Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Woodcraft And Wisdom, Be Aware As You Go

The Northern Great Plains, photo by World Wildlife.
XXIII: Woodcraft And Weather Wisdom
Akhíta Máni (Be Aware As You Go)

By Charles Eastman
Note: The following is an excerpt of Charles Eastman's "Indian Scout Tales." Since the life of the Indian is one of travel and exploration, not for the benefit of science, but for his own convenience and pleasure, he is accustomed to find himself in pathless regions —— now in the deep woods, now upon the vast, shimmering prairie, or again among the tangled water-ways of a mighty lake studded with hundreds, even thousands, of wooded islands.

How does he find his way so successfully in the pathless jungle without the aid of a compass you ask? Well, it is no secret. In the first place, his vision is correct; and he is not merely conscious of what he sees, but also sub-consciously he observes the presence of any and all things within the range of his senses.

If you would learn his system, you must note the relative position of all objects, and especially the location of your camp in relation to river, lake, or mountain. The Indian is a close student of the topography of the country, and every landmark—— hill, grove, or unusual tree—is noted and remembered. It is customary with the hunters and warriors to tell their stories of adventure most minutely, omitting no geo graphical and topographical details, so that the boy who has listened to such stories from babyhood can readily identify places he has never before seen.

This kind of knowledge is simple, and, like the every-day meal, it is properly digested and assimilated, and becomes a part of one’s self. It is this instant, intelligent recognition of every object within his vision in his daily roving, which fixes the primitive woodsman’s reckoning of time, distance, and direction.

Sunrise on the Great Plains, featured on Wallpaper Up

Time is measured simply by the height of the sun. Shadow is the wild man’s dial; his own shadow is best. Hunger is a good guide when the sun is behind the clouds. Again, the distance traveled is an indicator, when one travels over known distances. In other words, he keeps his soul at one with the world about him, while the over-civilized man is trained to depend upon artificial means. He winds his watch, pins his thought to a chronometer, and disconnects himself from the world-current; then starts off on the well-beaten road. If he is compelled to cut across, he calls for a guide; in other words, he borrows or buys the mind of another. Neither can he trust his memory, but must needs have a note book.

The wild man has no chronometer, no yardstick, no unit of weight, no field-glass. He is himself a natural being in touch with nature. Some things he does, he scarcely knows why; certainly he could not explain them. His calculations are swift as a flash of lightning; best of all, they come out right! This may seem incredible to one who is born an old man; but there are still some boys who hark back to their great-great grandfathers; they were not born and nursed within six walls!

The colors of tree, grass, and rock tell the points of the compass to the initiated. On the north side, the bark is of a darker color, smoother, and more solid looking; while on the southern exposure it is of a lighter hue, because of more sunshine, and rougher, because it has not been polished off by the heavy beating of snow and rain in the cold season. An Indian will pass his hand over the trunk of a tree in the dark and tell you which way is north; some will tell you the kind of tree, also.

The branches of the tree tell the same story; on the south side they grow thicker and longer, while the leaves lie more horizontal on the sunny side, and more vertical on the north. Again, the dry leaves on the ground corroborate them; on the north side of the trees the leaves are well-packed and overlay each other almost like shingles. The color and thickness of the moss on rock or tree also tells the—secret.

But I must leave some things for you to discover; and I advise you to select a rock or tree that is well exposed to the elements for a first attempt. Of course, in well-protected localities, these distinctions are not so marked, but even there are discernible to a trained eye.

If you ever lose your way in the woods, do not allow yourself to become unnerved. Never give up.” Fear drowns more people than water, and is a more dangerous enemy than the wilderness. A normal man, with some knowledge of out-of-doors, can without much effort keep in touch with his starting-point, and, however tortuously he may rove, he will pick the shortest way back. Know exactly where you are before starting, in relation to the natural landmarks, and at every halt locate yourself as nearly as possible. Measure your shadow (it varies according to the season), and scatter dry earth, leaves, or grass, to learn the direction of the wind. The water shed is another important point to bear in mind. On a clear night, look for the well known stars, such as the Great Dipper,” which lies to the north in summer, the handle pointing west. The Milky Way lies north and south. Once you locate the camp, you may be guided by these or by the wind in night travel.

Hunting bison in the dusty airy landscape.

The Indian, as an out-of-door man, early learns the necessity of a weather bureau of his own. He develops it after the fashion of another system of precaution; that is, he takes note of the danger-signals of the animals, those unconscious criers of the wilderness, both upon water and land. These have definite signals for an approaching change in the weather. For instance, the wolf tribes give the storm call” on the evening before. This call is different in tone from any other and clearly identified by us. Horses kick and stamp, and the buffalo herds low nervously. Certain water fowl display a strange agitation which they do not show under any other circum stances. Antelopes seek shallow lakes before a thunder-shower and stand in the water the Indians say because lightning does not strike in the water. Even dogs howl and make preparations to hide their young. Ducks have their signal call; but the chief weather prophet of the lakes is the loon, as the gray wolf or coyote is of the prairie.

Certain leaves and grass-blades contract or expand at the approach of storm, and even their color is affected, while the wind in the leaves has a different sound. The waves on the beach whisper of the change, and we also observe the ring around the sun, and the opacity and disk of the moon. The lone hunter may be left with only the open prairie and the dome of heaven; but he still has his grass-blades, his morning and evening skies. Sometimes the little prairie birds give him the signal; or, if not, he may fall back upon his old wounds, that begin to ache and swell with the change of atmosphere.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The High Dog Winter Count, 1798

The High Dog Winter Count on display at the North Dakota Heritage Center.
The High Dog Winter Count
History Of The Great Plains
By Dakota Wind
Bismarck, ND – The High Dog Winter Count, a pictographic history of the Huŋkphápȟa Lakȟóta people is on display at the North Dakota Heritage Center. It reaches back to the year 1798 and concludes in 1912. Šúŋka Waŋkátuya (Lit. Dog On-High), or High Dog, kept a winter count, a pictographic mnemonic device in which each year was remembered with one image and a “name.” Years, or winters, were never numbered.

When the year was named, a collective of elders, leaders, and medicine people would gather together to determine what to call the year, sometimes in the spring when the new year began, or sometimes in the fall or over the winter.

The first entry of the High Dog Winter Count.

High Dog’s winter count echoes content within other winter counts, such as Blue Thunder, No Two Horns, Swift Dog, and Jaw, among others, but it has distinct entries all its own. The first entry of High Dog’s winter count features an image of one man with a “fan” of four very blue feathers fanning or presenting the feathers to another man. Here follows the entry:

Wiyáka tȟotȟó uŋ akíčilowaŋpi (Lit. Feathers blue-blue to-use-something singing-praise-they). They sang praises using very blue feathers.

It was agreed to among the people that any one of the tribe who was seen wearing the blue feathers should be an example to others in virtue and goodness, and should be esteemed by all as a guardian of the "nation." Four men at that time were set apart with the blue feathers.

The feathers that are depicted on High Dog's entry resemble the tail feathers of the Ziŋtkátȟo Glegléğa (lit. “Bird-blue striped-very"), commonly known as the Blue Jay. In particular, this rendering resembles the beautifully blue Stellar’s Jay tail feathers. 

The Lakȟóta say that when the Ziŋtkátȟo Glegléğa returns, cold rains follow. Steller's Jay photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By an old ceremony men were set apart as “Atéyapi” (Fathers) and women as "Ináyapi" (mothers). By this ceremony these people were chosen as leaders in the tribe, and their admonitions were heeded.

Sometimes a small child was raised to this class because of a portent at his or her birth that indicated his or her superior wisdom. Grown persons were raised to this class on account of some distinguished service to the tribe, as well as for manifest wisdom and foresight in affairs. Those raised to this class while they were babes are said to have been generally the most satisfactory administrators of justice. Such children received careful training both from those previously raised to this class and also from their grandmothers.

They were taught to admonish with discretion and with gentleness, to honor and respect each and every one of every age and themselves; to be kind to dogs and all animals. If one of this class proved unworthy, one was not deposed, but from that time on, or until one had purged oneself of old offenses and adopted better manners one had small influence in the council-meetings, yet the people still respected him or her.

At that time, men were gifted with blue feathers to designate their worthiness; women were gifted with blue glass pendants they wore proudly upon their forehead, though this practice has long since faded. 

The Blue Cloud Stone as sketched by Col. A. Welch

Kȟaŋpéska Imánipi Wiŋ (Walking On The Shell Woman), the wife of Matȟó Watȟákpe (Charging Bear; John Grass), was among the last Lakȟóta women to have possessed one of what they called Maȟpíya Tȟó, or a Blue Cloud Stone. The stone was actually a flat blue polished piece of glass, possibly volcanic, which was melted and poured into a sand or clay mold. The stone was made by a woman of virtue, and only one was made in a year.

When it was worn, the woman was held in high esteem by all as good and honorable, a role model for all women