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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 23, 2002 - Issue 57


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Duck Island

by Greg Shyhawk
credits: On the Pond Woodducks by Robert Bateman

On the Pond Woodducks by Robert BatemanOn my path in life I was surrounded by two different cultures. My mother was of the dominant culture.

I honored my mother's wishes and attended a Christian church regularly through my late teens. I listened to the stories and sang the songs. For me there was something missing in my heart. The hole remained and my quest to fill it continued.

I found the answers with my father. His church was the outdoors. He loved to hike, ride horse, and fish. My father had no serious talks or lesson plans. His spirituality, as mine, was beyond words. We rose before dawn. In my early years this was not always a pleasant thing -- lol. We would have a breakfast of poached eggs and toast. The strong smell of wakalyapi (coffee) filled the dimly lit kitchen. Few words were spoken.

From our home a small dirt trail was followed. The black sky was so large to my small eyes. In the East the soft glow of a new day gave hope to all. The trail passed through young woodlands and brushy areas. My father pointed out the fauna as we traveled. The hike was several miles over rough terrain. I loved every minute of it.

The young woodlands opened into a large forest of huge old hemlocks and pines. The ground was soft -- covered with several inches of brown needles. The pine needles were very long like porcupine quills. The smell was so fresh! This pine wonderland ended on the top of a small hill. From here the voice of the river could be heard. Her mood was reflected in her song ringing across the valley. Some mornings she was soft and gentle -- others loud and boisterous.

I learned just from her voice what she would look like. Shallow and slow with many rocks protruding. A lazy healing song that I loved to hear. Deep and swift with a brown appearance and much debris carried along as she cleansed her shores.

The trail led down the slope twisting around cutbacks to reach the flood plain. Here the land was rocky with grasses, milk weed, wild mustard, and ink berries. A few small trees were sparsely placed across the hillside. This area was only now recovering from deforestation, the building of a canal, and the heavy pollution of coal dirt.

A small stream entered the river at the place we sought to visit. The stream was deep and dark. It silently rushed to meet her sister the Schuylkill River (Hidden River). We were home! For years I searched for who I was and what spiritual path I was to follow. Yet, all the time my heart knew and so did my father. I was not of the dominant culture - I belonged to this land and its ancestors.

I could always see a peace on my father's face in this place -- my heart also shared it. We would catch as many fish as we could eat and release the rest. The trips were not about fishing though. We could stay all day and catch nothing -- the results would be the same. A sense of belonging, a great peace inside us, a healing, and the oneness I feel to this day. My mother never understood this in my father or myself.

As years pass my spiritual time is spent on the mountain or at the river. They are one. The mountain's feet guided the river on her way. Later in my teens I discovered a place farther down stream. This became my special place.

To reach the river of my special place a dirt road was now taken. It serpentined through woodlots and meadow. In summer the grasses were four feet high. I now enter with an old Chev. This old car was not appreciated by the more affluent of the area. To one of limited wealth (myself) it was magnificent. Two tone blue, two door, with a 283 cubic inch engine equipped with a four barrel. This was my steel pony and friend. She took me on adventures and I tinkered on her to keep her in good health.

The road straightened out along a high embankment lined with tall maples and mulberry trees. Straight across, the mountain rose steeply -- covered in oak and poplar forest. Between the two shores flowed my old friend the Schuylly.

I parked my pony in the shade of an old mulberry tree. Her limbs spanned out forty feet. I walked a sharply declining trail to the shoreline. The trail slips down an embankment of thirty feet. Here the soil was soft and loose like sand and several inches deep. The sunlight glistened off its granular surface. It was an accumulation over many years of coal dirt. The soil appeared as the black beaches of Hawaii.

Years of washing the coal up river had turned her black. Now new environmental laws are helping her to recover. The shore of the river drops straight off from a height of three feet before meeting the river surface. The river is wide and deep. She is on average twelve to twenty-four feet in depth. The water is black and nothing can be seen under the surface.

I have an old braided rug as my sleeping bag. Monetarily I am poor -- but my heart is rich. Night falls upon this place. Crickets sing their songs of love. Owls call from across the river. A large yellow moon rises and reflects on the dark skin of the tranquil river. A small fire is started. The wood hisses and crackles the smell is so refreshing to me. The oneness again fills me. I do not know why -- but I am home!

I lay on my carpet and look up at the stars twinkling and dancing. A single cloud slowly drifts past. The sky is so black the stars seem to be hanging in nothingness. In this place the river splits into two flows. A large island separates the two. The island is many acres -- long and narrow.

The side I fish on tonight is a slow flow. She meanders by and whispers to me -- calls to me. Here the bottom is coated in black coal powder as the shore I lay upon. The water quality has improved over the years. Fishing is good.

The other flow drops away into a gorge of steep outcroppings lined with trees. The trees cling tight so as not to slip into the river. The river bottom here has been scoured clean by fast currents. The bottom is rock and gravel. The river is only four to five feet deep in this channel and runs swiftly with white water splashing and dancing over the cascades for which it was named. Small coves jut back into the island shore. Here small catfish nests are spotted with many small fry moving as a black cloud under a surface of clear water.

The island is densely covered by young trees. Along the shore they are bent in the direction of the river's flow from the many floods. It is difficult to walk on this island due to dense cover. Misquotes and black flies swarm to their new guests. Upon leaving the shore the ticks must be washed from your body. Yet, this place calls to me. A quiet beauty and strength are here! No signs of man are visible on the island or the mountain behind it.

I still visit this place of spiritual peace and natural beauty. I now know why it has called me to her. The island was gifted to the state park service by the family that owned it. In years passed it had been farmed and stripped of all its trees and brush. As generations passed farming ceased. The island reverted back to her old self. Hardwood forests sprang up once more. The floods washed the scars of man away. Now she is as she was once more.

As I learned my own history, I discovered this island was used by the Unami Oyate(people) for many many years. In this time the river was called the Roaring River. Shad choked the river as salmon once choked the streams of the Northwest. The people fished here and farmed the three sisters along her shores. A small village was located close on a small tributary. Sadly the people who owned the land and other visitors to this place stripped her of many artifacts.

They could not strip her of her spirit though. She has renewed herself once more. The Old Ones listen to the sweet music of the cascades this place was named for. She now renews my spirit. I now listen to the music of the cascades and the soft voices of the Old Ones who invited me there so many years ago. They whisper welcome home my son.

Here is duality. The flow running through the gorge is swift and protected from civilization by the steep slope of the mountain. This allows this channel to run clean and sparkling once more. The island now has a stand of middle aged forest on her. The birds, fishes, and four leggeds return as in the old times. The deeper slower front channel is recovering slower. This place is visited by man still. Her soft meadows and woodlands are used for an old dumpsite. The coal dirt still remains thick on the banks and in the deeper pools of slower water.

Two cultures also survive here. The dominant culture thrives on the shores of the slower flow. But on the island and back channel it is Unami land once more. Few travel there. Most see nothing of worth there. To these eyes it is priceless. Not only nature's treasures in the new forest and returning animals -- but the land as it was. The Old Ones with me under the stars.

The people are still here. The land has returned in this small place. My father always wished to return home to his people. He did not know it at the time -- he was home as I am now. Aho

Tunkasila, Wopila
written by ShyHawk(FM)
February 2002

My father has crossed two years ago this month. I miss him and love him - I am happy for him. He walks with me. In my thoughts we journey once more to the land of our fathers. Here our spirits both belong. We were not meant to be confined in four walls. This is our church and our home. Here he visits with the Old Ones. I see the wrinkles gone from his face. A soft smile over takes him as he listens to the river's music under a black night sky filed with so many stars and relations. Here my father now walks. Aho

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