Where the Buffalo Roam…

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This post is dedicated to my beloved sister Julie, a visionary artist who is transforming the cityscape of her adopted, but beloved, home of Mankato, Minnesota.

 

To Give Thanks to the spirit of an animal which gave its life to support one’s own,  this sacred act practiced by indigenous peoples around the globe, perhaps once practiced even by my ancestors, the indigenous Europeans –  perhaps we can add this to our Thanksgiving rituals and traditions?  Perhaps, one might speculate, this lesson was imparted to those beleaguered pilgrims on the first Thanksgiving? We can Give Thanks to both the Creator and the Creation.

For the Dakota people, whose ancestors called home the land of my homestead for millennia before my ancestors claimed it as their homestead, how elevated must have been their Thanks Giving to the spirit of the Buffalo?  It is so well-known that Tatanka supplied them their food, their clothing, and their shelter.   To consume the buffalo, to dress in the skins of the buffalo, to dwell within a tipi made of buffalo hides – how does one adequately honor such a Creature that sustains you, clothes you, and shelter’s you?  By taking it within yourself, by giving yourself a second skin with its skin, by dwelling within its protection, do you not become this Creature?  And perhaps they did, acclimatizing, adapting themselves to the prairies, just as the Buffalo did.

About 25 miles, as the crow flies and as the eagle soars, from the farm where I grew up on the Minnesota prairie, a land now draped with the unending tapestry of the row crops of agriculture that feeds the mouths of millions, a land once populated by native grasses and native peoples, and where once the Buffalo roamed, about 25 miles away is Reconciliation Park in Mankato, Minnesota.

Near the site of this park, in 1862, 38 Dakota people were hanged in the aftermath of what once called the Sioux Uprising, and now, out of greater consciousness, “Sioux” being a derogatory name for the Dakota people, is called the “Dakota War”. It was primarily fought in New Ulm, Minnesota, where I attended high school.   It was a war spawned out of rising tensions between the Dakota and the European settlers, stemming from limited food and supplies reaching the Dakota as was promised in various treaties.  As the Dakota were starving, one trader, insensitive to their plight, and in their presence, uttered the fateful words, “Let them eat grass.”  He was the one of the first fatalities of the war, later found dead with grass stuffed in his mouth.  It has not been recorded whether this was Native grasses or European grasses, but, in any case,  he did not enjoy a “Happy Thanksgiving”. His words are considered one of the primary causes that incited the “uprising”.

At the conclusion of the war, hundreds of Indian prisoners were tried by a military commission.  303 were condemned to death. Their death sentences were commuted by President Abraham Lincoln for all but the 38, who were executed in Mankato on December 26, 1862.  The day after Christmas Day.   Their hanging has the distinction of being the largest mass execution in the history of the United States.

In 2012, on the 150-year anniversary of the execution, Mankato hosted a Memorial and Dedication of Reconciliation Park, calling for healing and forgiveness of this 150 year-old wound.  The park features this sculpture of a Buffalo, this most potent symbol of the life that this prairie creature bestowed upon these warriors of the plains.

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As of this summer, directly behind this statue of a bull buffalo, one can now find, as part of a larger mural, this painting of a buffalo cow and her calf:

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The mural is found on the wall that protects the city of Mankato from the flooding of the Minnesota River.  The mural is almost 500 feet long.  It was the brain child and labor of love of my sister Julie.  Julie conceived its vision, and fought for it through various governmental bodies and organizations, including city, county, and the Civil Core of Engineers.

 

The flood wall, while protecting the city, also was a scar on the face of the city, obscuring its once magnificent view of the river itself.  Julie’s vision was to depict the river on the wall, to reconnect the city with its flowing roots.  She ultimately won approval and headed up a team of artists who brought her vision into reality.  The painting is called “The Mni Mural”.  “Mni” is Dakota for “water”.   The mural extends from sunrise in the east to sunset in the west.   Here are more picture of the mural, from  west to east:

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Julie’s concerns extend far beyond the confines of her adoptive city’s limits and the surface of this wall.  As it turns out, the agricultural runoff from farms in Minnesota  contribute to the ever-growing “dead zone” that forms in the Gulf of Mexico each year.  Which contributes to the creation of the “red tides” in Florida, which directly affects other members of our family.  Her inspiration for the mural was in part to raise consciousness about this ever-growing problem.   As it turns out, in my work with environmental groups several year ago, I also sought to stem this tide of agricultural pollutants that made their way to the gulf.  So, in our own ways, we have fought the same battle, which begins on the doorstep of the farmhouse where we were raised.

It is so interesting to me that this parallels our sibling relationship.  As we were growing up in a large and troubled farm family, Julie and I were always there for each other.  Safe havens for each other.  Though, credit must be given to Julie, being my older sister, it was her large and encompassing heart that first saved me.

Several miles up river from Julie’s mural is Minneopa State Park. About a year ago a small herd of Buffalo were released on a restored prairie on this flood plain of the Minnesota River.  I visited this herd for the first time today.  Here are some pictures:

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Once again, this is about 25 miles as the crow flies and as the eagle soars from the farm where Julie and I grew up.  Close enough to consider it as part of our stomping grounds. And, as it happens, a Bald Eagle did fly over as I was communing with the Buffalo.

One other small anecdote – years ago when I was in my late teens, at home from college, several members of my family were driving from New Ulm to Mankato and, very near this park, we saw this large “thing” running along side the road.  I pulled over to see what it was.  It was a wild turkey.  I ran along side of it for some yards, so astonished to see it.  It was the first one I had ever seen in my life.  They were not here when I was growing up, but they were in the process of returning.  And now they are abundant throughout southern Minnesota.  Even on Thanksgiving Day.

Restoration happens.

But not without consciousness and not without effort.

Several years ago I read a book that had a significant impact upon me, entitled: “Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics, and Promise of the American Prairie.”  One of the salient points of the book is that we have replaced about 45 million Buffalo, that were adapted to the scarce water of the Great Plains and were an integral part of that ecosystem, we have replaced those Buffalo with about 45 million cattle that are not adapted to the aridness of the great plains and instead destroy the native ecosystem.

Watching the Buffalo at the state park today, I observed various groups of people come and go, always eager to see the Buffalo, always excited, but frequently wondering why the Buffalo were just “sitting there”, not doing anything.   Buffalo are ruminants. They feed and then chew their cud.  Resting there in the desiccated remnants of prairie grasses and flowers, they were embodiments of the prairie earth itself.  Massive bodies, impervious to the weather, at home in their ecosystem.  Adapted to their environment.  Adapted to their place on the Earth.

More and more, it seems that humanity must adapt itself to the Earth. We have had centuries of humankind, seeking to improve its odds of survival, adapting the Earth to meet its perceived needs.  Now, if we are to survive, we must adopt a different strategy.  It is we that must adapt ourselves and our activities to the needs of the Earth. Siblings of humankind, we must work in concert to save each other and save the Earth.

 

 

Equinox Ritual

drummers, all in a circle
each one equidistant
upon this equinox
from the sacred center
each beating to the march
of their inner drum
a communion of resonance
percussion penetrating
all fibers of being

drumming to release
the constricting grip winter
drumming to invoke
the resurgent flow of spring
drumming to awaken
our indigenous souls

under a night sky
of wafer-thin clouds
backlit by a waxing moon
the humble shaman
washes us in the smoke
of sacred herbs
that rises to kiss the heavens
where snow white wings
appear upon white clouds
tundra swans
in delta formation
the structure of change
we are awash in the ecstasy
of their musical call

honking to release
the constricting grip winter
honking to invoke
the resurgent flow of spring
honking to awaken
our indigenous souls

snow melts
as we pass through the veil
to place our yearning prayers
secure within that unfathomable well
that is far beyond wishing
and tulips blossom
in the palms of our hands

 

 

footnotes:

The Delta Symbol: The upper-case letter Δ can be used to represent:
*The Change in any changeable quantity, in mathematics and science.
*Delta is the initial letter of the Greek word διαφορά diaphorá, “difference”.

The Circle:
*A round plane figure whose boundary consists of points equidistant from a fixed point (the center).

Environmental Organism

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A hair band transected by a bobby pin.

Who knows how it came to be here, lying innocently upon the sidewalk.  A pleasing scenario that comes to mind: perhaps a blustery wind, wanting to set free a young woman’s hair, saw fit to loosen the shackles from her tresses with a well placed gust.   And she, hair blowing wild, felt more intimately her connection to the forces of nature, and, like a veil had been lifted, felt her participation in the life of the Earth.

However it happened, the sight of its perfect configuration did immediately jar my mind loose, and remind me of my connection to the natural world, and my participation in the life of the Earth, by conjuring up the all but forgotten Ecology Symbol that was so ubiquitous during my young adulthood in the 1970s.

After my encounter with this serendipitous symbol, I spent the rest of my morning walk contemplating various effects of global warming, including the strongest ever El Nino and its effects across the globe (while taking note of the very unseasonably warm weather we’re having in Minneapolis, that everyone is so blithely enjoying) and contemplating our participation in healing the Earth.

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I had not known of the symbol’s origin until I looked it up after my walk:

The ecology symbol was formed by taking the letters “e” and “o”, the first letters in the words “environment” and “organism”, and putting them in superposition, thereby forming a shape reminiscent of the Greek letter Θ (Theta). The symbol was created by cartoonist Ron Cobb, which he published on November 7, 1969, in the Los Angeles Free Press and then placed it in the public domain.  The colors represent “pure air and green land” and environmental action.

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Look magazine incorporated the symbol into an image of a flag in their April 21, 1970 issue. It widely popularized the Theta symbol, which is associated with the Greek word thanatos (death) in light of human threats to the environment and atmosphere of the earth.  

 

As it turns out, the Theta symbol is also used in various sciences to denote temperature; which forms an interesting connection to my contemplations about global warming and our connection to the Earth.  Theta is used to represent:

The potential temperature in meteorology.

Quantity or temperature, by International System of Units standard.

Dimensionless temperature in transport phenomena. In engineering, physics and chemistry, the study of transport phenomena concerns the exchange of mass, energy, and momentum between observed and studied systems.

 

As it turns out, the Theta symbol is also used to in the trading of stock options to denote the risk that time imposes upon options not exercised; which forms an interesting connection to my contemplations about global warming and our connection to the Earth.  Theta is used to represent:

The measure of the rate of decline in the value of an option due to the passage of time. Theta can also be referred to as the time decay on the value of an option. 

The measure of theta quantifies the risk that time imposes on options as options are only exercisable for a certain period of time.

 

As it turns out, the Theta symbol is also used in the study of brain waves to denote the deepest state of meditation; which forms an interesting connection to my contemplations about global warming and our connection to the Earth.  Theta is used to represent:

….a state of very deep relaxation. The brain waves are slowed down at a frequency of 4-7 cycles per second.

While in the Theta state, the mind is capable of deep and profound learning, healing, and growth – it is the brainwave where our minds can connect to the Divine and manifest changes in the material world.

The use of the drum by indigenous cultures in ritual and ceremony has specific neurophysiological effects and the ability to elicit temporary changes in brain wave activity, producing Theta waves, and thereby facilitating imagery and possible entry into an altered state of consciousness, especially what is called the shamanic state of consciousness.

 

To be continued…

Scientific & Spiritual Areas

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As soon as you enter this woods, a sacred hush falls upon you, envelopes you, permeates you, and you know that the Mystery is powerful here. Even the most casual strollers you encounter seem to be under its spell, and walk with a more reverent air.
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In this woods Sugar Maple Trees over 200 years old tower above you.
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This woods is one of the few significant remnant old-growth parcels of “The Big Woods” left in Minnesota. While we have the Boreal Forest of conifers, birch and aspens in our north country, “The Big Woods” was a deciduous hardwood forest that once covered nearly 2 million acres through the central portion of the state. This remnant virgin woods is 220 acres. Virtually everything else of the original “Big Woods” is now gone, or second-growth.
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Technically, this woods is a “Scientific & Natural Area” – in Minnesota SNAs are used to “preserve natural features and rare resources of exceptional scientific and educational value.”

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Though we may know that the entire Earth itself is sacred, and we may tune in anywhere, there have always been those places where Spirit has felt more present. In my experience SNAs, these little niches of preserved pristine nature, are often times liminal spaces – thresholds between the ordinary and the non-ordinary reality.
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I like to believe that the sacredness of these places was strong enough that even humans hell-bent on subduing the landscape could feel it….and were inspired to preserve it. But it must also be acknowledged that many times it was the rugged form of the topography itself that saved an area, being unfit for commercial or agricultural development. And it is this very topography that feels like an eruption of the more profound Sacred into the more commonplace landscape.  In the case of this woods, the topography and its Sugar Maples combined so that it was originally preserved because of a commercial use:
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I have been making pilgrimages to this woods for almost 20 years. To place your hands upon the trunks of the elders, to embrace them, is to be filled with a flow of energy so sublime and uplifting.   And for a moment you are a part of the tree itself, feeling its crown swaying in the Sky, and its roots firmly grounded in the Earth.

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Over the years, I have come to discover, one after another, many of the old giants had fallen to the ground. I still remember the great grief I felt the first time that I encountered one of the fallen Grandfathers. Though placing my hands upon him, his Spirit was still vibrantly alive; he spoke to me, and asked that I carry his energy to one of his sisters.

This one I encountered yesterday. It’s message…”Do not grieve for my departure, for though my individual energy is leaving this forest, it goes to rejoin the spirit of the Earth herself, to assist her in her rebirth.”

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The old giants, their numbers growing ever fewer, are scattered throughout the parcel. But nonetheless, the canopy of leaves woven together by the crowns of older and younger trees, remains thick enough so that in most places there is no understory of shrubs, plants, or invasive weeds.  But here and there the ground is carpeted with a multitude of Maple seedlings.  Only the Maples themselves fully know the mystery of why one patch of ground sprouts a new generation while other areas remain bare earth.
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But the future of this woods as a continuing legacy of the elder Sugar Maples seems assured, for there are many patches of these seedlings..
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one slightly older…
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and one slightly older…
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and one slightly older…
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and one slightly older…
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and one slightly older…
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and older..

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and older still…
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This woods holds a space for the sky in its heart…
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Feeding Baby Hummingbirds

We are delighted to share a video featuring two of our tiniest patients. A nest, complete with tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird chicks arrived yesterday after it came down in a storm. We were not able to replace it, but will continue to try when weather clears. Few people have the honor of witnessing baby hummingbirds as they are fed. Their parent are not doing the feeding, we think they are still pretty amazing. Hummingbirds eat aphids and other tiny insects as well as nectar. Protein is vital to hummingbirds all of their life, but especially so as babies when they are growing quickly. There is a small syringe at the other end of the feeding tube that is not visible on the video. Their formula is a complicated mixture of crushed and powdered insects and a homemade nectar base along with digestive enzymes, which they get from their parents naturally during feeding.

Posted by Raptor Education Group, Inc. on Wednesday, July 24, 2013

And, I am now reminded of how I once rescued a Hummingbird…..

I was out paddling my canoe on a lake that I was exploring for the first time; the winds were calm and the waters were as placid as could be.   Far out from shore, near some cattails that projected up from a submerged island, I noticed this small, persistent  rippling area in the glassy surface of the lake.  Curious, I paddled over, and there discovered a Hummingbird, struggling for its life in the water.

I slowly slid my paddle beneath the frantic bird and gently lifted her out of the lake.  Then carefully slid her down onto one of the empty seats (I was kneeling in the middle of the canoe).  Once sure of her footing on the seat, she hung her wings out to dry, resembling a tiny cormorant in her pose.  But she was panting terrifically and I could tell she was exhausted from her struggles and from the cold water draining her energy.

I quickly paddled to the shore, and after passing the dock of one cabin, I found that the next cabin had a Hummingbird feeder hanging from its eves.

Somehow I managed to nudge the poor bedraggled bird back on the paddle and set her down on the dock.   I then flagged down the owner, who had seen me through her window, and who promised me that she would look after the bird.

The experience cast a magical spell over the rest of my time on the lake.

They are such delicate creatures…