Just north of our house, in a meadow above the river, lies a burial ground of the prehistoric Iroquoian People. It is perhaps six hundred years old. This land is haunted by the memories of those people. Primarily, they successfully bequeathed their most valuable gift to the present: this living land. I have often tried to fathom the gulf between the ancient Iroquoians and our modern selves. When the north wind blows coldly through the tall white pines, they seem to speak and beseech us to cherish this valley and surrounding 'green spaces'.
I have wandered even farther back in human history, to contemplate the inception of Homo sapiens. The following prose-poem was written on the spur of the moment.
"Stoic?" you ask,
And I smile at your question.
Through seventy-thousand years
My people danced
In the midst of adversity.
We outlasted the glaciers,
My kin and I, bound by the honour
of flaked stone and vistas,
Walled with cliffs of ice,
Which yet drew us outward
Into sky country.
Our strong hands
Plucked glittering shards of ice
From each glacier's heart
And melted them into ourselves
Where they became the blue-white source
Of our abundant strength.
Clasp my hand, Homo sapiens,
Though beware; I may forget your fragility
And crush yours in mine.
You are puzzled by our changelessness:
Why our stone tools did not evolve
Over the millennia.
Why we did not develope new techniques
Why we seemed to vanish forever
And the greatest slander,
Why we failed to become
Modern, like you.
Pure air, earth, water, light...
These were our rewards
For waking each morning
To glacial winds sweeping the plain,
To drafts of smoke from a cooking fire,
Greased with the scent of mammoth.
And later, hot blood spilling again
Onto broken ice
And the cracking of bone and tendon on cold rock.
Or the scraping of a shallow grave
Into frozen ground.
What feeds your people's restlessness?
You boast of travels
To the sun's little sister of the night,
And say the land of my people
Is only a wrinkle in this Earth.
What do you flee from?
What fear haunts you?
We had only
A skin wall
Between flesh and tempest.
And the wind's voice
Accompanied our stories,
Which were told
During the months of cold
At our camp in the valley.
We sang too
With the spirit of the great elk
At the end of each chase:
Sounds of powdery water flowing in
Icy crevasses; rock grinding under a
Mountain of ice.
The brushing of a mild breeze through
And the warming spillways of later years.
Then your kind came from the sun country.
Mammoth ivory and antler lured you.
Ivory for trinkets, beads and baubles.
Antler to adorn your fashions.
We fled with the animals
To the deepening glacial chasms
At the very edge of the world.
And when the last mammoth gasped
His silvery breath
Into the night sky,
Some of us went with you
Across the land where Earth's shadow
Stretches to meet each dawn.
Or stayed in the mountains,
With cave bears.
Our story did not end.
Other questions I have,
But no answers yet,
Though I will say,
Time moves in a circle.
My bones are chilled now.
You have laid them bare
On the reddened earth,
And pieced them together
A hollow skull, an empty shell.
But hold its mineral coldness to your ear.
Does not an echo reach within you?
Wind over an ice field,
The roar of a long-toothed cat...
Or the flow of your own blood?
Other secrets remain hidden
In the Earth.
They rest with us,
And with you.
They wait to be revealed once more
When glaciers grow
In another Ice Age.
copyright, James E Garratt.
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