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.

The Wolf You Feed ~ A Native American Story

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Crawling out of the teepee at first light, my spirit is buoyed with excitement of the salmon run on the Big River (the Columbia). The echoing roar of Celilo Falls in the background is a symphony, welcoming back the tribes once again.

Rubbing my eyes and taking a cool breath of morning air, there is a light laugh beside me followed by several pieces of salmon pemmican pushed into my hand reminding me while I may not have been born into the Umatilla tribe, I am treated as family.

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I spot a friend from the Nimi’ipuu (Nez Perce) tribe across the way, and remember the spring day long ago in 1838 sitting down with Chief Tuekakas (Joseph the Elder) and a group of men from the Hudson’s Bay Company out of Fort Vancouver.

I was a young kid responsible for translation, fascinated by these leaders discussing the impact of the first party of Cherokees to resist removal to a reservation, not yet knowing their brave march westward would one day be known as the Trail of Tears.

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The impact of Chief Tuekakas’ words that day led me to take the opportunity to travel with his people, the Nimi’ipuu.

The wisdom I collected over those years I hold with gratitude, but my most cherished moment came the day when we stumbled onto a camp of the Umatilla people at the base of the Blue Mountains. All it took was one look and I realized I had found the destiny I had been searching.

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Over the past 20 years since those early days, I have lived with the Walla Walla, rode with the Cayuse and shared many a meal with the Palouse, Tenino and Chinook – learning a culture and a land far removed from my birth home in Scotland.

My memory is faint, but I understand while the climate, terrain and traditions of my homeland are quite different; the love of Mother Earth is the same.

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It is with this thought I can rest my head, my mind drifting off to dreams of the past. Crossing the Atlantic with family and friends in the year 1828 to reach the New World only to watch in horror as disease ripped through our cramped tenement housing, wiping out everything I held dear.

Broke and alone by the end of the year, I snuck aboard a wagon train with a dream to arrive in the Oregon Country to make my destiny. Discovered by the wagon master early on the trail, my skills as a fisherman and hunter proved valuable, and at a young age I had my first job.

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The journey through the free country of the west taught me the land, accepting the beauty it offered. The berries and roots kept us fed. The buffalo, elk and deer honored us with their great bravery as we matched them with our hunting skills.

Not a day goes by where I do not thank the animals, plants and spirit of this land for all they provide, and acknowledge the tacit agreement where we will take care of Mother Earth in return.

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Sitting here today along the banks of the Big River, the current mood of the Umatilla people is of sorrow. During the previous night, a tense meeting with the tribal leaders signaled the inevitable signing of a treaty with Washington D.C. to give up 6.4 million acres of land.

A treaty threatening to strangle the freedom and culture built over thousands of years. When the tribes sign the Treaty of 1855 they will receive in exchange, land designated at the Umatilla Indian Reservation to become a permanent homeland.

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My mind clears as I gaze off into the distant waters of Celilo Falls. My wife Awendela silently sings as she ponders the future of her people, repairing the fishing nets needed for another day’s work.

Biting into my pemmican, I retell an old folktale from the past, drawing a parallel with the clash of cultures we are experiencing today, an emphasis to remain strong and positive.

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An old man spoke to his grandson. “My child,” he said. “Inside everyone there is a battle between two wolves. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.”

The boy thought for a moment. Then he asked, “Which wolf wins?”

A moment of silence passed before the old man replied, “The one you feed…”  

Native American Proverb

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Thinking of the world today, I wonder, which wolf is winning?

With the endless cycle of greed that sweeps through men and their politics, I fear the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I feel for the children of this land. The change in lifestyle will be difficult and clashes of culture will create an opportunity for the Evil Wolf to gain traction in the minds of the young.

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Turing around, I watch the children of the Cayuse with their ponies teaching the other kids the essence of the magnificent Cayuse horse dominating the plateau. I smile. We can learn much from the children, for their hearts are pure.

Succeed in educating children well and we ensure a way of life and culture forever.

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Teach as well as learn the way of the world, and we can all sleep better at night listening to the howling of the Good Wolf, sharing its “joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth” with us all.

Yes, feed the Good Wolf. I sigh and take another bite of pemmican…even with the sadness, I believe this shall be a very good season indeed.

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NOTE: The photos above are from the Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon pageant taking place every September in Pendleton, Oregon. A communion of sorts for the farmers and ranchers of the area along with the gathering of Native American Indian tribes of the Northwest, with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation hosting a teepee village of over 300 teepees.

A weeklong experience every one should experience once in life ~ Let’er Buck ~

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Don’t Die Wondering…

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Sitting along the shore of Elliott Bay, I often wonder what it would have been like centuries ago when Native Americans spent the summertime in Seattle.  The Seattle summer with its perfect weather is special, so I imagine it would have been heaven on earth to see the sun setting on this land so long ago when the wilderness ruled.

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Back in those days, getting outside and involved was not much of a question as physical interaction with nature was a part of everyday life.  A hard life no doubt, but I would bet more satisfying too as everything you owned likely came from the things around you: animals, earth and community.

Animals and earth to feed and clothe, and a community to share, love, explore and work the land.

Pacific Northwest Nature-13Not quite the same scene we have today, where two minutes “on-line” results in the delivery of food, clothing and most importantly the latest tech-toy delivered right to the front door without having to leave the house.

Products produced by factories scattered all over the globe. A crazy concept even today, something unthinkable a couple hundred years ago. Most everything I own I have no real clue as to its true origin.

Pacific Northwest Nature-1Still, amid all this technology and social media shrill that drowns our senses from the calls of the real world, there are always reminders that take us out of this artificial shell and plop us down in the middle of life.  Something to makes us reassess our obsession with material possessions.

The nudge of a wet nose from Man’s Best Friend, or driving through a mountain pass with the sun dipping below the horizon is just what is needed for us to get back to the basics. Back to the feeling of living.

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The past few weeks have had me traveling around the Pacific Northwest with work, and instead of flying I made a point to drive; taking the more scenic routes and allowing myself a few more days to take in the sights.

My mind spinning a bit as I would try to reconcile life today with how it was more than 100 years ago. Getting lost in how different things are today made me wonder what the next 100 years will bring…and how foreign our time today will appear to our future selves.

Pacific Northwest Nature-3Back to the early 90s, when I took off for China for the first time, I had this small sticker on my bag that read: Don’t Die Wondering.

The message the sticker represented fascinated me, as I loved to wonder…in fact, I was more often in dream than I was running around nature. The message reminded me that dreaming and wondering is just part of the formula, and moving forward by doing and experiencing is how we complete the circle and find a happy life.

Pacific Northwest Nature-8I still have this sticker and message, and more than ever realize how important this simple slogan is: to wonder, to dream and to go out and do.  To create a unique path in life. For the most part, I imagine that people in history also followed this same simple line of reasoning.

A reminder that it is a never-ending process.

Wonder. Dream. Do. Happiness.

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Pacific Northwest Nature-4 I suppose that the message on this sticker was a simple warning that if we spend too much of our time wondering what could have been? With the mind spinning to answer the unanswerable, “what if?” It is easy to get lost in the irrelevant past while new opportunities slip by.

Why sit wondering what it would be like, when adventures and experiences lie right outside the door?

Pacific Northwest Nature-7It will be impossible to fully understand what Native Americans or frontiersmen of the past thought when they saw the dawn rise every day over Seattle hundreds of years ago, but I imagine it must have recharged them.

A perfect start to the day, a time to admire the land and contemplate what was to be explored and admired.  With no TV or Internet to tempt and waste hours of a day, I would think it must have been exciting to be immersed in nature as a part of daily life.  True, such a life would be hard, but in a sense also simple.

Pacific Northwest Nature-10As this great summer winds down, I am left thinking that we will continue to push ourselves further away from this great land of ours, with the result of losing touch with the physical nature of living.

As we load ourselves up with processed foods and mass-produced ’emotions’ emitting from our screens, at some point we will begin wondering what could have been ~ what if we had moved forward and taken the advice from a 30-year-old sticker: Don’t Die Wondering.

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Looking forward to seeing my Special Ed friends this year at the Pendleton Round-Up, and to quote one of the happiest faces I have ever seen at the early morning Cowboy Breakfast “This is my favorite time of year…even better than Christmas!”

Looking forward to seeing my Special Ed friends this year at the Pendleton Round-Up, and to quote from one of the happiest smiles I have ever seen from them at the early morning Cowboy Breakfast: “This is my favorite time of year…even better than Christmas!”

 

 

 

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