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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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White Sucker Fish

Namebin

Thank you for spawning later this month

and feeding my people.

 

We will find you in the depths of the creeks

as dark shadows at night

as our lights and spears pierce the water.

 

You came and kept us from starving in the past,

and we are grateful.

 

_________________

Nă·mĕ·bĭ·nē  Gē·zĭs: Sucker Fish Moon / February

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* Happy Thanksgiving Day!

It’s 2:45 a.m. here. My little hairy black standard poodle kid Belle nudges my hand. “Dad, I gotta go.” So I let her outside and know that she will be at least 20 minutes dawdling around until I give in and tell her I have a treat for her if she will come in. (She has me trained well.)

In 20 minutes I will be sleepy and ready to turn in, myself. I also know that this is a time when my little mind is most creative, (IMHO) so I thought I would write a “stream of consciousness” piece and see what happens, without having to worry about family nodding off at the dinner table because I pray to God on-and-on about all of the things for which we personally are full of thanks.

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the good ol’ USA. I choose to emphasize the positive about it. Here I sit in my nice warm house, a roof over my head, and  a place to sleep, looking forward to a day filled with food preparation and food eating. I have a wife and a dog whom I love, both of whom have chosen to continue to put up with me. We have grown-up kids living nearby whom we get to see regularly. My mom is still in decent health and I have a nuclear family of brothers and sisters, and an extended family of cousins, nieces and nephews and their children with whom I can stay in contact.

I have a great support system in my church, work in church which enables me to help other people and feel self-worth. I’m thankful for God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost and everything they do for me.

I’m thankful for my friends and acquaintances from church or college, or whatever walk in life, in many different states and countries with whom I have stayed in contact, some for forty years or more. I venerate all of my mentors, whether very young or older who have taught me so much and continue to do so.

I’m thankful for time. I have it to pursue my little hobbies; writing this blog, poetry, my journal. And I’m thankful for you dear reader, because you’ve allowed me into a small portion of your life by following me. Thank you.

Now I’m drawing a blank. Which makes me realize five things: that I don’t want to boor you, that I take so many things for granted, and that I have the luxury to do so, and that I have all that I could want, and that I am sleepy again.

So I will end here with the hope that you will have a happy thanksgiving too.

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a lovelorn Partridge

drumming wildly for a mate

lures a gun instead

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“I’m from Minnesota

Got no one to call my own

So I go a lookin’ for you Hi-ya

 

 

If you’ll be my honey

I will be your suger pie

Wei ya hi

Wei ya hi ya!”

___________________________________

These are lyrics from an old 49er song. These were sung for round dances where young people could socialize with each other after a powwow.

Here is a link to a softer kind of 49er that I think you’ll enjoy. It’s called the “Eternity Song” by Randy Wood and friends. The English lyrics are:

“As long as the grass grows, river flows.

As long as the wind blows,

That’s how I will love you,

for all eternity”.

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Run Wild

You may have heard the stereotypical phrase, “Running around like a bunch of wild Indians”.

Well, I saw this sign in a nearby park, alluding to that.

See?!  It’s not some Indians.

Other people are planning on running wild in the woods!  😉

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Now that I am back, I have been thinking about the different feeling of living on the reservation versus living away from it.  The Anishinabeg are blessed to live in Red Lake. There is a different feeling living there.

Ours is big for one thing, so there is a lot to see. I found myself rediscovering places I had known before, but also discovering new things and new places. As time passes I discovered many things stayed the same and many things had changed.

The scenery is all so varied. There are different kinds of lakes: Red Lake, which is BIG, and small lakes, lakes of different sizes, lakes which have different kinds of fish in them, rivers creeks, swamps. sloughs, marshes,  Forests of different trees: Birch, Jack Pine, Norway Pine, Cedar, Poplar, Maple, Various Oaks and Tamarack, and all the different kinds of plants.

I also found myself enjoying spiritual experiences. I don’t mean supernatural experiences, I mean just meeting another/other beings. Sometimes those were people: family, friends, people from high school, and people I hadn’t met before. Sometimes they were the crows, deer, eagles, squirrels in mom’s back yard, mom’s or the many neighbor’s dogs, the huge bears at the dump, fish in the water, the partridges I heard out in the woods, ducks, geese, loons, a field mouse.

I am reminded that we take so many things for granted. I remember moving here to Missouri and seeing a Nuthatch hopping down (facing downward) a tree trunk looking for bugs. The first times it was such a novel experience. Now I take it more for granted. The point is however, that there are so many strange and beautiful things in nature, and I found myself wanting to travel about the reservation as an exercise in experiencing those things.

One difference, I suspect was that I felt this was land held in common with other Anishinabeg that I could experience as I wanted, subject to my personal controls of common sense, moderation, and consideration, and not to the outside rules imposed on me by an impersonal authority.

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In the old days, the Anishinabeg as a people where virtuous. Parents would not allow their young daughter to meet with a young man unattended. So it was that he would use a courting flute to woo her (and them).

At night, just after the sun went down, the young man would play his flute while hidden in the woods near their lodge. If she liked what he played, she would invite him in for further discussion. If she didn’t like what he played, then she would throw stones at him while making disparaging comments until he stole away in the night.

Mă·nō´mĭn was the name of the flute maker’s beautiful daughter. Her name meant “wild rice”. Her parents named her that for many reasons: one, because they liked the way it sounded; two,  just as wild rice was essential for the survival of the people, they knew they could not live happily without their precious daughter, and three, because her auntie, who was a powerful mĭdewiwĭn, prophesied at her birth that she would have a wild (as in free and unfettered) temperament.

Now being the flute makers daughter, and he having a very young son not yet old enough to learn the tricks of the trade, happily taught Mănōmĭn all of his flute making knowledge. This gave her quite the advantage over her friends. Not that she would take advantage of them, rather, that she knew things that would help her to make a better choice concerning her suitors.

For instance, she knew the four most important things about courting flutes and their owners: how the flute itself reflected the characteristics of it’s owner, who all the young men in the village were; the love magic associated with a courting flute, and how to make her own flute.

You see, either a young man came to the flute maker to learn how to make his own flute, or he came to the flute maker to have a flute made for him. This helped Manomin because she saw all the young men who visited her father.

But this was not all, for in this family, (and so in most of this village) a flute was traditionally as long as the forearm of its maker–from elbow to the longest fingertip. There was a hand’s breadth of space between the mouthpiece and the fetish, another between the fetish and the first finger hole, and still another between the last finger hole and the bottom. The bore was as large as the dominant forefinger of it’s owner and there was a thumb’s breadth between each of the six finger holes.

So, if the owner of the flute was a tall young man with big hands, his flute would be long, with a large bore and so would have a low tone. If the young man was short and had little hands, his flute would be short with a small bore and thus would have a higher tone. Knowing this, Manomin could generally figure out who played what flute.

In either case, the young man came to the flute maker to learn how to play his flute. For her father had to learn how to play his flute well in order to woo and win over his wife, and for a fee or trade he passed this knowledge on to his proteges.

Now, here’s the rub. You see, while each young man was given the basics on how to play a flute well. They all had to practice their flute in private, either deep in the woods, or at their own lodges, which were far away. Not only that, but they also had to create their own songs, becoming one with their own flutes during the process,  so Manomin could not know exactly what songs came from who.

Now, having this knowledge was compounded by another factor. There was love jē´bĭk,  or magic, that could be associated with a courting flute. If a young man wanted to entrance the young woman with his courting flute playing he had to get a personal item or piece of hair from his intended and incorporate it into the decoration of that flute. This was how he would hopefully “seal the deal”.

Knowing this, and knowing that her father wasn’t above trying to “stack the deck” for the  young man of his choice, Manomin was very careful to keep all of her personal possessions hidden away in her Mă·kăk´, which was a birch bark container that is square on the bottom and round on top, and routinely burned any strands of stray hair that ended up in her comb or brush.

Finally, knowing how to make a courting flute was knowledge that Manomin kept up her sleeve for later.

****

As things go, the courting started in earnest that spring.

It was late enough so that there were leaves on the trees and grass on the ground, but early enough that the mosquitoes and biting flies had not come out yet. It was still cool enough that Manomin would sit by the fire just outside the lodge by a large pile of river pebbles she had gathered over the previous months for that very purpose. These stones were large enough that she could throw them a great distance but small enough that if you were beaned with one it would hurt, but not knock you out.

There were many suitors. Some played so softly and tenuously that she could barely hear them. Manomin figured that she needed someone who played boldly to reflect their bold spirit. So she threw stones at them and they disappeared.

Sometimes she heard rustling in the bushes as if someone were fighting and she would call out and throw stones, letting them know that if they did not let each other play that she would have none of them. So it was by the agreement of the suitors that each one played on a different night until all had a chance.  They would play until Manomin got tired of listening and went inside the lodge or until she threw stones and chased them away.

Some of the songs were unoriginal, like “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. That got the stones. Some of the songs were painful. Their notes too high. Manomin figured that if she didn’t like the songs, that she wouldn’t like the young man who wrote them. Stones, stones, stones.  They were the recipients of stones as well.  Some of the songs were repetitive. Manomin did not want to have a boring relationship so those young men were stoned.

The songs that she liked the most were those that incorporated the sounds of her favorite courting  bird, the Mahng or loon,  and the various woodpeckers. The combination of tremolo in them was either from the player being nervous which she didn’t mind at all because it made her realize she had power to make that young man nervous, or because he was accomplished enough to deliberately incorporate that quality into his song. She also realized that having such a skill might translate into other areas as well. There were a few flutists whose songs made the hair on the back of her neck stand up, they were so thrilling!

The young men were also tenacious enough that they came back night after night. They would play one song that identified them  and then they would play the new songs they had made up over the past few days.

****

This lasted until near the end of the Fall when Manomin decided to do something totally unexpected. She pulled a flute she had secretly made out of her sleeve! Whenever one of the young men who were left tried to play their songs she would play hers. One of the young men tried to drown her out. She was sad to have to throw stones at him because his songs were so beautiful and sad that they made her weep, but she knew that if he was not smart enough to figure out that she mattered in this way that he would not treat her equally later.

Her playing initially silenced the remaining flute players until only one was left. He came every night and announced his presence with a short song, but Manomin started playing immediately after that.

Then a wonderful thing happened.

When there was a break in her song, the young man would play counterpoint.  When it was possible, and their flutes were in tune –which was very difficult because the notes of Anishinabeg flutes were not tuned to scale as the Europeans do, but were made to the measurements of the user, the young man would play harmony to her melody. This went on four nights with their songs becoming increasingly complicated and intertwined. On the last night, Manomin gave her final test. She ad-libbed! And the young man, well knowing how she played by this time ad-libbed right along with her. The result was a musical synergy that each could not have developed without the other.

It was on that night, just before the first snow fell, that Manomin invited the young man who would become her husband, in to meet her parents.

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I discovered I had a new superpower as I stepped off the plane in Bemidji. I was invisible! It’s true.  Grown-up people I didn’t know did not see me until I said something to them or did something to attract their attention. They looked right through me! This was not true for children. They could see me all the time. So it must have something to do with complicated minds.

This power became stronger as I traveled through Red Lake. Sometimes people could not see me, even if I waved at them! The interesting  thing about this super power is that while my friends could see me easily, the more people did not know me, the more it seems like I had a force field around me that actually repelled their gaze.  It just slid around me.  I’m not sure I want to say too much about it as the NSA and the CIA might want to make use of it. I know it would come in handy in places that are not Minnesota.

Perhaps it’s like the instinct in monkeys. You don’t want to look them in the eye because one of you might be afraid the other is hostile. I just wonder if this is an invisibility gene that comes from someplace.

The other interesting thing I found was that I was not alone in having this super power. It is also true that all the other Minnesotans and especially the  Indians have it as well. But I think it is like a fish being underwater. The water is all around us but since we are in it all the time we don’t notice it until someone points it out to us.

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At the moment I’m sitting at McDonald’s in Bemidji, which is 30  miles south of Red Lake. I only get 1, 1.5 bars there. 😦 Verizon, what is the matter with you? So I have to come to Bemidji and use my phone as a hot spot here or use someone else’s network.

Time is flying! On the other hand I find myself not wanting to drive faster than 45 mph as I enjoy the scenery.  However, other than using the roads to get from my sister’s to my mom’s, I haven’t been able to get deep into the woods as I have been busy with my to-do list for them; fixing stuff around the house like cutting down dead or dying trees, limbs, taking stuff to the dump from my brother’s house which was burned down, and catch up with family members. I’m afraid that one or the other agendas is going to suffer.  Anyway, here is what I have so far.

Scruffy mixed-bred dogs
snooze on sandish roadsides
in Red Lake.

The scent of zhigaag*
assails my sense of smell
as I  drive ’round a corner
in Red Lake.
 
The skeletons of Tamaracks
stand sentinel
in the midst of the marsh mist
in Red Lake.
 
At dawn,
the bright tan doe crops grass
on the shoulder of the road
as I drive by
in Red Lake
 
Eagles nest
on the lines of power
near Red Lake.

Ah! I should have brought my phone cord so I could transfer my pics from that to here. Oh, well, you’ll have to check back next time to see the pics with the text.

___________________________

Zhĭ· găg´: Skunk

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