Friday, June 4, 2010

Why the Trees Lose Their Leaves

The walk back from Pete’s grocery was short and I walked it with happy feet.
It wasn’t often that I had money to spend on candy and I was more than happy to part with my nickel. It seems that a nickel just doesn’t go far when it comes to candy.
I had to hurry home and hide my five pieces of candy before my brother found out.

Grandfather was at the pump washing some dandelion greens. It would be disrespectful to go in the house without speaking. My mind started working over-time trying to figure out what I would tell him. You see, Ududu (grandfather) had a notorious sweet tooth, almost as big as mine. If he knew I had candy, he would expect to be offered some.

Ududu spoke first, “Osiyo, Usdi Duya (It is good to see you, Little Bean)”, not even looking up from his task.
“Osiyo, Ududu. Dohitsu (how are you)?”
Grandfather rose to his full stature and looked at me with those eyes that always seemed to look through you. There was never hiding anything from grandfather.
“Osda, osdadv, (good, very good)” he said. As he spoke those words his eyes began to twinkle. I knew I had already been found out. With one hand working the pump handle and the other holding a dipper gourd, grandfather filled it with fresh cool water and offered it to me.
“Wado, Ududu,” I said between sips of water.

“Uwola, (sit)” grandfather said as he pointed to a spot next to the pump.
As I sat there and watched grandfather reach for his personal pipe and his leather bag
of tobacco mixture I knew a story was coming. Now it was me whose eyes began to twinkle. Grandfather sat down on an upturned log next to me and lit his pipe.
Through the blue haze of pipe smoke, grandfather began to speak.

“In the long ago times, the trees and animals were able to talk to one another. They lived close to each other and shared many things; but every year, the cold time (Uyvtlv Iyuwakodi) came and the birds would fly south to where it remained warm (Uganawa) and would return with their families in the spring, when the warm season returned.
One year, as the cold season approached a little bird (usdi tsisqua) was injured. He would not be strong enough to fly to the uganawa lands with his family, so he made his family fly south to the uganawa lands without him.

Injured, he knew he would not survive the uyvtlv season. So he sought out the help of the trees. He approached Oak (Tsusga). ‘Tsusga, I am injured, and cannot fly, the uyvtlv season approaches, and if I do not find shelter before then, I will surely shall die. Howatsu (please), Tsusga, let me shelter among your many leaves and branches during the uyvtlv times, that I may heal and greet my family on their return in the spring.’
But Tsusga was a stubborn old tree, and did not relish the idea of having a guest in the cold time, so he told the usdi tsisqua: ‘Little bird, go find somewhere else to spend the cold time. I do not wish you to spend the cold time with me.’

And the poor little bird was hurt in his spirit and turned away.

So usdi tsisqua went to the Tlvwaga (maple) and asked her. ‘Tlvwaga, I am hurt and not able to fly to the uganawa lands with my family for the uyvtlv season. Howatsu (please) let me stay among your many leaves and many branches during the uyvtlv (cold) time, or I will surely perish.’ And Tlvwaga, though a very sweet tree, did not enjoy the thought of a guest for the cold time and she too, turned the little bird away. ‘ Usdi tsisqua go ask someone else to shelter you. I do not wish for you to spend the uyvtlv time with me.’

And again, hurt in spirit, the little bird was turned away.

Usdi tsisqua went in turn to each of the trees and asked each for shelter in the cold time; and each, and every time, the little bird was turned away...... until there was no tree left to ask, except Notsi (pine). With no hope left..., but not willing to accept death...., the little bird approached Pine.

‘Notsi, I am injured and hurting, and not able to fly south to the uganawa (warm) lands with my family. If I do not find shelter and safety before the uyvtlv (cold) time, I will surely perish. Howatsu (Please)...., let me stay among your leaves and branches during the uyvtlv time...’
Notsi thought to himself, ("I am the least of the trees, what can I do?") ....but his heart heard the little bird's plight. ‘Usdi tsisqua ... My leaves are tiny... more like needles... my branches are not as many as the other trees ... but what I have you are welcome to share.’
And so, usdi tsisqua spent the uyvtlv time with Notsi. And when the warm times returned in the spring, the little bird's family returned. And usdi tsisqua had healed over the uyvtlv time and flew to greet their return.

Unelanvhi (Creator) had seen and heard all that had happened between the little bird and the trees. And Unelanvhi (Creator) called a great council of the trees and spoke to them..., ‘You, who were given so much......, who had so much, would not share the least of what you had with this little bird in his need. Because of this.., from this day forward, when the uyvtlv time is upon the land, your leaves shall wither and die and blow away.’
Unelanvhi then spoke to Notsi. ‘Notsi, you, who had the least of all the trees, gave so much, have touched my adanvdo (Spirit). When the uyvtlv times come, you of all the trees shall keep your leaves. They shall remain green through all the seasons for the gift you have given me, through the little bird.’

And that is why, to this day, that when the uyvtlv iyuwakodi (cold time) comes to the land, all the leaves wither, and die, and blow away.... except for Notsi.”
Grandfather became silent and removed the bowl from his pipe and placed it in his pipe bag. I knew the story was over and I knew the point had hit me hard. As grandfather rose to continue his work I spoke;
“Ududu, I have some candy, would you like some?” I held out the small bag of candy to him. Grandfather looked at me and smiled as he emptied the contents of the bag on to his weathered hand. My mouth dropped open as he took four pieces and placed the remaining piece back into the bag.

“Wado, Usdi Duya”, he said as he walked away placing a piece of peppermint candy in his mouth. I turned and walked toward the house carrying my little bag with one piece of candy. As I was about to enter the back door I smelled the scent of pine in the air.
In the kitchen my brother was helping grandmother (ulisi) peel potatoes.
With out hesitating, I offered the last piece of candy to my brother.

Later that night as I lay in my bed going over the happenings of the day, I felt the crunch of paper under my pillow. Lifting the pillow I saw a small paper bag. In the darkness I poured the contents of the bag into my hand and found it held five pieces of candy and a shiny nickel.
Again I could smell the scent of Nosti.

Friday, April 23, 2010

How The Tsalagi Got The Sacred pipe

The sun had set and the horizon gave off its last glow of light. I could see Grandfather's siloutte as he sat at his evening fire. As I started to approach I could see a puff of smoke and knew Ududu (grandfather) had his pipe, I knew to go no further. I stopped and stood in silence. A small cough was my signal to him that I wished to approach.

"Nvla (come), Usdi Duya," Ududu said quietly almost in a whisper.

It was always a privelege and honor to be asked to sit by his fire when he smoked the pipe. Ududu always seemed to be in another world when he smoked his pipe and always had a story to tell. I walked to the fire as quietly as a ten year old boy could walk.

"Uwola." (sit) Ududu sat there with his ganvnawa (pipe) resting in his lap. The silence that followed this invitation seemed endless. Finally he spoke, again in almost a whisper.

"What brings you to my fire, Usdi Duya?" I don't know why he even bothered to ask what I wanted. It seemed that Ududu always knew what was on my mind.

"Ududu, I come to hear the story of the ganvnawa. I am almost a man and need to know," I said in as calm a voice that I could.
Ududu let out a small chuckle and then said, "yes, perhaps it is time."

He lifted his ganvnawa to his mouth and with a burning twig touched the flame to the bowl. A puff of smoke drifted up into the air. I could smell the sweetness of the tsola (tobacco). My mind was trying to identify the different smells.
Grandfather's voice brought me back to the 'now time.'

"In a time when the gantlai (animals) still spoke with the Aniyvwiya (the real people, meaning the Tsalagi) and taught them to live with and care for Turtle Island (earth, the land) there lived among the people a mighty woman warrior called Gatlida Ageyv (Arrow Woman)".
I had never heard of a woman warrior before. Grandfather must have felt my surprise because he went on to say.
"Gatlida ageyv learned to use the bow, the spear and the knife. Even though it was a man's job to hunt and fight, Gatlida ageyv could shoot straighter with the galitsadi (bow) than anyone, she could throw the hayelasdi (knife) farther than any man. She could throw the digatisdi (spear) into the eye of tawodi (hawk) as it flew. No one would tell her to be like a woman and do woman things.

One early morning while out hunting, Gatlida ageyv came upon the tracks of Yonv (bear). She saw blood on the ground and knew he was injured so she followed his tracks. She followed his tracks high into the mountains. Soon she came to a place that she did not know. It was in this place, a place known only to the animals that she finally saw Yonv. He was cut deep on his side and was bowing down in prayer. She saw him bowing toward a large field of tall grass and speaking words that she did not know.

Suddenly, the grass began to glow and shimmered and became a lake. Gatlida ageyv saw Yonv dive into the water. After much time had passed he emerged from the water, his side was completely healed. Yonv saw Gatlida ageyv and walked to her. Yonv spoke to her, "this is the sacred lake of the animals. It is known only to the animals. It is where we come for healing and strength. You are the first man creature to see the sacred lake. You must never tell the Aniyvwiya (real people) of it's location for it is the home of 'The Great Uktena'. With these words Yonv turned and walked into the woods and disappeared."

I stared into the fire. Grandfather's words turned into pictures in the fading smoke. It was like I was there watching what was happening. I waited as Grandfather again lit his ganvnawa.

"Gatlida ageyv was tired so she decided to rest a while by this lake. She built a small fire and sat down to eat some meat that she had brought with her. She took a drink of the water from the lake and felt instantly refreshed. She was amazed, she felt as strong the Yanasa (Buffalo). She felt as if she could run faster than Golanv (Raven) could fly.

The woods were still and quiet. The wind was sleeping, the sun was shining bright but was not hot, the surface of the lake was completely calm, Gatlina ageyv began to get sleepy.
It was then that she saw 'Uktena'. She had been told stories of him when she was a small child but no one in her tribe ever claimed to have seen him. Suddenly high above the water he raised his great serpent-like head, the jewel in his forehead glistening brightly. He began to move toward her. Gatlida ageyv quickly rose and grabbed up her spear ready to face the great creature. She raised her spear and prepared to strike this huge beast."

As Grandfather said these words I could see the huge creature coming towards Gatlida ageyv in the smoke of the fire or was it just my imagination. My muscles tightened in fear for Gatlida ageyv. I stared into the smoke and heard once again Grandfather's words.

"Uktena stopped a spear's length from her. He opened his mouth which was larger than a man was tall and full of teeth longer than a man's forearm.
He spoke to Gatlida ageyv, 'Put down your weapon for I mean you no harm. I come only to teach.'
Gatlida ageyv laid down her spear and began to relax, somehow knowing Uktena spoke truly.

Uktena told her to sit and listen. Uktena dipped his huge head below the surface of the lake and came back up a moment later. In his mouth he held a strange stick and a leather pouch. These things he laid on the ground in front of Gatlida ageyv.
Then the Great Uktena began to teach. He said,'This that I have laid before you is the Sacred Pipe of Unelanvhi (The Creator).' He then told her to pick up the pipe. 'The bowl is of the same clay Unelanvhi (Creator) used to make your kind. The clay is Woman kind and is from the Earth. Just as a woman bears the children and brings forth life, the bowl bears the sacred tobacco (tsola) and brings forth smoke. The stem is Man. Rigid and strong, the stem is from the plant world and like a man it supports the bowl just as a man supports his family.'
Uktena then showed Gatlida ageyv how to join the bowl to the stem saying, ' Just as a man and a woman remain separate until joined in marriage so too are the bowl and stem separate. Never to be joined unless the pipe is used.' Uktena then showed her how to place the sacred tsola into the pipe and with an ember from the fire light the tsola so it burned slightly. He told her this, "The smoke is the breath of Unelanvhi (Creator), When you draw the smoke into your body, you will be cleansed and made whole. When the smoke leaves your mouth, it will rise to Unelanvhi. Your prayers, your dreams, your hopes and desires will be taken to Unelanvhi in the smoke. Also the truth in your soul will be shown to Unelanvhi when you smoke the pipe. If you are not true, do not smoke the pipe. If your spirit is bad and you seek to deceive, do not smoke the pipe.'

Uktena continued his lesson well into the night teaching Gatlida ageyv all of the prayers used with the pipe and all of the reasons for using the pipe. He finished just as the moon was beginning her nightly journey across the sky in search of her true love. He told Gatlida ageyv to wrap the pipe in cloth, keeping the parts separate. With this done He told her that she would never again be able to find this place but to remember all that she had learned. Uktena then turned and slipped back into the depths of the lake. Gatlida ageyv saw the water glow and shimmer and become again the field of grass. She left, taking with her the pipe and her lessons and a wondrous story. Ever since that time, The Aniyvwiya have used the sacred pipe and never again has any man seen the sacred lake of Uktena.

I sat in silence not batting an eyelash. I heard Grandfather's voice change. It became heavy and charged with an unseen seriousness. I listened closely for I knew what came next would be the lesson to the story.

"The pipe is not a symbol of things that are sacred. The pipe itself is sacred. Not everyone is called upon to be a pipe bearer. The person who carries the pipe and practices the pipe ceremonies and traditions has a great responsibility to his brothers and sisters, his land and country and even to the Earth Mother.
The pipe bearer does not 'own' the pipe he carries. He simply carries the pipe until the time comes for him to pass it to the next bearer. The pipe bearer is given certain powers of sight from the pipe as well as an ability to heal and purify. Should the bearer fall from grace and become a liar, thief, or neglected his duties when asked, or become deceitful, the pipe would repossess these gifts and then the possibility of misfortune for the former bearer may exist.

One should be ready to accept the responsibility of the pipe for it may make demands upon you. It will become your teacher and guide. It can also be your worst enemy if used wrongly.

Some day, Usdi Duya, this pipe will pass to you and with it the responsibility to use it wisely. Remember always you are Tsalagi of the Aniwodi clan."

Ududu removed the bowl from the sacred ganvnawa and placed it in a small leather bag. He then took the stem and wrapped it in a piece of worn red cloth. These things he placed in the pipe bag. He then placed some sacred tsola on the dying embers and stood up. Together we walked hand in hand to the house.
The past and the future, joined as one.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Holy Man and Unelanvhi

Deep in thought I sat on the back steps soaking up the late morning sunshine. I was unaware of Grandfather's approach. The soft touch of his big hand on my shoulder startled me back to reality.

"Good for you I was not a Inadv (snake), Usdi Duya (Little Bean). Did you forget to put your digaleni (ears) on today?"
"No, Ududu, I have my digaleni on today."

I moved over and Grandfather sat down. Together we sat there in silence. The only sound was that of the bees as they danced around the spearmint plants on each side of the steps. Each lost in our own thoughts we sat there in silence.
Grandfather finally spoke. "What troubles my Usdi Duya this fine Sunday"?
I sat there searching for words.
Grandfather grunted, a signal to me that he had asked a question that required an answer.

"Ududu, the preacher told me this morning that if I didn't mend my ways I would go to hell and never see the glory of heaven."
"And this troubles you? "Grandfather laughed.
"No, Ududu, I would like to know what heaven and hell are like then I can decide where I want to go."

Again we sat in silence. After some time Grandfather reached over and gave me a handful of spearmint leaves. Putting several leaves in his mouth he sat there. Then as if the spearmint was a magic formula his face filled with a huge smile.

"I have a story (kanohelvsgi)," Grandfather said. It was my turn to smile as I sat back and put spearmint leaves in my mouth and chewed. I would have to listen close because Grandfather's stories always held answers.

"A Holy man (Galvquodiyu asgaya) was having a conversation with God (Unelanvhi) and said, "Unelanvhi, I would like to know what heaven (galvladitsosv) and hell (tsvsgino) are like."
The Creator led the Holy man to two (tali) doors (disdudi). He opened one of the doors and the Holy man looked in.

In the middle of the room (kanvsulv) was a large round table (gasgilo). In the middle of the gasgilo was a large pot (tsulasgi) of stew which smelled delicious and made the Holy man hungry (uyosi).
The people sitting around the gasgilo were thin and sickly. They appeared to be very uyosi. They were each holding a spoon (adidodi) with a very long handle that was tied to their arms and each found it possible to reach into the tsulasgi of stew and take a spoonful.
But because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the adidodi into their mouth.

The Holy man shuttered at the sight of their misery (agiliya) and suffering (anigiliyogv).

The Unelanvhi (Creator) said, 'You have seen hell (tsvsgino).' They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one.

There was the large round gasgilo (table) with the large tsulasgi (pot) of stew which made the Holy man uyosi (hungry). The people sitting around the gasgilo were equipped with the same long handled spoons, but here the people were well fed, plump, laughing and happy (alihelisdi).

The Holy man said, ' Tlaigoliga, Unelanvhi (I don't understand, Creator).'

'It is simple', said Unelanvhi. 'It requires but one skill (saquu asinasvi).

You see, they have learned to feed each other.

The greedy think only of themselves.'

The Holy man smiled at the sight of their joy and happiness."

I sat there with my eyes shut as I listened to Grandfather's story (kanohelvsgi).

I had decided heaven was where I wanted to go when I felt a cool breeze touch my face and I opened my eyes.
Ududu was gone, leaving as quietly as he had arrived.