Monday, October 31, 2016


The power of the pen (or keyboard) is being ruefully acknowledged by Tony Schwartz, the ghost-writer for “The Art of the Deal,” which was supposedly written by Trump about Trump.  (How come the Hoax-Busters — who are supposedly so smart — have never jumped this little sleight of hand trick so common among celebrities?)

The short version is that Si Newhouse, glossy magazine mogul, had the idea that a bio of Trump would be a good thing, and Schwartz — who claims that he only did it for the money — now claims he’s the one who “really knows” Trump and — in fact — invented the schtick, the little sales formula, that Trump now thinks he originated and that he himself now believes IS him, and by the way,  it’s what makes him better than everyone else and a natural money-maker who exceeds all others.  

The question is, what is the antidote?  What can save snake-bit America from a grotesque puppet?  I think the story may be in his puppet-hood.  Someone is still a “Si Newhouse” who pulls the strings.  Some suggest tectonic forces in American politics.

The article linked above suggests several tectonic plates:

“Phyllis Schlafly’s popular conservative treatise from 1964, A Choice Not an Echo, posited that “secret kingmakers” employed “brainwashing and propaganda blitzes” to maintain their nefarious control of the GOP, in part to serve their own self-interest.” 

“Americans may have opposed big government as an abstract notion, but they did not want to do away with their Social Security, Medicare, farm subsidies, ­minimum-wage laws, and progressive taxation. This misalignment between the conservative movement and the American people has, in fact, bred among conservatives a fundamental distrust of the American people.” 

“Conservatives discovered they could attach their rhetoric to the appeal of white identity politics, as well as ally themselves with the religious right, which formed a powerful bulwark against all variety of social change.” 

I think of rather different tectonics, partly because I don’t fall on the spectrum that runs from conservative to liberal.  I vote for eclectic and innovative, which is way too scary for many people.  I see several areas that are clashing, interacting, mis-appropriating and deceptive.

First is the concept of the "nation", which is only a few centuries old and was preceded by kingdoms and chaos.  Geographically bounded, but not always ecologically inclusive or attuned, it becomes an imposed system of limits and walls that cannot be enforced or even properly understood.  (Wall off Canada and Mexico?  Ridiculous.)  War, taxation, and legal strategy are all based on “nations” but now they are completely overwhelmed by international corporations, the internet erasure of boundaries, and massive migrations of populations that can be distinguished by their physical appearance, so that it’s easy to impose stigma.

I propose that we begin to develop ideas about "tribes", meaning affinities based on what some call “lifestyles.”  

Then I have big doubts about venture capital, which is basically bookkeeping gambling.  It has become a sucking spiral in which money justifies money without any product or benefit.  Others are also thinking about this and I see articles exploring “capitalism” as a whole.  What IS capital?  What are other ways of using it besides investment?

People are trying to brainstorm “what is democracy” and what comes after it when it fails.  Why does it fail anyway?  Is it that people don’t have time to think and vote?  Is it just too idealistic?  Is it, as elitists in Britain have always maintained, that voters are selfish and childish — apart from being poorly educated and informed.  The meritocracy should be in charge.  But merits should be based on more than “who’s your daddy?”

Another assumption is that mercantilism, trade, “deals”, are what unite the world and keep it peaceful.  But now there is the problem of scarcity as we run out of exotic minerals and land that can grow crops.  And the problem of excreted trash.  But we think of recycling, re-purposing, and probing down into things like the nature of energy: tides, gravity, thermal springs.  The next thing is distribution and then infrastructure, closely related because it is roads, airlines, bridges.

A puzzle I think about that’s sort of parallel to this Trump parable.  “The Education of Little Tree” includes every cliché about Indians, all the same things that the political elements of tribes rail against as sentimental and unreal.  And yet it has never been really discredited.  Others who claimed knowledge of Indians though they were white have been nailed and slimed.  Carter is the worst of them, but escapes.

(WikipediaThe Education of Little Tree is a memoir-style novel written by Asa Earl Carter under the pseudonym Forrest Carter. First published in 1976 by Delacorte Press, it was initially promoted as an authentic autobiography recounting Forrest Carter's youth experiences with his Cherokee grandparents in the Appalachian mountains. However, the book was later claimed to be a literary hoax done by Asa Earl Carter, a white political activist from Alabama heavily involved in segregationist causes before he launched his career as a novelist.”)

One commentator remarked, “People take what they want out of it.”  Indigenous people or wealthy people are inkblots that summon up a lot of romantic assumptions and Trump is cashing in on that.  Maybe he is an echo of the stories of the foolish kings of the past.  The clues and markers are well known — Carter renewed himself with a tan, a mustache, and weight-loss.  I’d like to see a photo of Ivana Trump before she became as standardized as a sex doll intended for Hugh Hefner.  Trump becomes less ridiculous as he becomes less orange, but looking ridiculous is part of his schtick.

If the plate tectonic idea is true, it's out of our hands already.  Our votes are only magazine subscriptions.  

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.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


John Charles Hellson (1932-2016) was a pugilist in Cornwall, he told us, and that was the reason he had no teeth.  He had a bushy beard and we got used to a Cornish accent, rather hairy but toothless.  When he showed up one day with a full set of teeth, we hardly recognized him.  He never did explain how he got from Cornwall to Alberta — at least not that I heard.  If you google him, you’ll find a New York Times article about him stealing artifacts.  

About the time of Native American empowerment in the Seventies, the material culture of the Blackfeet/Blackfoot on both sides of the Medicine Line shifted from being interesting bits of local color to being Sacred Objects carrying the deep identity of the people.  Many were called “Bundles” and suddenly came to consciousness among the people themselves.  A small group of people born about 1880 were still practicing the ceremonies on the American side.  More were on the Canadian side.

John got off easy with only a jail term: others have been harried to the point of suicide.  In the Sixties it was like water rising — at first the white people who had beaded shirts and feathered headdresses hardly noticed that anyone objected.  By the time they were taking them from wall displays and hiding them in trunks, it was too late.  

Bob Scriver’s and my understanding of the spiritual world of the Blackfeet came in part from John’s teaching.  He was married to a woman from an important ceremonialist family and was a participant, though not to the degree that Adolf Hungry Wolf was.  The two were often compared, but were quite different.  Adolf’s background was totally different (Austro-Hungarian family and strong academic background in California) but they were both white men married to aboriginal women, making their livings by trading and interpreting material culture.  John had a specialty in plants which resulted in a book:  Ethnobotany of the Blackfood Indians,” (1974), a respected reference.  Adolf’s historical work is massive and the copyright to the monumental “Good Medicine” 4-volume set of books is owned by the Browning Public Schools on the US rez. 

There is a blog entitled:  “John C. Hellson North American Indian Artifacts and Culture”  at  but it has no posts.

____________________-  is testimony from a San Francisco black man who admired John.  (Font and italics added, capitalization original.)

“I had the very distinct honor and privilege as well as unique learning experience to be associated with Dr. John Hellson in the early 1980's. I had personal and direct awareness of the legal difficulties Dr. Helson found himself in at that time and I am gratified to now have the opportunity to state for the record that he was a victim of many circumstances at the time. Although eventually Dr. Hellson and I both had to account for and be responsible for our collective and individual culpability in this matter (If you don't know what I'm talking really doesn't matter now!), but if you are, I can tell you what was at the center of that dark time in our pasts was greed! Pure and simple greed... Greed by University Administrators of taking advantage of scholars work product and production, greed of collectors and investors, greed of reservation inhabitants willing to put a price on items of extreme cultural and ethnographic importance, and a system that 20 years later probably still has not learned from the lessons of UC Lowie.







_________________-  OBITUARY 

John Hellson passed away on Thursday, May 5th, 2016 at the age of 84. A Graveside Service will be held at Canon Stockton Cemetery (Siksika Nation, Alberta) on Tuesday, May 10, 2016 at 2:00 pm. To view and share photos, condolences and stories of John please visit Arrangements entrusted to the care of Choice Memorial Cremation & Funeral Services (403) 277-7343.

Condolence From: Daren Hellson

Condolence: I never knew that being fatherless would make me feel so aimless, worthless, powerless, heartless and helpless. It hurts to think that you are not here anymore. Although I can’t help but smile with tears in my eyes to think of how we cherished each and every moment of our lives together when you were alive. I Love and miss you dad.

Monday September 12, 2016
Condolence From: Oliver Troy (Sikimiokitopi)

Condolence: Ive been thinking much about what it means to live and lead an exceptional life and I have been fortunate enough to have had but few in my life that have. John was and is certainly an exceptional man. Many want to live long enough for their lives to make a point and mine has begun to. I was deeply saddened on the 5th of May after speaking with my oldest friend Daren Hellson about the passing of his father and my dear friend John. John Charles Hellson was an exceptional man and a father to me in the Blackfoot way. He inspired curiosity, wisdom, and great spiritual significance in my life. It was because of my dear old friend John that I learned to see the world with a magical fascination. He had instilled in me a hope that there was so much more to living than what is often times viewed as "the norm!" John was a symbol of transcending the rights and wrongs, the suppose to's and the not suppose to's and the should's and shouldn't's. He was perhaps the most educated man in so many way's and area's of wondrous pursuit that I have ever met. I have witnessed the self proclaimed and the arm chair intellectuals sit in silence after the introduction of John to others that fancied themselves as knowledgable. I know that it is very important to alway's consider what experience can teach and I learned so much from my dear friend John in ways that no school could have ever taught me. I believe that one has to be interested if one is going to learn that which is being taught and I was always very taken by what John had to say. I can only hope that I paid back enough in my heart felt sentiment toward him and that my old and dear friend John considered me a friend as well and a part of his family. Good bye for now my dear old friend and may we one day meet again in the sand hills. "Thank you for stopping by".


There’s quite a lot more to say, which I’ll get to in future posts.  I wanted to establish these personal materials first.  For a while when John’s granddaughter April was in high school she and I corresponded by email, mostly swapping doggerel.  These are real people with families.

Friday, October 28, 2016


This is a story.

Identity in the sense of knowing who one is and how one fits into everything else begins, we are told, when the brain forms in the zygote.  “Thought” is a function of the brain “dashboard” which records every impingement of code as something physical, an electrochemical trace recorded in cells.  Molecules and the ability to arrange them in cells is the most basic understructure of being human.

Necessarily, at first the impingement of molecules and their interaction to sustain life is dependent on the larger system of the embedding mother, how her body functions and how it interacts with the zygote, embryo and then infant.  Her mental and emotional states are just as real as her flesh, the meat and blood of her.  It begins with a “blast off.”

(Wiki)  “After fertilization, the mammalian cells, called blastomeres, undergo rotational cleavage until they are at the 16-cell stage called the morula. The morula has a small group of internal cells surrounded by a larger group of external cells. These internal cells are called the inner cell mass (ICM) and will go on to become the actual embryo. The external, surrounding cells develop into the trophoblast cells. However, at this stage there is no cavity within the morula; the embryo is still a ball of dividing cells. In a process called cavitation, the trophoblast cells secrete fluid into the morula to create a blastocoel, the fluid-filled cavity. The membranes of the trophoblast cells contain sodium (Na+) pumps, Na+/K+- ATPase and Na+/H+ exchangers, that pump sodium into the centrally forming cavity. The accumulation of sodium pulls in water osmotically, creating and enlarging the blastocoel within the mammalian embryo.[7][8][16] The oviduct cells stimulate these trophoblast sodium pumps as the fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tube towards the uterus.[16] As the embryo further divides, the blastocoel expands and the inner cell mass is positioned on one side of the trophoblast cells forming a mammalian blastula, called a blastocyst.”

A high percentage of these microscopic balls ping-pong off the table, mis-bounce, slough away and are never missed.  The salt pump that fills out the embryo is a trace of the primal sea, because movement and growth is built upon osmosis, a form of drawing in or out that cells must have in order to operate.  Movement means change, which can always go wrong.

This reflection is meant to be about thought as recorded in the cells of the body.  We have not understood until recently that the most basic categories of our minds are formed as soon as there is a brain to store them.  They are deep but they determine every interpretation of sensation, reaction, organization of identity that comes after.  They are the foundation of identity.  Very rarely can convictions this deep be changed — that’s what makes them CONVICTIONS, not opinions.  Short of surgery, only some profound experience can change them.  Not torture, not trauma, only maybe revelation.

If the person who results from this long process of becoming that starts with the blastocyst ends up in a life that matches what was imprinted at the earliest moment possible, there may be great serenity and peace.  Otherwise, life may be a forever struggle to get the structure to match the reality.  If the struggle is shared by other people who are supportive, it will be a happy  one.  If they are constantly differing and trying to change the person, the struggle can be life-or-death, a matter of making conflict permit one’s existence in a near-mortal way.  That is, opposition can kill you.  

We are as bound books, with the binding done by family (or lack of one), tight or loose, recorded on the pages with footnotes, crammed-in memorabilia (a crushed flower, a ticket to Amsterdam), dog-eared, ripped out pages, and bookmarkers from a now defunct bookstore.  I once knew a woman who saved money by tucking bills into books.  Years later, she’d end up late at night, turning pages, trying to remember what she was reading in more prosperous times.

People call it history but it is better described as a torrent of interweaving histories that smash against the surface of the planet with its moving water and air, its trembling earth.  No two people share the same history, not even siblings.  In fact, by moving one’s point of view, one can shake out one’s own past into a new shape, this time including people and events long forgotten or repressed.  Might be good — might be bad — might not matter.

Art forms recorded points of view and histories, maybe outliving their creators if the larger society recognizes and values them.  Their real value is in the interaction of the moment, the flow of words, the daubs of paint, the moves of the body.  There are two strategies: one is to stay with a single concept until skill meets success and the other is to explore, to search for the way “in” until mind and muscle meet.

Love-making (not necessarily sexual or even physical) is an art form and every art form is love-making, always remembering that hate-making is NOT the opposite of love-making, but rather that opposite is apathy and lassitude letting life slide into nothingness.  A little allele (group) of genes are called “warrior genes” because people who have the cluster, and then are challenged by life, are not passive.  They don’t withdraw to a known niche, but rather become aggressive, looking for new pathways and breaking down barriers, even if those are other people.  Their book becomes a blog, a video, an adventure and often a romance.  Because other people want to follow this trail for the excitement of it, the romance of it.  It awakens desire.

Some families will load expectations onto such a person.  Others will be threatened and pull away.  If many members of the family have this same cluster of proclivities — as is likely — there will be violence among them and addictions as they try to self-medicate.  Some of them will pull in quiet nurturers in hopes of relief and stability and some of those nurturers will not be strong enough to bear it.  Generations, dynasties, empires are made of this.  Our identities are shaped by the stories.  They are as physical and fertile as our bodies.


Is a light bulb a living being?  We speak of them being dead or “giving” light.  We joke about their relationships with various humans.  ("How many X does it take to change a lightbulb?")  But in the end they are among Lakoff’s metaphors, only seeming to be alive, at least when a stream of electrons is traveling through them.  

We know that “reality” outside our bodies is waves and something that seems solid, but is really composed of constructs of molecules which are themselves composed of atoms which again are made of mysterious energy particles.  Electrons, the outermost shell of particle/energy, determine many characteristics that we detect through organs that spell them out with code that is finally made into perception by the brain receiving these electro-chemical codes.  They ARE electricity.

The body is a process with code running through it, much like a lightbulb with energy streaming through it.  In fact, if the energy that feeds a lightbulb gets into our code stream, it can disrupt or kill us.  A nasty shock.

The planet never stops transforming in many ways, some abrupt and drastic, like an earthquake or volcanic eruption, and others quite subtle responses that would take a long time or instruments to detect.  Living creatures are prepared to respond to these changes in order to survive.  That’s what the body’s stream of code is for.  It tells us what to do in seven or eight categories as follows:

Nutrition and respiration are closely related concepts. Respiration is a chemical reaction by which living things convert food into energy. On the other hand, nutrition is the ability to take food into the body. Animals demonstrate nutrition by eating plants or other animals, but plants demonstrate nutrition by making their own food from sunlight.  [This list omits hydration, but without being fluid, living things die, sooner than if nutrition stops, but later than if respiration stops.]

Sensitivity is the ability to notice and react to changes in the environment. When a mouse runs into its hole after seeing a hawk, it is showing sensitivity. Plants also show sensitivity when they grow toward the light. Sensitivity is sometimes called irritability.

Movement occurs in both plants and animals. In the case of animals, it often refers to a change in location, as when a deer runs or a bird flies. However, movement can also refer to the motion of a single part of an organism. Plants show movement when a leaf bud opens or when a flower closes at night.

Reproduction means that living things can produce offspring, while growth means that living things can become larger or increase the number of cells in their bodies. 

Excretion is the ability to clear waste from the body. For example, humans excrete nitrogen when they urinate and carbon dioxide when they breathe out. Plants excrete oxygen through their leaves.

“Some biologists list homeostasis as an eighth characteristic of life. Homeostasis means living things can keep the environment inside their bodies constant. The ability of humans to keep a constant body temperature by sweating in the heat and shivering in the cold is an example of homeostasis.”

In short, life is a matter of interaction with the environment, which might or might not be conscious.  In fact, MOST of what goes on in the brain and body is not at all conscious.  We cannot approach the idea of what is alive by saying a lightbulb has no consciousness, cannot reflect on its life.  It does interact with the environment, producing light and heat, but only if energy is supplied in a stream from outside as electricity.  A flame is closer to being alive because it IS interacting with the environment, until it reaches the limit of its energy, which is determined by its fuel.

One way of sorting living beings is according to their sources of energy, which are drawn from the environment according to their abilities.  In general, plants draw their energy from light and animals draw theirs from other beings, both plants and animals.  More recently we realize that some living beings, rather humble ones, can draw energy from chemicals like those spewing in fumeroles under the sea.  Living beings create and sustain themselves with what they take from the environment.

“Plants are eukaryotes, with their DNA contained in a membrane-bound nucleus along with other membrane-bound organelles, such as mitochondria, chloroplasts and vacuoles. Their chloroplasts give them the ability to generate energy and carbohydrates from water, sunlight and carbon dioxide.

“Archaea and bacteria are prokaryotes that lack cell nuclei and membrane-bound organelles, while protists are eukaryotes that possess both of these features. Archaea and bacteria are always single celled, while a small number of protists are multicellular organisms. 

“The distinction between prokaryotes and eukaryotes is the deepest division in the realm of life on Earth. Together, they include every life form ever discovered. Though the two groups share a common ancestry, there are basic differences between them. Eukaryotes have nucleated cells and identifiable cell structures called organelles, while prokaryotes are more variable in their cellular structure and lack a discrete nucleus, according to”

In the terms of categories that scientists use, all living creatures are capable of reproducing themselves or else they would not go on existing.  But the reproducing machinery, whether done by “budding” (creating another little version right out of their substance without making changes) or through sex (doing a mix and match for the new version by unzipping chromosomes and swapping them between two donors), can stutter so that the new version is slightly different.

The developmental path taken by that new being is shaped by environment and in that shaping, sometimes the stuttered version (mutation) is a better fit.  Better has nothing to do with morality or force, but with suitability or, more plainly, survival.  By the time animals are self-conscious and self-determining, they are capable of calculating survival strategies and choosing among them.  Even little mammals like mice.

All this adds up to a thing we call “identity” which is significant in terms of the part of the environment that consists of an aggregation of ourselves, we humans, however we got shaped into cultures that survive.  Since we are all animals, dependent on sources of energy from the environment, if the environment changes too suddenly, too deeply, if we cannot get what we need to survive whether it is fish or air or electricity, then we die.  If we must compete with other humans, the result may be war or famine.

This is the reality deep within our stories, learning what we must do to survive and the consequences of our choices.  That is the raw simplicity under our incandescent spirituality.  A lightbulb knows no stories.  But a lightbulb has a limited lifespan and so do humans.  Thus our life stories are urgent.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


First there was a planet that boiled, and the melted rock from that boiling pushed up between “plates” that were solid islands, so that they floated around.  These supported earthy ground in a kind of rind that also shifted around on the backs of plates, which sometimes pulled these “continents” into separate islands and other times smashed them together.

One of those later continents was called “North America” which doesn’t mean anything at all, except the “north” part.  The Pacific Ocean was opened up between China and North America because of more lava welling up between plates, pushing them into what we call the volcanic “ring of fire.”  That’s only descriptive.  Somewhere under this ring is more upwelling of some kind that causes weather swings.  We call one extreme “El Nino” because it often coincides with a festival that formed on the Eurasian continent a few thousand years ago where a culture developed “science” which is a way of thinking about the world based on experiment and observation.  “La Nina” is named that only to contrast it with El Nino.  These names are only markers for something we cannot see.

As the Pacific Ocean tectonic plate pushed hard against the North American continent, which supported a shallow inland sea almost from Pacific Sea to Atlantic Sea, the continent resting on the pushing plate crumpled up into mountain ranges which always went from north to south, and whose rising up “cracked” the middle of North America into a V which drained out that shallow sea through the Mississippi River so that one edge was the Coast Range and the Rockies and the other was the eastboard coast.

All is cycle and reciprocity.  At some points the northern part of the continent became so cold that glacier ice-sheets scraped down across the continent.  The weight of this pushed the northern plains a little lower, so when they melted, the water stayed here and there in small lakes and streams.  The farthest south this puddley environment went was the Great Lakes.

An ecology gives rise to creatures — ecology is always reacting and creating and evolving, even within the bodies of the creatures — and because this scattered water was a cold wet environment, the ecology responded with beavers, otters, mink, marten, fisher and then the creatures who consumed them, both canids and felines.  These were all creatures bearing marvelous fur, plush and warm, as sure a marker of wealth as silk was.

Across the Atlantic were people who had been taught by the Silk Roads that the discovery of new lands meant new trade goods, so they were always seeking and exploring.  They were thinking in terms of gold and silver, which had been a response to the wealth of China which was the invention of coinage.  It was code for wealth.  Like book keeping.

When those busy people pursuing wealth had invented investment capital, possibly because of book keeping, they gathered into business collaborations that sent ships to North America, where they discovered this wide land dappled with water.  The Hudson’s Bay company created an empire of fur-traders with remnants that still exist in material goods, stores, and fur-trappers and buyers.  Because the traders were men, young and vigorous, they took indigenous wives, thereby creating a new “people”— the Metis or mixed people.  This culture became so distinctive that they tried to form their own nation but were quashed by Canada, so fled in part to the northern tier states of America.

Shortly after the Revolutionary War, the area of lakes on the US side was The Northwest Territory, or Old Northwest, the area that became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and a portion of Minnesota.  Early settlers from northern Europe had to bushwhack their way through tall timber, but as the rainfall amounts diminished in the higher lands to the West, the trees were replaced by grass and the travel became easier.  The horizon moved back by miles and miles to the limits of human eyesight.  A little to the south, the severe dry land gave way to transcendence and visions.

Two wars later, after the industrial revolution, the Old Northwest supported centers of machinery development, machines necessary for managing harvests (the combine) and for traveling long distances (the automobile and locomotive).  Each of these manufacturing centers gave rise to a culture, often one based on army assumptions: many obedient men managed by a few seeking profit.  The sacred became profane.

Impact on the cultures of the continent was profound is still developing, throwing God under the bus.  Thick populations who can move quickly over long distances so that they are anonymous.  Covert transportation of materials and people that escape the law.  Long parallel webworks of tracks, pipes-and-wires, transmission towers and satellites.  Molecular changes like “the Pill” which counterbalanced the many fertility opportunities of automobiles, both easing and shattering families.

Some new factor would hit the culture so that the small, self-contained lives of scattered towns or even complex cities full of neighborhoods were challenged to join a larger culture that was joined by materialism/profit/wealth (disguised as religions) and then transcended by music and images of film and video.

Always there were people (artists, musicians, rabble-rousers for justice) who bushwhacked their way through the complexity, who could not be pressed onto the Life Paths the culture, the family wanted.  Often they were exceptional — high energy, high performing — and the extended family made plans for them.  They would become famous (which meant becoming rich) and create wide, smooth roads suitable for easy travel.  But bushwhackers escape from families.

They were carriers, visionaries, like Johnny Appleseed, and they traveled in a cloud of ideas, practices, microtomes, and hookups that evolved themselves even as they changed the world.  It was painful.  It was often death.  They felt they had no choice.  

Many trail-leavers had been indigenous, the people of one place who had learned and developed into a specific sort of person which could go to another place where their secrets were still unknown and be able to transform cultures who had no idea at all.

In the old cultures of the prairie, where the horizon was far and walking or riding preceded the wheel and was not dependent on prepared pathways, people kept on their belts a “possibles kit”— a little bag of fire-flints, medicines, thimbles and needles, and maybe a small reminder of what was most vital, like an iniskum to stand for buffalo.  And then, the first and most welcome example of metal for trade: the butcher knife.

This is only the main spine of a long unfinished tale.