When my grandmother died I was certain nothing could go on. Her death was a cave I nearly never emerged from. My world changed irrevocably from that moment. I knew I could never love, never trust, never create and never believe again. God was a taker and he took her from me.
With her I had everything. Without her I was nothing, a no one. I could not bare her absence, her death created a hole in the fabric of life that sucked me in. I forbade the mention of her name in an attempt to grab hold and as the "youngest daughter" for the winter I was indulged.
I was nine.
I am forty now.
I stood then, where we stand now, all of us, in Nilch'ih Tso, December, the month of the big wind.
Hai—winter— offers us a place to gather. Cold keeps the young near so grandparents can collect them, like sweet grass, and tell stories. Here, in this season of outside cold, we create an inside warmth. We learn from them, our Grandmothers and Fathers, the way, by means of it, we have survived and must continue living.
During Nilch'ih Tsoh we examine the tools we have, our hoes and our planting sticks. We repair what we can and we make new what we need. The men hunt, tan hides and make moccasins.
Hai feeds us with the opportunity and the motivation to stick close together. Our culture, our way of life, our traditions are the fire we warm ourselves by on these long nights. Hai makes us strong. Hai gives us power. Things grown in the dark and we are among them.
My mother's mother, Shimá Saní, is glue holding us together. I understand that now in a way I was incapable of perceiving before. Forty winters have given shelter to that relationship, drawing me in from the outside cold. Shimá Saní taught me well. I consult her teachings today. I am still following the footsteps she laid during, those, my first years.
My Grandpa was a junkyard dog, endlessly entertaining. He told me stories. He taught me how to care for the plants and soil. He gave me language, like tségha'nilchi', the wind through the rocks of urban life and St. Teresa's. He trotted along and I followed behind while Shimá Saní stood, tall, in the silence.
She was proper and he was a damn fool and together they made sure I was raised with abundant love.
K'é is cared for by these elders, not the old, but those who live their daily lives in accordance to our teachings, those who take the incongruent and find a relationship that sets peace, balance and unity in motion. When we declare the precise nature of our relationships (via clan, via residence, via our positions in the system of plant and animal) we are declaring our responsibilities to each other, and to our children.
Peace is generated by the respect and responsibility we feel and show—actively, continually—towards one another. When we are accountable, in our daily life, in our daily actions and prayers, we develop and nourish an awareness for all creatures and all aspects of life. Doing this, ordinarily, we know, because we do, we are called and bound to care for these, our things: children, fields and the tools we need to tend them.
Hai clears a space for us, and with cold air and wet days encourages us to sit together—children with grandparents—teaching, sharing, telling wisdom and showing example, while parents attend to the tools they need to provide food and shelter. Hai gives us continuity and redirects our focus, reminding us to prioritize these relations and this knowledge.
My friend, Melissa Barnes, was telling me about her grandmother. She, her grandmother, was raised with a wagon—no car, no pick up, no flights across the landscape. "Funny," she said, "just two generations ago, and look at me." She is beautiful, my friend, Melissa Barnes, a good wife, a good mother, a good artist, a good daughter and granddaughter. She faces, today, for the first time, the winter I faced in 1978.
K'é, when we respect it, makes us secure and gives us—in our community— order. On that foundation we build our lives in light and beauty.
I dedicate these words to Melissa Barnes and her family.
- ► 2009 (13)