I write every day for a living, and as a hobby, I also write (and take photos).
If I could do this any other way, I’m sure I would. But perhaps you can relate–knowing what you are here to do brings a kind of peace along with torment . . . the poison and the antidote . . . the creative imperative . . . the sleeping and waking. Elaine Pagels quoted it best here:
“If you bring forth that which is in you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is in you, what is in you will destroy you.” – Elaine Pagels quoting from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas
Currently editing my client’s book about 30 years in Indian Country (after 30 years growing close as family to a tribe, you get to say Indian Country, I’m told). Loved this story:
When I first met Dani Not Help Him, I asked about her surname: Not Help Him. I assumed that it was a name depicting someone who had somehow been shamed and not deserving of help. I did not understand “Not Help Him,” so I asked Dani to explain the meaning. She told me that the surname is derived from members of one of the warrior societies among the Lakota comprised of men who were destined to be the first line of defense against invaders or other tribes who might raid or battle the Lakota.
A warrior designated as Not Help Him was said to be so brave and so dedicated to the safety of the village that he would lay down his life for the tribe or village and nobody was supposed to help him as he performed his sacred duties to protect the village. She said that some Not Help Him warriors would go so far as to sink a stake into the ground and have another warrior lash their leg to it so that they could not retreat in the face of certain death. You were not to help him, Dani explained, because his death was in furtherance of the protection of his people. Just thinking of this, the dignity, the courage, and the generosity of these warriors brings a lump to my throat, to this day.
*(The man with the drum is a Nottawaseppi (the people who can hear the river) singer. This tribe has lived for generation upon generation in the Michigamme/Michigan: the place where food grows on water–a reference to wild rice. If I had a picture of a Lakota Not Help Him, I’d use it. My pictures are from Pow Wows in the Michigamme and markets and mountains in New Mexico where I love to walkabout listening with my lenses.)
After work last Wednesday, I dropped the kayak in and paddled up river to the beaver lodge, taking in the only news I can stomach these days.
A pair of trumpeter swans (black billed) have found a congenial welcome by Keats, the omnipresent mute swan (orange billed). Keats is a curmudgeon with uncompromising rules about his territory. Yet there he was being nice. This is above-the-fold news, people.
As the sun set, I paddled back towards my house on the peninsula. There’s plenty of yard work to do and writing deadlines weighing me down, yet the water gives me a sense of calm. It’s hard to feel pressure or anxiety here. I am happy with the idea of growing old in this littoral place that is now serendipitously mine . . . the hard work of getting here rewarded by a contentment both unfamiliar and constant.
I may just mark my height on a doorsill and measure how much shorter I get every year I grow older and new in this place.
Plans are underway for an international conference set for this June in the lovely resort town of Bad Ischl high up in the Alps. I’m on the planning committee for this event and had to go looking this morning for some photos to use for promotional purposes. Here’s a shot I took and will use, along with what I wrote in 2016 that won’t make the promo:
I can’t recall why she said it, but the woman who said “I told him about chairs but not about bushes” is from Lithuania and struggles to express herself in English . . . so does the man from Mauritania who always smiles and has an enthusiastic YES down pat, but little else. He is a medical doctor in his world, but in this country he can barely order schnitzel. He greeted me over midmorning tea with, “How fine are you?”
The communication misfires are nothing short of poetic at times. I’m at a conference where at least 39 countries are represented, many of them small developing nations. I’ve rarely felt so ethnocentric (and ashamed of it). Elvira from Herzegovina says the flowers are so smelly here in Austria. Yes, I nod in agreement, they certainly are.
Winter Light at Wild Turkey Road near Sebewaing, MI
Along about Exit 88 on I-94 Westbound, there is a plastic Santa Claus sitting on top of a steel fence post, part of an old woven-wire fence that separates the highway easement from a swampy horse pasture. He’s back in there a little ways, hidden in the brush and hard to see. It looks like someone was picking up cans, or generally policing the road bank, and found him there. What do you do with a good Santa Claus that you may have found while picking up cans on a summer day? Put him up on a post for others to enjoy, of course. My wife, Jamie, and I rarely pass that way without trying to spot Santa. He always makes our day. We wave and say “Hi Santa!” Be it midnight on a Tuesday in June, or four pm on a random February day.
We don’t decorate for holidays much at our house. We have dogs and a cat. They wreck stuff. We kind of feel that a lot of seasonal decorating is for retired people who have time and money. Our money is tight and if we are not working we need to sleep. Life has tired us out. We used to paint the town red every weekend, Hell, we’d give it two coats and stay up for 3 days to watch it dry.
Now we are exhausted, and things that mean more work just don’t make sense to us. We’ve seen lights, we know a lot about conifers, and wreaths of arborvitae. Holly grows in the swamp down past the old farm. Seen it all. Did it. Know where it is if we need it, don’t feel the need to drag it into the house so we can clean it all up again in three weeks.
But if you want to see a couple in their 50’s get excited, just watch along I-94 at Exit 88 when we come by. We’ll be craning our necks to see if we can spy Santa sitting on his perch, bringing joy to people like us, too tired to decorate at home, but not too jaded to appreciate the random gift of a stranger who thought Santa would look good on the fence. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if we start collecting Santas to stick on fence posts wherever we go. Decorating the house for Christmas is an overwhelming task. For some reason scattering Santas around the countryside doesn’t seem like too much work. Merry Christmas!
(Guest Blogged by Chris A. Ross, Attorney, and a BFF since 6th grade. Thanks, Tallz!)
Somewhere up near West Branch, Michigan, where the hills in the distance are sand dunes.