Sunday, October 30, 2016


During “second sleep” — which is after I’ve been up for an hour at 3 or 4AM, maybe writing a bit, and then gone back to bed — a time when Bunny brings her kittens who are almost grown but still nurse a bit, purring so loudly that it sounds like choral singing, but mixed with a lot of slurping and struggling against each other, I end up half-awake and dreaming.

I had a kind of vision this morning  It was a place I often visit in dreams and now that I’m awake I know that it is a composite of happy safe places I’ve known here, mostly the Scriver Studio on the rez in the old Browning days, but not in a town.  Rather the buildings are scattered here and there on a kind of grounds, a mixture of the North American Indian Days grounds and a gospel tent encampment, more like wooded fair grounds, maybe a little like photos of Crow Fair where their pow wow grounds are in groves, and the kids ride through bareback on slow horses.  Sometimes there’s a hill and sometimes there’s snow.  There are no roads nor vehicles, just walking paths.

This time I was in a goods shop, partly from old BBC shows about Victorian times and partly about the Browning Mercantile, the Scriver family store; but also partly the Brown House in East Glacier where Terry McMasters sells his wheel-spun bowls and pitchers. On the shelves dishes mix the heavy white oval dinner plates and mugs of ranch china with Terry’s blue-spotted thin graceful shapes.  

But also this is partly Brian Elliott’s “Blackfeet Trading Post“ store in Browning where the bright glass seed-bead hanks hang on the wall in an orderly European-style spectrum.  (I ran into Brian at the grocery store last week and we had a good visit.  He sold out and left, but when his buyer collapsed, the white family returned and rebuilt even after the town had become almost all-Indian.  His store has a row of miniature lodges along the highway wall.)

In the dream the clerk behind the counter was partly the Valier librarian, Kathy Brandvold, partly Tantoo Cardinal (who is posting fiercely on Twitter about the pipeline stand-off in Sioux Country that authorities are escalating into Wounded Knee III on behalf of the oil corporation).  The clerk is dressed as a woman from Paul Seesequasis’ lyrical historic photos of northern tribes, including Blackfoot. (Paul’s photography book, and the stories behind the photos, will be published by Knopf Canada in Spring, 2018.)  

But Paul was standing behind me and had the aura of John Hellson because of Hellson’s ethnobotany book from 1979.  (Out of print and selling for nearly a hundred dollars a copy.)  He was also a little mixed with Narcisse Blood’s good friend, Ryan Heavyhead, who re-homes rattlesnakes peacefully when they are found in the wrong place.  (Narcisse has been gone in body a few years, but not in spirit.)  This tall and peaceful man had just brought in armloads of foliage, like gathered wildflowers but only leaves instead of flowers, and the clerk was sorting them into hand-bouquets, “poesies”, by mixing different samples and tying them with string.  It was a sort of wildcrafting.

The leaves were not meant to be smelled, as the Elizabethans did when near something particularly and nastily pungent, but to be nibbled for their tastes.  We were discussing which kinds of leaves went with which others — some lemony and others a little funky, some hard-edged and glossy while others were soft, even puffy or frilly like verbena.  There was sweetgrass and sage, a bit of juniper and incense fir, the traditional Blackfeet smudging materials.  We hunger for the Sacred, for the old times, for traditions that nourish us and that are personal.  That was the Lakoff metaphor my deep consciousness was exploring.

Then we walked together over to the massive old warehouse where Bill Haw ran his Free School in the Seventies, a far looser and funkier sort of mixed classrooms and art studios with babies in the drawers of file cabinets and youngsters clustered whereever they had “fallen out” of the proper school system.  It was not much like Darrell Kipp’s Cuts Wood School housed in Bill Grants’ graceful purpose-built complex with a Dream Moth window.  The credentialed educators teach Siksika language in proper classrooms with bulletin boards full of words.  

The schools mix in my dreams.  Many years later one of those renegade students told me, “The Free School is where I learned to be an Indian!”  One winter they bought a rickety old school bus and headed off to California, which is how they learned a lot of auto mechanics and how a bunch of determined kids can push a bus down the road.  Bill Haw, many years later, died demented but dearly loved by some who still remember earlier times.

It sometimes seems to me that the Millennials are picking up where the Aquarians left off.  Not the “bling chasing” or even the outrageousness, but the rethinking of sex, drugs and rockandroll, trying to sort out which aspects of everything are good, even wonderful, and which turn out to be merely poisonous.  The autochthonous (it means from the earth) shaped and burned into vessels.  A return to less rigid and mechanical ways of living.

Things got crazy last time — viruses from jungles, displaced nations, frankenseeds, too much, too many, too fast, too blinding, too painful and violent.  But we all learned a lot about what not to do.  My vision dream is my own attempt to imagine something new-but-old, a lot more tolerant and simple, much more like the way most of the humans on the planet live, but this time in huts where people microbank on the internet.  In a dream even the grizzlies can come to town if they are polite and stick to vegetarian foods.

These times are tough and may get worse.  There will be, there IS, a lot of death.  Many are terrified, all too conscious of earthquakes, asteroids, volcanoes, and waves of methane from the depths of lakes.  Sometimes even the planet seems to be trying to throw us off.  

I’m not willing to wait for flowers to bloom next spring.  I want to smell the leaves right now.  Even to admire the graceful branches that will soon glitter with ice; then we smell woodfires.  As Brian remarked,  “Everything is a cycle.”  Don’t push the river, but push that school bus.

Some people will know who I’m really talking about.

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