24 December 2010

Solstice Eclipse And Aapohkiniiyi

IIII ) llllllllllllll Solstice Eclipse (21Dec10)

0726 Awake... just can't sleep with this feeling of change in the air after last-night's eclipse. To me, to a lot of people, this was a very significant event. Yesterday afternoon, I started phoning around to elders and friends, to discuss what it might mean for the Moon to hide during the winter solstice, all the different connections to stories like Ihkitsikammiksi, Miohpokoiksi, and Pawaksski, and to the count we keep as Iiaohkiimiiksi. Part of what comes out of all this is the sense of omen. Eclipses, solar and lunar, are often associated with disaster and the death of important people. The last lunar eclipse to appear represented in a traditional winter count was with Stamiksiisaapo'p (Bull Plume) in 1884, which was also the year of the last bison hunt in Blackfoot territory, and of starvation winter, when hundreds perished as a result of what had befallen the staff of life. The Moon herself is associated with the night, cold, water, winter, and hardship. But these characteristics of the old woman can be welcome in certain circumstances. When the Sun brought extended drought during the time of Miohpokoiksi, the Lost Children, it was the Moon who the dogs called upon, to plead that she take pity on the animals who hadn't done anything wrong, and in response she brought the rains that ended it. Similarly, it was the Moon who shielded Pawaksski from the overwhelming intensity of the Sun, so that he wouldn't be burned alive in their lodge, the same earthly lodge we're all visiting in this life. The differing characteristics of Sun and Moon are not about good and evil, plentitude and hardship. It's about balance and context. The same characteristics that might save our hides in one circumstance may endanger us in another. When you look at a painted tipi, the older pattern for representing Ihkitsikammiksi (the Seven Brothers or Big Dipper) is as a seven star crescent Moon on the north ear. The north being cold, seven being the number of winter moon cycles each year. In the pre-human story of Ihkitsikammiksi, the Moon chases the brothers, her own children, trying to kill them. But the brothers were given gifts from the Sun to protect themselves, items to throw back behind them, creating a landscape of features that control the homeostasis of this planet - precipitation, mountains, forests, river canyons, winds, electrical storms, and ultimately mo'toyaohkii, the atmosphere. Each time they're able to stall the Moon in her pursuit, they shoot arrows at her, and kill her, and yet she comes back to life. So too at the lunar eclipses and new moons of recent past, people would go outside and shoot at her, and make wishes and vows. As much as events like last night's eclipse are omens, they're also opportunities to at least temporarily hinder the progression of those forces that are threatening to harm us, that are putting our lives in danger. It's a chance to balance everything out again. I look at what's happening these days, and especially over this last year - the devastating earthquakes in Haiti and New Zealand, the volcano of oil we triggered in the Gulf of Mexico, the massive disrespect we're showing to the water and animals in all kinds of ways, with our incessant pursuit of petro-chemicals, the tar sands and this sudden burst of deep horizontal drilling and hydro-fracturing, damning all the consequences. You know, I take this eclipse as a sign, a message, "O'kyain, enough now." Metaphorically, we are deeply into the winter of our carelessness. with this solstice eclipse, both the Sun and Moon have briefly died and resurected. It's the beginning of a cycle that neither we, nor our parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents have experienced. In this single, brief event, the Sun confirmed that he stands behind us, backing us up, casting a shadow of life that will dim even the greatest threat. And the old lady, with all eyes upon her in her movement through the skies, reminded us again how small, and fortunate, and precious we are to be living here today. Let's accept their gifts, and this call for renewal, and move forward with more respect for life

1351 Sspopiikimi - out for a walk, Mahoney and I, with no particular focus at all, and not really expecting to see a whole lot. We've been going sunrise around the frozen pond and come to sit above the little open pool at the southeast spring. Taken completely by surprised, here we are greeted by the presence of a kingfisher, extraordinarily unexpected on the solstice

1421 We sit and watch the kingfisher. He's obviously stalking the spring. But we've never seen a kingfisher here in winter, so we want to find out for sure what he's living off. After about twenty minutes, the kingfisher dives and comes up with a pike minnow. Just then though, a small flock of geese is passing low and noisily overhead. And either because of the geese, or our presence, or maybe it's just his strategy, the bird drops the minnow in the snow and wings off into the forest. The pike flops a bit, then lays still. We wait. About five minutes pass and the kingfisher returns. It stops briefly on a high perch to assess the situation, then dives down and retrieves it's prey from the snow. By now the pike is likely dead, or very close to it, and the kingfisher can swallow it without struggle

IIII ) llllllllllllllll Aapohkiniiyi (23Dec10)

1407 Sspopiikimi - presently sitting near the southeast spring, waiting to see aapohkiniiyi again. Naato'si is low on the horizon, and his glare was burning my already injured corneas the entire walk in from north-pond. Head down and squinting, I hiked almost straight over, stopping just once at the subpond to pull a few i'naksa'pis stems that I can twine while I wait for the bird, keeping my hands moving and warm

1421 Figuring I might be waiting a while, I've pulled a small log over to sit on. It'll keep me insulated from the cold ground. Already I'm starting to feel the effects of sitting in the shadow of the levee walk, and even after a just fifteen minutes or so I was wondering whether the bird would show. I know that it's wintering here, and that this spring really provides the best fishing opportunity, since there are few perches over the crags of open river water, and the water here is much more shallow. But I haven't had to wait long. I can see the kingfisher now, watching me for a tree at a little distance. It seems it's going to be a waiting game of who will be less patient

1444 I pull my log back from the spring another three meters or so, hoping that the bird has a threshold distance for comfort, and that I am now beyond it. As a further sign that I intend no harm, I've started working on stripping the bark off the dogbane. Finishing one stem, I look up and the kingfisher has vanished. As I'm scanning the forest canopy for his silhouette, out of nowhere a pair of mi'ksikatsi drop down in front of me. The drake lands in the water, while the female - noticing me at the last minute - goes onto the ice instead. The drake then sees me, opens his mouth to give two quacks, then takes flight again. His wife follows

1535 I found the kingfisher's comfort threshold. He returned a few minutes after the ducks departed, still perching at a distance. But then I pulled my log back another three or four meters, sat back down, waited... eventually the kingfisher glided over to a tree above the spring, watched the water briefly, then dove. He came out with another good-sized pike minnow and flew away with it to the forest

1550 Just checking iBird while I wait to see if the kingfisher will return again before dark. Turns out this "he" is a "she" as indicated by her chestnut belly stripe. I had the distinction backward

1642 As the shadow reached the rim of the east coulee, my fingers and toes were cold enough to compel me to give up on a second sighting for today, and hustle back to the car