Thursday, December 18, 2014


Snow last night and this morning, about 1-2 inches.

Kipuka. kee-POO-kah When Pele does her thing in Hawai'i and the lava flows out across the land, wiping out forests, it flows around places that are a little higher in elevation, leaving islands of greenery in a sea of lava. After the lava hardens and cools, these little places, called in Hawaiian "kipuka" (a puka is a hole) serve as seed banks to, over decades, over hundreds of years, to re-seed and regenerate the land. 

 That's really all we can do in cities and land that has been devastated by the actions of human beings who destroy forests and the natural places. The lava of development and destruction, of pavement and buildings can be interrupted by kipuka you establish and maintain in parks, in backyards, in vacant lots, in waste places. These can be seed banks, kipuka, for when the Land takes back, and re-establishes itself. 

 No city, no farm, no development lasts forever. The Land does, though it may sleep, it may get sick. Tend your kipuka.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

TV Show

Looks like I am going to be on a TV show in about a month. My interview on the Ioway story about the Shunka Warak'in will air on the program "True Supernatural" on the Destination America Channel at 9 p.m. ET on Friday, January 2, 2015. That is 8 pm Central and 7 pm Mountain Time. Yikes!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Goes Up

"What goes up, must come down
What must rise, must fall
And what goes on in your life
Is writing on the wall
If all things must fall
Why build a miracle at all
If all things must pass
Even a miracle won’t last
What goes up, must come down
What must stand alone?
And what goes on, in your mind
Is turning into stone
If all things must fall
Why build a miracle at all
If all things must pass
Even a pyramid won’t last
How can you be so sure?
How do you know what the earth will endure?
How can you be so sure
That the wonders you’ve made in your life
Will be seen
By the millions who’ll follow to visit the site
Of your dream?
What goes up, must come down
What goes round, must come round
What’s been lost, must be found"

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Facebook Group

Are you trying to find a way to connect spirituality and science, in a connection with the land, with the place where you live? No churches, no leaders, no money, no power over you, just a way to see the beauty of the world we live in and finding meaning in the craziness we all live in now, as the world totters?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Towards a New Religion

Our tribe gave up much of our indigenous religion under the pressure of Christianity, but there are still some of us who practice some of the old ways along with the best parts of Christianity. yes, some is incompatible, like belief in the spirits and sanctity of nature (the old ways) and the belief that only people have souls and everything else is fallen/demonic (Christianity). But much is still compatible.

I have always thought it would be interesting and a good direction to combine the following elements into a religion of some kind:

1. Indigenous spirituality with a three-part focus on
a. various deities and/or powers of nature (with recognition of the Great Mystery that is unknowable beyond even the gods),
b. one's ancestors and families,
c. the land where you live that you must care for)

2. The religion should (must) be consistent with what is known to be true through science (evolution, the scientific method, physics, astronomy, etc.) to be consistent with truth and rationality as far as possible (short of being nihilistic or dogmatically atheistic). Superstition is to be avoided, however mythic thinking is necessary too...

3. While knowing the physical aspects of existence are best explained by science, the religion must be open to mythic thinking, to account for our needs that cannot be met otherwise, as we are not only rational beings but we are irrational creatures as well. Art, storytelling, myth, ritual need to all be part of it as well.

4. The religion should combine universals of ethic systems such as treating another as you wish to be treated (golden rule), the best of such systems as Stoicism (endure and accept, and deal with whatever happens) and Epicureanism (smell the flowers while ye may and drink wine for tomorrow we die) both with equanimity (my tribe feasted when there was food and fasted tranquilly when there was not). Hospitality and a warrior's code to defend the community should be incorporated because of what will happen during a collapse, as our society seems to be hurtling towards.

Finally, it should be flexible enough to allow for people of different backgrounds to come to some kind of understanding… "men of goodwill"..whether Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, atheist, or whatever, to be able to focus on the common ground (ethics, golden rule, honesty, family) rather than the focus on the differences, which keep us always in religion-based warfare and conflict.

Thursday, August 28, 2014



 An invisible and continuous life
 was believed to permeate all things,
 seen and unseen.
 This life manifests itself in two ways.
First, by causing to move;
All motion, all actions of mind or body
are because of this invisible life;
 Second by causing permanency
of structure and form,
 as in the rock, the physical features
of the landscape, mountains, plains, streams,
rivers, lakes, the animals and man.
This invisible life
is similar to the will power
of which man is conscious
within himself—
a power by which things are brought to pass.
Through this mysterious life and power
All things are related to one another
and to man, the seen to the unseen,
the dead to the living,
a fragment of anything
to its entirety.
This invisible life and power
was called Wakon’da.

(p. 134, The Omaha Tribe, by Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche, 1911,
with passages as set in poetic form by Robin Ridington, 1992)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Lament, by Ernest Thompson Seton

O God of the blue sky and the gentle rain,
O God of the hills in the West;
If only I could ride as I used to ride
And see the white-sterned Antelope flickering across the distant flat;
Hear the Coyotes yapping at dusk and the long soft note of the Graywolf in
the dawning;
If I could see the bounding Blacktail sailing across the upland on his unseen
As the Woodwale swings festooning through the woods:
But gone, gone, gone, is all I loved,
Gone, gone are the big open spaces and the sweetness of the hills.
As I try to pick my way among the barb-wire fences, the sordid settlements,
and piles of empty tins and fly-blown filth, pestilential with maggots
and crawling bugs, I have no words for my sadness.
Gone are the big beautiful animals – not because they harmed us – not
because we needed the land, but because we had invented weapons so
terrible that the wild things had no chance. And loathsome brutes in
human form destroyed them for the hellish joy of seeing them fall.
How gleefully would they haved used armoure cars, gatling guns and poison
gas, had such things been at hand.
What a glorious West it was – a heritage for the Sons of God.
But the abomination of desolation came to possess it.
The harmless and the beautiful withered away.
Any one that could get a horse and a gun, could kill the Buffalo.
Gone are they, with only an old bone here and there to tell of their one-time
myriad race.
Gone are the elk that bugled so joyously on the uplands.
Gone are the harmless, beautiful Bighorns from the useless bluffs.
Gone are the bannertailed Deer from the meadows.
Gone are the patient Beaver from the swamps.
Gone are the Sage-grouse, too innocent for such a besetting.
Gone are the glorious white Cranes, trumpeters of the springtime.
Gone are the simple Jackrabbits, netted wholesale, and killed with clubs.
Then, ever-intensifying ingenuity mowed down the wiser ones; then the lesser ones.
Then the Wonder-dogs, the Coyotes had to go.
And the coyote gone, the Ground-squirrels multiplied to billions, and
gathered every crop.
Then poison was invoked to destroy the Ground-squirrels.
And it finished its work, but it also killed the ground-feeding birds, so that
ticks, bugs, lice, flies, insect-plagues were trillionized – and still the
abomination stalks;
The very forests are reduced to blackened stumps; till man at least will be
driven forth from the Eden he as ravaged.*
And I – I ride with tear-blurred eyes, and turn back away from the
heritage we have desolated, scorched as with the fumes of the pit.
I seek my own last home, by the little lake in the rocky hills of Connecticut,
and find a measure of joy in the woods, and the wild things I have
loved and saved.
But a black cloud hangs over my joy.
I know that this too will wither – is withering even now.
A wild Deer – the last of its race – crossed my land a month ago, and after
it were fifty yelling curs.
I suppose they killed it. It had no chance.
Then came a few Woodcock from the North,
But a dozen gunners went after each of them.
The brooks are marked, surveyed, to be turned into drains.
I hate your cursed, cowardly dogs;
I hate your loud, shameful guns;
I hate your sordid improvements.
The doom of the trees is impending;
The chestnut is gone; the butternut and the white pine are going; the hemlock
is dying.
The red-oak and the pignut are thratened,
Nearly all with plagues imported by man.
Even now the browntail and the gipsy moth are sending the scouts of their
Sennacherib hosts, marking all Yankeeland for desolation.
The end is in sight.
The desolation sweeps from sea to sea.
I can find some tiny crumbs of comfort in this alone –
That when it comes complete, I shall not be here to see it.
Only in prevision shall I see it – see my people pay the bitter price of their
Greed and carage.
And yet farther yet my soul-view reaches in the years.
I see only logical completeness of this hell-born mania to
destroy –
This – surely this: the nation possessed of it, will certainly destroy itself.
And when the men of another race, a yellow, or mayhap a red race, shall
discover this unpossessed, broad, Western world, landing on Manhattan,
they shall marvel at the piles of ancient ruins.
And slowly unearthing shreds of proof, and scraps of records, ancient made,
Their chiefs and wiser ones shall know, that here was a wastrel race, sordid,
cruel, sordid;
Weighed and found wanting,
Once mighty but forgotten now.
And on our last remembrance stone,
These wiser ones will write of us:
They desolated their heritage;
They wrote their own doom;
They knew not the things of the Spirit;
They never lighted the fourth lamp of the Woodcraft Altar fire.”**
* This statement directly anticipates by 35 years the theme of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
** This is a reference to Seton’s esoteric fourth principle of Woodcraft that saw the campfire as a place of absolute honesty and brotherhood, a place of the heart and of love on a deep level. Those who light this fire (literally while camping, but figuratively within themselves) can banish the evils of our contemporary society from themselves including the tendency towards random destruction of nature and find union with all humankind.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


"We all tend to believe the stories that support our own views." Check this out (it's a great list of how we only see what we already believe):
I try to do a few things to keep my own biases down to some extent. My mom always said, "Consider the source." "Left" and "right" are pretty much just "false flags." I already know that media, whether "left" or "right" is trying to convince us of certain biases that company has (and even deeper, what its owners and sponsors want you to believe), whether MSNBC or FOX. So I tend to immediately put a warning flag for myself for anything I see on TV or hear on the radio, because there are very few real reporters anymore, they are mainly demagogues (trying to whip people up to believe what they want them to believe, for whatever reason: power, influence, money, etc). Mainly they manipulate facts to elicit emotions, because one you get into someone's emotions, they tend to stop reasoning and can be made to do whatever.
I watch them all pretty much: FOX, MSNBC, CNN, PBS, PIVOT, the old three networks, etc., in order to cancel each other out on their biases to some extent. It is a start. When FOX and MSNBC agree on a fact (something that happened, like Benghazi, or that so and so won an election, it probably happened, but then the SPIN comes from both sides, and I separate the SPIN from the event itself. The reality is, unless I was there, or have a primary source, it will take some real analysis to try and tease out what the truth might be.
There is so much thrown at us constantly, who has the time to sort through it all? So mostly I remember to always remember my own biases, try to see it from the opposing point of view, and really think about it. And if I don't have the time to do so, I realize I am ignorant, and can be manipulated as much as anyone else.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Man's Reply

The Man's Reply

I would do so, my Good Folk

But there is no toadstool ring
Only a asphalt lot in front of Walmart

There is no Clootie's Croft
Only a monocrop of GMO corn

There are no standing stones
Only a subdivision of McMansions

The Oak is cut for flooring
The Elm cut for imagined disease
The Hill sliced open for an interstate

My song dried in my throat for shame
Because I do not sound like Beyonce
My spells left to the Internet's cold light

I have no fields, just a cul-de-sac, one of thousands
I have no herds, just a package of coldcuts
I offer only Pizza Hut and Captain Crunch

I do not forget you my Good Friends
I see the world wither and curl
The veil hard and cruel
I do invite thee
But my voice is dry from shame

My loins are empty, spent
The land is eaten by cold greed
I cannot see any children
They promise helix promises
of designer genes

I call thee back, Good Friends
Save us from the madness
Save us from the barrenness

But how can you save us
If we do not raise our own sword
And erect our own Wicker Man
Let us raise our blades as one
And burn the Man to ashes

And call thee back
The life of the land
and the hearts of our children
To arms, Good Folk!

Gods and Goddesses

I believe in God. I do, but I am not dogmatic about things. I believe in God the way most people meant in the old days when they said "I believe in God." That (God =the Creator) doesn't cause any friction between my Ioway beliefs (God = Ma'un = Earthmaker) and my Catholic beliefs (God = the Father, Son and Holy Ghost). It doesn't, not for people from the older generation I was brought up around. You believe in God, do your best, avoid doing bad things, treat people the way you want to be treated. That's how you live.

When I was little, I fell in love with Greek mythology. The first thing I ever remember drawing was a Cyclops, from the Ulysses movie starring Kirk Douglas ("More wine! hahaha!"). The book I remember is D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths; it formed my mental pictures of the Greek Gods and it still does. The Greek Gods were as real to me as a little child as Gumby and Pokey, and God, and my stuffed animals that also were alive, and the clouds that sent down lightning. And the dark things under the bed and in the closet that moved around at night and caused nightmares. The knotholes in the walls' wood paneling were the eyes of trees that had been killed, accusing one of the crime.

It was only as I grew older, that I learned that I was to believe only in some of these things as "real." And older than that, I learned that I couldn't believe in both the Greek Gods AND God with a capital G. And then when I went to Catholic school, things got even more complicated. I had known about God for a long long time ("Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep...") but now there was Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, and Mary. And I took it all in stride and believed in them as well. And I wasn't allowed to believe in anything other than these new additions to my understanding.

But there were problems. They said only humans had souls. But that was untrue, as I knew my dogs also had souls...I could see it in their eyes, their souls. And the idea of hell. I didn't like it. It made me even more scared, adding hell to those dark things that roamed around at night. I knew EVERYBODY I knew was going to heaven when they died ("If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take" wasn't a lie was it?).

So what about the Greek Gods and Goddesses, and the souls of my dogs, and the eyes of the murdered trees in the planks, and the plants that grew and could even grow vines to strangle you at night? And the wind that spoke and rain that seemed to say something to me? Many years passed, and I still wondered about these things. While in Church I prayed to God, and took communion, and wondered about the dark feelings in the Church's basement and the carvings of staring faces on the cathedral's stonework: who were they?

I learned about the theories of anthropology in college, about the development of witchcraft and religion. I learned...

Most of the Gods and Goddesses of Classical Paganism can shown to be, in their essence/origins:

I. Universal Major Elements/Forces
1. Sky Father
2. Mother Earth
3. Winds
4. Storms/Thunder/Lightning
5. Ocean
6. Underworld
7. Ice, Fire, etc.

II. Human Ancestors who went through Apotheosis
1. Fathers and Mothers of an Ethnic Group
2. Direct Ancestors
3. Ancestors who were expert craftspeople or practitioners
4. Ghosts, Egregores, Tulpa, etc. formed by emotions, rituals, memories in the land placed there by ancestors

III. Local Anima Loci "Spirits of Place"/landvaettir
1. Mountains, Volcanoes, Cliffs, and Hills
2. Plants, Groves and Forests
3. Caves
4. Unusual Features (rock spires, etc.)
5. Watercourses: Rivers, streams, springs, ponds, lakes, waterfalls
6. Others..

EVERY God or Goddess I can think of, when you look at the origin myths, has an origin in one of the above categories, even if it was later amalgamated with another category.


Odin: Originated as a Germanic ancestor, added features of Sky Father, and craft of magic and cunning.

Shango: Originated as a great West African chief, added feature of amalgamation with thunder and fire.

But many of the polytheistic pagan faiths also had a distant "Creator" god that made all things but didn't get much involved in human affairs. For my tribe, we believed in Earthmaker (Ma'un), but when you went out to get a vision or made sacrifices, it was to one of the Persons created by Ma' was THESE Persons (Thunder, Bear, etc.) who became one's Helper in a Vision Quest.

So whatever path we take for ourselves, it is okay to believe in "God" (however one wants to think about "God", as an old white-bearded man, Zeus/Deus, or "the Force" or whatever) but the day-to-day business of living is tied to one's local natural forces and places, animals and plants, as Persons, and also to one's Ancestors and the ancestral practitioners of one's craft/way of making a living.

And so, I still struggle to make sense of all this.

I have never had God tell me anything. Nor Jesus, nor Odin, nor Mary, nor Apollo. Not so I can tell without second-guessing myself. A couple of times I have had dreams in which it seemed angels talked to me. But those were only dreams. That came true, even if it was decades later.

But I have seen the souls of dogs in their eyes, and the hair rise on my neck in a dark place in the woods where I know I am not wanted, and the lick of a butterfly that landed on my hand, and the blessing of a cold drink of water. I know these exist. I KNOW... I don't have to believe.


I see people as driving around in little cars known as "bodies." When the car is new, they get around, can wave through the window or roll it down and say hello. When one hits a bad bump, or gets into a fender bender, or the car gets rusty, you can't get around anymore, maybe you can't roll the windows down and chat, or the windows fog up and you can't really see each other clearly. But the driver is still in there. Until the car just won't start-up anymore.

I have been thinking about loss of knowledge when societies come to an end. My tribe faced that, and now all we have are scraps of info collected by an ethnographer and artifact collector, collected after the society had already lost most of its ancient ways.

When I worked in Hawai'i, people were always interested in offering their mana'o. The office and its staff were always saying, "we would like your mana'o" on such a matter. There were flurries, blizzards, of mana'o. I used to think mana'o meant "insight," but then realized all it meant in reality was "opinion." But what I needed was not mana'o in most cases, but 'ike, "knowledge." Everyone would offer their mana'o, but when I asked for 'ike, all fell silent, but for the VERY few who knew what they were talking about...and had the experience to prove it. Of course some poor folks inevitably confused their mana'o as being 'ike.

Too much mana'o, not enough 'ike. Sounds like a Hawaiian proverb almost!

Archaeologists, living history folks and re-enactors are always researching lost knowledge. Stuff you can't even imagine that was once commonplace, but that now we don't even suspect existed. The Hawaiian renaissance of the 1970s and 1980s revived much of a culture which was almost gone. The Hawaiians showed the rest of us what was possible: traditional navigation, canoe construction, healing, agriculture, fish pond restoration, language revival, and more. 'Ike kahiko -- the knowledge of old.

Some people say, big deal, things change. Get over it. What if you didn't have the money for a dentist and you had a toothache? Lots of people have lost their jobs this last year. No money for such things. Teeth rot and fall out-- and the pain and suffering is horrible. What is worse, rotten teeth affects the rest of your health, and can even kill some folks with existing heart conditions or other ailments. What if not only could you not afford a dentist-- there weren't any more dentists, period? Would you know what plants to apply for pain and swelling? How to properly pull an infected tooth? How to care for the bleeding gum afterward to ward of infection and provide for proper healing? Neither would I.

Our culture is soaked by hubris today. The idea that we know it all, and our knowledge and civilization will continue forever.

The Romans thought the same thing, and we still had a thousand years to get through the Dark Ages before we began to recover much of their knowledge. The Library of Alexandria was burned to the ground. People could not read the Egyptian hieroglyphs until the last century and only within the last decades are people really beginning to understand the Mayan glyphs. There is so much knowledge lost-- we don't even know about all the things archaeologists find in medieval contexts. So much of our own society's knowledge is based on digital media (and we can't even read some of that from the Apollo space program!) or pulp paper that rots very quickly (unlike vellum, parchment, clay tablets, etc.).

We cannot sustain hubris. Knowledge of the most common things is lost all the time. Including the most taken-for-granted knowledge of today.

That's because societies and empires collapse-- without exception. Including our own. The Native Americans are often quoted as saying, "Only the Earth and Sky last forever." And the geologists and cosmologists dispute that as well!

What knowledge, skill, art, would YOU conserve? One place to begin thinking about such things is the Cultural Conservers group, and there are others who smell the winds of change and who are beginning to prepare in their own ways, so that all will not be lost.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Extinction Ethics

"For those who do not resort to a vicarious extension to their own existence, near-term extinction is not different from ultimate extinction. Such persons can base their actions on rational anticipation rather than on expectations. In the absence of both elation and dejection there is true hopelessness which has nothing to do with thwarted expectations. It includes kindness and compassion to all, which in its perfection includes no others, since then there are no “others”. Some may manifest such characteristics even in a Mad Max scenario. Let’s hope that each of us is one of them."

Friday, June 27, 2014

Chiwere (Otoe and Missouria) Worldview

North of the Big Nemaha was the territory of the Otoe tribe, sister-brother tribe of the Ioway and the Missouria (who were across the Missouri River, in Missouri). All spoke Chiwere and had the same basic worldview.

“Fundamental to the Otoe and Missouri world view was Wakanda (wakhánda ‘sacred power’), which permeated all nature and was manifested through dreams, visions, and supernatural encounters. This power was symbolized by the circle with its center and the four directions. East was associated with birth, sunrise, the east wind, and the source of life for people, plants, and animals. South was associated with adolescence, summer, and the south wind. After death the body was laid with the head to the north, enabling the individual to see both the sunrise and sunset. South was also linked to the seven stars of the Pleiades, which represented each of the seven clan chiefs. West was associated with middle age, autumn, danger, storms, the west wind, and the spirit world of the dead. North had associations with old age, winter, good, pleasure, cold, and the snow and moisture brought by the north wind. Associated with the center of the circle was the cottonwood tree and water. The sacred circle in the four directions were expressed in the culture through a grouping of the seasons into spring-summer and fall-winter and the association of each division with different clans. The significance of the number four was expressed in other ways such as in “the four stages of life,” the four subdivisions of each clan, performing tasks four times, and praying to the four directions.” –Marjorie Schweitzer, “Otoe and Missouria,” p. 450, Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 13: Plains, Part I, Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 2001.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Speculation and Science

Human beings are human beings. Always have been, always will be, both the good and the bad. There were always believers and doubters, mystics and pragmatists, heroes and murderers. Sometimes the same person is both.

This also goes for ancient human beings of whatever ethnicity or race. There is always a mythology of a golden age, in every culture I know of. Even us Indians can get our past wrong. But we can get it right too. We are neither savages nor romantic ideals. We are human beings, with all the baggage. Indians could use every part of the buffalo, or they could run dozens off a buffalo jump and let some go to waste. Human beings have codes but we don't always follow them, thus the old legends  about people and betrayal and on and on. Ethnographic analogy has its limits too though. The past is a foreign country and all that.

IF one wishes to do science, then there is a methodology which must be followed or it is not science. Not that science is the ONLY way to understand our world, but it has a pretty dang good track record compared to many others, at least in terms of the MATERIAL world. Hypothesis and null hypothesis, testing, rejection of the incorrect hypothesis or further testing, etc.

Nothing wrong with speculation, as the FIRST step to a search for the truth, but it cannot end there if one really wants to find the truth. The point being is that interpretation of evidence has its limits too. There is nothing wrong with speculation, but speculation cannot equate to fact.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bioregional Animism on the Nemaha

In my old blog, I often talked about a spiritual path that was not religious (or could be combined with your OWN religion): Bioregional Animism. This path was really about learning about the natural spiritual ecosystem where YOU actually live, and how to work with it instead of against it. You don't have to give up your religion, but you may need to work through some things to your own satisfaction. It may be any religion, because bioregional animism isn't a religion, it's a way of seeing the world. You don't need to have any religion at all. It's just a matter of recognizing the world and everything in it is alive, and if you really get it, your actions will follow that recognition.

bio (life) + region = every region has its own distinct qualities of the environment, the land, what plants and animals live there...

There are numerous bioregions throughout the U.S. (and the world of course), such as the Rocky Mountains or the Plains, and these are broken down into smaller areas of various scales, focusing on the geology, soils, climate, natural forces, habitats, plants and animals of the areas. And animism is simply recognizing that everything is alive, has agency and presence, is a Being to be interacted with, not just human beings or even animals, but also plants, stones, mountains, rivers, springs, winds, storms, and so on. They have their own ways, and we are all related. There are consequences to one's actions in interacting with nature.

What I like is that it can bridge both spirit and science, and it doesn't depend on some human "authority" telling you what to believe or not believe. No putting up with someone trying to get power over you or your money or playing social games. It's up to you. It is a creative unfolding of connecting with nature and your fellow beings (human and other) through your own life experience as lived by you in a particular PLACE. You, in your own time and place. It is compatible with science and rationalism, of you do the soul searching. It is compatible with religion, if you do the soul searching.

It has the potential to change the world, because such change has to begin with each person.

The first thing you do, if you are interested in bioregional animism, is to learn what bioregion you live in. Just Google "bioregion" and then do the research. It's really pretty easy. The EPA is another place to start. You have to start with the real world, nature as it really is. If something is true, it will not be contradictory with truth, by definition. Truth abides with truth.

So I'll give you another example (I gave my first example, when I lived in Montana, in my old blog here) of how this is done.

The Iowa Reservation, where I live, straddles the border of Kansas and Nebraska and abuts the Missouri River. The following ecological information is compiled from Ecoregions of Kansas and Nebraska:

Portion relating to reservation.

The larger Ecoregion the reservation is located within is (47) the Western Corn Belt Plains. The larger lighter colored area (47i) is the Loess and Glacial Drift hills ecoregion. The darker brown area (Falls City is located in it) is the Nebraska/Loess Hills area (47h).The area along the Missouri is the Missouri Alluvial Plain (47d).

"Once covered with tallgrass praire, over 90 percent of the Western Corn Belt Plains ecoregion is now used for cropland agriculture and much of the remainder is in forage for livestock. A combination of nearly level to gently rolling glaciated till plains and hilly loess plains, ample precipitation mainly in the growing season; and fertile, warm, moist soils make this one of the most productive areas of corn and soybeans in the world. Agricultural practices have contributed to environmental  concerns, including surface and ground water contamination from soil erosion, fertilizer and pesticide applications, as well as livestock concentrations."

The northern boundary of the reservation is the Big Nemaha River (historically also called the Great Nemaha River). It feeds into the Missouri River, which forms the northeast and eastern boundary of the Iowa reservation.

47d The Missouri Alluvial Plain ecoregion is part of the large, wide, alluvial valley also found in neighboring Iowa and Missouri. The generally level alluvial plain is distinct from the more irregular topography of adjacent regions 47h and 47k (ne Nebraska loess hills). Soils are deep, silty, clayey, and sandy alluvium. They support extensive cropland, some of it irrigated. Historically the river was meandering, free flowing, and spread across the floodplain. Dams, levees, and stream channelization have profoundly altered the structure and characteristics of the river valley.
Physiography: Glaciated. Level floodplain alluvium. Riparian wetlands largely drained.
Elevation: 800-1200; Local relief: 2-50’.
Geology: Surficial Material and Bedrock: Alluvial deposits over Cretaceous sandstone and shale (Carlile shale through Dakota sandstone) in the north, and Pennsylvanianshale, sandstone, and limestone to the south.
Soil Order (Great Group): Entisols (Fluvaquents, Udifluvents, Udipsamments). Common Soil Series: Albaton, Haynie, Sarpy, Onawa.
Climate: Temperature/Moisture Regimes: Mesic/Aquic. Precipitation, Mean annual (inches): 23-35. Frost Free, mean annual (days): 135-180. Mean temperature: January min. 15/ max. 35, July min. 66/ max. 91.
Potential natural vegetation: Northern floodplain forest: cottonwood, green ash, boxelder, and elm, with lowland tallgrass prairie: big bluestem, prairie cordgrass, switchgrass, and sedges.
Land Use and Land Cover (current): Intensively farmed for corn and soybeans. Transportation corridor with most areas drained by surface ditches, land grading, or protected by dams or levees.

47h The greater relief and deep loess hills of the Nebraska/Kansas Loess Hills are markedly different from the flat alluvial valley of neighboring 47d. Dissected hills with deep, silty, well drained soils supported a potential natural vegetation of tallgrass prairie with scattered oal hickory foress along stream valleys. Cropland agriculture is now common and ample precipitation in the growing season supports dryland agriculture, with only a few areas requiring irrigation.
Physiography: Glaciated. Deep, rolling loess-covered hills. Perennial streams.
Elevation: 1000-1500; local relief 100-300’.
Geology: Loess mantle with underlying calcareous glacial till on Pennsylvanian shale, sandstone and limestone.
Soils: Order (Great Group): Mollisols (Argiudolls, Argiabolls, Hapludolls), Entisols (Udorthents); Common Soil Series: Fillmore, Marshall, Ponca, Monona, Ida, Askarben; Temperature/Moisture Regimes: Mesic/Aquic
Climate: Precipitation in mean annual inches: 26-34; Frost Free in mean annual days: 150-190; Mean temperature: January min 16/max 38, July 66/92.
Potential vegetation: Tallgrass prairie: big bluestem, Indiangrass, switchgrass, and little bluestem. Scattered oak-hickory forests and some floodplain woodlands along rivers and streams: bur oak, basswood, black walnut, green ash, plains cottonwood, willows.
Current vegetation: Principally in cropland except in the steep slopes, which are in trees and pasture. Corn, beans, soybeans, small grains, alfalfa are typical crops.

47i “Low, rolling loess-covered hills with areas of exposed glacial till are characteristic of the Loess and Glacial Drift Hills. Loess deposits are generally thinner than those in 47h, and historically there was less oak-hickory forest and more extensive tallgrass prairie than found in 47h. The flatter loess hills have a silty, clay loam soil that supports cropland, while rangeland is somewhat more extensive on the deep clay loams formed in glacial till soils.”
Physiography: Glaciated. Rolling low hills. Perennial streams.
Elevation: 1000-1600; local relief 100-300.
Geology: Loess and clay loam calcareous glacial till. Loess is variable. Generally loess depth decreases with distance from source rivers. Pennsylvanian shale, sandstone, and limestone and Permian shale and limestone.
Soils: Order (Great Group): Mollisols (Argiudolls), Entisols (Udorthents); Common Soil Series: Wymore, Pawnee, Burchard, Askarben, Steinauer, Morrel; Temperature/Moisture Regimes: Mesic/Udic
Climate: Precipitation in mean annual inches: 27-35; Frost Free in mean annual days: 150-190; Mean temperature: January min 14/max 34, July 66/92.
Potential vegetation: Tallgrass prairie with cottonwood-dominated forests along floodplains and oak-hickory forests on bluffs.
Current vegetation: Predominately cropland on the flatter loess hils with main crops of wheat and corn, and some areas in grain sorghum, soybeans, and alfalfa. Pasture land is more extensive on till soils.

So after you figure out the facts of your own bioregion, you will have a framework of how nature works where you are, and what you will find out there, on the land, and what might find you.

The next thing to do is to look up all the unfamiliar terms, and learn what they mean. Even if you are somewhat familiar, you might need to refresh your memory so you really understand them! So far one might have these, for example:

loess: wind-blown silt that can build hills

glacial drift: materials left behind by glaciers; there are different kinds of drift, such as unsorted drift (till) and sorted/stratified drift

glacial till: the kind of glacial drift that has unsorted/unstratified sediments of varying sizes and types

various soils and soil types: mollisol, argiudolls, udorthents, etc.

calcareous: appearing to be a chalky or limey substance, which is made of calcium carbonate

alluvial/alluvium - sediments eroded and then redeposited by freshwater like streams or rivers (not rain erosion/deposition which is colluvial/colluvium)

This is all to give you a framework to begin with. Next, you look for the major plant-animal community types or associations within the ecoregions…

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Red Plastic Cup


THE RED PLASTIC CUP, by Lance Foster. April 17, 2014

On this trip, I found part of an old journal in the small trunk I had traded for, at a remote Kwaaboi village on the Seri River, out on the open plains. There were some odds and ends in it, mostly some rags and an ancient plastic cup. That cup and part of a book were the only things of value. I am always on the lookout for books for the Boss’s collections.

The plastic cup had been finely wrought by the People of Old. It was brilliant red, with a smiling face on it, likely a god of good fortune, with one ear used as a handle. I am sure the Boss will reward me highly for this valuable find.

Unfortunately, a big section had been torn out from the book, whether for tinder or the written content, I cannot say for sure, as many books have suffered such indignity. I suspect it was for the content, as the writer appears to have been a monk who had been sent out as part of a teaching mission, so there must have been valuable medical or agricultural information in the book, that had been traded away earlier.

The good thing was that there were also still a number of blank sheets of monastery-quality paper. And the leather cover was of good construction and in fair condition. However it is what the monk wrote on the remnant sheets that I want to share. Seeing into the heart of a stranger one has never met, that is one of the magical things I experience in this line of work. There’s not much left, just a few entries.

+ + + +

September 23, 2271.

It has been a week since we arrived, after a month of travel from our monastery in the mountains far to the west, and only now do I have a chance to write. Our party of five monks, three men (Brothers James, John, and myself, Robert) and two women (Sisters Edith and Lorena), have been sent by the monastery to teach the village in this region about the new corn. We developed this corn at the monastery especially for this arid region, to get them to stop trying to grow the old tall corn that they know, which fails regularly in these drought conditions. We will teach them grow the new bush corn our mission has developed over the last fifty years, as well as the techniques needed for it to succeed. We were much delayed by spring floods and the summer wars, so it is too late for planting this year of course. We will plant next spring, after preparing the fields this fall and winter.

Perhaps decreased famine and competition for mountain pastures will help suppress the violent warfare sweeping this region between Taanen and Kwaaboi. This is the third mission I have been on in my life, and the first one from our monastery to the warlike Kwaaboi. My second had been to the forested lands further west, which had ended in disaster, and the first one, when I was still very young, on the far away coast, where I was born and where I entered the Order. The only thing I still have from my childhood is a little red plastic cup with a happy face on it, and one ear that you use to hold it. My Happy Man is my greatest treasure. It seems I have been making my way slowly eastward ever since my birth. Perhaps, before I die, I may yet see the land where the sun rises. That is my most fervent hope. But as God wills, of course.

The Kwaaboi people here in this village are in a sad state due to the famine, but they do not appear to know of their degraded conditions, and seem fairly content. Everywhere there is mud, manure, and straw. Infections of eye and skin and ear are endemic, as are toothaches and the coughs from living in their smoky hovels. Of course parasites, both internal and external, as well. Their stunted corn and the animals they catch provide most of their food, which isn’t much. They are a very lean and restless people.

We brought a bag of apples from our home orchard to serve as special gifts, but they immediately took the whole bag. They shared the apples very fairly amongst themselves. This famine is what spurs their desperate wars with the mountain people. The warrior class takes the best horses. Our horses were immediately taken as well, and we were given two burros in exchange. They said they needed them, as if that was enough explanation. Noncombatant Kwaaboi must use burros, cattle, or horses so broken and ill, that it would be kinder to destroy them. But they are prevented by superstition to kill such miserable animals, for they say, “Kill a horse, and you kill your luck.” So basically horses are used until they drop. And then they are eaten.

+ + + +

October 15, 2271

An armed caravan of traders came through with some bottles of vodka and some news. The vodka is made in one of the prosperous hill villages. The village is said to have a secret valley where they grow diverse kinds of potatoes, and with materials from the ancient mines, were able to construct a distillery. This caravan comes through twice a year, and their goods are valued so highly, the traders are given free passage and protection by both Taanen and Kwaaboi, who don’t want to ruin a good thing. The highly skilled caravan warriors who ride with them, tend to scare off the occasional lone outlaws and small rogue bands.

Yesterday Brothers James and Joshua, and Sister Edith, decided to join the trading caravan to head up into the mountains to trade with the people there called the Taanen. Our kind hosts gave them heavy coats with fine Kwaaboi designs, to keep them warm in the high mountains, as we only had our light woolen robes. It is risky and I do not have a good feeling about it, for the Mountain people are inveterate enemies with the Kwaaboi of the plains, and we will likely be considered Kwaaboi allies. But we cannot turn down a chance to make contact with the fearsome Taanen, and will trust in God. We prayed for each other.  They will be back in a month, if God allows it.

I will stay here with Sister Lorena. She is most thoroughly trained in medicines and the children are in bad shape. I will continue to work teaching about our agricultural methods and the new corn. We have noted how a few of the men look at Sister Lorena (Sister Edith is old like James and I) and I worry sometimes. We tell the people we monks are family members, to fit into their conceptions of clan and family alliances, but I don’t think they believe us. For one thing, it is not normal here for a healthy young woman to be unclaimed by a man, and at fifty years old I am a little old to be considered either her husband or brother. And none of us sleep together, which confuses them.

+ + + +

December 3, 2271

Still no news from Brothers James and John and Sister Edith, or about the caravan. It has been over a month now and I am getting worried.

Sister Lorena has become a favorite of the people, due to her youth and charm, and her skills with medicine, and the children adore her. The adults, both men and women, pester her though, because it has become apparent we monks are celibate and do not have relations with each other, sleeping apart. This, they cannot understand, living almost only by passion and practicality. Rutting, warring, and drinking seem to be the main motivation of all of them, although they have rudimentary ideas of God and the spiritual life. Today for example, their elderly shyster “doctor” (really just a sort of herbalist and conjurer) came with his two hulking sons on their horses to make a formal marriage proposal for Lorena to me as the male of her family.

He said, “Why does this woman still not have a husband? Pick one of us. I am a man of knowledge and though old, am still capable of fathering children. My two sons here are young and strong, and in need of more wives as well. She must have a husband. Pick one of us, and let us make the arrangements. It is not natural for such a woman to be alone and childless.”

Lorena suddenly grabbed me, and said, “Robert is my husband.”

The doctor looked at her suspiciously. “Yet you do not sleep with him. I think you are lying.”

She looked at me, and then pulled my head to hers, kissing me fully on the lips. The doctor widened his eyes but waited to see what my reaction would be. One son drew in his breath. Such behavior in front of others is not a matter for those outside the family to see.

So I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her back deeply. Soon I forgot the doctor and his sons, knowing only Lorena, as we embraced, and I lost my ability to think about our visitors as we kissed. There was only Lorena. It was so ...beyond description. It was only the second time I had kissed a woman on the mouth in my lifetime. When we finally broke our embrace, the doctor and his sons were gone. She pushed me from her and walked away.

What does this mean? I cannot dare to think of it, so I will go meditate. Preferably in the cold, cold Seri River at the edge of the village!

+ + + +

October 19, 2271

So my hopes, the ridiculous hopes of a foolish aging man, have been dashed. Lorena has been polite but distant, and she avoids me when she can. Okay, fine. Message received. It’s funny how even a monk trained in self-awareness can still be so easily deceived by his own desires. I thought I was better than this.

^^^^^[A large section of the book is torn out here]^^^^^^

June 5, 2272

The corn is sprouting and things are well enough.

It took us some time to recover from the shock of learning of the deaths of our Brothers James and John, and our Sister Edith last fall. The caravan leaders were sympathetic and explained what had happened. Encountering a large warparty of several hundred Taanen on their way to the trading place, the Taanen had recognized the winter coats of the monks and marked them as Kwaaboi. So the caravan had to give them up or be wiped out, but suffering death as martyrs, they now rest in Heaven with God. In any case, both life and work must go on.

Though rough-mannered and violent, these Kwaaboi are a people of law and custom. Their laws are strict and breaking their laws can result only in one of three sentences: payment to the offended, death, or banishment, which is in effect, just a delayed death sentence, because those who are alone out on there plains will surely die, by beast, by enemy, or by the elements. They are guided in their everyday lives by innumerable proverbs. A few I hear often:

“Prevent your neighbor from eating poison, for it is you who will be kept aawake all night by his screams of pain.”

“When an unmarried woman’s leg is made moist by a man, she by law becomes his wife.”

“Never turn your back on the mountains.”

“A man’s children is the proof that God smiles.”

“An enemy left to live is an enemy left alive to kill you later.”

“God smiles but His laughter is vicious.”

+ + + +

July 18, 2272

The corn is growing well, and it should only be a few more weeks until we can harvest some. I have taught the people and they have been worthy pupils. However there have been some developments that trouble me.

Several of the men come with food for Lorena to cook and are now eating at our campsite regularly, enjoying Lorena’s cooking and her company. It is wife-stealing season. We maintain the appearance of husband and wife, even sleeping by each other when it is cold. But we do not have intimate relations and lay within our separate blankets. There is no privacy here, and I wake sometimes, to see different people peering in our window. They know, I have no doubt.

Today, one of the men eating with us, Cheff, paused and looked at me. “We know you are not her husband. You do not copulate, it is known. Life must continue, new babies must come to replace the many who die. She must choose a husband or we will choose from amongst ourselves. This is the will of God. Do not delay further.” Then he continued to eat.

After they left, I tried to talk to Lorena, to tell her we can just leave now, steal a horse and go west. We might not make it but we could try. She said we both know this would be no good, as they would just follow us and capture us within a day at most. And as a horse thief, I would be killed and as a foreigner and the wife of a thief, she would be enslaved. I tell her we could fight, but she just said to me, sadly and without scorn, which hurt all the more, “You are no warrior, Robert.”

Then I said carefully, so as to seem casual, “We could really become man and wife. We can have intimate relations, and then they will see and leave us alone.” Oh truly, it was the Evil One stirring in me at that moment. I had visions of our life together, of children, of happiness.

But Lorena just said, “No, Robert. Don’t be foolish. Don’t betray your vows. I won’t be the reason for your betrayal. I will do what I have to do, when I have to do it. But I won’t harm your relationship with God.”

I had no words, no way to make her understand that I did love her, and that I didn’t care. She just turned away. So I left to work in the fields. When I don’t know what else to do, work is the salve that comforts me. I worked until I couldn’t work, and I fell asleep in the fields all night.

+ + + +

July 19, 2272

I came back from the fields today and something terrible happened. As I came to our lodge, I could hear a panicked tone in Lorena’s voice. “Robert? Is that you?”

I saw three men there, the doctor and his two sons. The seedy old “doctor” was leaning over her, as she cradled one of the children she had been treating for earache. The old man held a roughly made cigar of herbs, and was blowing smoke into the child’s ear. But he had a cunning look in his eye, and was focused on her thigh. Too late, I saw it, the thin thread of saliva coming from his mouth and landing on her bare thigh.

He looked up at me in triumph. He chuckled, and said, “As our custom says, ‘When an unmarried woman’s leg is made moist by a man, she by law becomes his wife.’” We all can see the shine on her thigh. He laughed. I moved to push him away, but his two sons advanced, holding their iron swords to my throat. I could do nothing.

I avoided her look. I just stood there helplessly as the sons wrapped her in a blanket, and put her on one of the horses. The old doctor was just cackling away. Lorena was silent and emotionless, sitting there and looking at me, before she turned her back and they rode away.

Trembling with rage, I went to work in the fields. The birds were eating the corn and I screamed at them, running wildly, waving my arms. The people stared at me and some of the children cried for Lorena. I returned to the hut, and grabbed a blazing firebrand. I ran to set fire to the cornfields because I wanted these bastards to starve.

But I couldn’t even do that, because the only good thing left of me is this corn. And so I couldn’t do it.

+ + + +

Early January, 2273

The good news is I have found a new life as a dedicated drunk. I sit much of the day and night with four or five other old men, and we just drink. Sometimes we laugh and sometimes we fight.

That monastery with its ideals of peace and love may have messed up my head in some ways (“God smiles but His laughter is vicious” is my new favorite Kwaaboi proverb…poor Lorena), but I learned some good things there too, especially how to ferment! We brewed dozens of jars of corn beer in some of the earthenware jugs I showed them how to make. Now I just drink the corn beer, and then drink even more corn beer until I sleep. I don’t really keep track of dates anymore, but I figure it is sometime early in the New Year, 2273.

Sometimes we also make a mixture out of corn beer and juniper berries, and drink it. I don’t have proper equipment to distill. I wait when the nights are cold enough that the beer freezes and then we strain out the solids in the middle of the night, before it freezes too much. The stuff that is left we call “ice beer” and it has more of a kick, maybe not much, but more. This is the best we all agree. The rest of the slop we feed to the animals.  

I save my Happy Man plastic cup just for this special “ice beer” and we pass it around by his ear until morning, until we are happy and laughing. Occasionally a fight breaks out, but mostly we just visit over the oil lamps until late in the night, and sleep dreamlessly. It’s winter after all, and besides keeping warm and doing minor repairs, there isn’t much to do. Not for old drunk men who have no families.

+ + + +

Early Spring, 2273

I am drinking way too much. It is making me sick, but I don’t care. I just want it all to be over with. This dying is taking way too long. The men are disgusted, saying any fool can drink himself to death, but some of their wives try to get me to eat. I am sick and tired of living in manure and straw.

I wonder if Lorena is still alive. She must be pregnant by now, or might even have a kid. Probably does. I hope she’s ok. Oh, on second thought, I know Lorena, she’s tough. She’s ok. She'll deal. Especially if she has a little one to care for.

+ + + +

Late Spring, 2273

I was thinking about Lorena again, and decided to write something down that I remembered something from my first mission on the coast. I think I was still in my teens. It was really not that significant but it got me to thinking today. I don’t know why. I was visiting with Manuche the fisherman, who had brought one of his catch to me to identify. I remember the conversation going something like this:

“Brother Robert, what is this fish called?”

I examined it. It was more like a lobster or insect with many segments and tentacles. The Poison had done some weird things to the sealife that remained, but people had no choice other than to eat what they caught. So I looked it up in my handbook. It mostly looked like a cuttlefish. That was my best guess anyways. I read the entry for cuttlefish quickly and said, “There is a flat bone in it, that you can dry out and sell to people who keep birds. They tie it to the cage and the bird eats it for calcium.

Manuche said, “People keep birds? Why not just eat them?”

I said, “They keep them as pets, for company, and because they are beautiful to look at. They have wonderful songs sometimes.”

Manuche said, “Why, they may keep them in cages, but only so they can eat them later.” He spat and scoffed. His wife looked up from her bubbling pot.

I really hope Lorena had kids. I really do. That would have been her best chance all the way around.

There’s famine in the land again, and I don’t have much corn beer left. Only one small covered pot I hid out in the fields. Enough for maybe one more good drunk is all. I’m really not feeling well, so maybe I’ll tie one on tonight, and drink to Lorena, wherever she is.

+ + + +

Summer, 2273

I had been having a toothache developing for some weeks now, first as a general soreness in my right upper maxilla. Several of the people here are nursing toothaches, waiting for the traveling dentist to make his way along his route in the region. He is very secretive about his skills. People do the best they can, just suffering in silence or joking about it.

Sometimes they die waiting. Sometimes in great pain they try to pull or knock the tooth out, and usually they die anyways. But most just wait, hoping it will just go away or the dentist will appear or for some kind of a miracle. If Lorena was here, I would be okay, as she was a good dentist, but she’s not. I haven’t heard anything more about her, or even about the doctor and his sons. They all just seem to have disappeared after they took her away.

I’m not the only one with a toothache. Last night, several of us sat around the fire, talking about our toothaches. I held my red plastic cup, because the Happy Man smiling, cheered me up considerably.

Swiid said, “It is a curse from God, sent to punish us for our wickedness. To break us down, our minds, our bodies, to increase suffering.”

Cheke said, “No, it is a blessing, to help us learn to cope with pain and suffering. It refines our character, our spirit. We have a chance to become saints through our suffering, because as God wants more saints, God increases the suffering.”

Pol said, “It is just what happens. And then we die. God smiles but His laughter is vicious. What do you think, Robert?”

I said, “I don’t know, but listening to you fellows, I think you are all right.” They looked at me.

I said, “Is it not true that suffering is just part of being alive? That sooner or later one must suffer, somehow? It is like dying. It goes with being alive. You cannot escape it. But I think it is up to each person, how they use that suffering. If they allow it to just break them down, or if they use it to refine their spirit. In the end, death comes anyways. I would hope to die with a stronger spirit than with a broken mind, for who knows what we will need to endure after we die?”

I traced the smile of the Happy Man on the red Plastic Cup, and then with the same finger, I traced and then placed the same smile on my own face.

+ + + +

That was the last entry in the journal. When I finished reading it, I took that plastic cup and looked at it. And then I copied what that monk Robert wrote that he did. I traced the smile on the red plastic cup, and then traced and placed that smile on my own face. Truly, my Boss will be pleased.