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Not Now Little Birdie


Imagine hearing the most shrill, obnoxious “peep” you can think of at 5 in the morning.

Then repeat it every 10 minutes.

“Dear, the fire alarm needs a new battery,” Wifie says.

I plod out of bed and rummage blindly in the battery drawer.

I sigh. “We’re out of 9 volt batteries. I guess I’ll have to go to the store to get some.” Who can sleep with that continuing interruption?

It takes a half hour drive altogether to buy new batteries from “Walmies World,” our not so local 24 hour super convenience store. Eventually the batteries are swapped to silence the monster chickie. I may as well stay up. I’m awake now…

Why do I have to be the man?

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Dawn

The owls visit at sunrise.

I don’t know if they are up early or out late.

“Dude, wake up!”

“It’s been a while,” they hoot.

“Get out of bed!”

“Come with us!”

They all cackle.

I call  back to them in Owlish without opening the window or getting out of  bed. I know they can hear me. “It’s good you came by, but I’m sleeping in!”

Startled by my reply, dog jumps on the bed and gives me a sloppy kiss. That’s her way of reassuring herself that I’m okay.

As I sputter and fend her off, I hear a last soft mournful “Aw, man!” fade into the distance outside.

 

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Dear Readers,

In two weeks, I am going to present at a fortune 100 company as part of their diversity program. I have a half hour for my presentation and a four-by-eight table on which to place pictures or things. I get to talk about being “Indian”.  (In my case, being a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, and having ancestors from the Red lake, Leech Lake and White Earth bands as well.) I suppose my audience will be people I’ve met from a relative’s department, and perhaps some of the big wigs from the company.

Having lived on and off the reservation and having degrees in American Indian Studies and psychology, it would be easy for me to come up with my perception of what being Indian means.  However, as part of the presentation, I would like to know and present two things. 1) What you would like to know about a person/people from these cultures if you are not from there, and 2) what you would like other people to know if you are.

For fellow Anishinabeg, I’m aware that we come from many different  reservations, reserves, places and experiences, and want to take this into account. But I need your input in order to do so. If you would like me to keep your replies confidential, I can do that, as this blog is set up so that I have to approve,  and can edit, your reply before posting it. I would however like to use your reply and at least note where it comes from.

Yours Sincerely,

Russell Littlecreek

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Nanabozhu is on his way to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where the people are unique and peculiar.

“Can you pull up next to that guy driving that semi?” He rolls down the back passenger side window to the Chrysler Town and Country.

“I don’t think it’s going to accomplish anything.” Says the blond in the front seat.

“Well, I have to try,” he replies.

By now they are alongside the guy driving the semi at 75 miles an hour. Nanabozhu sticks his head out the window (which doesn’t quite open up all the way so he’s kinda squished through it.)  The trucker looks down at them and sees an older Anishinabe fellow squinting with effort as Nanabozhu tries to make a  rolling motion with the one hand he can get out of it.

The truck driver rolls down his window with a curious look on his face. With the wind whipping by, he thinks he hears Nanabozhu yell something like “Your barn door’s open!” (Which is a euphemism for “the zipper on your pants is undone”.) Nanabozhu can see him mouth “What?!” with an incredulous look on his face.

“Your back door is open!” Nanabozhu yells again. The trucker smiles and waves with that easygoing look of someone who has heard you say something but is too polite to tell you that they didn’t quite understand what you said.

Their Town and Country pulls ahead, leaving the truck behind with Ben their driver glancing back in the SUV’s rear view mirror to watch the trucker checking his side view mirrors looking like someone who, with a little thought, has finally  figured out what you were trying to say,  and the trucker finally begins to pull off the road.

Mission accomplished.

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“I think maybe the owls are out tonight.”

“I don’t know. It could be morning doves.”

“After dark?”

Whatever it or they are, the sounds are muffled behind a closed window and the susurrus of the air conditioning.

The spirit being willing more than the flesh being lazy,  I roll out of bed–a distance of three feet, open the window and reveal the world; its chorus of frogs and the song of the  Barred Owl.

He has a distinctive call.

So I reply.

It is a moment before he responds. From hearing the sound of my Owl voice he is probably thinking that as an Owl, I am retarded, (Sorry folks, the politically correct words “developmentally disabled” just don’t convey the proper nuance in Owldom.) but deigns to answer me anyway.

“It’s good enough that he is answering you back,” Wifie says.

The three of us converse long enough–he and I in Owlish, and she to me in English–to drink in the strangeness of it all.

Until I stop.

When he doesn’t hear from me any more, he gives one last  Awwww! And goes away to look for other friends elsewhere.

Sometimes the difference between living an uneventful life and enjoying a singular experience can be as little as three feet.

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Nanabozhu

At 5 a.m., Nanabozhu woke up and found himself sleeping in the “Inn over Oak Creek”, in Sedona, Arizona.

“Oh, It’s still dark outside. I wonder where the sun is.  It should be getting light out by now.” He also noticed that he still felt a little tired.

“Hm.” He thought ” I think I’ll drop by that vortex at the Phoenix Airport for a little refreshment.” So he stepped outside, changed into a small Blue Heron, and winged his way over.

Twisted JuniperHe searched for the place on the hill where the Junipers grew twisted. That was one of the ways that you knew to find a vortex. Of which he heard Sedona had four. Looking at one of the Junipers, he could see how it grew.  It was as if the small tree had grown inside a cyclone and the wind perpetually twirling about had spiraled the tree as it grew so that not only  the bark of the trunk and branches were twisted but their grain deep into the heartwood as well.

He knew he had arrived because he felt that tingling on his neck and the hair standing on the back of his head as the healing energy of he vortex refreshed him, and he began to feel better already. Still no sun though.

“That’s because I thought I would give you the honor of singing the sun into view.” the Earth said.  “You see, the Sun always likes to hear the songs of The People of the Earth so I will slowly turn  so he can hear the song of the next person to sing. ”

“Well, what should I sing?” asked Nanabozhu with a twinkle in his eye.  ” How about, ‘Ah’m all shook up’, by Elvis Presley?” He could feel the earth give him a gentle swat on his arm.

“That would be good if Elvis sang it.” she said,  “But the Sun likes original songs that come from the singers themselves, the best.”

“I can do that.” replied Nanabozhu. He thought quietly for a few minutes and then raised both arms to the East where the sun would rise, and began his chant.

Oh my favorite Sun,
(even though you’re the only one.)
 
Enlighten the skies
to entice the eyes
of children and old folks to waken.
 
But not so much so,
to the Larks please don’t go,
they’d rather the day were forsaken.
 
Then dim the stars and the moon,
so The People will swoon
when that beauty is seen
come this e’en’.
 
And turn the violet sky rose
bring sweet dawn to the nose
to soften the hearts of The People.
 
Now Chiaroscuro the place
your appearance will grace
to make the artists of Sedona most happy;
 
But not so intense
that their feelings are flensed
to the point that it makes them get sappy.
 
Now color the earth
and put shadows therein
and the hearts of the people you’ll win.
 
And when you are ready,
shine your brilliance most steady,
warm the air with your breeze for your kin;
 
So to soothe stiff old bones
and to soften sore muscles
so we all say “Well Come!” when you show.
 
And when you have risen,
freed us all from night’s prison,
we are thankful,
just so you know.
 

Nanabozhu could feel the Earth looking at him askance; nevertheless, the Earth had turned, and the Sun had risen.

“Thank you.”  said the smiling Sun.  “That was…very Nanabozhu-esque.  That certainly adds to my day.”

“Now”, said Nanabozhu to the Earth, “if you will allow me to rearrange things a little bit, I have a gift for you.” And with that, he rearranged a mountain formation so that it looked like his face, waking up to the dawn and praying. Which you can see to this day from the viewing point next to the Sedona airport.

 

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Five o’clock and a faint light under the resort room curtains causes my eyes to open with a BLING! I am awake and won’t be able to get back to sleep. My wife hates that because she is NOT a morning person. So I use the light from my cell phone to find my glasses, clothes, and get dressed. I grab my laptop and quietly leave before I start singing or laughing to myself… which she can’t stand even more, this early.

I take the elevator down and walk through the quiet lobby where there is already some activity going on. A biker comes in wearing a knit, pulled down black ski mask type of hat. He’s walking stiffly, as if he has arthritis and was riding his hog too long.

I walk past the terrarium, a glass case with a single glass partition in the middle. One side holds a Gila Monster, the other, a King snake. Every morning I find them sleeping right next to each other. Two enemies sharing their warmth and company through a single pane of glass.

No sun yet. The sky is a uniform light grey. The mountains are dark silhouettes. The white Christmas tree lights illuminate the trunks of the palms. The birds are excited. They are singing and talking to each other. There are Morning Doves, and Jackdaws? An egret stands on the side of the pond; still puffed up as the morning air is cool and dewy. The Morning Doves and Jackdaws walk closely by me, looking for any food or tidbits that may fall off my empty table. In the distance, three ducks complain and fly off. A Ladder-back Woodpecker scolds me because I am in his territory.

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There is a pond and the bowl of a very small valley before me. Short green golf course grass surrounds the pond, punctuated by sand traps, and a green fairway leads off to the horizon. It is all rimmed by small bushes, and short trees. The “rough” in which they are planted is a light sandy colored gravel. In the pond is a large modern sculpture. What I take to be a bird with a ring for a head is standing on a ball in the water. The ring is incised with pictographs.

Already the sounds of civilization impinge. Off to the left I hear construction machinery, and one of the resort staff whirrs by on his Segueway. A grounds maintenance worker rides around the rim of the bowl on his golf cart. I hear the warning peep peep peep of a vehicle backing up behind the building to the right.

The sky has lightened some. The beginnings of a soft chiaroscuro silhouette the mountains. They begin to take on their rose hue.

The light sensors on the palm trees have kicked in and the Christmas tree lights have gone out. The green of their strings blends in with their cork-like bark. A white man with an unleashed white poodle walks by and some kind-sounding words encourage her to walk over and sniff my outstretched hand. He says that’s doing pretty good for her.

A female duck with a lone chick swims around the edge of the pond and a fish roils the surface to snatch a bug. The duck is on land now and can’t understand why her little duckling can’t climb out. She waits patiently for it but ends up waddling back in to the water. A leather-back turtle paddles slowly by.

The sun is about to climb over the mountain. Now the chiaroscuro is lightning and the landscape has taken on definition. The sky has turned light blue and the rose has retreated to the horizon.

Car sounds Doppler the background. A Hispanic woman in neon green shorts, white tee-shirt and water bottle jogs by.

Dawn climbs over the mountain. The brilliant white light of the sun scintillates, turning everything gold and casting shadows. For a moment all the birds and I are silent and still.

Good morning.

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(more…)

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