Edge of the Wilderness

“Standing on the precipice of a wilderness unknown. Alone. Resistance, both past and present, pushes from all sides.” I stare at the words written and wonder what it would feel like to walk along a razor’s edge, day-after-day, your existence always in the balance.

My room fills with the warm yellow hues of the evening sun inviting me for a walk, but I am paralyzed. Mystified by this invisible force of power used to manipulate people. Used without empathy. Used without acceptance of responsibility.

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From the American Indians pushed around in the 19th century, to the American People pushed around outside the White House just a few months ago in the 21st century ~ use of force, power without responsibility.

I’ve come to realize while this is a beautiful world, rich in love and life, it is a beauty balanced by hardship for those not in power.

There’s a sentence written by a Tuscarora tribe leader on my desk, describing leadership: man has responsibility, not power

“You’re drifting once again in thought…” her voice breaks my trance. “Always reflecting, dreaming of the past.” Her voice is one I’ve not heard in a while and silently she takes form ~ she looks peaceful with a touch of sadness. 

I try to hid my elation in her return. “Dreaming of the American West, the 19th century. I wish I could travel back in time and experience the freedom to explore. To gain perspective on life back then…” I whisper this thought to myself.  

“Freedom for one often means the opposite for another.” She slowly slides up to my desk. “Do not dream of returning to old ways. Yesterday has long drifted down the river and it’s not coming back…”  

Her laughter is not harsh, but warming, “Seriously, you living in the 19th Century? You’re definitely a helpless romantic!” She picks up my coffee mug and takes a sip, enjoying the bitter blackness. “The first morning without your gourmet coffee, iPhone and comforts of home…” Her twinkling eyes reflect my simple mind.

Can’t help but smile at the truth of her words, the rage this year has me living in the past. I feel as if I’m trapped, running in quicksand trying to reconcile the heartbreaks of yesterday with those of today. The harder I run, the further away I am to answers. Only cruel politics headline the day and I remain stuck in reverse. 

“There is an old Lumbee Indian saying,” she taps gently on the side of her horse, and I watch it gracefully work its way through my living room. “Seek wisdom, not knowledge. Knowledge is of the past, wisdom is of the future.”  

“Doesn’t seem to be much wisdom these days,” I begin, before she cuts me off.

“Tell me the wisdom of a 19th century, western educated white man? Believing he has all the answers, superior to all other life and therefore open to exploit the resources available.” Her eyes, while gentle, show implication. “American Indians believed the opposite, nature and animals offering wisdom necessary for a better life.

Her eyes hold mine, filled with a genuine and deep curiosity. “Such extreme and opposite views of life. Is either correct?”

Immediately my mind swims in the melodic lyrics of Stephen Stills, and I sing, “…and nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong…”

The correct path and most difficult path is to listen, learn from others, and adapt. Of course, humans do what comes easiest ~ blame others and hide their cowardice through force.

How different would a 19th century version of myself be? A troubling question, for we are all products of our environment, the differences being the culture we were raised and shade of our skin.

A white man raised in the 1800s, without any understanding of American Indians and the west, would be at the mercy of a few biased news sources…

“Humans have the ability to take from one crystalized moment of awe, say a prairie full of buffalo, and walk away with two very different and contradictory actions. Where one sees synergy and respect, the other sees dominance and manipulation…” Her honesty speaks of today.

Walking to my window overlooking Elliott Bay, I listen to her conclusion, “…the real horror of this, both sides have absolute belief in their view and will stop at nothing to force their beliefs on others.”

I turn from the window and she turns her back on me and I watch her fade away. I flick on the TV. Words of hate coming from the mouth of an American leader. 

How far have we regressed since I was a kid… or have I simply moved from the naïveté of my youth to an older, jaded perspective? 

Wisdom will lead us from the chaos we are in. Courage to search for answers from all sides, with honesty the mode of communication. This is where we find true leadership. Where we find peace.

“Never forget, cowards cannot help but lie…” a piece of wisdom from the past we’ve forgotten. Leadership today is in turmoil, described succinctly in the words of the Omaha tribe, “A coward speaks with his eyes shut and from a distance. Unlike a brave man, who dies but once, a coward dies many times.” 

Six bankruptcies, pages of dishonesty, and still he flails along… and further we go down this river of deceit.

On this cool October night, I am happy my muse has returned. There is comfort in her questions and her wisdom.

“Look around,” she asks, “those voices of change you hear… where are they coming from?” I look and see her as a young child, being forced to leave a place she calls home. Walking with elders, confused. 

“These are the voices of the young and old. Voices rising above the din of lies seeking a better future…” Her smile grows as she promises, “these are the courageous ones, and no brave person will ever die alone.”

She turns, her face etched with hope. “The time for leadership is now, and it starts with you. A Crow shaman once said: you already possess everything necessary to become great.”

She runs her hand through my hair and rides away, her last piece of wisdom spoken in cadence with the canter. “The mark we leave on life is one to last forever; a testament to what we value in life and how we will be known and understood by future generations…”

Have the courage to admit faults. To understand someone with a different culture and point of view, it builds character, builds an alliance. It builds a nation.

Our present does not equal our future. We evolve.  

Vote.

158 Comments on “Edge of the Wilderness

  1. A beautiful post, so filled with wisdom. We are far from powerless though there are times when our situation makes me despair. Our vote is our voice and our power. Thank you for sharing your muse and some amazing photography.

  2. Hello my friend!
    I am so glad I decided to “wait” for the right moment to enjoy your latest post in all its glory. What can I say that has not already been said! You already know your writing and images are much admired by all 🙂 I am very happy your Muse decided to visit and provide much needed wisdom and reminders for all of us – regardless of our country or nationality. Like many across the world, I too am thinking of you – and your country. Please do continue to take care Randall!

  3. A visit from a muse does not always leave one amused. Sometimes, a deeper, less transient mood transpires, leaving tracks from days past to the potential of days future. Let us hope enough people can see past their narrow little slice of here and now to look upon the bigger pictures, and how they reflect our times both past and present.

    Excellent shots, as always.

  4. Dear Randall, striking photos. The ideal of finding equity holds on to hope, as I think it should. Your presentation is beautifully tragic, emotional and a poignant reminder the human condition. I am deeply moved by the following, “Seek wisdom, not knowledge. Knowledge is of the past, wisdom is of the future.” Here’s to a bright future. Wishing you well, take good care. ~ Mia

    • Hello! Fancy meeting you here? And lovely to hear form you? have you put up your blob again? Despite all the hassle? I’ll click on your click just in case. I hope you and yours are well in all this madness. Stay safe.
      Brian

  5. What an incredibly powerful post, Randall. Your images are striking. I especially love the last one. It is sad that there is too much power without responsibility these days, and definitely not enough wisdom.

  6. Beauty, humanity, hope, and wisdom in perfect sync! Respect and applause, Randall

  7. Our present does not equal our future. We evolve. …oh yes as I witness from the north…I want to believe…your post reminds me of the work we do with truth and reconciliation here in Alberta…I curious about relationship and your research…wonderful post as always Randall ~ sending you all good things ~ hugs hedy ☺️🤗

  8. Wonderful portraits. I often think I was born in too modern and age, but then I realise how much I would hate the restrictions and prejudices of those earlier ages. I think what I long for is a more simple and gentle life – and mistakenly believe that’s how it was in the past.

  9. Hi “Dalo”. I’m moving along reasonably well with my sketches. I will let you know when they’re ready. Thanks. Many. For the inspiration.
    One question, which will help my draing/painting: are those one particular tribe? Or several? They look like Plains Indians to me, but then you’re “North-West? Can you shed any light?
    Dekuju.
    😉

    • Good, and difficult question. Where the photos were taken in Pendleton, Oregon there is the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and they have lived on the Columbia River Plateau for more than 10,000 years. The tribes at the CTUIR are the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla. But at the Pendleton Round-Up , tribes from all around the Northwest attend: Nez Percé, Yakama, Tenino, and Palouse. I hope this helps ~ and great to hear about your sketches, their culture is truly inspirational. Děkuji mnohokrát. 🍻

      • Merci infiniment cher ami. 😉 (French is easier than Czech. 🤣) (at least to me) Those names will help get background… I’m starting the first round of watercolour on the last sketch. I have a somewhat lengthy process. Penci. Then ink. Then two rounds of water colour. Penci’s easy. If you make a mistake, you can erase. Then… there’s no going back. But I really want to thank you for those inspiring photos. As in Women of the West, but a few levels higher in “production terms”.
        Stay safe. A bientôt.

  10. Fascinating, loved the pictures and the thoughts. Do you know how many American Indians there were when explorers came to America? How many are there today, is there full integration, I really don’t know much about this. Do they have representatives in the parliament and your upper house?

  11. Dobri den Dalo. I finished my sketches/paintings and posted.
    I’ll be curious to hear your reaction. 🙏🏻
    Humble thanks for the inspiration you gave me. Twice now. 😀
    Stay safe. 😷

  12. Beautiful images, Randall. Love these radiant faces of the young girls. Back in 2008, I was lucky to attend a church meeting in Page, AZ. I and another couple were the only non-American Indians in the room. Among other speakers, there was a teenage girl who shared her experience during a recent visit to Mexico to see her relatives. With tears in her eyes, she expressed her gratitude for everything her family was blessed with to compare with her cousins in Mexico. Don’t think she would like to go back to the 19th century 😊 And it is a good thing. As you say – wisdom is of the future. After the meeting was over, a young man sitting next to me started asking questions. His friends joined us too. We talked about Europe, Ireland. I felt like the happiest person in the world 😊 May all the young people have a great future.

  13. That was uplifting! Thank you for sharing it. I have a bit more hope this morning, thanks to you and this touching piece.

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