Grandfather, Tell Me About the Land, Short Fiction by Pam Bickell

Grandfather“Grandfather, tell me about the land.”

“What is it you wish to know, grandson?”

“Why is the land so important to grandmother? She touches the plants and land like she touches my baby sister,” the child said, shaking his head.

“And this confuses you?”

“Yes, grandfather. How can dirt be that important?”

“I’m going to tell you a story and when I am finished, will you tell me if you’re still confused?”

“Of course, grandfather!”

“Once there was a young boy a lot like you. He had many questions, also. His grandmother had many dreams in the night of the white men coming to this land now called America. In her visions, she saw the light-skinned ones arrive and many of our people die. She often cried at night and her grandson heard her tears. The men in her dreams came across the land in swarms and killed everything they saw: the people like us, the trees, the beaver, the wolf, the elk, the buffalo. All this they did for money. She called all the families together and told them of her dreams. Her middle son, Black Elk, stood and said he had met some of the white men and that they would not do these things. He said that they prayed also to the Great Spirit and that killing was unacceptable to them. His mother only shook her head. “It is not these men, my son, but those who come after them.”

“What happened, Grandfather?”

“Black Elk left the tribe and became a scout for the white men. He took the boy, his son, with him. A kind woman, wife to one of the men Black Elk served, took the boy in and taught him English ways, how to read and write their language and how to use math. The boy, Little Bear, was quick like you and enterprising. He saw the ships the colonists built leave heavy with tobacco and rice and fish, animal pelts, and lumber—and how much money the white people made from the land. He saw their big houses and fine clothing and he knew he would never again live in a teepee.”

“So, Grandmother loves the land because of the money we can make?”

Grandfather had a hearty laugh. “Let me finish my story, grandson. Black Elk traveled a great deal and worried about the changes he saw in his son, who was now a young man and no longer using his Indian name, Little Bear. The woman gave him the name William and their surname, Smythe. He wore their fine clothes and helped the woman and her husband in their general store by keeping records of their purchases of sugar, and molasses which they made into rum, and their sales of foodstuffs, cloth and iron utensils. Little Bear excelled at business and gave them advice that helped his second parents to build their business. They were very proud of William.”

“But, what about–?”

Grandfather held up a hand and his grandson nodded.

“One day Black Elk, now with graying hair, came into the store. In halting English, he told his son that he had been wrong about the white men and the things he had seen happen to their people. The forests and wolves and buffalo were gone—all for the sake of money. He said he was going home and he wanted Little Bear to come with him. The woman stepped in front of Little Bear and said, “His name is William and he is my son now. Please take leave of our store.” Black Elk stepped toward the woman and William came to her defense. “Father,” he said with great difficulty in their native tongue, “she is my mother now. My second father is in the back of the store. This is my place now. I will not come with you.”

“I don’t understand. How could he do that, Grandfather?” the old man’s grandson asked.

“Little Bear was an Indian on the outside—but not on the inside. He was a white man on the inside. Do you understand, grandson?”

“I think so. He wanted the same things his white parents wanted.”

“That’s right, grandson. Black Elk returned to his people who had been moved by the white men to a small area of rocky land that held little value for the white men. Black Elk’s mother and father had passed on but an aunt was still alive and she took him into her home. He cried in her arms for days, telling her all the things he had done to help the white man and how Little Bear had betrayed him. Some of his people hated him, but he worked hard preparing the soil for planting and over time most of the tribe grew to accept him.”

“Did Black Elk ever see William again?” the boy asked.

“Black Elk took ill ten years later and when a cousin realized he was dying, he made the three-day ride to the town to tell Little Bear. He found him at his family’s large home and begged him to come at once, saying that Black Elk needed him. William sent his cousin away, but just when the cousin was almost off their property, William caught up to him. He apologized and said that he would like to see Black Elk one last time.”

“That was good, wasn’t it Grandfather?”

“Yes, grandson, that was very good.”

“Little Bear, or William, had always been so busy at the store and later in their ship building business that he had not traveled much. He was shocked to see the forests were completely gone—only stumps remained. Much of this wood he knew was used to build the ships his parents had sold to the Europeans and, of course, the wood was also used to build the white men’s towns. The native peoples were gone–dead or forced to move to unwanted land. But William could still remember the spirit of life that had lived in the forest before the white men came. He could remember how the growing things and the creatures all lived together in a circle of life, feeding each other and then the land when they died. The spirit of life was gone; the land was decimated. William’s heart grew heavy with sadness on the journey home.

You see, grandson, the land is the mother of all life. Everything comes from the land which has its own Spirit—remember when I showed it to you?—to feed, to shelter and to protect us. But we cannot take from the land and not give in return. Your grandmother knows how much has been taken from the land and how little has been returned, so she makes feeding the land her life’s work. That is why you see her tending the soil, planting soy beans and turning the plants back into the soil. She communicates with the spirits of the plants and the land, in addition to mothering her children and loving her grandchildren, of course,” he said with a smile. “So, tell me grandson, are you still confused about your grandmother and the land?”

The boy shook his head. “I understand. The land is like our mother.”

“The land is our mother, grandson, and your grandmother loves her mother.”

“I see now, Grandfather. What happened when William got home to Black Elk?”

“Black Elk was near death, but had held on to see his son one last time. People of the tribe stood and watched as William and his cousin rode onto the reservation. Some of the men tried to stop them and called William dark names, but the cousin insisted they let them pass. William went into the teepee, fell to his knees and took his father’s hand. Black Elk opened his eyes and said to Little Bear, “You did not betray me, son. I betrayed you when I took you at such a young age away from our people. I was young and my pride and ignorance were strong. Can you forgive me?” William sobbed and said, “Father, I did betray you and the ways of our people. I am the one who is sorry.” They embraced and Black Elk died happy, having made peace with his son.”

“Did William stay, Grandfather?”

“No, grandson. The ways of the white man were too strong in him, but when he returned, he began to write stories about the land and the native peoples, our way of life and what happened to our ancestors. Some of these were published in newspapers, which were sent to Europe and later in William’s life, a book was published with his stories. In this way, his heart was healed of the pain of what he believed was a betrayal of his people.”

“But he did betray his people, Grandfather!”

“Life unfolds in a circle, grandson, and everything on the great wheel happens for a reason. He was very young when his father took him away. It is hard for us to accept what happened to our ancestors and our way of life, but if Little Bear had not left his people and become William, the stories of what happened to our people may never have been told.”

“I think I understand, Grandfather.” The boy smiled. “That was a very good story,” he said as he stood. “Is there anything I can do for you, Grandfather?”

“Yes, grandson, there is. Check beyond those rocks. Is your grandmother in the garden?”

“I see her; yes, she is there.”

“I’d like you to go to her and ask her if she will teach you about the spirits of the plants and the land. Will you do that?”

“All right, Grandfather. I will go.” He ran a few steps and turned around. “Maybe I will like talking to the spirit of the land.”

“Learning to talk with the spirits is a very good thing for you, grandson. You have made an old man happy this day.”

“I love you, Grandfather,” the boy said as he ran off to join his Grandmother. “Thank you!”

“I love you, too, grandson,” the old man said, but the boy was already too far away to hear him. “You are a very good grandson.”

What if Mother Earth Healed?

Last night I clicked on many of the links here and was moved by the rising swell of caring and goodness in the world. No matter how wacky this sounds, ‘the times, they are a changin,’ far beyond anything we can currently imagine. There is a real sense that the old world of greed, separation and power-hunger is transforming into a new world of compassion, cooperation and unity. What if we humans stopped warring and corrupt officials resigned of their own volition? What if everyone’s creativity was unleashed and solutions to the problems of world hunger and thirst came to us? What if Mother Earth healed? What if we all healed, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically? Who would we be? Can you imagine the potential?

Can you envision a new world at peace? What harm can come from believing that Love created the universe and, after countless years of violence, the end of violence is in sight? What harm can come from realizing that we beings with souls are all the same and equally Loved beyond measure? It may seem harmful to our opinions and throwing our weight around, but that’s a good thing. Our small-mindedness has nearly destroyed our world. Today is a good day to climb aboard the Love Train. See you there!

What to Do with My Garbage?

I read most of the posts at Sven Eberlein’s blog, A World of Words. Natural balance within the world’s ecosystems and our ways-of-life are of utmost importance to Sven; he has a big-picture, insightful outlook on how to heal our intentions and our corrupted planet. I think about his ideas, yet there is no nice way to say this: We ignorant Americans, in the blissful, forward-motion of living large, have done a great deal of damage to our home planet, the great living being, Gaia, who holds us in space in incredibly beautiful settings, provides the food we eat, the water we drink, and materials for our shelters. The enormous profits generated by those giddy to feed our never-ending ‘make it bigger, better, faster, more-more-more’ mindset, have been earned at the expense of our health and our world’s health. We must stop ourselves individually–change course–to change the course of those who supply us.

The first time I noticed anyone speaking of the dangers of becoming dependent on one exhaustible product—oil–for energy, was in the 70s during the ‘oil embargo,’ when we had to wait in long lines to get gasoline, and some days the gas stations ran out. I remember one man saying, “We can use the sun to produce energy, for God’s sake!” Even back then, powerful, wealthy men had created massive systems of pumping, processing and distributing oil. People speaking of alternative, inexhaustible systems of generating energy and products have always been shut down by extremely well-paid lobbyists who have learned campaign donations buys government compliance. All of this has made those powerful people believe they are invulnerable. We may want big-screen, high-definition televisions and cool phones and cars, but they want to control us, the world’s governments and dictate how our lives will unfold. “Curse you, you ignoramus’s! You WILL use oil and you WILL use our products made from oil!”

Though Sven’s writing at A World of Words inspires readers to believe we can learn new (old) ways to live without destroying ourselves and the world, my trying to grasp how far-reaching the problem of oil/plastics is (after I read a piece at excerpted from a book by journalist Amanda Little called Power Trip: From Oil Wells to Solar Cells—Our Ride to the Renewable Future) left me deeply discouraged. Here are several paragraphs from Little’s book:

“So one morning I took a small, quiet, but personally momentous tour around my office. My aim was to count the things in my midst that were, in one way or another, tied to fossil fuels. Since nearly all plastics, polymers, inks, paints, fertilizers, and pesticides are made from petrochemicals, and all products are delivered to market by trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes, there was virtually nothing in my office—my body included—that wasn’t there because of fossil fuels.

I had understood intellectually…that the energy landscape encompasses not just oil fields, coal mines, gas stations, and the vast network of copper wires that feeds electricity to our homes and offices. It’s also the cornfields in America’s heartland, the battlefields of Iraq, and the medical labs that produce penicillin, Novocain, chemotherapy drugs, and many other treatments and cures. It’s the cosmetics shelves and magazine racks in our drugstores. It’s the constantly humming, behind-the-scenes network of ships, planes, trains, and trucks that transport products to our store shelves. It’s even our own bodies, which we routinely drape in synthetic fabrics like spandex and nylon, and feed with crops that were fertilized by fossil fuels, and stitch up with plastic sutures.

Once I connected the dots between so many seemingly disparate elements of my life—my car, my clothes, my email, my makeup, my burger, even my health—I saw an energy landscape far more vast and complex than I’d ever imagined. I realized also that this thing I’d thought was a bad word—oil—was actually the source of many creature comforts I use and love, and many survival tools I need.”

Amanda Little goes on to say it was American ingenuity that resulted in our using oil for everything (at this point), and it will be American ingenuity that inspires products and propels into being the emerging energy technologies, the alternatives to fossil fuels: solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels, and hybrid-electric cars like the Toyota Prius. Just like Sven, her outlook is positive, and rightly so. Should we just give in or give up on ourselves and our world?

After reading and watching so much about the environment in the last couple of years, I began to feel a connection with our planet. A new thought crept into my consciousness: I’m not doing my part. I’m using my ill health/disability and lack of income as an excuse. It was like a punch in the gut. I’m embarrassed by my selfish my thought-processes revealed here:

“But wait,” I argued with my best-self. “I use those free plastic grocery bags to pick up my dog’s daily deposits. I’m supposed to pay for biodegradable doggie-pooper-scooper bags out of our small budget IN PLACE of the plastic bags I already have? (Yes. Stop putting them in the garbage cans, thus into landfills, where they will remain forever.)

“How will I bring our groceries home?” (Buy the cloth bags—they’re available for a dollar now at many locations. Bring them into the store and ask the checker to use them.) “How will I remember to bring them to the store?” (After you carry in your groceries, carry the bags back out to the car. It’s a matter of changing your habits. I promise you will learn to remember them after you have to go back to your car a few times.)

And, though we had recycled for the many years we had a home and recycling service, I argued: “But I can’t recycle in these apartments; they don’t do recycling here.” (You will find a way.)

So, I found an unused (plastic, of course) garbage can, hand lettered a sign on bright yellow card stock with the word “Recycle” and I pinned the sign above the empty garbage can, which now sits next to our throw-away garbage can. The very next time I went in the kitchen, I washed and recycled a can that had contained beans. It felt so good, like I had come home. I added milk and orange juice bottles and glass jars, feeling more weight come off my shoulders with each item dropped into the ‘recycle’ can.

When my daughter got home, she said, “Mom! This is awesome! We’re recycling again! But they don’t recycle here. Where will you put it?” After I said, “Don’t ask me,” we discussed collecting bags of recycled items, driving to the ritzy apartments next door, and, using mental cloaking for our old car (a dead giveaway that we don’t live there), speed in, slow down in front of their recycling bin, and my daughter would throw the bags in. Then we’d peel out on two wheels. I also spoke with a neighbor who I knew collects bags of stuff to supplement the family income, but only plastic water bottles and aluminum cans, neither of which we use.

Two days later my mom stopped by. “Oh!” she said with a big smile. “You’re recycling again! But where will you put it?” “Don’t ask me,” I said. She sat and we talked and later she smiled again and said, “I can take it and put it in with my recycling.” “Really?” I asked. “You’d do that?” “Of course I will. You know that.” My mother has taken three bags of containers for recycling already. I did find a way–or it found me. My best self, who often writes here, was right. For now, I’m ignoring the thought that those tall kitchen garbage bags containing our recycling probably can’t be recycled. I don’t even know where to buy garbage bags that are biodegradable.

But since we started recycling again, I realized there is something every family can do. I bought eight cloth one-dollar grocery bags the last time I went shopping and the checker was happy to use them. I looked at the blue pooper-scooper bags, but they didn’t say biodegradable, so I didn’t buy them. I might have to go to a pet store for them.

Making a difference all starts with deciding the earth, and our relationships with it, are more important than our whiny or careless thoughts and habits. There must be a hundred little things we can choose from in order to use less stuff and energy, like unplugging our toasters and computers when we’re not using them, or combining our errands into one trip. Years back, we had a seven-year drought and were asked to turn off the water when brushing our teeth and to flush our toilets only for bowel movements. We live in a desert and I still do those things. I’ll keep my eye out for a list of other things. A lot of caring for our planet is about using what we already have, or thinking of creative ways to re-use our stuff. While it’s true that my efforts, or your efforts alone, don’t make much difference, a whole bunch of us together makes a whopping difference. Think of NOT getting the latest and greatest as something you want to do. That’s how the ideas above, so small yet important, snuck up on me and bulldozed me to again take more responsibility for the garbage I create–with my mom’s help.

Here’s a link about alternatives to plastic bags at a great WordPress blog called Liberated Spaces. And I found a list at Sustainable Environment for Quality of Life of 100 little things we can do, that added up make a big difference.