Journal

Author: Mason Winfield Created: Friday, February 26, 2010
Journal

 I usually hold my fire on elegies till I at least read the obituary. I don’t want to break the story to a family member that their loved one has checked off the planet. But I was told yesterday that Pine Chief Warren Skye, Sr. (Wolf Clan) of the Tonawanda Seneca has gone to join his ancestors. As Michael Bastine put it, “Another elder leaves the earth.” 

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[There's an old adage that a dog knows the difference between being stepped on and being kicked. Having neither willfully kicked a dog nor ever been one, I would hardly know. I didn’t know until recently that this proverb might cover cats.]

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This is the concluding piece to the eighth chapter of Iroquois Supernatural, by Mason Winfield and Michael Bastine, published by Bear & Co./Inner Traditions International, 2011.

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At first I thought this was a simple dream, based on recent events and surface emotions. All its apparent messages were simple. I’d been reserving the winter for my literary inspirations, but took an unwilling timeout to focus on domestic and economic clutter. I’d cleaned out a cottage I’d lived in for sixteen years and handled old possessions in a crumbling basement. I like to ski. I used to race. Big deal. And the winter of such hope was spent writing about nothing but cats and cellars. Now I am not so sure there is a simple dream. I thank the intercession of a kitten named Fortnight, a wake-up call on a dark March morning, a handy night-table journal, and the eternal forces for all I remember of this shimmering dream.

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 Long drives and rain set me to summing years,

And one poured half that talk we could have had.

Your life summed back. My debt, sir, perseveres

Each page that shines you. Atque vale, Dad.

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My author-friend Jeff Durstewitz sent me a link to an obituary I was sad to read. This is a little memorial for Saratoga's original "Ghost-Man," David Pitkin (March 7, 1939-Feb. 13, 2013).

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Africa’s fabled lost elephant graveyard… This hidden valley guarded by an undiscovered tribe was the theme of an old Tarzan flick. The legend goes that any big pachyderm who senses its end gets a hankering to head for a certain place to be with its ancestors, and, if it can trudge that far, there its remains will be found. The valley floor, they say, is littered with giant bones. The underbrush brandishing tusks must look like a melee of skeletal soldiers raising swords and spears. East Aurora has something like that of its own. I deliver this piece with full nods to Larsen's inimitable, "The Far Side."

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Before entering a cemetery, a battlefield, or any ground he recognizes as sacred, my mystical Algonquin friend Michael Bastine says a prayer. Usually he gets out his tobacco and tributes with the active smoke. He never enters that space until he senses that he is welcome. He communes respectfully while he is in it, and he prays again as he leaves. While I don’t discount his beliefs, I don’t always follow his practices. Maybe I should.

In many parts of the world it’s been believed that we share the earth with human-like other-beings. In some traditions they are small, supernaturally powerful people. These fairies/Little People have a possibly circumstantial connection to the human dead but a deep interest in human children. Protectors of the natural world and its cycles, they love certain natural places.

In Iroquois country (upstate New York) you can recognize the spots our Iroquois friends would call “Little People places”: curious, intricate, natural spaces and features like an apparent doorway in a shale cliff, tiny stairsteps in a waterfall, a “fairy ring” of moss or flowers, or a simple natural amphitheater. These are considered either favored places for these other-beings or entrances to their realms. A human’s first step into their Otherworld was often, witting or not, into one of these spaces. When we enter the spaces they have reserved, we often undergo altered-state experience. When we are welcomed, they give us visions, sometimes to great illumination. When we transgress, the experience is often other.

You would think I would know all this without needing a reminder.

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 Like a human soul in the condition of the material world, a leaf spends its days anchored to a tree. Then fall comes, and the bond weakens. Then the right breeze comes at the right moment, and the one break of its existence is made.

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Election Day 2012 was a clear and crisp one on the Niagara. That afternoon I went for a roller ski workout on the Ellicott Creek Trailway in Amherst. Its western stretch is in frequent sight of the stream’s northern channel.

New ski poles always take a break-in period, and the left strap of this set was making blister-music with my glove. About the halfway point of my course I stopped to adjust the device and catch a welcome breath. I looked into the broad flume ten feet south of me as if I knew some kind of inspiration was there. I hit the pause button on the stopwatch.

Even six weeks back, kayaks and canoes had been routine sights just off the bank below me. Human calls and voices from the water were common. The sunny stillness of the present moment, with no punctuation, no sound track, but that of the breeze, seemed one more signature on the contract sealing the seasons’ change. In the water, a grand, merry splash of sunlight seemed to reach to me like a glistening being. The impression–that look of light on water, echoes of a word–haunted me, and I searched myself for the reason. I remembered something I had written years before, and the inspiration to run this piece came to me.

You will see in the passage below from Supernatural Saratoga (2008) that the word yaddo–the name of Saratoga Springs’ fabled estate/rose gardens/writers’ retreat–could mean something suggestive in Old English, something like the glimmer of that sheeny splotch I was looking at in Ellicott's Creek. If you scoot over to my Facebook page, you can see an album of images from the Yaddo.

 

 

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