Yesterday felt like the true turning of the seasons, from warm autumn 70 degree days to a chilly, almost winter, high of 40 degrees. We had a freeze overnight and the pond surface was wrinkled with ice forming. I went around the yard putting away the last garden hose, the five-gallon buckets, the little tables we use in the back next to chairs. I turned over the wheelbarrows behind the garage. I covered our patio table and chairs with a tarp, and I plugged in the bird bath so it will keep water thawed during frozen weather. I got out the snow shovel and sand mixture to put on the back porch. I left 4 chairs around the fire circle–maybe we’ll get outside around a fire–it could happen!
Last Thursday was my last time lying in the hammock for the season. I could see two frogs still hanging out in the pond, the color of mud, not the green of summer. While I was lying there, suddenly I saw a huge bird flying nearby, up to the pine trees at the back near our yard. Looking closer, I recognized the characteristic shape of a turkey! It was dusk and the light was turning all black and white and shades of gray. We’ve had a little trio wandering in the yard during the last few weeks, so I am guessing this was one of them. I had to put the hammock away the next day.
This morning, we had a bit of snow, mixed with rain, so here we are. The gardening work, whether fully complete or not, is done for the season. And I was inspired to get back to my winter project–going through boxes of old papers in the basement. I am proud of myself for diving into it today!
Last winter, I went through 11 boxesfrom my years in Boston, organized, winnowed, and reduced them to four. I had just started on some boxes from the time before I moved there. This winter, I will go through papers from my time at the Women’s Peace Camp, and in Chicago, and in Grand Rapids. I went to Chicago from Grand Rapids in 1983 to attend Chicago Theological Seminary, from which I graduated in 1986. I visited the Peace Camp in the summer of 1983, and then lived there in the summer of 1985, and winter/summer 1986. These places were the scenes of my coming out as a lesbian, and my trying to figure out what ministry might look like for someone like me. At the time I had left the Catholic church, and was part of the emerging feminist spirituality movement. I experienced so much transformation during those years, and I am fascinated to read what I wrote about it. It was a season of profound personal change.
Today we welcome the ancestors with special foods, with herbal incense, and with a fire in our fire circle! For herbal incense I use cedar–I’ll use a dried bundle I made before, and burn it in our fire circle. Cedar was widely used by my Innu ancestors, and so I think their spirits will especially appreciate it. We also have a cedar tree right on the edge of our own yard, so I ask the cedar tree for permission to cut some sprigs to make more cedar bundles, and also to put cedar on our front and back doors for protection from harm, and welcome to benevolent spirits.
The special food I made is bannock, a traditional Innu bread, called ińnu-pakueshikan, which they adapted from the Scottish. Since I can’t eat wheat bread, I used 1/2 oatmeal flour (which is actually what the Scottish used) and 1/2 almond flour. Here is my recipe, adapted from several I found online. It is a very simple bread with many variations. Mix all ingredients together.
1 1/2 cup oat flour (made in a blender from GF rolled oats)
1 1/2 cup almond flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 1/3 cup water (this might have been more than I needed)
1 cup frozen blueberries.
I put it in a greased skillet, and let it bake in a 375 degree oven for 55 minutes. After about 40 minutes, I cut it in four, and turned the sections over in the pan. A small dish is all set to go outside for the spirits, for when we have our fire. It is crusty on the outside, and a bit mushy on the inside. Tasty with butter.
I have been continuing my search for my Innu ancestor Marie Madeleine’s family. Lately this has been by hunting for as many details as I can about Marie Madeleine Katshisheskueit, which means “hard-working-woman”, who was born 11/11/1795, and baptised in Portneuf 6/28/1796. I was finally able to see an actual image of her baptism record, and discovered her actual parents, Jean-Pierre Utshinitsiu (Utshinishkushu=whirlpool?) and Veronique Kaskanieshtshist. (Kashkanatshish=rock ptarmigan) (The earlier source had directed me to another set of parents entirely.) So I began hunting for the rest of their family and found a few more generations, and many cousins.
This was a relief to me because I also discovered that Marie Madeleine Katshisheskueit’s mother died in 1797, when she was only two years old. I was filled with grief for this toddler, and wondered how she would be able to survive such a loss. Then I remembered that my Passamaquoddy teacher Roger Paul said that the whole community always cared for all the children. They didn’t divide into small nuclear families, but rather in extended families. I saw that her godmother, Marie Madeleine Iskuamiskuskueu, was the cousin of her father (and also the mother of another Marie Madeleine that is not my ancestor). So she was likely taken care of and loved by all these relatives.
I haven’t been able to find other records of her life after 1800, so far, which means there is nothing to rule her out. It might mean that she disappeared somewhere, or it might possibly mean that she is my own ancestor, showing up in 1830 without any surname or Innu name that would clarify her identity to me. The hunt continues, only now I am looking at her family members, to get a picture of their relatedness.
Finally, another update: I had been wondering what to do about the frogs in the pond, as winter approaches. Well, it turns out they are doing it for themselves. The last time we saw frogs in the pond was a week ago, and just two small ones remaining. We don’t know where they went, but they must know how to take care of themselves, perhaps find some mud to bury in, or someplace protected for the winter. Our pond is probably too shallow, with too little mud for that purpose, I assume. So the pond is getting colder, and the frogs are gone. Hopefully, we’ll see them again in the spring.
May the blessings of this season be with you, may your ancestors bring you blessings when you open your heart to them, and may we survive the coming cold with grace and peace! Blessed Samhain! Now I’m going outside to the fire circle.
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.
What a pleasure to finally complete the asparagus beds, along with setting pavers and stones into the area under our outdoor water spigot! With so much always “in process” in the garden, little completions are quite satisfying. That is also true for me in other areas. Yesterday, I finally figured out our financial budget for retirement, and that feels so grounding as well, like I am really retired now.
I blogged about planting the crowns last April, near the walls behind the house and next to the garage. [Here is a picture of the “before” trench behind the house.] The instructions were to let the asparagus plants grow in the trench, and add compost and soil bit by bit as they got taller, keeping at least 2 inches above ground. This was complicated by the fact that some of the plants bolted up in a flash, while others were tiny babies for such a long time–even still.
But last week, with more compost and soil, I finally brought the beds up to level, and then finished them off with a layer of wood chips. In the bed near the garage, I actually created two little pockets with cut out pots for the ones that were still too small, so I could fill the soil around them up to level. They would have been buried! Hopefully, they’ll get enough sun and water to keep growing and come back next year with a flourish.
I also moved our lemon balm plant from near the cherry tree over to the small area just left of the water spigot. It looks and smells so cheerful there, and will be nicely contained for a plant that I learned has a spreading habit.
We are in the season in which life is bursting out all over, even as we can start to feel the shift toward the autumn. Days are shortening, and everything seems to be growing as much as it can. It is amazing to think that all these green plants die back in winter, seal themselves in their roots, and hide as if they didn’t exist at all, only to re-emerge in spring. So now they are making the most of sun and heat and rain, turning sunlight into sugar for all life in the neighborhood. The asparagus will die back too, in the winter, but come to life again in the spring–and we’ll be able to share in their bounty from that season forward. I love perennials!
This is the first year I have been caring for toddler trees–our two cherry trees that we planted last April. So please forgive my enthusiasm over each developmental milestone–it is all new to me. Yesterday I noticed that the trees have new buds developing. Hurray!
Nothing moves in a straight line, But in arcs, epicycles, spirals and gyres. Nothing living grows in cubes, cones, or rhomboids, But we take a little here and we give a little there, And the wind blows right through us… Marge Piercy
My colleague the Rabbi fell on some ice in the parking lot of her congregation in December of 2009. Several months later, she was diagnosed with a brain injury, and was unable to work any longer. In 2011, she started a beautiful blog called Brainstorm. In her blog, she described one of the curious ways that her brain is different now. She writes:
I didn’t notice that I no longer broke time up into chunks like minutes, hours, days. In, fact, I didn’t notice there was such a thing as time at all. I still don’t feel time. I don’t know what day it is. I have a watch that tells me and I am learning to memorize that information in rehab. If you and I meet and begin to talk, I will be totally present. I have attained Buddha-hood; there is no before or after — only now.2
Later, she asks, “How long is a year anyway? Is it before lunch or after? And is February leaves, snow, mud or sun? That is how I tell time. … We are either in leaves or mud right now. it is hard to tell.” “Soon we will stack logs for the wood stove. Put on socks and fleece, sit on the porch swing and drink tomato soup in the mugs the children made. I do not feel months, days or dates, but I haven’t lost the seasons. I never knew how precious they were until I lost every other marker of time’s passage.”
We think that time moves relentlessly in a straight line, going from past to present to future. Similarly, we might imagine our spiritual journey as a going forward from one thing to another. But our relationship to time is mysterious, located in a spot in our brain which can be damaged or destroyed. If that happens, then linear time disappears. But the circular patterns of movement are still observable. All around us there is evidence that life moves in cycles: the earth spinning around its axis each day and night, planets spinning around the sun, tides going in and out, the stars circling round the night sky.
Some cycles are easier to notice than others. Here in Maine, the autumn comes with bright colors and the falling of leaves. Winter is cold and snowy, spring full of mud and new plants, summer warm and full of plentiful greens. These seasonal changes register in a deep layer of our minds.
Poem Excerpt from Marge Piercy, “I Saw Her Dancing,” in Available Light, p. 118.