Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Out On A Limb

On this cold, quiet autumn morning at barely five minutes past eight, I find myself in my daughter Daisy's room. The smallest and therefore warmest room in this old, 4 story, circa 1920s, chilly house, devoid of central heat. I am sitting at the white particle board desk scavenged a decade ago from some roadside trash heap. Proving the old adage that "one man's trash is another man's treasure" and a frugal single Mother's delight! I marvel as I watch a woodpecker corkscrew her way up and down a branch of the black walnut tree outside my window. It is amazing to me that she is fearless as she hangs upside down some 20 feet or more above the ground. She is beautiful. She is dove gray with delicate black markings. Her back is speckled like her distant cousin the quail. Her cheeks have dark stripes and her head looks as if she is wearing a tiny toupee. I watch her tapping her way up and down each branch stopping every once in a while to hop to a limb above or below. Methodically tap, tap, taping her way along this intricate network of limbs and foliage, twigs and leaf, branching out in an almost dizzying myriad of directions.

As I sit here at my keyboard, sipping from a steaming cup of hot sassafras tea I wonder what instinct in her tells her to do this and then I see her stop as if she has found some delicacy. I offer a silent prayer to Great Spirit, the Creator, that she has not found a termite, or a bore beetle, or worse! Behind her I see a squirrel out for his morning run along the lower limbs of the same tree. Performing a solo adagio of leaps and bounds from branch to bough. Two totally different animals, two different species even, living in perfect harmony on the same tree. Other smaller less colorful birds twitter and flit from branch to branch. The sunlight filters down creating "hot spots" of light on the twigs, branches and trunk on the East side of the tree and dappled shadows on the Southern and Western sides of the same branches and trunk. The squirrel has stopped. He is arching his tail friskily up and over his tan and charcoal back as he studiously investigates a small black walnut which he rolls round and round in his tiny four fingered hands. Nature holds such perfection. I see patches of a cerulean blue sky through the green and yellow leaves of this magnificent sprawling tree which is perfectly centered and exquisitely framed by French windows with brass hasps and hinges. Decals of Winnie the Pooh dressed in a nightcap and flannel gown snuggling with his little paranoid pal Piglet, while he dreams of pots full of sweet honey, are faded and curling on two of the six window panes. Carefully stuck there long ago by the delicate hands of a child who still believed that bears could talk and a certain blue donkey named Eyore was not bipolar.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Gentle Winds
by Sharmagne Leland-St.John
November 4, 2000

The wind sang old songs. The leaves and branches
of the black walnut trees quivered, ever so slightly,
as they listened in silence.
"I have been dreaming of the ranch all day," she said,
as he stood, gazing out the window.
He turned to her and said, "Yes, I know now I have
no Cherokee blood, only the merest trickle of Tsalagi."
Yet, a trickle of Tsalagi is still Cherokee blood, she
thought, pulling her shawl closer around her thin
shoulders. But, she said nothing.
"You must be beautiful when you're dreaming,"
he said, as he searched herface. "I can easily
imagine that.."
She sat quietly in the burgundy, Queen Anne chair,
wrapped in her red and blue peyote shawl with her
moccasined feet tucked under her.
She closed her eyes for a moment and said, "In my
minds eye I'm loading my easel and my paints into
the truck, and I'm driving through Onyx and Cottage
Grove. Country Western and Native American music
wafts out onto a gentle breeze through the sun
roof." As she said this, the sound of Walela, singing
'Amazing Grace' in Tsalagi, welled up in her ears and
in her heart.
"Ummmm, lovely picture," he said, not even imagining
where her thoughts had taken her.
"You can almost see the quarter notes and the eighth
notes hanging on the air and catching in the tangle
of cottonwood trees along the roadside above the
singing river," she continued.
He smiled and asked, "What is the smell?"
Not missing a beat, she answered, "Ceremonial sage,"
thinking he meant the scent inside the truck. He
couldn't have known she always burned sage in an
abalone shell on the dashboard before starting off
on long journeys.
"I thought pine, but then, you mentioned cottonwood.
Ohhhh.... Sage... Yes," he murmured. "And the cemetery?"
"Yes, I would stop to visit the small cemetery at Cottage
Grove as I always do. I would plant sprigs of rosemary
on the tiny graves and try to puzzle why there are so
many babies named Powers, buried there all in a row,
but no adults with that family name...from the turn of
the last century... all those babies. Babies sleeping side
by side. Sisters and brothers sleeping side by side.
Some died even before their siblings were born. Or
cousins maybe. Some knew each other only in death.
Never in life. Yes, I would plant sprigs of rosemary
for remembrance."
"Strange," he interjected.
"Yes, well, life is strange, and we are all strangers
to each other," she said, rising to go up the 2 flights
of stairs to the kitchen to brew a cup of
Cherokee Winter Tea.

The recipe for this flavourful and aromatic tea:

To one gallon of rain water add:

10 whole cardamon seeds
10 whole black pepper corns
10 whole cloves
2 sticks of cinnamon
2 bay laurel leaves

Boil for 20 minutes.
Add a few drops of pure maple syrup to each cup for sweetener.

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