The first primroses gently awaken spring,
She stirs, then snuggles down.
– Melinda Schwakhofer
The first primroses gently awaken spring,
She stirs, then snuggles down.
– Melinda Schwakhofer
Today is the shortest and tonight is the longest of the year.
With recent political upheavals in the world and ongoing environmental abuses and evidence of climate change it can be all to easy to focus on darkness and suffering.
To be still in the Dark and to find the Light within ourselves and one another feels more important than ever.
“The mystery of darkness and divine light belongs to each of us and to the world. We are the world waiting in the darkness and we are the light waiting to be born. It is only too easy to see the darkness around us — the forgetfulness of the sacred nature of creation, the destruction and desecration of our beautiful and suffering world. We should not avoid being aware of what we are doing to the world, but we need also to turn toward the light that is waiting within our own heart and the heart of the world. We need to hold this sacred light in our hearts and our life. We need to be the prayer for the world in this time of darkness.”
Image source/artist :: unknown
Crab spiders don’t build webs to catch their prey. Instead, they rely on camouflage and ambush. Cunning, courageous and fierce, they pounce and tackle quite big prey, stun them with digestive juices and then sit and dissolve it.
I was on a leisurely stroll at dusk last night and spotted this on a lavender bush. I dashed home for my camera, got partway back and realised I forgot to take my SD card. The light was fading and I was running out of time.
The barman from my local, who was outside having a fag, encouraged me to go back for it when I told him what I was about to photograph. So I ran back home, up two flights of stairs, grabbed the card and ran back to the scene of the ambush.
While I saw taking some photos, the woman whose garden it was in came out to see why I was poking through her lavender border.
On the way back home, hot and sweaty, I stopped in the pub to show Michael my photo and thank him for encouraging me. 🙂
The last time we were on the Road to Oklahoma together was November. I’d been struggling to make the gorgets come out right and had decided to focus on another part of the journey. I set about finding the probable town(s) that my Great Great Great Grandfather Pahos Harjo had lived in prior to Removal to Indian Territory.
I ordered a print copy of the Creek census of 1832/1833, which has come to be called the Parsons and Abbott Roll, from Mountain Press. It is the most comprehensive pre-Removal document, as it was the result of a village-to-village trek on the part of the census-takers, and contains the names of all the heads of households arranged by Creek towns.
By a treaty of March 24, 1832, the Creek Indians ceded to the United States all of their land east of the Mississippi River. Heads of families were entitled to tracts of land, which, if possible, were to include their improvements. In 1833 Benjamin S. Parsons and Thomas J. Abbott prepared a census of Creek Indian heads of families, which gave their names and the number of males, females, and slaves in each family. The entries were arranged by town and numbered; these numbers were used for identification in later records.
A big issue here is that Creek men were not the ‘heads of the family’, the women were. But this is part of yet another story of patriarchal values being thrust upon Indigenous people.
All of this information is online, but I get fuddled when switching between multiple tabs, and it’s difficult to search through long lists on a screen. I had a go about four years ago, but it is so much easier to look through sheets of paper. Information on the internet, great resource that it is, has an ephemeral quality.
My print copy has been transcribed and typed, but here is a glimpse of the original handwritten document.
I went through the lists of all of the Upper and Lower Creek towns to identify my Great Great Great Grandfather’s name – Pahos (Pow Hose or Par Hose) Harjo. Another problem is that the Mvskoke language was not a written language, so there were approximations made when recording people’s names and place names.
I identified about a dozen towns with something close to his name. Six were in Upper Creek territory and about five were in Lower Creek territory. The Upper Creeks, unlike the Lower Creeks, resisted colonization in every manner that they could and held as fast as they could to their traditional ways. They supported traditional Muscogee leadership and culture, including the preservation of communal land for cultivation and hunting and opposed assimilation to the United States culture. I have several good reasons for knowing that my ancestors are Upper Creeks.
First of all, I know that my ancestors settled first in Tuskegee Town soon after they arrived in Indian territory after they were Removed. The emigrants tended to settle together and named the new towns in the West after the towns they left behind. In our homelands, Taskigi was located in the triangle formed by the convergence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers. I found this information on the Dawes Roll (more on this another time).
Second, my Great Great Grandfather was named Tecumseh, after the great Shawnee leader who had encouraged the Upper Creeks to fight against the encroaching United States government into their territory. In 1811, Tecumseh had begun a pan-Indian movement to throw the Americans out of Native American territories. This led to the Red Stick War in 1813 in which the Upper Creek Muscogee went to war against the Lower Creek Muscogee (who were allied with the white Americans).
Third, my Great Grandmother Malindy Phillips who was born in Indian Territory in 1878 never learned to speak English, keeping fast to the old ways and retaining her Native language.
So I felt very confident when I identified six possible Upper Creek towns that my ancestors came from. Still, sometimes I’m often afraid that it is all a mistake. That I don’t have any connection to the Muscogee. I think that this comes from the years of shame, secrecy, ambivalence and feeling ‘other and outcast’ about being ‘part-Indian’. All of those feeling passed to me from my Dad, along with the fact of my Muscogee ancestry.
When I got the font, the font size, the color of ink and the paper just right, I printed off the six towns: Clewalla, Fish Pond, Hatchet Creek, Kialege, Oelarneby, Ottise.
Then I broke half in two. The tears came. It is true. We were there and we had to leave it all behind.
I made an altar to hold all of this.
I placed the town names along with some shell squares onto a reproduction of a map from 1816 that the Mvskoke had taken to a treaty meeting. I encircled them with the red thread of my River Spirit necklace. I placed a black and a white feather, a paper clay mask and my Dad’s cremation disc on all four sides. Then l lit a candle.
It hurts, I hurt. I want to be mistaken so I don’t have to feel the loss. Loss is too inadequate a word. It is a tear, we have been torn. Ripped open and ripped apart. It hurts to rip it back open and it feels clean. It feels quiet and still. It can heal now.
It can heal now.
River Spirit holds the towns and the ancestors left behind and our journey.
River Spirit washes away the pain.
River Spirit cleanses the wound.
For my exhibition, I made a mixed media piece comprising all of these elements.
By the way, I did not use my River Spirit necklace in this piece. We went for a walk in early February, along the river which flows just outside of Moretonhampstead.
I gathered several piece of river drifted wood and used one of them for Six Towns.
A waning sickle of moon
and a bright morning star
herald the dawn.
Jackdaws play along the horizon.
I love this time of year when we slide slowly and gently from the bright days of summer into the enveloping dark.
What a weekend this was.
Friday was an important anniversary, which I always mark. January 20, 1980 is the date that my mother, Nell Rose Schwakhofer née Martin died from cancer. The easiness or difficulty of this day depends on where I am in my inner world and can be impacted by the Zeitgeist.
This year, I found myself wondering what her response would be to the US presidential election and today’s inauguration. I didn’t have the privilege of continuing my relationship with her into my late teens and into adulthood, but I have many memories of her response to the world.
When I was about 5 and carelessly repeated derogatory slang words to describe African American and Hispanic kids, she gently and firmly corrected me.
When my big sister, at age 17, became a feminist, wore jeans to her high school graduation and started calling herself ‘Ms’, my mom supported her.
My mother Nell was opposed to California Governor Ronald Reagan for his violent crackdown on student protesters at UC, Berkeley, for his ‘welfare reforms’ which punished the poorest people, for his anti-environmental policies, ‘Once you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen ’em all’. and for his contradictory ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-capital punishment’ stance.
In 1973, when she had gone back to college (at the age of 50) she came home wearing a black armband in support of the fledgling American Indian Rights Movement.
She was a supporter of NPR and public television.
When she became too unwell to work, our family had to rely on Medicare (which the incoming administration wants to slash) to pay for her end of life care.
I am so proud of who she was and the values that she carried out into the world,and instilled in me.
As I do every year on this date, I went out and bought some roses to arrange next to a photograph I have of my Mom.
I also planted some narcissi bulbs into some Victorian terracotta pots I have in a pretty French wire basket. I felt good to put some living things into some earth, in anticipation of their growing and blossoming.
Saturday January 21st was a day filled with women and men, across the world, marching for equality, diversity, social justice, inclusion and many other things dear to many hearts.
My husband and I had intended to drive up to Bristol and join in, but that morning, I awoke needing the comfort and security of Home. I was really torn, but in the end, I paid attention to what I needed. I made a donation to Planned Parenthood because women’s reproductive rights is one of the things that I would march for.
I was there in Spirit, along with the millions of women and men worldwide who are standing up for a positive way forward. I felt my mother’s spirit too, very close by.