Ah, pelaawi (summertime). It’s a wonderful season and, no two ways around it, it’s my favorite. I mean, I enjoy fall and spring, but man, it seems that the older I get, the more I dislike papoonwi (winter). Yep, and I think it’s because, as I age, everything moves faster except this season. Days fly by, months and years zoom away, but winter… is the only thing that actually seems to slow down… and take longer every year. This irony of fast and slow and its parallel of quiet and noisy made me ponder on a recent trip. I was once more instilled with the serenity that only the wonderfully natural contradictions employ… when supplied solely… by the Master of Life.
Recently, my domestic boss and I traveled to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a little author appearance and book signing tour. As usual, the U.P. of Michigan is majestic in her shkipakya (green) summer splendor. The vibrant hues run the gamut of emerald, olive, and jade, off-set by the stark white of wiigwaas-ag (paper birch) and interspersed by the serene cerulean of mskekwis (lakes). The trip was two-fold in that I was also gathering research for the fifth Ely Stone novel, to be primarily set on Beaver Island. We spent several days in Sault Ste. Marie – “The Soo” – where I signed copies of my books at the Kewadin Tribal Casino and did a visiting author appearance at the Bayliss Community Library downtown. Then we ventured around the bottom of Lake Superior’s Whitefish Bay and up the shore for another visiting author appearance at the Whitefish Township Community Library. It’s nestled in the bustling little metropolis of Paradise, Michigan, not far from the “Rez” along the Yellow Dog River where the character in my Ely Stone novels resides.
As usual, we had a great time, and with everywhere we ventured, we met wonderful two-leggeds. While in the Paradise neck of the woods, the domestic boss and I visited Tahquamenon Falls State Park again. It had been awhile since we’d been there last. This is the land of Longfellow’s Hiawatha – “ by the rushing Tahquamenaw, Hiawatha built his canoe”, eh. Yep, long before the shemanese (white men) found this thiipii (river), the abundance of fish in its waters and animals along its shores made it home to the Ojibwa. They lived, farmed, fished and trapped along its banks for centuries before the newcomers’ arrival. The water of this river has the rich red-brown of sassafras tea, and two sets of falls sporting the sudsy foam akin to a root beer float. The deep amber color of the water is caused by tannins leached from the cedar, spruce and hemlock that drain into the stream from all around it. The super soft water churned up by the action of the cascading falls creates the ample creamy foam. And, within the dense, silent timber and amid the thunderous rumbling of the falls, the solitude… is magnificent. Um-hmm, and this is no oxymoron, either – it’s the work of The Great Mystery. It was while there that I slipped into pondering about kids and summertime.
The last time we camped here, it was decades ago, and our kids were all little. Overnight, it rained hard, flooding many areas of the park, and the nylon floor of our big family tent turned into a virtual water bed for the young’uns. Oh, they had a blast on this ‘Slip & Slide’, but it was a mess for the adult two-leggeds, eh. After we wrung out the kids, my wife toted them off to the bathrooms for further drying. As I packed up the camp, I enjoyed the quiet of the damp woods infused with the noisy rumbling of the falls. I remember thinking of how the two things – so opposite – coalesced into such a calming and harmonic serenity. As I fondly recalled this memory, I thought, also, of our little ones and how they, too, were both quiet and loud. I marveled at how, in being so, they were also their own form of calm serenity for me – as the Great Good Spirit designed. This made me recall other miss-matched things that combine to create harmony.
Like the woods and waters, American Indian village life could be both quiet and noisy at the same time, and still tranquil. I thought of children’s games of old – traditional Indian style – that were every bit opposite and still every bit serene. I mean, heck, there’s Butterfly Hide & Seek and the Moccasin Game. Within my culture, little ones are taught never to hurt a butterfly. To Traditional American Indians, it is considered a gift of good luck if you stay so quiet that a butterfly would trust and land upon you. Butterfly Hide & Seek is a quiet game, primarily played by little girls. One girl covers her eyes and softly sings the song: “Butterfly, butterfly, show me where to go” while all the other little girls quickly and quietly hide. When the song is finished, the singer has to find them without saying another word. It’s a hushed game of luck and skill. If the seeker has the luck of the butterfly, and is observant, she can tell where girls are hiding by marks they left as they moved around.
In contrast, the Moccasin Game is a noisy pastime. Because of this, you had to get permission from the village elders to play it in the olden days. That’s because village tranquility was not to be disrupted on a whim. Moccasins is a game played by both boys and girls. You need four moccasins, a pebble, and a drummer. The players are divided into two sides – the finders and the keepers – and each side has to have a designated singer, too. One player of each team is the singer and their job is to encourage his or her own team, while jeering at the other team. One player is the keeper and their job is to hide the pebble in one of the moccasins.
The drummer begins the beat, and in an Indian variation of the old carnival ‘shell game’ the keeper moves their hands rapidly over the moccasins, continuously, even after the pebble’s been dropped, to fool the other team. When the drum stops, they stop. The first finder has to turn each moccasin over until they find the pebble. If you find it the first time, you get four points, and so with three, two and finally one, when the last moccasin is turned up and the pebble is garnered. The next person was then up, and rounds were played over and over.
A game of Moccasins could go on for hours. It was a very noisy game, deeply enjoyed by the players, ever bit as much as the peaceful pastime of Butterfly Hide & Seek. Uh-huh, and it was this irony of quiet and noise which causes serenity that made me ponder on this recent trip. It works the same for the wilderness as it does with the little ones. Yep, and that’s why I was once more instilled with the serenity that only the wonderfully natural contradictions employ… when supplied solely… by the Master of Life.