Dawn For All Time

by Linda Hogan

The moon is filling, a bowl of earthlight remaining in the first of dawn. Venus is near Earth in its orbit behind the black branches of a tree where a large bird sits. Morning arriving.

Standing with others, we smell pine smoke, hear the whispers, gaze toward the mountains.

And then it is blue dawn. At the top of the mountain is a deer. No, he of the antlers is a man. No, the man is a deer; they are one, standing majestic and powerful. Smoke rises from behind the mountain in dark gray clouds. It smells like the history of the pines. It is the odor of ancient places, old trees the deer and the gatherers walked beneath. At the crest of the next mountain, another deer with antlers wide and great as old branches. It takes my breath away.

For thousands of years this has been a moment of awe, this holy beauty. They come down the mountain, sticks in their front hands used as forelegs of the deer, walking in graceful, animal movement. As one comes to a patch of snow, he moves to the side, around sage, mesquite, and walks beautifully through the chalmisa plants. The other animals come from behind the mountains, crying out with all their life. Drums begin as a heartbeat, and the old men sing, wrapped in woven blankets. From an old adobe building, the sacred deer mothers are brought out, untouchable by human hands. They take their place, solemn and with heavy grace. The dance that has been here in the long past begins once again, at one more dawn. The animals and the hunter dance with reverence and awe on their faces, elders watching on the sides to be certain all is correct, and the Pendleton and Navajo blankets are beautiful standing with human beings inside them. The people have done this for thousands of years, since before any written history, and they will do this for all the tomorrows.

I was very embarrassed what I did, very embarrassed. I thought if my mother would be alive she would never permit me to get up from any table and leave the house. And when I met my husband I said I have only one wish, take me back to Sweden so I can apologize to this family for being so rude and leaving them, and my husband said, I do it for you. We went back to Sweden and I went to the same house and the lady say to me, I don’t remember you. And my husband holding the flowers and I’m crying. So life is very interesting. Because you cannot expect everything. I had the task to tell you my story, and now I am eighty years old and it’s very hard, because I am crying every day. Where is my brother, where is my mother, what happened to them? And so I have the task, nobody else. I have the task, no matter how hard it is, to come here, and tell you my story. I will tell you one more story: Steven Spielberg in his film about five of us who survived [The Last Days], did something colossal for me. I told him I will do what he asked me to do, go back to Auschwitz, but he has to do me one thing, he has to help me find my sister, this is fifty-six years after she dies. And guess what happens? The German person who was in charge of who died and who was alive opened the books, and here is my sister’s name. And so after fifty-six years, I found my sister. My husband and I put down a stone for her and there she is under a tree and leaves cover the tree.

I am a Native woman, a Chickasaw from the Southeast, people who were removed from our homelands during the Trail of Tears. We dwell now in the place once called Indian Territory. It was then created for all the indigenous peoples of this continent by the American government. At the time, all tribes were going to be placed here, in Oklahoma, and a wall built around the borders so no Indians could escape. Black Kettle’s band was pursued for so many years that their route eroded the land near Goodland, Kansas.

Nevertheless, in spite of attempts at acculturation, we have maintained our language, and some “outlaws” retained the songs and dances, so some tradition remains, even if it is not like the Pueblo dances, which have been on the same lands for thousands of years. Still, I look at the language and find in it the way we understood our world in the original homelands, the way a people’s view was at work before the tear in our lives. A word for animal, Nan okcha, means “all alive.” It means more than just that which is animated. Embedded in the language, it says that the animals have lives and being and are sentient, a significant part of a whole. They have relationship and connections with other lives and the world at large, an animate world. We have an awe of them and an obligation to keep all alive. That is our purpose here. Our ancestors survived in order for us to be here, and we have a debt to them as well. It is an ethic, a way of being with this Earth and its inhabitants, all sacred.