April 14th, 2018
I was standing around talking to Greg and Susie one morning. Greg was having one of his better days. He was up and about, and his eyes were merry. I started talking about my wife, Karin. I told Greg and Susie that I had given Karin a spinning wheel as an engagement ring. They thought that was cool. Then I told them that Karin still uses the wheel to spin wool into yarn. I mentioned that she dyes her own wool, using native plants (e.g. goldenrod for a bright yellow color).
Greg nodded and said, “Well, it sounds like you found yourself a woman who ain’t lost her medicine.”
I assumed by that comment he meant that Karin still held to the old, traditional ways. He definitely meant that as a compliment. I took it as such, and later I told Karin what he had said to me.
Greg went on, “Does your wife ever use blood root? Would she want any? We got plenty around here.”
I had no idea. I told him that I would ask her about it. I texted Karin and she replied,
“YES! THANK GREG FOR ME!”
I let Greg know and he said, “Well, we’ll go out later and dig some up for your good wife. We can dry it next to the wood stove, and then mail it all to her.”
That afternoon Susie, Greg, and I went out to the woods. We didn’t need to go far. Greg wore a camouflage jacket and a cap with military insignia and a feather. Greg brought along a hatchet, a bolt action rifle, and his chihuahua, Chico. Greg actually has two dogs. Besides Chico, he as an old Great Pyrenees named McGregor. McGregor is big and blond, and he can take care of himself. Chico is a bit more vulnerable.
Greg told me, “I take a gun with me whenever I go out with Chico. We got packs of coyotes around these parts. Mcgregor, now he shook off a couple of them with no problem, but Chico is too small. So, I pack a gun just in case those coyotes want to cause some mischief.”
We all went among the trees, and Greg picked out the blood root for me to dig up. Blood root makes for a bright red dye. I have never seen any of that plant in Wisconsin, but then I have never looked for it either. The ground was soft and wet, so it was easy to dig. They had had heavy rains prior to our arrival, and much of the land was flooded. The woods were like swamps and the cornfields were shallow lakes. The Little Wabash River wasn’t so little any more.
We picked a bag full of the root, and we placed it on newspaper near the stove to dry. That took a couple days. In the meantime, I had time to talk with Greg. He told me stories. He has been very active with protecting sacred Indian burial grounds from being desecrated. He has occasionally had to use force to keep out grave robbers. Greg is part Cherokee, and he has deep connection with his family history, and with Indian history overall. He has helped to re-bury the remains of Native Americans whose graves have been disturbed. He sees it as his duty to help his ancestors to continue their spirit journey. He is passionate about it.
He also told me a tale that had to do with an abandoned church, devil worshipers, and armor-piercing ammunition. That’s a story for another essay.
I mailed the blood root to Karin. Then I had a medical problem, and I had to ask Karin to drive seven hours south to bring me back home. She got to Greg’s land in the evening. Greg helped her to find the place. It’s hard to locate with just a GPS. We all had supper together, and Karin spent the night with me in Greg’s cabin. Greg insisted that we come into his bedroom in the morning to say goodbye to him.
After Karin and I had breakfast with Tony and Tyler, we went to visit Greg. He was lying in his bed. I thanked him for his hospitality and his generosity. I told him that I hoped that I could repay him someday. Greg looked at me and said,
“It don’t work like that, Brother. We’re family now. This is your home, just like it is my home. Whenever you all want to come visit, you’re welcome. That tepee is always open. This here land has always been a refuge. People from the tribes out west, they come here as a halfway point, when they have to argue with those folks in Washington about treaty rights. You don’t need to do nothing for me, Brother.”
I bent down and hugged Greg. He hugged me too. He pulled himself upright with a rope that he has tied to the wooden ceiling rafters. He told Karin,
“If y’all need some more of that blood root, you just holler. We got us plenty of that.”
He asked Susie to give us one of his business cards, so we could contact him.
Karin gave Greg a hug and a smile.
We left him in his bed, and Karin took me home.