23 June 2008

Ai'tamaaksikkohpi'wa Naapioyis

llll ) llllllllllllllllll Ai'tamaaksikkohpi'wa Naapioyis…

I just returned home from meetings aapatohsoohtsi when nitohtsipaapao’kaa a request for niisto ki ki’naksaapo’p to travel saatoohtsi, to aid a family living high above a glacier-fed niitahtaa. It is an aakii who asks us to journey there, following a winding, wooded route we are assumed to already know. As we meander through the miistakiistsi, I observe our vehicle from above, as if I'm gliding somewhere in the skies. When I find myself in noistomi again, we have arrived at a house precariously nested into the steep slopes of a canyon. We enter, accompanied by a host that I cannot remember clearly. Ki as I look out bay windows, omi naapioyis begins to roll laterally, detaching ki finding renewed anchor on the cliffside. Again ki again it turns, tearing one corner loose from the rock, pivoting, ki crashing back to land, threatening to spill eventually into the clear ribbon of aohkii streaming far below. Somehow, I feel that this is as much nookoowa as it is that of the family we’ve been called to visit. Annimayi iksista’pii.

Nitsipookaki feeling scattered, confused. The events of nipaapao’kaan seemed at once familiar ki distant, purposeful yet random. Perhaps, I thought, it was speaking to the inattentiveness of my daily life of late. After the profound clarities experienced during aapistsisskitsaato’s, the light of the present ki’somm seems far more dim, broken by cloud-cover, beaming to the surface of nottaka only in disparate patches....

A few sleeps earlier, nitsitaapatoohpinnaan omi omahkoyis, where we had planned a meeting with asinaikoaiksi to explore a dialog on shared ki contested aitapisskoistsi. In the morning hours, we visited mi’kkakato’si at the Royal Albert Museum. It had once resided on a hilltop adjacent to that of the Viking ribstone. When the evangelical movement reached kitawahsinnoon, it was Reverend McDougal who thought he might take advantage of our relationship to mi’kkakato’si by stealing it into his church, ki thereby attracting potential converts. The ploy didn’t work. Soon mi’kkakato’si began to move around in the naapiikoan world, eventually landing at the Royal Albert, where it now greets visitors to the First Nations exhibit.

About a dozen of us assembled in the museum that morning, sitting in two rows of chairs set up in front of the meteorite. We asked a kippitaisinaakii to greet mi’kkakato’si on our behalf, ki then called upon the elders, one by one, to testify as to their knowledge of our shared relationship to it. Nitawa’tstoohp most of what was shared. I was too distracted by the unfortunate context. Iiksiiyiko, visiting aitapissko in a museum. Tourists milling about. Announcements blaring over the intercom, “Come visit our newest exhibit. Find out if you’ve got what it takes to be a dragonologist.” How can one expect to dialog in this kind of context? Museums, classrooms, interpretive centres… to me, none of these even approximate a learning environment. All assume a passive audience to knowledge. It wasn’t until Vince Steinhaur picked up his drum, kneeled beside mi’kkakato’si, ki sang one of its songs, that I finally felt as though we had connected. Afterward, Vince would tell me, at the beginning of his song the meteorite was pleading with him, “Get me out of here. Take me home.” But in the second half of the song, its message changed. Aaniiwa, “Don’t worry about me. I’m a rock. I will remain a rock long after this building ki this strange way of life are gone.” Nitomai’tsihp what Vince heard mi ikskanaotonni was so important. Iiksskonata’pii, the gift that mi’kkakato’si extended to us. Patience.

When we left the museum, it was to drive a short distance west of the city, to a place now called Lac Ste. Anne. Omahkaatoyiikimi. There, we assembled at a place that shared qualities with mi’kkakato’si, both in that there is said to be a twin meteorite beneath the waters there, ki in that the site itself was also co-opted by the oblates in an attempt to lure niitsitapi converts into their church. Annohk ksiistsikoyi, every summer, it is host to a massive gathering of the devout, who travel there on pilgrimage to enter the aohkii for purification ki healing. Our group walked down to the lake’s edge ki sat together to share stories of the place. As a non-Christian savage, it was my first time there. I sat quietly, listening. Just off-shore, a massive school of minnows rolled like a cloud. I’d never seen anything like it, ki wondered if this was not the camouflaged body of a soyiitapi coming to greet us. Above, passing closely on occasion, flew paahtsiiksistsikomm, her paint just like that of the curious ayinnimaa nitsipapainoaa. Was it exactly the same? Although developed around nearly the entire perimeter, I could imagine the lake’s appearance in the past. Quiet, wooded, its shallow waters often clear ki still. Each time I looked directly into it, the aohkii seemed to rise, beaconing. Others must have felt this too, because when it was decided that we should depart nearly all of us removed our shoes ki socks, hiked-up our pant-legs, ki walked out into the lake. It was strangely warm, ki so shallow that I was able to go quite a distance from shore ki still not immerse above my knees. Each of us carried pisstaahkaan, ki used this as an offering, extending aatsimoyihkaan to omahkaatoyiikimi, soyiitapiiksi, ki all akaitapii who had travelled there in the past, ki whose shadows return still today.

That night in my hotel room, nitaatowopii. An interesting, sprocket-designed crop circle had emerged in a field near Barbury Castle, in England. Ordinarily, I have no use for contemplating such things. The crop circle phenomenon has nothing to do with kippaitapiiyssinnoon, ki the messages – if that is what they are – do not come from kitawahsinnoon. They are not meant for me. Yet this particular circle was interesting, ki one of the groups that I discuss spiritual practices with was asked to consider it. The sprocket design, emanating sunwise from a central circle, was clearly coded to reflect the mathematical sequence of Pi, carried out to ten digits. We’ve seen formations ki images that apply similar sprocketed configurations, but never has it been so clear that information in these circles may be coded. Early speculation suggested that the Barbury circle might offer a key for reading other designs. My curiosity was teased.

I began the session by extending an awarness of noistomi outward onto its reflection in nottaka, ki then morphing the latter into the form of mai’stoo. Ki annimayi I flew, singing, aamitoohts… crossing miistakiistsi, ami’tsssokimi, then over land ki out to the islands of Britain, looking for a circle near a castle. When I eventually found it, I landed in its center, shuffling my feathers briefly, then cocking an ear to listen for its voice. My immediate sense was that, no matter the physical mechanics of its emergence, the design had been inspired by something that was very deeply a part of that place. I tried to connect with its spirit… nothing… nothing. Then suddenly a barrage of clarity. Intrinsic to the design are at least three widely-recognized features – the circle itself, the mathematics of Pi, ki a coiled serpent. All three index a quality we refer to as the infinite or immeasurable. It is the relationship between surface meaning ki the depths of what lies inside. The message at Barbury was indeed a key for a greater reading of other phenomena, but not in the sense of an abstract language, a set of symbols that human beings have created to represent the measurable. Rather, what this design intended was to bring us toward an appreciation for that which cannot be coded, that which must be engaged as a living being, in all its complexity.

This realization, for me, was enough. Despite the sensation that there was more to hear, I was ready to return home. Still in the form of mai’stoo, I spread my wings ki tried to lift. But I couldn’t move. Not vertically anyway. I didn’t feel as though there was anything wrong with my body. There was something else disabling me. I started to get concerned. Why couldn’t I leave? This had never been part of my experiences before. The only thing I could think to do was to move around in whatever manner I still could, to walk. I followed the lines, expecting the order of Pi to play out, hoping that when I’d reached the end I could gain lift ki return to noistomi. But as I walked - in the fashion of mai'stoo, hopping along - it seemed as though the sequence of the design had changed. Instead of ten sprocket jumps, there were only four. Ki from what I could discern of their distance, they might be read as 3.191. I had no idea whether this number was of any significance. At the moment, I couldn’t care. All I wanted to do was leave, ki finally I was able to do so, although my flight felt sluggish, heavy.

A few nights later, I shared this experience with one of the members of my naatowopii discussion group, a man who has been practicing for more than forty years. He too made efforts to visit Barbury, ki came away with a similar impression, that the design is meant to “imprint us with a sort of music, as a way of helping us get started on the non-language, or hyper-linguistic journey.”

The night after my session, nitsokso’kaa. Ki the next morning, nitattaamsskapoo, stopping on the way at Penhold where a rancher I know was slaughtering three iinii. Free of charge, he let me take their hides ki heads, which piipiiaakii ki sipioo intend to tan. So, with a rear hold full of bloody cargo, I drove home to sikoohkotoki.

I did not stay long at nookoowa before again heading aapatohsoohts. In fact, just a single night. My next destination was Siksika, where I was to meet with a planning committee from FNAHEC, to help design a distance curriculum that could be brokered to local universities, introducing naapiikoaiksi to the First Nations public they will undoubtedly encounter during their stay in kitawahsinnoon. Omi kanoohsin was scheduled for two days at soyopaawahko. Miiksi asinaikoaiksi who had been at omahkoyis were there, ki together we worked toward our common ends. Most of the significant planning was conducted on the first day, when we arrived at the consensual agreement that what we needed first ki foremost was a curriculum that would immerse naapiikoan learners in a niitsitapi cosmological world. We would focus on akaitapiitsinikssiistsi, each of our communities selecting four or five of our most fundamental stories to share in a journey that would link key socio-spiritual values to the environment ki major land features. In the long run, we hope, the students of this course will no longer be able to travel anywhere in our territory without at least partially identifying with the land as we do.

After the meeting, I drove to omahksaahkohtopii, accompanied by aahsi’takiyaakii. Although we’ve not identified it, aahsi’takiyaakii ki niisto are conscious of some shared purpose in our lives. Beyond the fact that we are both involved in First Nations adult education, ki so naturally encounter one another at various work-related functions, there seems to be a deeper familiarity between us, one that compelled us to make quick alliance when we first met, a few winters past. It is not in the manner of romance, by any means. We’re both happily married. It’s something else. There was an immediate recognition, perhaps residual from the parallel paths of nottakaannaaniksi. Or maybe it’s that we are meant to manifest some future turn of events that we cannot possibly portend at present. In either case, there’s something to our peculiar relationship, ki so whenever there’s opportunity, we make an effort to visit, curious as to when the meaning of this sensation will reveal itself. On this occasion, we drove to omahksaahkohtopii, walked its circle, hiked down into the coulees below in search of iinisskimm. We talked a lot… I relating a few akaitapiitsinikssiistsi ki some of my work with naatowopii, aahsi’takiyaakii telling of her remembrance of experiences prior to choosing her parents ki entering oistomi. We passed a few hours in this manner, but the mystery between us remained hidden.

Returning to sikoohkotoki ki nookoowa, I felt extremely road weary, ki sadly disconnected from the seasonal happenings unfolding around kainaissksaahkoyi. I decided to take a much needed walk in omi kaawahkoistsi of naapisisahtaa. It was hot outside. The onions were already going to seed, ki ma’siksi were not far behind. It looks like it will be a good season for okonokiistsi, ki all the other miiniistsi as well. Miiksi kitsisomahkokataiksi were enjoying themselves nibbling on the fresh greens. I had meant to find somewhere to sit ki engage with my surroundings for a bit. But instead, I just walked.

That evening, immersed once more in aohkii, steaming at an almost unbearable heat, I extended my attention to nottaka, ki again adopted the form of mai’stoo. I wanted to revisit the Barbury circle, to learn if there was anything more I could hear from it, ki to face the frightening experience of whatever had disallowed my departure from there during my earlier visit. As mai’stoo, I sang my way there, landing again in the central circle, pecking the ground four times, introducing myself, then standing quietly. There was, almost immediately, an exchange through visuals, cloudy to the memory afterward. It was an inquiry. Why was I there? I tried to create images, to convey something of my purpose… that I was training, that I was attempting to develop my practice such that I would be prepared to help others when inevitably called upon. Everything went quiet. The presence seemed to withdraw. I stood there, feeling foreign. Then a rush of clarity, again in images. Aohkii. Unhindered, it comes together in the form of a sphere, like a raindrop. At it’s surface, strongly bound, one molecule to the next. But within, fluid. The many millions of constituents comprising one drop, all indistinguishable. Their cycle, like our own, like the crop design, begins in such a body… then courses, streaming along, connecting with others indivisibly along a shifting path. Each that comes in contact with the next binds in the same manner, with surface strength ki inner fluidity. Moving on, then pooling, pooling, pooling. First into larger collectives, then smaller as the surface continually dissipates, evaporating into nothing. Re-gathering at the center. Something in this cycle speaks to my life, my relationships with others.

I fly away, singing the songs of mai'stoo. Unlike the prior visit, it is no trouble at all to lift ki sway with the wind. As I cross the ocean, ki soar above the Americas, I begin to sense my entanglements with those below. All of the places I have stayed. All of the people I’ve known. Boston. New York. I don’t want to go home yet. Instead, I make my way over miistakiistsi again, ki waft down the Columbia River Gorge, then into the Valley Willamma. There’s someone I need to see, my brother. I sing to find ookoowa in the densely populated hills of West Salem. I land on the wooden deck of his back yard, pecking four times on its surface, ki hopping up to look inside the sliding-glass door. I can see into the living room. My sister-in-law sits on their couch, with both children beside her. My brother lays on the floor, watching television, distant. She loves him, this man who cannot commit. She’s waiting for him to love her back, but her hopes ebb considerably. My brother moves ki I begin pecking at the window, cawing four times. He notices me there, ki I look up at him with one eye cocked. Concentrating, I attempt to speak into his thoughts, to tell him to quit being blind, that nothing else matters so much as his little family, that all he has striven for is surface, that he must try to appreciate what is inside, in the love of his wife, the trust of his children. I speak this, without words, admonishingly, then fly.

Down the Willamma, up the Columbia, to the headwaters here in kitawahsinnoon. I’m hurrying back to noistomi. But wait. Something is familiar. Below, in the high canyons of miistakiistsi, a house nested on the cliffside. It is the same from nipaapao’kaan. Still teetering. Still rolling horizontally across the rock surface. As I circle it in curiosity, it changes my song. This house has its own dangerous music, which I give voice to, stuck in a repetitive, nonsense pattern. It occurs to me that mi naapioyis has some correlation with the lives of my relatives downriver, that it is a reference to them. It speaks to their threatened persistence, precariously clinging to canyon walls, ready at any moment to tumble. I’ve not been able to help them. There is something here I don’t understand.