Story by Danny Beaton (Turtle Clan Mohawk)
In Memory of Alicja Rozanska
Every time we escape the big city to be up north in Mother Earth’s forest and near the Great Lakes we become once again alone in the natural world. As we look to be alone with the space and beauty of what surrounds us in Mother Earth’s forest and life species, we hear intense and beautiful sounds of the voices of the winged ones and little ones who are talking to each other and seems like they are singing to one another in great peace and happiness. It is in this world that humans can sit, hear the wind blowing and if it is raining the power and beauty of gentle water coming down from the sky world above. After a few days alone in the forest our minds start to open up in a way the universe wants us to see what is so important about our journey here on our Sacred Mother Earth. Even the diversity of the plant life and trees can help open our minds if we let them: cedar, maple, pine, spruce, birch, berries everywhere, mushrooms, sage surrounding us once we get into Mother Earth’s body. To think or begin to think how we could accomplish so much in seventy years on earth and feel so good about all the gifts that continue to come our way, so many good friends to work together. To think how all these forests got here from the beginning of life; how such forests could evolve over all these years of life when nothing threatened life or forests; to think of life with no cars or roads: these things can come into our minds once we are alone in the natural world, the world of forests and nature.
When I think of all the stories our elders would tell us, it was like a fountain of healing of spirit. One of my favorite Mohawk Elders was Katsitsiase, or English name Betty Maracle. She said: “If you listen to our ancestors, Danny, they will guide throughout your life journey and help you find the things you might need to be in harmony and to do what is right for you and others.” Betty said: “Our ancestors had the Good Mind in the old days. They knew that the natural world would take care of them if they were Thankful and Respectful to Great Creator’s Gifts on Mother Earth. Our ancestors never forgot our way of life: to always have a good mind, to show respect for all life, especially to our relatives four-legged, winged ones, insects creeping and crawling and fish life, because they said all life on Mother Earth deserves to be happy and in harmony just as we human beings like it too!”
Being alone in the forest always brought back the memories when my wife was with me always and how much fun we had together and thinking how creative she was to put up our tent in the spring, summer and fall and wanting to camp out until the snow came. This way of life was so healing for us! I remember our tent would collapse once it got full of snow and now thinking what a beautiful life we had in the forest. When you’re in the forest you start thinking of all the gifts that came and went, of all the memories of joy and pain and the greatest time of making new friends and adventures, laughter and tears. Endless adventures is one thing that comes to mind once you’re alone in the forests. Birds singing, wind is blowing and more memories come back fresh and strong of us travelling across Canada, travelling through the USA visiting my elders with Alicja, stopping to hike the highest mountains, stopping to swim in the cleanest rivers and lakes, but always putting sacred tobacco down and giving Thanksgiving together. Being alone in the forest again brings back memories of family who crossed over to the other side, the Spirit World. It’s a wonderful life having time to have ceremonies, knowing it is time to bring out the Sacred Pipe because it’s a ceremony that can bring everyone back to that great peace, even closer than you ever imagine, because we all need to be with our loved ones in that way of life in the forest until we meet again.
When I called Chief Oren Lyons to see if he wanted to say anything, he replied: “It’s our homeland, it’s our refuge. Nature is the boss: we have to learn that law. People are too used to living in the house and we came from the woods! We are from the same family as the wolf, the fox and the deer. It’s a refuge, it’s that simple. How could we destroy our home, Danny? Things are different today. Everything has changed. I’m downtown in Syracuse, but in the forest everything stays the same. We’re Indians, we came from the forest and it’s really our refuge. There is no mercy with natural law, it’s consistent, it does not change”. For the first time since I’ve known Oren in over 30 years, he has never been disappointed, but today he sure seemed sad.
Just think back when the Niña, the Santa Maria and the Pinta arrived here. They were sick and starving; the same with the Mayflower and other ships arriving at Turtle Island. The Indigenous People fed them, healed them, shared our way of life because that is our culture. It was normal for Indians to share and heal others who were sick and disillusioned! Sitting in the forest brings calm into our spirit. How else can you describe the peacefulness coming at you when the air is penetrating your mind and body. The noise and pollution in the city are so unhealthy. They kill our energy and equilibrium. Being in the forest is like a healing therapy no doctor can give you from his medicine bag. Once we are at peace in the forest we can’t help but feel thankful and grateful to Mother Earth surrounding us in her realm and body. It’s her spirit that comes to us and into us. Our minds are in awe of the beauty around us, so we start by thanking all the plants, the big trees, the small bushes, then all the medicines, next all the berries, Strawberry, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cranberries and all the sacred mushrooms, the vines, the roots, plant life. Being in the forest brings us closely to our Great Creator and to our Ancestors. It was our elders who taught us the Thanksgiving Address and their elders taught them and their elders taught them the ceremonies. It is our ancestors who passed this way of life onto us. In the forest everything comes back to us, the immense beauty before us and all around us. Natural Life has the power to heal. The memories of our sacred gatherings when everyone was alive, when the circle of elders, chiefs and Clan Mothers was full and strong can open us up to The Good Mind, the great respect for Creation. The forest opens our minds to the past, present and future. Anything can come into our minds that reflects the beauty of the sacred forest, so it’s important for us to be in the Sacred Forest as much as possible! Funny, the last time my wife and I walked into the forest together, she needed a walker, but she insisted she wanted to walk into the forest and as we rounded the bush road, she said: “Danny, look over there” and there was a Grey Fox staring at us, peaceful almost like a peacekeeper waiting for us to be together one last time. We are so connected to the forests, but we never know our relationship unless we go there.
In the Spirit of My Ancestors