09 July 2008

Willamma Niitahtaa

llll ) llllll Willamma Niitahtaa…

Tsitapoohpinnaan saatoohtsi. Piipiiaakii, ohkomaakii, ki niisto. Traveling the familiar mohsokoyi in a rental car. Past the white blooming beargrass of miistakiistsi. Along the west shores of kootainai omahksikimi. Down through hills ki valleys, following the silver niitahtaa where we once saw a bald eagle catch an enormous trout. Past earthy, desert whirlwinds to the gorge of the Columbia, ever more green as we approach its spillway. Ki finally, up the Valley Willamma to niksisst ookoowa, her modest little place beneath the Chemawa water-tower.

It has become ritualistic, my visits here, returning in sequence to certain sites of youth’s memory. Surveying transformations that found shape in my absence. Absorbing all of the familiar ki comforting textures of sound ki smell. The air is thicker here than I remember, the wooded hillsides dim beneath a mask of blue haze. All is much damper. The sidewalks feel almost spongy beneath my bare feet.

In the dawn, I drive past the home that my parents lost in their recent separation. It bears new paint, mocha. The rocks ki ferns that line the drive are still in their old order, as is the lawn I used to tread. Last summer, my return to this place was painful, throat-tightening, grieving. Now this sensation is gone altogether. Whatever part of me was connected there is no longer.

I move on, across the trestle, over the ancient lakebed toward omahksiistsisa, the elderly pacific madrone that captivated so much of my attention. Around its base are the fields I walked, in the shade of old-growth forests now so thinned. This is where I used to speak to ayinnimaa, pleading for guidance, following her call ki flight to locate my own understandings, my own spirituality. Here I’m reminded of how all things change. Omahksiistsisa is dead, standing but shrivelled as a corpse. The ayinnimaa I’d known is gone, succeeded by her off-spring, who greet me soundly. I follow this child of ayinnimaa to the old fir tree, to the same tunnel through the forest that I was shown last year, emerging in a meadow beside the single okonoki bush, its berries just ripened. This brief journey is a mirror of my life path, a reflection of where it has taken me today. It’s magical. Ki when I taste of the berries, I’m assured once more that the presence of omahksiistsisa ki ayinnimaa remain with me, as shadows who have merged into a new form on my trail. Their present shape, I’m soon to appreciate, has been realized in paahtsiiksistsikomm.

The connection, the linkage, the union of omahksiistsisa ki ayinnimaa in the body of paahtsiiksistsikomm becomes conscious for me the following morning, as I sit in a clump of short but pungent mint, beside an oxbow of the Willamma niitahtaa. Bullfrogs groan their throatys songs all around me, orange-colored deer retreat quietly into the brush. The fish I used to catch here splash on the surface of otherwise still waters, one after another. But I am not the only one who watches them. Above, circling in wide arches that encompass both the slough ki mi niitahtaa, are paahtsiiksistsikommiksi. I count at least three, perhaps four of them, gliding silently on the wind. My presence does not bother them. They dive repeatedly into the waters before me, each time coming up with talons empty. Why are they missing their mark, such stealthy birds? What are they trying to tell me?

There is something happening between nottaka ki paahtsiiksistsikomm. This was apparent from nimaanipaapao’kaan, the aggrieved young man leaving me to become allied to this powerful bird, its brilliant white paint across its forehead. Ki its identification as paahtsiiksistsikomm was something clarified in my recent visit to omahkaatoyiikimi, as it soared back ki forth past my position on the shore. But annohk, on the banks of the Willamma, further possibilities begin to dance in my thoughts, drawing an association to a much earlier paapao’kaan, from the first years of my marriage to piipiiaakii… when I encountered ayinnimaa sitting on a low, bowed branch of omahksiistsisa. She was silver, metallic, looking over her shoulder, her back to me. She spread her tailfeathers in a fan ki told me, not with words but with telepathic clarity, that I should pluck one ki give it to nitana. When I took the tailfeather out, it transformed in my hand, becoming again the familiar orange ki red-striped feather she’d given me years before, in my youth, ki which I still carried. After waking from this paapao’kaan, I had sought interpretation from mi’ksskimm, who read it as a gift offered by ksiistsikommiipi’kssii, the transference of misamipaitapiiyssin to ohkomaakii, that she might live similarly long as that ancient tree. Ki so I gave her my feather, ki she carries it still today. Mi’ksskimm may have been right about the gift being offered, but perhaps not so much the benefactor. Even the name paahtsiiksistsikomm speaks to this, the one who is mistaken for thunder.

It’s a mystery why some things are not better understood until years later or, in this case, nearly a decade. But unlike so many past coalescence experiences of this sort, the sudden recognition of nipaapao’kaan having foretold a mergence of omahksiistsisa ki ayinnimaa in the form of paahtsiiksistsikomm did not at all bring clarification to my understanding. Rather, it left me even more scattered, full of unresolved questions. Ki foremost of these, what was it that - like paahtsiiksistsikomm with the fish - I was failing to catch?

Normally, I might be bothered by such loose ends, dangling out of reach. But this occasion feels different. There’s potential here, promise. Renewal. Throughout the remainder of my visit in the Valley Willamma, ki at all of the places where I sought remembrance – from the cascading waterfalls deep in the rainforests, to the tide pool shores of the Pacific, along the stream overhung with exposed roots where my grandfathers’ remains were laid to rest, ki at every stage of our return route to kitawahsinnoon – paahtsiiksistsikomm was there. For me, these encounters indicate that I have successfully passed through an era of spiritual growth, ki have now emerged from the dark mouth of this tunnel, into the meadow. Okonokiistsi growing from the earth beside me. Paahtsiiksistsikomm soaring above. That I do not know what this really means or where the journey will take me next is only natural, but I’ve developed the patience ki awareness now to thoroughly enjoy whatever may be in store.