Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hidden Treasure

This morning's local low temperature got well below freezing no doubt due, in part, to clear skies. The moon is close enough to full and set late enough to allow me to get one of my all time better full moon photographs. That was a nice way to start the day.

October's "falling leaves moon" (binaakwe-giizis)
Photo by J. Harrington

After I finished some personal business and a couple of cups of coffee, I considered heading for a destination that's been on my list for the past several months as a resource for a writing project I'm working on. The Minnesota Goose Garden is one of Minnesota's lesser known treasures. I went with limited expectations and was delighted with what I discovered. The time of year wasn't the best for seeing the plants at their finest, but the number and variety of well identified plantings and the ethnographic notes on the uses the Ojibwe had for the various plants were remarkable. For several years now, I've been picking my way through a book titled Strength of the Earth.

Missikanabec (water snake) at the entrance
Photo by J. Harrington

Frances Densmore's ethnographic botany is the basis for much of the information presented in the Minnesota Goose Garden. The book itself has no color plates and the descriptions might work for a botanist, but were a source of frustrations for this lay naturalist. To find labeled, living examples of many of the plants Densmore writes about was almost like having a fairy tale come true or Christmas come early. I'll return next Spring and I think the Daughter Person and her husband may want to come along. They often enjoy learning about local plants and their uses. So, a day that started well continued in that vein. I actually had a fun. I also noticed that this is a fantastic time of year to get a good sense of the variety in Minnesota's mixed deciduous and pine forests. The color variations among the deciduous leaves against the dark green of the conifers makes it clear just how unmonocultural (is that a word?) our forests are. The Goose Garden is just a couple of miles down the road from the Audubon Center of the North Woods, so, if you arranged your schedule fortuitously, you could attend an event at the Center and visit the Garden all during one nice day trip.

A view of some plantings
Photo by J. Harrington

Insomnia and the Seven Steps to Grace

By Joy Harjo 

At dawn the panther of the heavens peers over the edge of the world.   
She hears the stars gossip with the sun, sees the moon washing her lean   
darkness with water electrified by prayers. All over the world there are those   
who can't sleep, those who never awaken.   

My granddaughter sleeps on the breast of her mother with milk on   
her mouth. A fly contemplates the sweetness of lactose.

Her father is wrapped in the blanket of nightmares. For safety he   
approaches the red hills near Thoreau. They recognize him and sing for   

Her mother has business in the house of chaos. She is a prophet dis-   
guised as a young mother who is looking for a job. She appears at the   
door of my dreams and we put the house back together.   

Panther watches as human and animal souls are lifted to the heavens by   
rain clouds to partake of songs of beautiful thunder.   

Others are led by deer and antelope in the wistful hours to the vil-   
lages of their ancestors. There they eat cornmeal cooked with berries   
that stain their lips with purple while the tree of life flickers in the sun.   

It's October, though the season before dawn is always winter. On the   
city streets of this desert town lit by chemical yellow travelers   
search for home.   

Some have been drinking and intimate with strangers. Others are   
escapees from the night shift, sip lukewarm coffee, shift gears to the   
other side of darkness.   

One woman stops at a red light, turns over a worn tape to the last   
chorus of a whispery blues. She has decided to live another day.   

The stars take notice, as do the half-asleep flowers, prickly pear and   
chinaberry tree who drink exhaust into their roots, into the earth.   

She guns the light to home where her children are asleep and may   
never know she ever left. That their fate took a turn in the land of   
nightmares toward the sun may be untouchable knowledge.   

It is a sweet sound.   

The panther relative yawns and puts her head between her paws.   
She dreams of the house of panthers and the seven steps to grace.   

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.