Thursday, August 23, 2007

Get Your Ark Together

Not long ago, I received a telephone call from a man who said he had an arts and crafts business in the east and wanted to learn more about the Twin Rocks trading post. The gentleman asked about Twin Rocks; what we do, who we are and what was our connection to the local Native American tribes. As we talked, I realized his questions were related to an interest in preserving Native American culture. He said his name was Leon, that he was from the Micmac and Penacook tribes, and that he had become seriously concerned that the history of his people, and of Native America in general, was all too quickly being lost.

Alicia Nelson Basket
Navajo Basket Weaver Alicia Nelson

Over the years, many legends had come to him, and he accumulated them for transmission to the members of his tribe and any other interested party. Leon counseled me that we must collect the thoughts of our grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers and sisters, nephews, nieces and children, whether or not they are Native American. He told me that of all the stories he had heard, there was one in particular that was most meaningful to him. The story was about a young man and his journey on the road home.

The legend tells of a group of Native people who lived in an expansive wood. One by one, the people passed on, until only the youngest was left. One evening the youth fell asleep and dreamed of traveling a road populated by his relatives. As the boy greeted each one in turn, the elders related their personal stories.

Eventually, the young man came to a rainbow with a longhouse on the opposite side. In the longhouse were people of all nations speaking openly about their traditions and living in harmony. Beyond the greathouse stood the Creator, with his arms open; welcoming the young man home and telling the boy that he had learned much and been given a great gift.

As the story unfolded, I began to think of the youth as an ark in which the stories of his people were being invested; a vessel to carry the traditions across the waters of time to succeeding generations. I could hear my grandfather Woody Simpson singing his Biblical chronology, “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, I saw the apple they was eatin’. I’m the man who swore, cause I’m the one who ate the core. Then came Noah stumblin’ in the dark, tryin’ to find a hammer just to build himself an ark. Then came the animals two by two, the hippopotamus, the kick kangaroo, then came the lion, then came the bar, then came the elephant without any har.” I could see Woody bouncing my brothers and sisters on his knee as his tune spilled out into the living room of the small white house in great clumps of irregular harmony.

I distinctly remembered Woody sitting next to me in Blue Mountain Trading Post, on an old blue sofa purchased at the flea market in Phoenix, telling me of his experiences as a Marine in the Pacific Theater during World War II. I have since discovered that some of his stories were fiction, but I still love having them. Although I remember him well, I have virtually no stories from my Grandfather Correia; a quiet, gentle man who worked hard and said little.

As these memories eddied through my mind, I suddenly realized the young man of Leon’s story had died, and with him the stories of his tribe; the ark had sunk, and the legends of his people had been lost. My grandfathers had both died many years ago, and with them the stories of their families. There is much I would now like to know about these two men and their lives, but it is too late, that boat sailed without me.

Leon cautioned me that we must preserve the old stories, and practice the old ways when we can. He said that most of us are not sharing the legends the way our forebears intended. At 56 years of age, he had made a commitment to spread the word, so he can stop the hemorrhage and keep this body of knowledge alive.

For much of Native America, and the rest of us as well, the rain has been falling for some time; the ongoing loss of culture and tradition is dramatic. Many of the narratives have either not made it onto the ark or have fallen overboard and are lost forever. We must build ourselves a solid vessel and begin filling it with the stories of our ancestors, our own stories and the stories of our children. If we don’t, the unicorn will be lost.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

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