Posts Tagged ‘Spirituality’

* 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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How high does an Eagle have to fly

in order to take your prayer to Heaven?


About 3 feet.

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Are the dead meant to fade away?

Are our forebears meant to be forgotten,
when the ones who loved them pass away?

Spirit houses are not made to last.
They are new at the time of death
and old and decrepit after a short time,
a few years.

This so the spirits of those who linger
near the world of the living
have time to transition.

In some of the reservation cemeteries,
there are the newest graves at the front,
with their gaudy plastic flowers and mementos
and bright and shiny polished granite
fading to graves halfway back.

On these, no plastic blooms.
They are the somber, weathered, dusty tombstones;
some in the lichen covered, obsolete limestone,
of those who could afford them.

And the simple wooden crosses
rotting and askew,
of those who could not.

And further back still,
the depressions in the grass
of those old, old ones,
silent and unattended,
unmarked and forgotten.

The lost ones

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Back in part of my grad student days,  the nurses, psych assistants (of which I was one) and the resident psychiatrist were sitting around the station chatting about names as we charted our observations, orders, and treatment plans for our patients. I mentioned that I didn’t like my middle name, which was “Jerome” and that I thought I might like to have something different.

At which point Dr. Kroll asked if I knew what it meant. I said “No…”. And he said it meant “Ye Blessed of the Lord”. Which upon reflection, I thought was pretty cool and asked how he knew.  And he said “My first name is Jerome”.  To which I thought oops, open mouth, insert foot, about mentioning that I didn’t like it in the first place.

As I remembered this, I thought I would look around the internet and see if I could find how Dr. Kroll came by his definition as he is something of a scholar.

Cursory definitions of Jerome such as the one from Our Baby Namer, delineate it as “sacred name, holy name”. Which is a far cry from “Ye Blessed of the Lord”. So in order to see if I could reconcile the two, I dug deeper, and here is what I came up with.

The website “Behind The Name, The etymology and history of first names” defines Jerome as: “From the Greek name ‘Ιερωνυμος (Hieronymos) meaning “sacred name”…”.


It further says that Jerome is used thusly in other languages: ” OTHER LANGUAGES: Hieronymos, Hieronymus (Ancient Greek), Jeronim, Jerko (Croatian), Hieronymus, Jeroen (Dutch), Jérôme (French), Hieronymus (German), Gerolamo, Geronimo, Girolamo (Italian), Ieronimus (Late Roman), Jerónimo (Portuguese), Jerônimo (Portuguese (Brazilian)), Jerónimo (Spanish)”


And that the nickname for Jerome is “Jerry”.


This made me think of two things.  The first was, going off on a tangent, “Huh, Geronimo–the famous Apache leader and I have a name in common”. This because as Wikipedia puts it “Geronimo’s chief, Mangas Coloradas, sent him to Cochise’s band for help in revenge against the Mexicans. It was during this incident that the name Geronimo came about. This appellation stemmed from a battle in which, ignoring a deadly hail of bullets, he repeatedly attacked Mexican soldiers with a knife. The origin of the name is a source of controversy with historians, some writing that it was appeals by the soldiers to Saint Jerome (“Jeronimo!”) for help. Others source it as the mispronunciation of his name by the Mexican soldiers”.

I believe that the Mexicans, speaking Spanish, used it for him because he must have been blessed in order to fight and not get wounded by their gunfire.


Secondly, I think I was probably named after Jerry Littlecreek who was one of my ancestors.


To get back on track, this still didn’t explain the discrepancy I originally mentioned. So I decided to tease things apart. Which one has to so often do, when working with words.

So when “Behind the Name.com” says that Hieronymos means sacred name, they are basically dividing it into two parts. “Hiero” and “nymos”.  I can accept Hiero, as it is the same Greek root as the Hiero in Hieroglyphics–or sacred  writings.

It is even refined a little according to The Free Dictionary which describes “Hieron” as: “Hi´er`on: noun 1. A consecrated place; esp., a temple”.

So if Hieron as applied to a temple means a consecrated (or blessed) place. Applied as a person’s name would mean that person is blessed as well.

But I don’t accept that nymos means name in this case.  Not that it can’t. There is plenty of evidence that it does, but many a word has more than one meaning to it.

For instance, if you look at words which have this suffix:

You find that they all describe “the state of”, or “the state of [being]” something. So Hieronymous can also mean “The state of being consecrated [blessed]”.

The assumed/unspoken part of this, is that the person to whom the name belongs is either consecrated/blessed by deity, or consecrated to deity. Either way, you can designate them as “Ye Blessed of the Lord”, given the Judeo-Christian history of the name Jerome.

Therefore, Jerome, which is a derivative of Hieronymous, can either be literally translated as a sacred/holy name; or interpreted as  a person who is blessed [by deity] in this case–the Lord. Perhaps the latter is a stretch, but it is a plausible one, and stretching can be good for you.

Two lessons I learned along the way:

  • When it comes to Indian names, (or any name for that matter) you may not get the full story or complete meaning at first glance, or if you take it at face value,
  • Geronimo and I have a good name in common.

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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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The family lives on Copper City Road. It was so named because its people had their own stills to make their own beer during prohibition.

It’s about a half mile from the family home  to the main road on the West. And only a couple of blocks from there to where I turn off left to head toward String o’ lakes [Chain O’ Lakes].

The road is sandy and about 24 feet wide. As I look down it, the trees already start to crowd the sides. It’s a little wash-boardy.
I travel past stands of Norway Pine and houses about every three acres. Two thirds of these weren’t here last time I went through a couple of years ago. This stretch is intersected by a right of way which has wooden poles with electric lines draped over them, running through it.

After I travel another quarter mile, I reach the gravel pit which once was a dump ground before they cleaned it up.  My brother and I used to plink pop cans and glass bottles every once in a while here.

The road divides into three at this point. One straight ahead, one to the left and one to the right. I pick the one straight ahead. There are no more houses and just like that,  it is like the last 75 years have never happened.

Just beyond the gravel pit the middle road narrows to about 12 feet wide. A few tufts of grass appear in the middle of it.  Now it is better described as two well used tire lanes, and the trees–Poplars mostly–make it appear even more narrow.

A few yards in, and the trees overhead shade the road. It’s lost its wash board quality but has a lot of dips and hillocks.  It’s curvy and I’m definitely “in the woods”.

The trees are so thick that I can’t see further than fifty feet on each side. I see an occasional rotted, aged stump where this was logged a while ago. I encounter a couple of dried mud holes along the way.

When I come to the next fork, the road changes again. Now there are two distinct paths separated by about three feet of grass that while sparse, is solid. 25 More years have been erased.

I’m driving about 5 miles per hour to take it easy on Chuck’s suspension. I drive past a stretch where the trees have mostly been cut, but a few have been left to -seed the area. The truck is creaking, rocking up and down and left and right, and a rare branch hits the antenna.

I go past the long hill down to, and over the little creek for which we have been named (Jacob Littlecreek, Granpa’s Granpa, was “The Man who lives by a Little Creek that dries up after the spring”. Littlecreek That name was shortened to “Littlecreek”) and have gone past a couple of mud holes which were so big,  I had to drive up on the side of the road to get past. I then have to drive up a long hill which is on the other side of the creek.

On the other side of this hill, I come to another clearing where there is active logging going on . They are harvesting Norway Pine for fence posts.


A small cardboard box sits in the middle of the road next to a pile of logs. As if warning me that I must be careful if I go beyond.

One hundred feet beyond this, the road branches again, and another hundred years drops away. I take the road that goes to String O’ Lakes to the left. The road straight ahead will become impassible due to a number of huge mud holes that have existed there for generations.

The wheel ruts transform to about a foot wide each with about 4 feet of grass in between. Small birch trees appear. I encounter mud holes that have been here for 50 years, and after these I can only see patches of ground with the road grass with tall weeds springing up in the middle. Trees and bushes encroach enough so that they occasionally brush along the side of the pickup.

I’m traveling one or two miles an hour now. About the speed the teams of horses and drays moved when men cut the timber with hand saws and loaded it by hand as well.

More ruts, just impressions in the earth covered by cabbage weed and grass, painted by alternating bands of shadow and dappled sunlight.

We’ve reached the part where my dad and I were probably the last people to log in here. There is a hill which is easy to go down but upon returning we must race up it in order to go over it again. Trees regularly scrape against the sides, top and bottom of the truck, whistling and screeching. I have to close the driver’s side window so I don’t get whipped in the face.

I scare up a partridge which had been walking on the road.
I round the last corner to the landing. Just a space to turn around, really. A path to portage a canoe down the hill to the first lake, and the overgrown remains of a road on which we used to drive up a hill to get to the place where dad wanted to build a house overlooking the lakes.

I turn off the truck and get out.

I can see the clearing where the  beaver dam is. No more evidence of people.

This lake is pristine.

first LakeIt has Lilly pads, rushes, and cat-tails on its sides.

SentinelsEven In the distance I see the bare trunks of Tamaracks standing sentinel between this first lake and the second, witnessing the fact that they wanted to be close to the water but drowned in it when the water levels got too high one year.

The only thing I can hear is the “tock tock tock” of a partridge nearby, and the barely discernible small distant sound of the wind. I have been transported to a timeless place.

I am truly home.

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