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)

Asparagus Update

asparagus-bed-spigot-stones-after.jpg

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.

Asparagus Bed BeforeI 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.

Asparagus protectorBut 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!

Life Moves In Cycles

Curve of waterNothing 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.