Robin Wall Kimmerer teaches the importance of a “grammar of animacy” in her book Braiding Sweetgrass. The book’s title reminds me of the great Iroquois culture hero Hiawatha, whose name means “He Who Combs.” Hiawatha was a kind of healer, combing snakes from the mind of Onondaga wizard Atotarho (also known as “Tadodaho”). Kimmerer “braids” where Hiawatha “combed.” She’s a member of the Potawatomi, a Great Lakes tribe whose lands were far to the west of the Iroquois. Kimmerer now lives and teaches, however, near the Onondaga Territory, the center of what was once the Iroquois Confederacy.
Syracuse is a place with a rich and storied past. The Iroquois Confederacy was founded here at Onondaga “some time about the middle of the fifteenth century,” as Paul Wallace tells us in White Roots of Peace: The Iroquois Book of Life. I find Wallace’s book on a shelf in the city’s four-story Antiques Exchange: one of innumerable structures and forms by which the city retains its history.
Driving a car is already a form of time travel — but ’tis especially so in Syracuse. Multiple eras coexist amid the beauty and dilapidation of major city thoroughfares like Salina Street. Sitting now on a sleeping bag in a tent, I read of the Five and Six Nations and the Constitution of the Haudenosaunee. Wallace recognizes the resulting Iroquois Confederacy as “a model for, and an incentive to, the transformation of the thirteen colonies into the United States of America” (19). Other scholars contest some of Wallace’s claims, suggesting that the ratification occurred further west (near what is today Victor, NY). These are stories told among Indigenous people, passed on to white anthropologists like Wallace: tales retold in the tongue of the settler. One understands that much is lost in translation. Time travel is an imaginal practice, not a science. The Great Peacemaker Deganawidah appears in Wallace’s account as a miraculous figure comparable to Christ and Buddha. “I come from the west and I go toward the sunrise,” he tells those he encounters. “I carry the Mind of the Master of Life, and my message will bring an end to the wars between east and west” (38-39).
The phrase “Lady and the Tramp,” like the title of the Disney film, sung to the tune of “Bennie & the Jets”: such is how I begin my morning. I wake to a lovely quiet hour in the tent, sun rising in front of me. There’s a conversation among crows in those trees there — the ones beside which I slept. It’s good to be back in Syracuse, camped in my sister-in-law’s backyard, listening to crickets and birds, music discernible from the park across the street here in Westcott Nation, a sister nation of sorts to the nearby Onondaga Territory. The Westcott’s persistence gives me comfort. To know better where we are, let us listen to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Kimmerer’s book has me wanting to enter into caring relation with the pecan trees in my yard — indeed, makes me want to honor all beings, including those crows parked in the branches above my tent. Geese, too — like those in the story of Skywoman. Kimmerer shares this tale: the great Potawatomi creation story. “Skywoman Falling” will pair well with texts I teach this fall, thinks the Traveler as he reads. We have been given this gift. Let us share it with others. Let us fit it in at semester’s end. Let it resonate with Silko’s Ceremony and Snyder’s Turtle Island and Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Kimmerer’s cosmology “places” all of the others. Skywoman transmits “original instructions,” tells us where we are, how we got here. It suggests as well what ought to be done. It sets us within cyclings of a vast cosmic gift economy: one that conceives and receives numberless generations of Skywoman’s daughters — for Skywoman is the Great Mother, bearing life despite the story of her fall.
Walpurgis Night, when witches meet for bonfires and dancing. I watch newly digitized footage of old noise performances, a friend pointing me out to me. Guitarist in one performance, tape-scratcher in another. The space of the latter performance angular, erratic, static, galloping gabba-gabba beats and tape shrieks. Before the seated players, a friend sits hidden in a plastic cube. Onto this plane of intensities, the spectral re-animated echolalic vibrato of a ghostly Karen Carpenter crooning “We’ve Only Just Begun.”