Native Notions

Oct 6, 2017

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. This spate of dry Autumn days has gotten me thinking about the whimsical Ozarks climate and remembering other seasons and what folks said about them. Natives, mostly. And by that I don’t mean those born here. I mean the original natives. Now, I don’t know that I look all that much Native American, even though I am about a quarter’s worth. But sooner or later someone, usually someone with some Native American ancestry and often someone I don’t know, will come up to me out of the blue and tell me something I need to know. And it’s always useful.

For instance, when I first moved down here to West Plains from Springfield and looking for a place to light, a fellow came up to me and instructed me that anywhere I looked for a house to buy or rent would be all right, so long as I didn’t go anywhere near the country club and the subdivision that surrounded it on three sides. Why’s that, I wanted to know.

“Because that’s where the big winds always come through,” I was told. “The old ones told them that when the white folks first got here.

How do you know that’s true I asked?

Because that’s what always happens. See that clubhouse? That was completely blown away.”

When did that happen, I asked.

Which time? the person said. So, needless to say, I didn’t look in that area any more. In the 30 years I’ve been here the clubhouse hasn’t been blown away again. But there’s been more than one very near miss.

Later I wrote a pleasant little piece about the pleasures of outdoor life in the Ozarks and another person who looked to be of indigenous persuasion complimented me on my accuracy. I thanked them but they kept on talking;

“I liked how you emphasized the spring and fall seasons, he said. “It was very tactful of you not to mention that Spring and Fall are the only seasons when the Ozarks is fit to live in. That’s why all the tribes traveled through here in spring and fall, for the late spring fruit harvest and the fall nut harvest. They wouldn’t be caught dead here any other time of the year. I try to get away whenever I can, he said.

Well, I had to agree once I’d thought about it, but I’d never heard it said before, and I have no idea how I put that knowledge into my story before I knew it.

Truth to tell, I’m not much of an Indian.

I was often reminded of that fact by my Osage uncle Leonard, the husband of my mother’s sister. When I was a child we in the Ozarks were all still under the onus of older times when it was disaster to be thought of as having indigenous blood. So, it was just never discussed. My great uncle Boomer, in fact, used to offer to fight anyone who suggested we might be part Indian, even though his daughter looked just like Pocahontas. But then Juanita married Leonard, and from then on it was obvious we had at least one redskin in the family, and it went way beyond skin color. His face could have been the model for the flip side of the buffalo nickel. When they were traveling, more than one artist accosted them as they were having a meal in a cafe and bought them coffee and dessert just so he’d sit still while they sketched him.

Some family members behaved as though they were embarrassed by him, but for me he was a fountain of knowledge. Not book knowledge. Not Academics. More a sense of belonging to the earth. An awareness of what it was to Listen deeply. And drink deeply of earth’s offerings. When my family and his followed jobs to the Pacific northwest, Leonard would go out to the reservations of tribes he had never met, and come back with great slabs of Indian-smoked salmon and an always increasing knowledge of what that country held. He took my mother fishing to the confluence of the Snake and Yakima rivers where she hooked a giant sturgeon that took her flying down the bank as fast as she could run with her new Ocean City rod and reel. Fortunately, the line broke before she was dragged under because she was determined that fish wasn’t getting her new gear. That same summer, hiking in the Hungry Horse Hills, he noticed how timid I was watching my footing while clambering down a steep hill.

Let me show you how to do that, he said, and held out his hand. No sooner had I taken it than he started running headlong down the hill, digging in his heels and whooping like a, well, like an Indian. You have too much to do, he said to me later. You don’t have time to be afraid. Just get busy. I was 12. I never forgot it. He taught me how to keep track of what direction I was going. In all sorts of ways. Most of all, he taught me to be comfortable in my body and comfortable on the earth. Comfortable with the passing of time and the onslaught of age. To not be afraid to be Comfortable

So, a couple of weekends ago when I had to go into the hospital to get a bit of a tune-up on my heart, I just couldn’t work myself up to any real fearfulness. To me it was just a change of seasons, a pause to reflect on the wonder of life and how everything in nature, if we don’t poke at it, moves just as it should. And today, sitting out by the garden resting and wishing we’d gotten a bit more rain, I remembered another year, another recovery from another illness. Like today I was sitting out by the garden not far from where I’d rigged a leaky hose to get some extra moisture to a late planting of squash. It was mid-morning and I was sitting in the shade, enjoying the breeze and my coffee when I caught a movement in my peripheral vision. I turned my head slowly and saw, to my amazement, a covey of 16 quail marching in a little cue only about 30 feet away, ignoring me, going across the lawn and into the garden, right there by the squash plants. They were in there about 20 minutes and then marched back out. I’d no idea how many days they’d been stopping by that little oasis, but I never saw a single squash bug on that planting. Another day that summer a cardinal stopped by, had a drink and proceeded to eat every hornworm on my tomatoes. I felt so at home and in tune with life and nature I felt like I couldn’t help but heal. It’s the same today. I don’t know how much it has to do with bloodlines and how much it has to do with age, but I do know that we all get along better in the world when we set aside our striving and our visions of somehow, someday, achieving some lofty position where things will be better. Better than what? We might consider, even though it’s a quite indigenous notion that suggests we just recognize our place in things, to just get over ourselves and come to be comfortable being just a thread in the fabric of a creation far greater than ourselves. This is Marideth Sisco, happy to be alive in these Ozark Hills, Happy to have these native notions popping into my consciousness, and ridiculously happy to be just one small thread in the fabric of a marvelous creation.