Monday, December 07, 2020


 The childhood books of both my parents were still around in my own childhood and I was gifted with those stories about girls who are so plucky that they cheerfully overcome every hardship which have become vid series on Netflix about Nancy Drew types with four-inch heels.  Alongside them I read stories for boys because I had no problem identifying with the “other”, even animals.  Among the key authors who have influenced me ever since were Ernest Thompson Seton and his daughter, Anya Seton, though they were totally different.  Anya wrote historical novels, quite sexy for the times.  Seton Pere loved Indians and wild animals.

Somehow Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were okay, but the book I preferred was ETS’s “Two Little Savages.”  I still have it.  “This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.”  Booth Tarkington’s “Penrod and Sam” never reached this level, but it tried.  

Grown men pairs have always been staples of adventure.

Today I have four first editions of books by Seton and tomorrow I will have only two, because I’m sending two of them to my niece who has two sons, 8 and 11.  The books I’m wrapping this morning are “Wild Animals I Have Known” and “The Lives of the Hunted.”  They’re very good for reading out loud, but I’m not sending “Two Little Savages.”  I’m not nearly finished with it.

Seton teaching woodcraft to a group of boys at his place in Santa Fe

It’s no secret that I’ve written with and about Tim Barrus in this blog.  Never in the past did I think of comparing him to Ernest Thompson Seton in spite of him having far more similarities with Seton than with me.  (I’m a straight, once-married, once-clergy, over-educated old woman.  He’s none of those things.)  Both Barrus and Seton had abusive fathers, both of them claimed a demographic of people regarded with fear and hatred mixed with an almost mystical belief in their exceptionalism (Indians and Gays), and both suffered through accusations of being untrue writers.  

Barrus was said to be pretending to be a Navajo and Seton was assailed for anthropomorphizing animals.  Both were seen as people deliberately deceiving their readers and leaving out rational science for the sake of sales.  But there were other issues, hidden.

Baden-Powell, a founder of the Boy Scouts, accepted Seton as a co-founder and used many of his ideas about Indians and “woodcraft.”  Today the Boy Scouts — the Boy Squats, as I derisively call them — are discredited because of the many cases of the leaders taking sexual advantage of the boys, esp. the “cubs.”  My brothers were both cub scouts and I got dragged along to many Weeblos ceremonies.  Then they suddenly lost interest and never became Boy Scouts.  Now I wonder why.

Baden-Powell comes out of the elitist system of boy boarding schools in Britain.  This pattern of removing boys from families and housing them where they slept in dormitories was a seed-bed for the pattern of sexuality-as-control made real when older boys dominated younger or weaker boys.  The fact that it was a shared secret has come out in many books.  The pattern recurs in many mono-sex settings with rigid hierarchies, permission for the top to exploit the bottom: military, athletics, politics, convents.

In Gay parlance this style of sexuality is called SM  Sadistic/Masochistic — couples where one is powerful and the other accepts it.  It has been enforced in the broader heterosexual world through the social paradigm of economics of marriage: one party legally entitled to use money to dominate the other who is obliged to accept it for the sake of the children.  The rest of the pattern is realizing that women learned many ways to undermine and control men and that same sex relationships can also be that way.

I suspect that both Seton and Barrus broke free from this pattern and attacks on them were partly meant to bring them into line (bondage) with everyone else.  Their defiance invited the accusations of would-be power mongers.  

I have an idea that part of our progressive idea that committed attached pairs should be equal comes from the ethics developed by Gay men though mostly it comes from economic necessity and the invention of the pill.  There is also a body of theory about a stage of human development when the emphasis is on community and buddies before puberty kicks in.  Thus “Two Little Savages” is set in a rural context.  Barrus' much darker tales are often in the ruins of industrial cities. Losing this freedom is seen as part of the curse of growing up, which was often explicit among the kids on the rez when I was teaching.

“Savages” is a problematic term that in Europe connotes the natural, the wild, and even the free.  It can also be used as a pejorative, so it has the kind of attraction/danger that is in writing called pornographic.  Maybe it’s not a stretch to say that “Two Little Savages” (which is entirely innocent in sexual terms} is a precursor of “Genocide”.  Barrus’ novel about astronaut lovers does not use the trope of the knowing savages, but rather space travelers that are our versions of ordinary things made strange.  (Isn’t a spaceship just a motorcycle crossing the cosmos?  Isn’t the Montana snowmobile that was just coming into common use in the Sixties another version of a motorcycle?  There are many ways of “Going Rogue.”)

If I were a French/Algerian philosopher (Algerians being a trope for the revolt of the dominated) I could go through “Two Little Savages” and make a literary case for this rather off-the-wall suggestion that might keep you from ever reading the book — or the opposite.  My comparison of the two authors could also address authors who are a little dangerous, who embody ideas we try to keep unconscious.  A boy’s struggle to be somebody known and significant as a grown person is universal, not even gender-assigned.

I suppose the basic pattern of both authors is in those stereotypical vampire-killing pretty girls.  My niece loved a previous Christmas book about a girl who crossed the desert with only a camel.  It’s a pattern that drives a need for justification and explanation in stories.  The backside of it is always fear of capture, of being made as toothless and obedient as a child.  This is part of my own character.  They say it comes from real experience with dominators and from many small disappointments and betrayals by people who could intervene but didn’t.  But these stories also offer visions of escape to a safe setting where trusting intimate equality is possible.

This stab at understanding is written in a pandemic, with old-age, solitude and prairie wind.  It won’t make sense to a lot of people.  But it is my safe place — as is the internet.

Sunday, December 06, 2020


 Because my aging is alongside this pandemic, I’m having to rethink some strategies.  For instance, I had not thought in terms of a long preceding time of suffering before death and I had not understood how many people would dedicate themselves to saving me.  IF there were beds open.  I’ve thought a lot about “do not resuscitate” orders, including the one I endorsed for the nurse by phone for my dying brother which made my other brother believe I killed him.  She had used the shock paddles to revive his heart several times, but it didn’t stick.   The older brother had seen it work on television shows and believed them infallible.  As a hospital chaplain I had helped people make the decision.  I also knew the ailing brother had considered suicide.

Suicide today does not require guns and poisons.  The people in my congregations who killed themselves, mostly educated people, used plastic sacks and duct tape.  An empty champagne bottle might be alongside their body.  They died alone on purpose.  

It is a continuing grief that Covid victims die without family and friends attending them.  My two brothers and I sat with my mother until she went into the kind of arched back breathing typical of dying.  It looks like the movie depiction of female orgasm.  “Agonal breathing or agonal gasps are the last reflexes of the dying brain. They are generally viewed as a sign of death, and can happen after the heart has stopped beating.” 

I said a prayer for her just after she was gone, basing it on the Catholic blessing of body parts.  My brothers did not object: they were stunned.  

I would not want others with me when I die.  I have no children and my birth family, both brothers, is dead except for estranged cousins who are as old as I am.  I consider death as private as sex and I don’t want interference.

Years ago I dreamt of a coming apocalypse and thought it would happen about now, about twenty years after the dream.  But I never thought so much would be involved.  The pandemic, the global climate, the politics, my diminishment — it’s been hard to assimilate.  I may have ten years of life left -- my mother was 89; I'm 81.  But I only made plans for twenty — not thirty.

When I moved here, twenty years ago, I explained to someone that I just wanted to be left alone -- including when I die.  She said, “Okay.  A woman who felt that way came here some time ago.  We just let her die.”  I hope she simply fell over dead.  

I came to a new truth when I dislocated my shoulder and had to be driven to the hospital thirty miles away.  I called the sheriff’s dispatcher and she said, “Oh, it’s SO expensive to have an ambulance.  It would be better to have a friend drive you.”  But how can you do that in a pandemic?  Ask them to risk their lives?

The “doctor” was a former military medic who strapped me tightly into a velcro contraption that took me a half-hour to get off.  I suppose I could have used a knife to just cut it off.  He couldn’t cope with old lady boobs.  He also didn’t know any cowboys who took a hammer to their plaster casts.  I do.  He “prescribed” therapy in GF which I ignored.  I'm going to drive 80 miles with a hurt shoulder?  People told me how to do “therapy” with a can of soup for a weight.  I ignored them, too.  Being “saved” doesn’t appeal to me.  The shoulder is okay now.

When I watched “The Crown” it was a tunnel into memory because on early TV sets I watched Elizabeth II be married and crowned.  I’m aware that either or both Queen and Consort are close to the end.  I didn’t remember that Princess Margaret was already gone.  My favorite episode, and one relevant to this “what is truth” wrestling that is on Twitter, was about the painting of Winston Churchill that he burned in the garden.  He rejected that reality.

I used to give a sermon this time of year that was called “Stingy Receivers.”  It was a bit of a rebuke to people who resisted gifts from others but also it was a defense of those who saw through the attempt to get inside their boundaries by “helping” them, to bribe their emotions, to put the emphasis on the act of giving as a virtue when it was not based on knowing the person well enough to give something really needed — maybe because it was too expensive though not in terms of money.  Some people in those congregations had everything they needed but gave as little as possible, mostly by shutting out need.  Unless they could frame themselves as heroically saving others -- when they were only writing a check.

The worst threat I wrestle with is diminished mental ability.  I can rely on body memory and habit for a while, but if it gets to the point past beyond being able to decide on suicide, then I’ll likely be carted off to a nursing home where I’ll become something like an insect larva who will never leave the pupa.

A pupa (Latin: pupa, "doll"; plural: pupae) is the life stage of some insects undergoing transformation between immature and mature stages. The pupal stage is found only in holometabolous insects, those that undergo a complete metamorphosis, with four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and imago.  (Is an angel possibly an imago?  Holometabolous? Look ‘em up.)

Some of my life has been in big cities but this is a better place to be old.  Still, there are city features that I miss.  "From the inside", you could say, since it was 6 years on the streets of SE Portland and another 6 years in the Portlandia Building.  (Being born in Portland doesn’t count.  I was more real in Roseburg on South Deer Creek.)

Then there were the academic "cities": NU and U of C.  Despite the libraries, I didn’t want to stay.  I just took books with me.  I like seeing cities from a distance, a height, esp. at night with the lights.  All the crime shows include them, even the ones made in the far north.  But now I know people planet-wide in spite of never really leaving the NW except Hartford, Connecticut, for clergy internship.  (Chicago was the OLD NW.)  Now cities themselves — their characteristics — have become diaspora.  Good enough for me.  I don’t want to really be there.  I just think about it.

Saturday, December 05, 2020


When seen from the air at night the border between the US and Canada just north of where I am is very clear, as clear as the border between land and sea.  The Canadians build as close to the 49th parallel as they can — most of their population is hours’ driving distance from the US.  Yet the land and most of the weather is continuous on both sides.  The difference is government, something that does not actually exist because it is only created by the agreement of the people.  You can't see it or hold it.

The actual distribution of people across the landscape is governed at base by the resources for existence like food or ways to make a living.  But then it is scrambled and re-distributed by ideas and organization in minds.  I used to remark in Missoula on the post-divorce, middle-aged women who came with their alimony to start life over in a place when they only knew a media impression.  They often joined our little UU group because they had belonged to big UU churches in cities.  Most only lasted until their money was gone.  Some stayed by inventing a new business or service, like a boutique bakery.

Most concentrations of people are similar to each other and maybe grew up together, which accounts for why so much of business and service in small towns here are based on high school relationships.  Those who get to college are sorted again according to whether they attend state schools or somehow get into the elite universities where they form new relationships, often in professions that are based on concentrated populations, big cities or other universities.  They stay in the new system by formal interaction like the law in courts or occasional gatherings for study or setting parameters for their vocation.

When I said to my original UU minister that I wanted to become one of them so I'd be with them, he remarked that I would rarely see the other ministers.  I would be with the parishioners.  The steady shrinkage of small towns and their mainstream churches has meant that they must either combine or close.  Some ministers here preach in three or four places, something like I did when I was circuit-riding. This creates new relationships that are stretched.

But a new diaspora is forming.  Diasporas are populations who share values and behaviors, but are scattered.  Originally discussed in terms of the Jewish dispersal over the world because of persecution, the phenomenon interests me because of my several favorite groups.  One is the Blackfeet — once forcibly confined to a small area but then later separated in attempts to break up reservations, to draw on a labor pool during wartime, or as natural migrations to where there are more jobs.  Today about half of the provenance-based enrolled members of the tribe live away from the reservation.

Another that I just started to think about is the diaspora of gay men (not women) that was always covertly present everywhere but separated by the need to fit in where they were; then gathered into a movement with a center in SF but always inclined to travel for anonymity, particularly to secluded places accessed by air like tropical beaches; and then scattered by the horrors of the HIV plague.  Somehow the expansion, the disclosing and the resulting experiences have affected the larger population in many quiet ways.  It’s not just the flamboyant defiance that woke us up, but the experience of men nursing dying friends and lovers has allowed men to be nurses and therapists, people who are not afraid to come close.  The ethics of sex are no longer based on fertility.

Another effect that hits me and others at Christmas is the exaltation of the biological family unit as the basic and most valuable unit of civilization, which is emphasized by the glorification (literally) of the Holy Family, though the genetics are a little confused by artificial insemination.  Or should I say transcendent insemination.

For a person who is solitary, like myself, and in a rural town like this place, one has a choice between treating the event as a festival, joining a crowd, or relating to an entirely new kind of diaspora, one based on internet sympathies and communication but never present physically, never having been a physical community.  I’m talking about internet relationships of several kinds, but potentially of deep affinity that has nothing to do with screwing in the way the city has supported an alternative to family, pretending that encounters are about love.

I’m not scholarly enough to look it up now, but in the days when "America" was just a coast and the people who were from the northern part of Europe brought a tough, dark, ascetic kind of religion with them, the solstice (Dec 21 this year) was met with fasting, meditation, and pleas for survival.  Think Ingmar Bergman.  The jolly mercantilizing festivals that people are persisting in without masks, without staying apart, are more Victorian than Christian, more southern Europe than Scandinavian, and have replaced true religion with media brain washing called advertising.

There is a psych phenomenon called a “leap to sanity.”  It’s about things like a fire in a mental hospital that causes even the most addled to fight effectively.  But it can apply to a mentally compromised person who simply decides to be “cured” and sustains an imitation of health for a while.  This has got to be related to the “leap to freedom” that the Africans crossing the Mediterranean or the South Americans walking to North America are taking in great numbers, knowing that the chances that they will die are as high as for the guy in a crowded bar without a mask.  Maybe he’s trying to make a leap to normality, HIS normality — not mine.

But he or she is also making a set of alcohol-enabled relationships that are not based on biological family.  Whether they would endure, is variable.  My birth family, because of past generations who were alcoholic, refused bars.  But my brother with the concussion participated by watching a television series, “Seinfield”, that was based on a bar and it worked almost as well.  One branch of my family stumbled in the restaurant trade and recovered by owning “titty bars” where drinking makes the money and naked girls keep them coming.  This has not sustained lasting relationships.  In fact, it fractured the family system.

This post is really throat-clearing while I wait for some kind of principle to form.  It’s about the invisible, sometimes intentional, lines and nodes that form across the continents.  It is a big part of culture.  I think the idea is something like “the economy is the ecology of culture.”

In an interview yesterday an economist said that the people living by the salary system will be destitute and starving without governmental action.  But the minority living by the capitalist stock market will be all right so long as the price of shares in multi-national corporations stay up.  Somehow they believe that the Repubs and even Trump are what keep the stock market high.  The lady who manages our trash roll-off system told me the same.  Her salary alone is not enough.  Our very structure of survival is changing.


Friday, December 04, 2020


These photos were meant to be on yesterday's post, but the action wouldn't work on Blogger.  Today it does, so I'll post them here.

Jesse DesRosier, peaceful warrior

Jesse DesRosier and Darrell Robes Kipp
Generational rewewal

Yesterday I renewed my membership to Vimeo and asked for "Blackfeet" vids.  I was delighted to find myself as a conference of Blackfeet speakers at St. Mary's Lodge some years ago.  It appears to be led by Dorothy Still Smoking, who was too bashful to talk in my first year of teaching in 1961 but since there has earned a D.Ed. and presented her thesis in London, England.  Darrell always said he was sitting on his porch by St. Marys Lake when Dorothy came along and she told him,  "Get off that porch!  We have work to do!"  In the end she meant the Piegan Institute since the public school was wary of teaching Blackfeet language.

I can spot Shirlee Crowshoe who was vital to the scholarly work that is also a part of Piegan Institute.  I see Molly Bullshoe who was the Blackfeet language expert in Heart Butte.  And I notice that this was a generation of women who grew accustomed to permed hair and now need bifocals!

It will take me days to work through the rest of the vids.  We've come a long way from the first experiments by Miss LoPiccolo and her students in Heart Butte about 1991.  Some of these vids are historical, reformatted films, and some are creative by individuals.  


 Working on these materials I keep running into problems that send me scurrying to find more facts and thoughts and there are always a LOT of them.  Many people are considering the reframing that comes from the amazing insights that keep appearing.  Here’s a quick list.

What is real?  We know now that our brains form a frame in the earliest years and everything after that must fit the frame or we just don’t know it exists.  But a powerful event or new evidence can break through that, so that suddenly we see the same things in a new way.  It can change our morality, our confidence, and even our safety.  

Some people have retreated from the old-fashioned religions that were developed in other places and times by taking science as a source of what is TRUE in some ultimate sense, but now even science as it morphs to fit new facts and understandings is not permanent.  In fact, two contrasting understandings of the same thing may make them seem contradictory, possibly allowing toggling back and forth, so one Monday we all agree on one thing and by Wednesday have doubts, on Friday change our minds entirely.

One of the hardest to grasp and yet most explanatory contexts of science is quantum mechanics, a deep and scary coherence that insists there is a submicrolevel of existence where all things are merely energy in whirling patterns, escaping Newtonian understanding of our world.  We know we can still sit on chairs and eat scrambled eggs, but can we be sure that love is possible or that our plans for progress can succeed at all?

If our understanding of the world is not made dependable by intense felt meaning, aren’t we just robots staggering around doing whatever is in front of us?  Some people are strongly conviced that there is some REAL reality behind what we think is reality, even if we admit it is only the illusions built in us from our infancy and reinforced by those close to us.  This is the basis of talk therapy, which is basically meant to persuade us that life is better than we thought.

It turns out there is no big humanoid somewhere who parents the planet and occasionally rescues us.  No ship of little green men who know more than we do.  Not even Tolstoy's fantasy of a green branch somewhere with the secret of life written on it.  A new but difficult understanding is that we are merely nodes in an infinitely complex webwork of systems and relationships and that our best morality is acting in ways that sustain all those connections, make them richer, and treat our actions as a form of music seeking harmony.

But occasionally something like the planetary disasters of geological or climatic shifts or viral waves from animals knock all our built infrastructure and ability to stay alive into a black hole.  In the tension between what is personal and what is community — let alone what is universal like whatever it was that has eliminated so many species of hominins, leaving only remnants of code in fossils or our own bodies — force us to admit we don’t have much power.  Our bodies are frail.  Our cooperations are temporary.

“Embodiment” has finally rolled back our valuing of steely rationality and logic.  Our instrument of participation in the world is our bodies.  But our WHOLE bodies so that within our skin we have gut wisdom and muscle knowledge.  Next we have the ability to participate in the world beyond our skin, whether or not trees and dogs are “real”.  Our basic ability is to accept the impact of the world that comes in code based on electrochemical information and to transform it into concepts of color or sound which are refined and organized in something like aesthetics, far more commanding than ten commandments.  It records our actions and their “value”.

This is the material of the intense felt meaning that guides us as we go.  Most of the time we don’t think about it, unless it gets out of whack and doesn’t work.  Or if somehow, for some quantum mechanical reason, we are flooded with something outside experience.  A theophany, if you believe in Theos.  Unless one’s capacity to think is deranged, one’s instrument is broken by madness, the experience usually doesn’t last long.  Traces can be captured by our various arts.  At least we try.

Lately we have been confronted in the most material way by evil arising from broken mind instruments preying on systems and acting through whole cultures for their own ends.  “Money”, a symbol system of value, has taken on a false reality that grips desire and control.  

This has interacted with a new ability to communicate instantly by handheld participation in interactions involved in things like the control of massive infrastructures (dams, power stations, GPS), code sent through satellites, standing on the moon and arranging pop-up events.  This has had profound and unanticipated impact on our chief money management by creating an instant stock market that feeds on loss and tragedy, justifies the loss of lives and whole cultures, ravages the resources of the planet.

What is the intense felt meaning that will make this survivable?  I think it must be a kind of domesticity, a sensory embeddedness in what might not be real in some ultimate sense, but in the sense of the human life span and sensory capacities can comfort us with song and soup, a human hand held and a laugh shared.  It helps if we can pause for a ritual moment that creates a chance to recalibrate, take a breath.  Breathe -- oh. . . 

I’ve read and written a lot about how to shift the brain from operating in one system web (there are thousands of them, formed by experience) to another one that fits better or moves to bodily needs like sleeping or eating or contact with another living being.  Like going to sleep and waking up or getting hungry or reaching out in a hug.  If these things are done well, evil is less likely.  This is a reason to feed and shelter everyone universally so they don’t have to riot in the streets to feed their babies, even if it costs lives.

Violence, sex, crime, are pre-existing, inherited animal strategies determined by our evolutionary chain of creation and participation in survival.  Each category can be inhuman and destructive or forces for good.  Even violence, even crime which is a way of exceeding or escaping one’s culture.  Sex in the sense of fertility, continuing the species, has been separated from all the social and emotional management a culture usually invents, so that it struggles to be real.  We underestimate how responsible we are for what we create.

This is all foam and verges on the kind of pontification that takes us nowhere.  But in a dark world it can be a bit of light.  You know the symbols, the stars, candles, searchlights, bonfires and faraway sidereal events.

Thursday, December 03, 2020


In Saskatoon I used to have an on-going argument with a geologist about whether a person would be different from one place to another because of the exquisitely varying isotopes of the elements we ingest with food and breath.  This was highly relevant because Saskatoon is the home of many uranium miners farther to the north.  On their weeks off that were obligatory to let their cells and organs recover, they washed their clothes in the city’s laundromats so that if you took a geiger counter into any of them, you’d get a lot of clicking.

Or so it was said — I didn’t have a geiger counter.  The geologist and I did agree finally.  But the place itself changed me through the culture — some of which I opposed — and the land, a peneplain of grass on a long-gone beach where cranes do their graceful dance and bugle their calls.  There just weren't any mountains or dogs.

Much farther south is another remnant of the once continental inland sea.  “The Indiana Dunes are among the most significant landscapes in America — scientifically, esthetically, and politically.  A remnant of their former glory, they survive as a jigsaw-shaped landscape of beaches, dunes, and wetlands.

“The Indiana Dunes are known as the “birthplace of ecology” in America because in 1899 University of Chicago botanist Henry C. Cowles published his classic paper on plant succession on the basis of field studies here. “  (Encyclopedia entry about the history of Chicago.)

Many crucial insights come from the idea of a continuous, inter-related, dynamic place/time where all life participates in a minerally, climatically, and geologically varying context, adapting to it even as changing it both materially and in terms of culture.  To survive, life must eat what is there and be consumed by others.  Humans can change both their environment and themselves in order to survive.  It's harder to change each other.

We see DNA now as a sheet of code that extends through all living beings.  From fragments called viral to the highly complex directions for being human, we can sometimes protect ourselves with skins and preconceptions, but other times we are penetrated and changed.  As soon as we found the genome, we found the epi-genome that comes from the environment and can switch certain genes on or off or add new bits.  

Now we know there are all kinds of “omes” from brain connectomes -- vividly computer-rendered in color -- of neurosystems in the brain to proteomes of the shifting protein molecules in the blood.  Everything is a woven, compromised, adapted, spilling-over continuum.  Totally wiped out is our 19th century assumption that what we saw is what there was and that it justified our love of naming everything as the same as understanding it.

Everything that fit into what was already there survived.  What didn’t fit disappeared.  Sometimes we adjusted to a new place and adapted what we remembered from an old place.  Thus, the palm tree in Bethlehem that once signified birth became blended with European Celtic forest mysticism that honored the evergreen tree.  What about the Inuit who have no trees?

Culture, reinforced by today’s media, converts classic local references created by people who lived there lifelong into something quite different.  By now survival depends upon economics -- what is global is what is marketable.  The base of economics is mostly dependent on demographics: who is there, whether they have enough to eat and enough shelter, what they want and whether they can earn enough “credits” (money) to swap for what they need and want.  If they don't, they die.  We try not to notice.

At bottom much is controlled by resources that quickly get converted into political control and access.  If there is a lot of something desirable in one place, it may be very scarce but wanted in another place, and so moving things around the planet has displaced fittingness from one place into another, a constant shifting in hopes of a better fit, more wealth, more chances to accumulate credits.  Culture becomes a victim of materialization.  Some cultures become stigmatized, worthless.

Since “religion” is sometimes an institution at the mercy of culture, it has also suffered.  Sometimes it is portrayed as a kind of magic for believers.  In an effort to maintain control it can become an excuse for holocaust.  And also an excuse for raping the land, leaving a gaping black hole in the woven life of the planet.

This approach to ceremony I'm developing is a way to reweave the world by using our sensations, our memories, our experiences. to thread meaning back into it.  But we can’t neglect the fact of survival, that we all need food, shelter, and work, no matter where we are.

This video link illustrates what I’m talking about.  This is in my experience and memory.  I remember.  I dream it over again.

Much of the eloquence here is due to the recovery of the language at Piegan Institute.  The young man who speaks so well is Jesse DesRosier.  The rowdies by Ick’s are public school products, semi-assimilated. 

I took this Pikuni world pattern with me to the U of Chicago Div School.  No one understood it.  This writing is my explanation for them because that world is ALSO part of my sensory life, my experience, my memory.  This is the modern task, to combine different place/times into something new, a way of creating meaning on this planet and in this universe.

U of Chicago "quads"


I was told at Div School that someone asked a famous theologian whether dogs go to heaven.  His answer was that no one knows, but we ought to act as if they did.  Can people see the sacred everywhere?  I don’t know, but we ought to act as if they could.  That means what happens to one of us happens to all of us.  This must be a communion that is never fenced to keep the “others” out.  It’s a hard morality — not sentimental.  A little out of control.  Dangerous. 

Wednesday, December 02, 2020


 It’s so awkward for me, a white woman (napi yahkee), to comment on someone like Jesse DesRosier and you shouldn’t continue reading what I say without watching this YouTube vid.

I knew Darrell Robes Kipp, from when he was a senior in high school in Browning and I had just been hired to teach junior high.  Dorothy Still Smoking was in my all-girl speech and drama class where I got in trouble for writing a play about a girl’s reformatory without having any idea it would be taken as being residential boarding school.  

In those days Roy DesRosier — Jesse’s grandfather/greatgrandfather? —was the town pharmacist, a red-head of formidable intelligence.  He was white, but I think his genes traveled to blend with Blackfeet.  I wish I knew more about him.  In particular his female descendants are brilliant.  One is a doctor in Heart Butte.  He should not be just discarded, so I’ll stick up for him, but politically I’m on the wrong side of the blanket.

Jesse thinks the first Piegan Institute was in an abandoned house, but he’s thinking of the earlier Blackfeet Free School and Sandwich Shop, a precursor that was started by Bill Haw (white) in the abandoned commodities warehouse.  I put some of this in “Bronze Inside and Out.”  It had fizzled by the time Piegan Institute started, but it left an imprint.  In some ways, these two ventures presaged the Blackfeet Community College.  “It CAN be done,” the experiments said.  One organization was part of a whole movement.

When Darrell and Dorothy first began surveying the rez to see whether people would support a program to teach the language, they were startled that people said “certainly not”!  In their childhood these adults had been severely punished for speaking Blackfeet and they were determined that their children should not be exposed to such hurt.  By now, decades later, the story has reversed and people feel the language should be learned.

Luckily, the Canadian Treaty 7 parts of the Blackft nation were allowed to keep much of their culture and they were a reservoir of teachers and ceremonies.  I want to pick up on the “Cree Speaker” name.  For Blackfeet, “Cree” is sort of the equivalent of “French” for the English.  Cree Medicine family members worked for us, but I didn’t tease them about it.  (Carl could be formidable.)  “Cree Medicine” is meant to be little witchy, a little sexy — powerful.  Louise Erdrich knew that when she named a novel that — the title was later changed to “Love Medicine” which is roughly the same.

Jesse’s vid is terrific.  He’s done others.  I can’t find a copy of “Buffalo Runner” yet but I’m still looking.  I haven’t check Vimeo yet.


 Narrativity is a fancy way to say “telling a story” but Richard Stern’s classes at the U of Chicago expanded that in his teaching anthology “Honey and Wax,” so it included music. We did not go so far as to claim that a landscape is a narrative, but I do that now.  “Most people would agree it is a basic way to be human, to find meaning.”  H.P. Abbott

These are the stories I use as prompters for ceremonies and rituals, ways to get hold of the virtual, the abstract but deeply felt.  “As what one might call an “adjectival” noun, narrativity suggests connotatively a felt quality, something that may not be entirely definable …”

Narrativity might be a hero surviving ordeals until reaching his goal; a mountain climber who summits and what happens afterwards; a hilarious Napi story about an offended boulder chasing him; another Blackft story about a person who goes up into the sky out of love but gets homesick and comes back.  It might be an explanation or a question.

This particular story has been my map all along.

A Jewish story from Temple B’Nai Toray in Bellevue, WA

Whenever the Baal Shem Tov, the great master of Hasidism, saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a big fire in just a certain way, he would say a special prayer, sing a little nigun, a melody with no words, (such as we sang earlier this afternoon) and the miracle would be accomplished and the terrible threat averted.

A generation later, when his student, the Maggid of Mezritch, needed to do the same thing on behalf of his community, to pray to heaven for protection, he would go to that same place in the forest and say “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire… but I can sing that little tune, and I still remember the prayer!” and again, the miracle would be accomplished.

And yet another generation later, Rabbi Moishe Leib of Sasov, the heir to the Maggid of Mezritch, in order to save his people once more, would go into that same spot in the forest and say,” Dear God I do not know how to light that fire, and I do not know the prayer, and even the little song I don’t remember so well, but You can see I know where the place is, and this must be sufficient.” And what do you know? It was enough just to be in the place and the miracle was accomplished.

Then, years later, it fell to Rabbi Yisroel of Rhizin to overcome misfortune for his community. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, and he spoke to God, saying: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer, can’t remember how the song goes, and I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story about how the Baal Shem tov used to go and do these things in that place. I only remember the story.” And it was sufficient.


The Ritual Process by Victor Turner

This book explains how to create a “liminal space” by providing a way to enter it, being there, and coming back out.  Physical senses are the means, like going up a flight of stairs into a cathedral, or the curtain going up before a play, or lighting a candle before praying.  The other side of the time/space is coming down, the curtain falling or putting out the candle.  Turner worked out this sequence while working with African tribal rituals like coming of age or marriage.

The formula works for almost every ceremony I know, including the Blackfeet Thunder Pipe Bundle Opening in Spring that enlightened me in the Sixties.  The cultures Turner studied would create a virtual time/space through the use of their own familiar ecology to enter a protected state of mind and bodies, use that time together to attune, harmonize, resonate and thereby renew each other.  Then it turned out the theory worked in “modern” Christian churches.


The Shape of the Liturgy by Dom Gregory Dix

Even familiar and presumably permanent rituals can develop — evolve — over time.  The earliest Christians were part of a Torah study group who came together and began to understand in a different way, guided by ideas from Jesus the Christ, until they were “Christians.”  Then they shared a meal, mostly bread and wine that they had brought with them.  This sharing gradually became sacralized as “communion.”


Constructing Local Theologies by Robert J. Schreiter

Ordinary actions that emerge from life to become part of religion will acquire justifications that come from the theory of how the sacred meanings are structured.  This understanding comes from a specific ecosystem and the experience of living in it.  How does one take the liturgy of one people (specifically Christians) to a culture that has neither bread nor wine?  Schreiter says one must go to the most basic concept that underlies the practice.  So communion is not what is consumed, but THAT it is consumed in the company of people who share.  It might not even be about eating.  And eating might not be about taking a sacred leader into one’s body.


Multiple Books

Research discovers the evolution of a human being from the point of conception.  When an infant emerges from the mother, it has already begun to build a brain and its bodily system by pushing against the confinement and what it feels as the mother moves: hears as her heart, gut and lungs work or as she talks and sings or as her body sways through her work.  That is, the genome is the map for self-creation, from the very beginning to the rest of life, always building on the sensory experience of the environment.  

This evolution was once thought to be a recapitulation of the evolution of our species: fish, amphibian, reptile, mammal.  This turned out to be more poetry than science, but it is scientifically true that each stage of evolved life builds on the one just previous: an amphibian is an improved fish, a reptile is an improved amphibian, a mammal is an improved reptile.  We carry in ourselves bits of all those incarnations.

The mammal mother’s impulse is to come face to face with her infant.  Her mammalian nature — nursing, rocking, stroking, cleaning — gradually creates a virtual space/time between her and the baby.  This safe but growth-supporting context is the evolved key to worship and liturgical experiences later in life.  

These ideas provide the basic context of what I’m developing as a structural theory of ceremonies of meaning seen as worship for a community.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020


Twenty years ago when I moved in, I did cats the respectable way.  I was hired to teach, so I acquired two kittens, got their shots and spayed them, and spent an hour sawing a cat flap in the security-solid kitchen door.  But I quit the teaching job in a couple of months, scandalized by what it had become, and took a series of little jobs until I qualified for Social Security.  In the next ten years I wrote my bio of Bob Scriver, "Bronze Inside and Out."  

These first two cats had an aged mother and were probably fed too well.  They became arthritic and incontinent younger than they should have.  I asked the vet to put them to sleep, which I could afford then.  For a week or so, there were no cats and I wept buckets.  The vet made it clear he did not like killing cats.  He’s invested in the “fur baby” metaphor.

Then Patches, the neighborhood feral cat, had her kittens in the garage.  She was truly wild — I never touched her.  I fed them.  The neighbor’s dog killed one.  Then she died, but her kittens were no longer feral.  

The neighbors bought an old pickup and towed it home.  Three kittens were hiding in it.  One died, they kept one and the third one moved into my house.  He became a big dominant striped and dotted tomcat I called Finnegan.  The little female I called the Blue Bunny (the name of an ice cream brand) because she WAS blue, fell madly in love with him.  She sat next to him, leaning against him, gazing up at his face and purring.  After he got her pregnant, he left.  I wasn’t sorry.  He had peed in the potted plants, picked fights, and generally tore things up.

Blue Bunny, by now the Mamacat, had four kittens, which is standard.  I was drowning them as newborns while she was outside, but when she came in and saw what I was up to, she moved the last two down the trapdoor under the house, grabbing one by the back leg instead of properly by the neck.  It screamed.  I didn’t see them again, couldn’t get into the shallow space under the geranium bump-out window where they were in the farthest corner, until one day I heard mewing and here came the black and white kitten I called Tuxie.  (Tuxedo.)

Half a day later she was followed by the gentle little gray kitten that eventually had its face torn off by something unknown.  I drove it -- stoic and immovable -- to the vet to kill the mite, because I can't bear to kill them once their eyes are open. That vet does not like me.  He thought that as soon as I saw what had happened, I should have driven thirty miles in the dark to pay him to fix it.  If it were possible.  He would have done his best.

By now, sets of kittens later — mercilessly edited by me —there is the S-series: Splotch, Streak, Spots, and Stripes.  Then the Buttons, who became Zippers, all but Fuzzy who should have been named Tufty.  It was badly developed and died for no particular reason.  All the kittens struggle with sealed eyes and gloppy noses but then recover except for a few.  By now there are only two Zippers: Inky who is not well and Pinto.  (There were already three Spotties.)  

As things stand, there are maybe ten cats, including Salt and Pepper, two tomcats grown huge who are litter mates Caruso walks through the house at night singing.  We never see him in the daytime.  I feed a couple of cans twice a day to see who’s still here.  Seven are sleeping with me by morning.  

Tuxie and Blue Bunny have caught onto me and don’t seem to have kittens anymore.  They may be having them somewhere outdoors where they don’t survive.  Tuxie has become a Trannie, acting like a tomcat and relentlessly pursuing the much bigger toms.  They run when they see her and shriek when she smacks them.  She is devoted to the Blue Bunny and the two of them travel together, but during the morning nap shift, it is Tuxie who settles down with the Zippers and cleans their ears, etc.

One S-series kitten, Streak, has hit her head. (My fault — I pushed her away too hard and her head hit a bureau of drawers.)  Sometimes the pupils of her eyes are different sizes and she’s very clingy.

The closest “humane society” is thirty miles away. There was one closer but the woman who ran it left for a better job.  My income is a barely adequate:  SSI and a small pension. My ancient pickup is not roadworthy.

Of course I googled.  Below is an unattributed google.

“A cat colony consists of a group of usually related female cats and their offspring. The size of the cat colonies depend upon the availability of food and other resources. Adult male cats do not live in cat colonies, but friendly behavior between females and males can occur, especially when familiarity exists.Mar 6, 2019”

This household best fits the idea of a cat colony.  There was a feral one up the street that was mostly ginger cats and lived in a old church building, but some one removed them, probably with poison.  Once I saw them crossing the street to the house of a woman who fed them.  There may have been twelve, all strung out in a line.

The description above doesn’t refer to “owned” cats but to the semi-fantasy of “feral” cats.  There is not enough description of the various ways cats organize themselves.  For instance, no one speaks of “satellite cats” that keep a human household or a feral colony as a reference point, coming and going according to need and inclination.  

Studies where cats are equipped with tiny cameras so they can be traced and maps of their routines can be studied, revealed that they don’t normally trespass on each other, but that there are “two-fer” cats who belong to more than one household, visiting daily for food at both of them, each believing the cat is theirs.

The Cut Bank animal control officer is as realistic as I am. When he catches a skunk for someone, he releases it in a better place for skunks.  He says that the way to eliminate feral cats (and some pet cats) is to suspend the leash law, but in livestock country no one will ignore the leash law except someone’s college kid coming for the holidays and bringing his or her big dogs along.  No one brings their cats to visit.