(This image of a Black bear who is aptly named Holly, happens to be my favorite photograph in the NABC calendar. I chose Holly to represent what can happen at winter solstice. Holly is peering at us while lying upside down! She is viewing the world in reverse! We too can undergo reversals that shift our awareness permanently, and this is what happened to me this year listening to a Navajo storyteller…)
When I walked into the room a bolt of light shot across the space and struck me so forcibly that it felt like it shattered cells under my skin. Did this occur before I glimpsed her bronzed moon shaped face? I will never know. I sat down almost in front of her, sizzling with the uncomfortable buzz that seizes my nervous system when what I call, the Powers of Nature, have taken over my body/mind. I gazed at her in a dazed sort of way. She wore silver and white, and the two sharply contrasting hues shone so brilliantly my eyes ached…
As she began to speak about the Navajo Blessingway, I drifted effortlessly into a light trance in spite of the static. Honeyed words poured out of her mouth as she slipped from her Native Dine’ language into English and back again; creating a profound musical intonation that made it difficult for me to concentrate on the stories. Initially. All that music. Layers upon layers. I had entered the Forest of Enchantment
Blessingway stories are focused on hearth and home and are told only in the winter usually in cycles of two or four, helping tribal members to “re–member” (as in to render all the parts whole) who they were, they are, and who they shall become. All these stories occur simultaneously in the Now. And all are nestled the context of Nature who is ‘home’ to all “the People.” All Dine’ relatives are composed of human ancestors but also embrace mountains, water, air, trees, animals, insects, stars as relatives -every conceivable aspect of Nature is included.
The Storyteller told a family story that I loved – a poignant tale about how her people became part of the Bluebird Clan. Once these birds inhabited this country in all four directions and so the people chose the Bluebird as their animal familiar. Unfortunately, because Dine’ men served in the U.S. military they were forced to change their name. To belong to a Bluebird Clan made no sense to white people in power.
Some of the other Storyteller’s first stories also made us laugh. This woman ever so skillfully and effortlessly wove her family tales of joy, laughter, and sadness into one whole.
Although she has traveled extensively in her 30 years of Navajo story telling she comes from the matrilineal Salt-Water Clan and lives in New Mexico. Every child born in this clan belongs to the mother’s family.
This remarkable woman has worked not just within her own tribe but has functioned as part of an extensive network of Native people who until recently believed (some no doubt still do) that the only hope for peace and Earth sustainability lies with people of all races coming together with a single clear intention to begin to listen. Hope is embodied in the golden thread that places the well being of the planet before the individual creating a contextual reality for all humans to live. Perhaps with this radical shift of perspective westerners could begin to hear Nature’s cries?
(This isn’t the first time I have been forcibly struck by the reality that almost no one is left except Native people who still have the capacity to receive, to hear the myriad of non-human voices that are trying desperately to get our attention.
Westerners are doers not receivers. I can’t stress this point enough. Turning to technology and mechanistic science for truth we have become a people who to a greater or lesser degree are living their lives on the run with doing, and many inhabit a virtual reality in their spare time. Yet our bodies, like the growth rings of a tree, still record each instance of human suffering; so inhabiting these bodies with awareness becomes a dangerous quest.)
The Storyteller focused on the relationship between the human and not human world in all her stories. She spoke of the powers of the eight directions N, S, E, W, and the four that lie in between. She made a point of speaking about an experience she had with Robin who came to her that very afternoon, making it clear through her tale that the signs are there, ready to be read by the person who is capable of receiving. Nature is always speaking; it is people who are not listening.
In western terms I would call The Storyteller an eco – feminist because the she knows that what happens to the animals and plants will also eventually happen to humans.
She made a radical statement: “Stop having children!” No doubt this remark incited anger or disbelief in some even when other human and non -human species are in some kind of trouble because too many people are presently living on a planet that can no longer support them. So many are suffering and dying. The Storyteller says Americans live within a protected bubble. Or at least they did.
The tragic consequences of human hubris and arrogance are now becoming only too apparent she continues. Regardless of personal intent, ethnicity, race, each of us participates in the Earth’s crisis through our actions. We drive cars, burn wood, fossil fuels, wear petroleum – based clothing, clog our oceans with plastics. Our current president may be a monster, she believes, but he is also a mirror in which each of us can see the shadow side of ourselves, offering us a unique opportunity to own our complicity. We are participating in our own demise with each act of denial, blindness, indifference, including the refusal to be accountable for the problems we have created.
Worse from the Storyteller’s point of view is that westerners have deliberately silenced Nature by dismissing her as irrelevant. We use her, but have stolen Her Voice. Nature has absolutely no say in what happens to her as her forests are raped and set afire, her waters, soil, air poisoned, her mountains mined, her animals and plants deliberately murdered, imprisoned and treated as non sentient beings.
The Storyteller informs us that all aspects of Nature are speaking to her and other Native people revealing to those who can stand to live in the truth of ‘what is’ that the time for human extinction is drawing near.
Some would consider this the voice of doom, but is it? She reassures us that our beloved Earth will out live human destruction; the planet will recover from our species’ acts of unspeakable violence and carnage. I personally find this line of thinking hopeful.
About halfway through the storytelling when the story became darker and I began to weep listening to her words, the Storyteller’s eyes started boring into my own. She spoke of the technological damage of cell phones, conversed comfortably in the normality of telepathic communication and “read” the future of humankind with compassion, love, and deep humility, sorrowing as she spoke. We have twelve years she said, eight before things get much worse.
I could feel the buzz intensify to an unbearable pitch as her words penetrated my body. Towards the end she looked directly into the eyes of my heart and said twice, “you will live to be eighty”. My hair caught fire; she knew.
I had been crackling in the flames ever since I entered the room. Now I understood that this was because I was about to receive personal “life instructions” including further validation that my extensive research, my thinking, my intuition, sensing, listening, my dreams regarding the catastrophic loss of animals and plants (and what this would ultimately mean for humans) were sound and true.
My greatest life fear had been put to rest. The mind of the machine was going to be obliterated by Earth Herself.
Once I received this knowledge it penetrated every bone and sinew; my body was finally able to relax. I felt myself psychically collapsing like a rag doll.
We hugged tearfully after The Storyteller’s presentation. As we held one another immense courage and strength flowed between us. I thanked her for her truth telling and afterwards I could articulate the obvious; this woman was a seer.
It wasn’t until I was alone under the stars that I was able to reflect… this propitious meeting had been forecast that day beginning before dawn with the Great Horned Owl’s call. To Puebloan peoples and the Navajo the Great Horned Owl (only this species of owl, not others) comes to warn us that death is on the horizon. And whenever I hear that call I go on high alert just as I do whenever my nervous system begins responding to something in ‘the air’ that hasn’t yet manifested…
Still feeling rubbery I forced myself to ignore my body’s profound exhaustion as I walked to a neighbor’s house for a solstice feast and fire. For me an extraordinary reversal with profound implications for living the rest of my life had occurred this winter solstice night. It may have occurred for others as well. Many in attendance were exposed to truths they might not have wanted to hear. Some denied much of what the Storyteller said turning the whole thing into an uplifting experience. Others, more sensitive and open to receiving, wept.
At the fire when I fell backwards onto my head I heard my body’s cry. ‘Go home! You need time alone to process what has happened.’ As I made my way back I was literally staggering, as if drunk, yet I had survived my literal bodily collapse miraculously unharmed…
Like the Storyteller, I will continue to do the small things I can to leave a lighter footprint on the Earth. I will also continue to accept responsibility for being part of the problem – we are in too deep. Yet I will also persist, offering deep gratitude and experiencing joy when any living creature, tree, plant, ant, dog, bird, deer, chooses to converse with me.
At the same time I honor myself as a woman of great strength, vulnerability, and integrity, a woman capable of loving, one with a ‘pure heart’ as someone told me recently.
By placing myself squarely in the here and now, I hope to become a better receiver, while accepting that my life and the age of the Anthropocene may be coming to a close sooner that I expected. Native time occurs in cycles so the ‘twelve years left’ may be metaphorically expressing the end of an era that could last longer in western linear time…
Either way the end is in probably in sight. As the Storyteller made clear, human extinction is inevitable.
And some part of me breathes a sigh, ever so deep, in stark relief that this should be so.
The Earth has been mother, father brother, sister, lover to me – the context in which I have found home. As a result I believe I can deal much more comfortably with the loss of the most destructive species on earth than most folks can.
As a naturalist who has dedicated the second half of her life to educating others about the perils all non – human species face, and one who until the night of the winter solstice believed she had failed in her life’s mission, now sees the light. I have done what I could; and that is enough. This work of witnessing/educating has been hard. But it was what I came here to do, and thus my life has been permeated with meaning, if not with happiness. It continues to be my fate to witness the ‘great dying’ until my time comes, but I can accept this role with grace and with gratitude because I am finally at peace.
Most miraculous have been the dreams that continue to come… They assure me that life will go on and I feel this truth in my bones. The animals, plants, and fungi will recover from this human induced natural holocaust to live on without the species who did everything it could to destroy them – and this is the greatest gift of all.
My friend Lise stated recently that westerners have to be taught how to become receivers by living in and listening to their bodies (especially with respect to non human species) and that doing so might be a game changer. Until recently, I agreed with her with some reservation because I also believe that critical mass must be taken into account. For example, it’s not enough to save 85 whooping cranes; the species has already become functionally extinct.
Still, I was astonished by this remark, stung by its truth. This thought would never have occurred to me, because I have been an unconscious receiver all my life, no doubt because Nature was the only parent I learned to trust. Nature spoke to me through flowers, trees, and animals teaching me how to listen, and eventually I came to believe her despite being mocked, dismissed, or considered crazy by a species gone insane.
Teaching our bodies how to become receivers with awareness is a monumental task for westerners, but one that might have made all the difference if enough of us could have grasped its importance in time. Even now my senses tell me (Lily b, my telepathic bird bellows) that becoming a receiver is a worthy endeavor and one that might help humans and non – humans alike in ways that are beyond our present understanding.