting lungs. I am always amazed at how cold weather makes the body come fully alive, the mind fully alert, and the spirit ready to be set free. Walking in deep woods in the swirling wonder of a winter storm draws us to a greater expansion of the soul ... somehow we become the elemental forces that surround us ... crunch of snow underfoot, cracking of tree limbs under the gathering snow, whistle of wind that swirls the “snow dust” across the land.
Winter has descended into the Fox River Valley, causing birch, elm, maple, and willow to go into the deep meditation of short, cold days, and frost-crusted nights. What do they dream of in this time of slumber, I ask myself, as I walk through trails that meander along the edge of the now sluggish river. Perhaps they dream of a long summer’s day where life has become more casual, warm sun glistening on their new crop of leaves, while squirrels, porcupine, and raccoon slumber in the mid-day heat. Or maybe they take leave of earthly form, roots set free of soil, and perform a ballet near Orion’s edge, then dance all the way across the galaxy to prepare for coming immobile spring. Is winter the season when the souls of bush and tree are emancipated, like retired people in shiny Buicks and Oldsmobiles heading across the universe that exists between here and Miami or Phoenix? If they told me stories of their winter journey, would I be filled with envy?
A Winter’s Dream
Many years ago this river was cleaner than it is now and not so many years ago, this river was dirty, almost to its death. Now it is healing ... a recipient of man’s abuse and then his remorse ... polluted in degrees and then salvaged in stages. But as I walk along its bank this day, I sense it still seeks to share itself in whatever way possible. Drainage for the land, host to fish, fowl, and beast, story-keeper for man.
Here I am, attached once again, like my forefathers, to this watery ribbon that decorates, divides, and facilitates life source and soul source. My sacred river that reflects the passage of time, the endlessness of spirit, the collective memory of my lineage, and the promise of ancestors to come.
In the 1600s and 1700s, the Native Americans who lived on the river fished at night with spears and arrows from canoe-like boats that had torches on their prows ... snagging pike and catfish, carp and bass from the darkened pools of water. The People gathered berries, grew corn, squash, and beans and built dwellings using reeds, among other things that grew in the marsh areas along the river. Bone and stone, gourds and hides ... a life connected so intimately to nature that fires, floods, and drought could have devastating effects on the community. Commerce and communication floated up and down the river from the Red Banks near Green Bay to the flat wetlands of Chicago portage.
Today, I sense the whispers of ancestors, haunting echoes of the past, awakened in my consciousness ... genetic memory interwoven with soul memory ... soft images of those on whose shoulders I stand.
A River Story
Moist, cool air makes my face tingle as I leave the house on my walk along the Fox to Starbucks ... a journey undertaken for hot coffee and people watching. Heavy gray clouds hang close to the horizon, reinforcing the somber note the rain/snow showers have left on the landscape. Temperatures this day will hover around 30° all up and down the river, but I’m soon sweating as I rapidly walk along the bike path that meanders along the bank of the river. Maples, elms, birches, evergreens, and myriad other trees I recognize (though not by name) are brought into crystalline perfection with the moisture glistening on their leaves ... shimmering shades of electric scarlet, orange, yellow green, and brown. The river has temporarily risen with the addition of yesterday’s rain-snow-rain. Bubbles, white and foamy on dark green water, become trapped, eddying in whirlpools created by submerged debris.
This river has its origin 300 or more miles to the north ... another state away, another time away. It has been home to Fox, Sauk, Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) and numerous other peoples, including my own, the Potawatomi. As I cross over the swirling waters on the narrow footbridge, I ponder how, for the people of the First Nation, the simple task of crossing the river was formidable.
When I returned from Viet Nam in the late 1960s, I first lived on this river ... north of here in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Wau ke’ sha ... an ancestor whose blood runs through my veins ... the Potawatomi chief for whom the town and the county was named. I lived on a farm then, and the river ran across our land a silver ribbon that was a visible reminder of the things that connect us to our past like a thread in some exotic tapestry.
Whispers slide upward between
tangled root, wrapped around stones
grasping to blades of grass
bush and tree, dormant for these many months...
I hear them every-so-often
soft, tangled innuendo of awakening
as the days grow longer and
sun climbs higher in the sky, brilliant white.
Winds shifting from the north
back again, west... then
west by southwest... warmer
by small degrees, icicles melt with their light kiss
droplet by droplet
shiny crystal, sparkling clean
descending into rivulets, merrily
mad dashing to join puddle, stream... flowing
March slowly unfolds
faire Spring blushes, shy entrance
greeted by the rousing world
and whispers breaking the long winter silence.
Abruptly, all are hushed as
this quiet unfolding... comes across the land.
She went into the woods with
three strips of silver rawhide thirty inches long,
from a barren doe killed to feed her people
There she found feathers from
the snowy owl,
Messenger from the west.
These things she braided
into her hair, by light of the
She sought to understand her womanhood,
The mystery in the night
from which all life springs.
She drank sweet water
that sprang up from the earth
And sang songs to Orion...place of origin.
As the moon grew near the western horizon
With first light on the eastern treetops
Her spirit was carried into the
darkness from which all life springs
And a voice enfolded her
A voice in many tongues caressed her soul.
It gave her the secret of that which was within her
"Life springs to light in response to love.
Love is that from which you come
and to which you return.
You are the vessel
once filled and flowing
The needs of life have not greatly changed in ten thousand years. Only man’s need to embellish life with those things that are counterproductive have grown and now challenge the purity of his very existence. This little lake is stressed by the summer activity of ski boats, motor boats and other abuses of mans claim on nature. My invisible companions are amused with the arrogance of the white man, who assumes that he can use the Creator’s gifts to man without respect or humility. They know that a weighing and balancing of conditions will arrive, perhaps sooner than later.
Three generations stand side by side, spirits who fished and hunted this land four hundred years ago. There is no sorrow or anger about them … only the knowing of the truth. Man is subject to a higher law and ultimately must surrender to a divine plan known only to the One who exercises control over the sun, the moon and the stars. The Great Mystery is gentle, loving and accepting of his children's folly, for He knows that material reality is the shadow of Spirit and nothing of spirit can be broken or lost.
We rage on as a race, immune to the signals of nature, unwilling to contemplate our personal investment in the destruction that surrounds us. Redemption will come someday and it will restore our consciousness to its true nature. As in the book “Dune” the sleeper must awaken. We shall all share the light of spirit and the dream of a world of death, chaos and mayhem will dissolve into the nothingness that it really is. Man will once again reflect the perfection of his maker, in whose image and likeness he is cast.
I and those who preceded me on this land wish for you and yours a holiday of light, life, truth and joy. May the presence of Spirit enrich and sustain you throughout the coming year!
They are here, even this day, and I am continually aware of their presence on the land. Often I feel gifted to be included among their party, companions who reveal themselves only on occasions when I am sufficiently respectful of the river of time and ancestral blood lines that create a bridge we can communicate through.
As the sun gains altitude shadows diminish and the minor damage sustained by the storm reveals itself … a few broken tree limbs, nature's way of pruning her expression, her creation. The water level in the marshy swamp adjoining the lake has risen and I can see huge carp that have ventured out of the deeper waters of the lake to forage for insects that have been washed out of their nests, having become flotsam. The carp would have been easy targets for young maidens and braves to pick off with rapidly fashioned spears or arrows. Roasted on the fires or baked on the rocks that surrounded the fire pits, breakfast would be fast and easy.
Symptoms of early spring on the last few days of February have drawn the runners, walkers, and nature lovers out of their winter lairs ... magnetized to the paths that meander along the Fox. I grudgingly accept their interruption of my ruminations as I too stroll along the trails in the woods skirting “my” river. It is an amazing day, brilliant blue sky overhead, balmy temperatures almost into the 60s. The river gurgles and bubbles, risen with the influx of melting snow, watershed from the colder climes of Wisconsin to the north of here.
I cross the river by footbridge, a continuance of the bike and walking path that leaves the west bank of the river to pick up again on the eastern shore, a walk that connects “home” with the river with Starbucks, circumnavigating the statue of Ekwabet (a mythical Potawatomi who, I’m sure, once enjoyed paths along river’s edge as much as I do), ultimately ending at Potawatomi Park in the northern end of St. Charles. Less than halfway across the bridge, I stop to stare at the turbulent water beneath. Positioned above one of the two concrete support pilings, I look down, narrowing my range of vision to exclude all but the concrete prow and the swirling water. A slight shift of focus and the water has ceased to be moving, while I, astride my concrete vessel, am plowing through imagined tranquil waters, the prow of my ship carving a wake through my self-described sea. A simple illusion that every school kid has been seduced by seduces me still.
Fox River Stories
Life in a Northern Town
I listened to the song again today
a melancholy yet somehow hopeful tune.
As Autumn, soft and gray; cloud covered;
deposited shimmering leaves on my patio
casually strews them across the lawn …
My northern town,
an unincorporated township.
Echoes of 1963,
a time of probability; innocence;
a time when we believed the world was free
Unexpecting of the bullet aimed at JFK’s head.
Blindsided by a war in Southeast Asia.
Haunts in the minds of those of us
able to survive ourselves.
Our revolutions, our self proclaimed state
of grace. Our offerings of truth …
sought but rarely found.
And the cool eternal breeze
shuffles leaves… across the lawn.
Friendship is not a thing of words
Union is beyond the flesh
Our spirits are in communication
The joy of life is shared
Golden glorious sunrise! After the rumblings and tumbling's of last night's storm, the calm arrival of daybreak is serene.
There is a period of time, minutes (if not seconds) long when, right as the sun crests the horizon, all the birds shout out a welcoming chatter embracing the new day. Amidst the morning melody fresh clean smells of life are almost like a heady wine that inebriates one and the glistening dew on leaf and bough sparkles like jewels strewn across nature’s playground.
This little lake I live next to seems to possess powers unique unto itself. I have observed, over the last five years, that storms come through the area and cast the trees about, but the lightening strikes, as well as the core of the storm (especially tornados) pass to the south or the north. Somehow we seem sheltered and protected by the presence of the lake.
Ironic that the lake is called “Powers” Lake for it does seem to have powers that it exhibits frequently. I am taken back to earlier times and wonder if my ancestors four hundred years ago noticed the same unique qualities that I observe today. It must have been a revered area for the Potawatomi as well as the Fox, Sac, Kickapoo and other nations that dwelled lightly on this land.
The Powers of the Lake
The river moves more lazily than I have seen all year. Ice tries to form on the surface. Frustrated at its failure to coalesce, it bogs down the flow until, tonight, it will become a solid surface, moon reflected on its immobile sheen. The snow out here is pristine, unlike the grungy, blackened muck that bogs down Chicago and its suburbs. Bright sunlight makes the shadows of bare tree limbs twice as dark on snow ... deep purple, indigo, and sepia edge their crisp form ... a mandala without geometric order, yet just as powerful a tool for meditation.
Black crow, glistening ebony against a sparkling snow bank, makes fun of my trudging through these woods and then ascends, heading west, laughing at my earthbound body. West, where the ancestors live, where my soul will travel after this life’s journey has come to an end. Does crow know something I don’t know or is he teasing, like coyote?
Life is filled with parallels, like winter bringing snow to this land and 51 years bringing snow to my hair and beard. But I know that my personal winter has not yet arrived, my personal story is not yet fully told. Crow files west and I turn south, heading back along the path I blazed into these woods, back toward home, or at least my temporary home here on this blessed earth.
Hot coffee with a little chocolate and cream, a warm fire, and some tobacco. I’ll remember stories that my grandmother told me about how life was 100 years ago and stories that my grandfather told me of how our people lived in union with the land ... creation stories, migration stories, winter stories. Then, perhaps, tonight I’ll dream a dancer’s dream amid the icy stars ... a winter’s dream
Last Friday in October
“Shoot a Pickle” now it’s Friday
Dancing madly twirling leaves,
Windswept, shimmering... wet and wrinkled
Roll across the neighbor’s lawn
Rain arrived here late last night
And with it gusting southern winds... warm
Unlike other Halloween eves remembered
Distant... or was that just a dream, now gone?
Vagabonds and gypsy lovers
Somehow make their way back to my mind
Reverie... old images dry and brittle
Past afterglow and pumpkins carved in time
“Shoot a Pickle” now it’s Friday
Dervish dancing swirling leaves
Roll across my neighbor’s lawn
Two heartbeats in a moment and...
October now is gone.
A Leaf Fell
Prose & Poetry
Autumn Upon the Land
A first blush,Haphazard splashes of scarlet crimson
On the sugar maple in my neighbor’s yard.
Canadian Honkers fumble into flight
Reclaim graceful wing,
Form themselves into a V heading east, then south.
Their squawking response to Mother Nature’s
Autumn kiss upon the land
Here in North Country
Fields boldly display dried corn, soy bean
And pumpkin patch filled unto fruition;
Startling audacity of winter oats...
their season yet to come
is the only relief;
green, in contrast to yellow, brown and ochre;
crisp Autumn upon the land
My early morning coffee sipped slowly
And as I enjoy the faint remains of
Fireplace and burning leaves
Setting outside this Sunday morning,
Smells identified and known to be the precursors
Of cool… No! Cold winter’s approaching
Sleep inducing hibernation…
My soul remains at peace
With Autumn upon the land.
A leaf fell outside my office window …
now the deluge cometh.
Fair summer’s leaving, stage right, and
Golden Autumn awaits her que.
Blushed, the land will be, as the eternal equinox rotates, tippy toeing ahead of
winters’ snowy gown.
My apple orchard down the way is part of the cornucopia;
pumpkins, squash and Indian corn
adding additional colour to the gathering season.
I wonder if we will be ready for Giving Thanks
with the end of Harvest Home,
or is that another time... long lost?
Sun dogs and groundhogs, It must be February. Bucolic winds create a din, The hearth seems especially merry. Winter stalls and snowflakes fall, Let's pray that spring shan't tarry!