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Of All the Trying Animals
I wonder you manage to keep any friends at all
When One-Sentence Journal came out and started picking up steam as far as people wanting to talk to me about it, it was mentioned on a couple occasions that I “don’t talk very much about being an Indian” in it. Which I suppose is true if you think Indigenous people should only write about “their trauma” and all the tropes that go hand-in-hand with their perceived culture as relates to settler colonial ideas of how we are supposed to exist in the world. Which is bullshit and insulting.Indians live in the same world as anyone else and may depict our interactions with it however we want and it will still be Indian. If you need a solid example beyond my constant bloviating, just check out what Indigenous hiphop artists are up to.
I grew up differently. I essentially wrote about that in the first thing I ever published with Riverfeet Press back in 2017, an essay called, “A Path to the Wild”for their debut anthology, Awake in the World, Volume One. It talks about being a dreamy, book-nerdy kind of kid, and how my path to feeling at home in the outdoors was set for me by fantasy writers and spending more time with my animal pets than I did with people.
“I used to feel a little inadequate when I didn’t have exciting stories to tell of dragging ungulates out of the woods in the dead of night, or landing gigantic river trout. Then again, I’ve never posed like a grinning idiot next to a dead (or dying) animal either, so there’s that. I’m old enough to have stumbled onto enough wisdom to realize that whatever means I came to enjoy observing the wild world, and being out in it, is no less relevant than anyone else’s. That’s the beauty of it. However we get there, we’re welcome.”
Now, when I think of how much I love the old Japanese and Chinese poets, it makes perfect sense. Their expressions of wonder at the natural world trips the same emotions the things I loved as a child did. That I would end up writing something like Descended from a Travel-worn Satchel is no coincidence. Whenever I start to feel like I am losing my grip with my emotions, with my ability to live in the world as it is as opposed to what I would like it to be, it is almost always a direct result of not spending enough time Out There. Not just big wild either, but the paths and streams just barely on the fringes of the modern world but no less wild for being there.
Those places are everywhere.
I am fortunate and grateful to live very near to Council Grove, a primitive state park that while beautiful is also the location of where some dubious history went down. I ramble its trails regularly and I’m never bored. The Clark Fork River flows by and is split around a little island. Herons and eagles nest here; there is a towering old snag I call the Condominium Tree because of all the birds who nest within its various cavities. Pileated woodpeckers and a northern saw-whet owl, for example, and many others. Most importantly, great horned owls nest here, and every spring I get to watch the owlets first appear as spectators from the hollow they live in, then emerge, and ultimately learn to fly.
I watch for foxes and coyotes because I’ve seen them around. Deer, always. And so, so many other birds in all seasons. Snakes too. Frogs.
This time of year where a slough conjoins the river is the site of much beaver activity. I’ve seen as many as four at a time — maybe five — going about their beaver business. I never grow weary of watching, and watching for, them. It is the same spot where in warmer months calliope hummingbirds nest, as do yellow warblers. I’m laughed at in all seasons by kingfishers, and the waterfowl are abundant.
Once, watching the beavers moving among a handful of Canada geese on the shore, I lamented that they wouldn’t let me approach so close to sit among them, and to even converse with them. Because of course they are always talking to each other, aren’t they, these animals? It is what I love so much about The Wind in the Willows, which I purchased from Townie Books while I was in Crested Butte last spring, and purposefully took forever to read because I didn’t want to stop hanging out with these animal friends of mine. The idea that when we aren’t around, these animals are just like us.
He [badger] came solemnly up to Toad, shook him by the paw, and said, “Welcome home, Toad! Alas! What am I saying? Home, indeed! This is a poor home-coming. Unhappy Toad!” Then he turned his back on him, sat down to the table, drew his chair up, and helped himself to a large slice of cold pie.
Toad was quite alarmed at this very serious and portentous style of greeting; but Rat whispered to him, “Never mind; don't take any notice; and don't say anything to him just yet. He's always rather low and despondent when he's wanting his victual. In half an hour's time he'll be quite a different animal.”
If I know anything it’s that animals are far more sentient than we have ever given them credit for, and I don’t care what any butt-sore scientist has to say about it. All of our cultures are steeped in stories where animals explain the world to us, stories where we are always the foolish ones in need of wisdom. I happily accept this truth of our doofus-ness, and all the folklore that goes with reminding us of it. It is the same whether these lessons are found in the tales my Ojibwe people related to make sense of the world around them or those of my ruddy-faced English and Scottish and Bohemian highland people of my mother’s ancestry. Animals are my wise relatives and I let my imagination run roughshod with ideas about how better I can live among them for all of our sakes.
Firelight flickered the same on the faces of all of our ancestors, and the cold and fog and darkness settled equally among them all. It isn’t something we should forget.
… and there will be plenty of that in Becoming Little Shell, frankly
At least I think that’s the title….