March 5th, 2018
Don liked to talk. He loved to tell stories. Even though he was loquacious, I always felt like he knew more than he said. He had this sly smile that hinted of secrets. He was the kind of man who is endlessly interesting because there is always more to him.
Some of us were sitting in a common room in the emergency response center of the Nisqually tribe. We had just eaten two large evening meals. The Nisqually ladies had cooked us a delicious fish stew and loaves of garlic bread. As if on cue, once we were done eating the stew, somebody delivered us a table full of Chinese take out. After sampling a variety of dishes from the Great Wall of the Mandarin Pandas (or whatever the restaurant was called), we sat around a very large, oval table. We listened to Don tell us tales of the Bigfoot.
Don did not speak of Bigfoot sightings. No, he talked about his experiences with Bigfoot. It is one thing to hear somebody ramble on about how they caught a glimpse of Bigfoot walking through the trees while camping. It is quite another to hear Don describe how he played hide-and-seek with the Bigfoot children when he was a youth. Don went into detail about his adventures with the Sasquatch. He went on to say that he was convinced that the Bigfoot were the protectors of the land.
I listened to all of this with interest. I didn’t roll my eyes or laugh. I figured that Don was either a very good liar, or that he believed what he was saying to us. If he actually believed his own stories, then maybe some of them really happened. His words pushed me way out of my comfort zone. The world became decidedly strange.
It would be easy to dismiss Don if he was just part of some kind of Native American fringe group; a sort of Alex Jones of the rez. He’s not. He represents in some ways the mainstream Indian perspective on Nature. From what little I have seen, the Native Americans see the natural world as being both alive and aware. The living world is a sentient world, intimately connected with humans. We are not alone.
Wounded Knee would talk about this sort of thing. He spoke about us praying to the tree people, and asking them for strength and help. He talked about the spirits of the rivers. I saw him hug a cedar tree like it was a long lost brother. Everything is alive in both a material and a spiritual sense. Everything is connected in a seamless, living fabric.
The Native Americans are not alone in this way of perceiving the world. Francis of Assisi spoke of “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”. Other traditions have seen or felt the hidden reality of the physical world. It is just our modern society that is blind to it all.
Walking with the Indians has opened my eyes in unexpected ways. I perceive things that were previously invisible to me. I don’t see actual spirits, but I know that they are there.