Saturday, January 13, 2007
We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all— by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians— be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us.
- Wendell Berry,
"Compromise, Hell!", Orion (November/December 2004)
I don't know when I first encountered Wendell Berry's writings but I've become attached to the confident natural moral accuracy of his words. I saw Wendell speak, one time, at the university in Fresno. I took my father, Sig (RIP), and he was skeptical: "we're going to go listen to a farmer who writes poetry?" I could only respond "yup." When Berry's talk was finished my dad hung around and thanked "Mr. Berry" for a quality evening. My dad didn't impress too easily. He was a High School dropout who received his GED as an adult, midway through what I would call a successful business career, but he had a sharp mind and knew people well and had an easy attitude with strangers. He knew me pretty well... We became good friends as I got older and particularly after I had kids, our bonds deepened.
My children were small when Sig died from a stroke in his sleep, brought about by his Alzheimer's. In one of those incredibly quirky co-incidents he died in the same state mental hospital as his father, the Western State Hospital in Tacoma. But that is really a tale for another time because it is a sad one that will take some effort on my part. In fact I need to write about Sig... I've regretted not being able to speak at his funeral. I had never experienced grief like that and it was overwhelming.
The point here is that there are writers who truly have altered my consciousness and conscientiousness. Ideas are far more potent than any drug and let loose in a mind that is inquisitive and comprehending as mine was as a young man in the prime of his twenties, I must lay a lot of the blame for who I am on them. I don't want to make a list because I've too many for one short morning ramble but there are those integral to my telling here. Wendell Berry and Edward Abbey, for sure Gary Snyder... I've appreciated Barry Lopez' wonderful wordsmithing and the excellent One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka is a must for any gardener or fan of natural land use, sustainability... I'll have to do a post on just "nature" writers some day ahead...
I give an incredible amount of credit for my deepening indigenous understanding to the classic Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt. I read this book on a bus in 1976 or so while travelling with the Allan Hancock College Acapella Choir through the Northwest as their photographer. I've read nearly all of Niehardt's work and he remains one of my all time favorites from all genres. It was the native history, books like Maria Sandoz' Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas that struck deep into my core being. I was effected beyond understanding... I couldn't grasp that there were minds that could not recognize another as human. All this reading and sharing of meals and sweatlodges, teepee meetings, drumming and work with tribal folks convinced me that just as individuals have karma so too do nations and societies. I won't go there yet either. I would be remiss not to include Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a book I could never finish reading, too painful for me to finish. Because I'm so dang empathetic I can't handle witnessing much slaughter and across the western frontier of a birthing nation there was plenty of it.
And I was doing all this reading in conjunction with my sociology and anthropology studies in college. I was sucking material up, I subscribed to Akwesasne Notes from the the Hau de no sau nee, the people of the Six Nations and Native Self-Sufficiency put out by Dan Bomberry (Cayuga-Salish) back then, apparently still available (can anyone confirm this?). Through this network of information I read (and thanks to KPFA/Pacifica radio) and listened to folks like Phillip Deere, John Fire Lame Deer, Jake Swamp, Rolling Thunder and of course ultimately to the one I would come to know and share much time with, Grampa Semu.
I also came to love the books of Louis L'Amour, I think the historic west's greatest storyteller, but I discovered Louis at Opal Creek so we aren't quite ready for him yet.
With my reading, the meeting of tribal folks in California, doing sweatlodge with them and brother Marty and Co. I had lain out a future route that would benefit and challenge me as a citizen of the US and as a human being. But paths are tricky, or not, and mine has never been a straight one. Forks and curves and dead-ends and low places where crawling is required, lofty peaks and subtle meadows all have been along the route...
Alice came to a fork in the road. "Which road do I take?" she asked.
"Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat.
"I don't know," Alice answered.
"Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."
- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland