A Kettle of Hawks

Over 20 hawks high in a cloudy sky.

I was outside lying in the hammock two days ago, when I saw a hawk flying overhead, and then more and more hawks, higher and higher. I understand that a group of hawks is called a kettle of hawks, and only occurs during migration. It was amazing to see! A reminder that the seasons are changing. I am writing this outside today on a sunny day, but wearing my winter jacket.

I think I may have found an important clue in my search for the roots of my third great-grandmother Marie Madeleine. In the record for the baptism of her son Simon, in 1833, in Jeremy Islets, she is identified as “sauvage du dit poste,” which means, translating the racist imagery, “Indian of said post.” And just above that record, Jeremy Islets is the post in question. I just want to say that it took a lot of close handwriting inspection to pull out those four words, but I am fairly confident in them now. And so it seemed to me it might be identifying her place of origin. (Now, on the other side, I know that her husband Peter McLeod was a clerk of that post in 1833. But she, along with two other Indian couples baptizing their children were all identified as Indians of that post.)

To further clarify, generally speaking the Innu went into the woods in fall, winter, and spring to hunt, and came to the posts to trade and to connect with the priests who did the baptisms, marriages, burials, and such. And they didn’t just go to one post, while necessarily avoiding others. But following the clue, of the several Marie Madeleines in my list of possibilities, one was connected to Jeremy Islets, in the right time frame. She was identified in her baptismal record as Marie Madeleine Napeteiashu, baptised June 26, 1803, when she was about 7 years old, they said, which would put her birth about 1796. Napeteiashu was actually said to be her father’s name, with no Christian name attached, and her mother was identified as Catherine Mitisku.

After searching through hundreds of other records, I found a Catherine Mistiku, born in 1773, and baptized in 1786 in Jeremy Islets. She was married to Stanislaus Mishtanapeu, baptized in 1778 in Jeremy Islets. In other records, they are identified as Catherine Mistigu or Mitigu, or Stanislas Tshiuapan (actually the name of his son Paul). I think this is likely the same couple, though in this process, one can’t be positive. I found baptism and marriage records for sons Simon (b 1794, bap 1796) and Paul (b 1798), but no other links for Marie-Madeleine. (And why would Paul be baptized in 1798, but not Marie Madeleine until 1803?) In the marriage record for Paul, in 1817, Catherine is said to be deceased.

Along with the genealogy hunt, I have also been exploring the possible meanings of their Innu names. Mistiku (likely now spelled Mishtiku) can mean, a tree (animate), or a log (inanimate), or possibly a French Canadian or white person-(though Catherine would not be French, but someone might be called this perhaps because she was hanging around the French?) (I think the French were called this because of wearing wooden clogs.) Mishtanapeu means a remarkable man. Napeteiashu was harder to decipher–“nape” refers to a male, and if I stretch the spelling, it could mean a male fox–napeiatsheshu. Spelling was not a hard science in those days. I couldn’t find any other references to Napeteiashu. The one possibility was a marriage with no details attached of Catharina Matshiskueu to Nipituashu. No dates/places/or parents. Matshiskueu means “she is an ugly woman”. So you see, it’s all very mysterious and uncertain.

By the way, several of the names I was researching seemed to have “negative” connotations. I wondered if it was some kind of internalized oppression, or if maybe there was a function of the name to protect the child by acting as if it were not valuable in some way. There was a lot of oppression by the priests. For example, when an “illegitimate” child was baptized, often they did not even name either of the parents at all in the record. Some priests took more care than others. I think the earlier Jesuits learned the Innu language and taught people to read and write in their language. Later priests did not know the language at all.

But as for me, I was so excited to find this possibility. Maybe it was really her, with a place and parents! Then today, I was slowing down to remember that this process of search will continue, and I have to pace myself, to live with each possibility as it emerges. There are hundreds of pages of records, much of it not indexed, so I go through page by page looking for names–and with new names, that means all new searches. Still, I am amazed that these ancestors feel closer to me now, even if they are still like the hawks flying in the sky so far above me that I can’t see the individuals very well. Am I related to a tree, a fox, an ugly woman, a very remarkable man? Am I related to the place called Jeremy Islets? In Innu, Ishkuamishkᵘ, which is similar to the word for a female beaver ishkuemishkᵘ. And how does this all relate to my life as a white woman in Maine, in Wabanaki territory? Still, it does feel like one part of my own journey of finding our way home into the earth community.

A fox near the Capisic brook, surround by trees and other greenery. (This photo was taken in 2018)

Pond Dig, part 4

Photo: Pond, fully dug, with four levels and a measuring line across

Hurray! I’ve been back to digging the pond the last couple days, and today I finished the bottom layer! I hit clay soil at about 2 1/2 feet down, and went a little deeper in one spot. For those who were wondering about the water that showed up in the bottom, I learned, after consulting other folks, that it’s probably not really a bit deal. It might possibly lift the liner in the spring a small amount, but on the other hand, the water in the pond might have enough weight to counter that. In any case, over the last several days of not much rain, there is no standing water, though the soil I’ve dug out has been damp.

So I ended up with four levels: first level all around the edge for planting (at about 10 inches down), second for a step, plus another spot to plant pond lilies, third another step down, and fourth the very bottom. The bottom is about 2 ft. 10 inches feet deep, though more like 2 1/2 feet from the top of the water once filled, since there is an overflow channel about 4 inches down from the top. I decided to let the clay soil be my guide for stopping at that depth. The very thin white line you can see across the pond is my measuring-depth-device–a string anchored in the ground at each side, and then another string looped onto it, marked with knots at each foot, and weighted so it hangs down.

It has been a lot of hard work to do the final levels, because each damp shovel-full had to be carried up the steps to the top step to put it in the wheelbarrow. And then, when I wheeled it all to the mound where it was going, I had to shovel it onto the mound. (Eventually I will add compost to the mound, and plant some sort of ground cover.)

Photo: Mound where I put the dirt, to cover old demolition waste, then put cardboard on top, then more pond soil.

The next step will be to cut old carpet into strips, to layer over the ground to keep roots from coming through, and to protect the pond liner. And surprisingly, there were small bittersweet roots all the way down to the bottom level. I have a pile of old carpet that I collected from willing volunteers (via Freecycle and Buy Nothing) last week, that is sitting on the patio, waiting for me.

But for now, I am coming inside to rest, with sore muscles but a happy heart. It has been so satisfying to be digging down into the beautiful earth, imagining a place for water.

Roots

I have been in a circle of people deepening our relationship with the forest. One of our practices was to become the trees and listen and share what is revealed. I feel the language of trees as compounding, simultaneous, neurotransmission from all over at the same time. Many words in any order creating multiple meanings. The trees speak through the mycelial networks in the soil. The center of intelligence in the trees is in the roots. All the trees are speaking and listening at the same time.

We notice the part of the trees that is above ground but they are more attuned to the below ground where they are linked to each other. If we want to hear we must listen through our feet. And they say we can never fully understand their mysteries… but we must try.

We are related to the trees. We are like their children. They teach us community and reciprocity, giving and receiving as life.

After, we created pictures of our experiences and this was mine.

My Dad and the Land

Johnsons 1936.jpg

[1936, his brother, sister, & my dad in back.]

My dad was born in 1930 in Gillette Wyoming, where his parents were homesteading.  Some stories I remember from his childhood there.  My grandmother made cinnamon rolls. They had a fire that burned down their house.  His mother grabbed the laundry, and all the family got out safely, but they lost their other possessions.  One time, maybe 3 years old, my dad went into town, with his dad perhaps, and when he came home he proudly announced “I buyed me this!” He had spent a coin to purchase some candy or some small toy.

The family left their homestead in 1938, when my dad was eight years old, and they ended up in Detroit Michigan.  For the rest of his life, in many ways, he was trying to get back to Wyoming.  He went there at 16 to work on the ranch of a family friend.  Back in Detroit, he met my mom at a riding stable, and we lived in Michigan when I was young.  We moved to Texas when I was 7, but after six months returned to Michigan.  When I was 12 we moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, and my dad worked on a ranch in Montana. There were six children then. I was the oldest, and my sister Mary was the baby.  We went to the Catholic grade school in Sheridan.  We stayed there for one school year.

We could walk to school–I think it may have been about 8 blocks.  One time the weather reported it was 17 below zero.  My mom called another mother to ask whether she should send us to school.  Just bundle them up! she said.  I was in seventh grade that year, and was amazed that the popular kids were also those who got good grades.  I was in a drama club and a science club.  But it took a while to make friends.  By the end of that year, I had gotten close to a girl in my class whose name was Patricia Ann Rhodes.  The drama club put on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.  I shared the role of Mrs. Gibbs with another student.

My dad stayed up in Montana during the week.  Actually, I don’t remember the exact schedule of him coming home.  He did go back and forth.  That year we spent Christmas week at a one-room cabin in Montana, which was a lot of fun.  Shortly after that, he stopped working at the ranch, and went back to Michigan to work again in drafting.  I didn’t know the full story until years later.  I had always thought he left the ranch because you couldn’t support of family with six children on a cowboy salary.  But really what happened was that he hurt his back in a fall from a horse.  Someone unexpectedly tossed him a bag of feed, and the horse startled and jumped away.  That was how he fell.  It was very physical work, and he was in too much pain to continue.

He told me later how devastating that fall had been for him.  He went back to his old job–but felt a deep sense of failure.  The year before, this company had held a going away party for him, and gave him a gift, a rifle I think, with many good wishes on this new adventure he was looking forward to.  So coming back was to admit the defeat of his dream.  Back in Michigan, he found a house for us to live in, and the family moved back to Michigan after the school year ended.  I cried when we had to go back.

I am thinking about how much he loved the open range, and longed for the land in Wyoming.  He found God in that land.  He said once that “people called it a ‘God-forsaken land’ yet even in that naming they were reminded of God.”  His longing for this faraway land was a part of my growing up years, one root of my own sense of disconnection and longing for the land.

I have been thinking a lot about my dad these last few weeks because he had a fall at home in West Virginia a few weeks ago and hurt his back.  He is now in a nursing home, theoretically to get some rehab and pain management, but he is feeling very discouraged, and not really participating in therapy.  He had a stroke in September of 2014, and recovered well at first, but it has been a hard two years. I am thinking about how much I love him, even though my own journey took me so far away from his world. Cowboy, mystic, dreamer… I send you blessings on this difficult chapter.  And gratitude to my sister Julie who has been caring for him and my mom close up these last eleven years.