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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

THE GIRL WHO SANG TO THE BUFFALO

george catlin

The book I have been waiting for fell into my hands less than a week ago, a book I cannot stop reading. I stop when my eyes are about to fall out, wanting to leave some to read later. But I don't want to leave too much for later. Want it all now. It pulls me to it like a powerful magnet. Close to the end now, I don't want it to end, and can't stop reading. The story speaks to me so powerfully, it puts me in a place deep inside myself, a place I like where I feel most at home in relation to the spirit within. There is so much more to our lives than history and science allow, not meaning to minimize either, I'm interested in the spirit behind the expression. The Australian Aboriginal belief said that everything happening on earth has already been dreamed. I think of it like the prophecy in the Revelation, a dream, a vision manifesting now in earth time. The vision shows how it happened in the world of spirit. Now we're seeing how those spirits manifest in the physical world of human experience. This book I'm involved in dwells in the zone of the spirit world and how it manifests in our everyday world. The book, The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo, was written by Kent Nerburn. In the front is a quotation from Shakespeare, There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. It is the third in an unintended trilogy. The first, Neither Wolf Nor Dog, and the second, The Wolf at Twilight. The first was good, the second better, this third one dwarfs the first two. I hesitate to recommend it. The first two seem like they are required reading to tap into this third in the series.

george catlin

Or so I suppose, having already read them. It could be appreciated plenty by itself. The characters continue from the books before. I call them books, though they don't seem like books. Nerburn's writing brings the characters to life. His writing makes scenery visual and the people come to life before my eyes. It's watching a movie in another language with subtitles. I'm seeing the landscapes, buildings, cars, highways and the people. I see them clearly, as in a movie in my mind's eye, and reading what they say I hear tone of voice. Nerburn's writing is clear, simple, direct and straight-forward. He is the narrator and one of the characters. His writing flows so naturally, it doesn't feel like I'm reading something important, though what comes through is important. The trilogy concerns one old Lakota man on the reservation, who was the next generation after his people, way of life, history, were swept from the earth. He endured Indian school where Christians beat, humiliated, shamed the kids, turned them against their own culture and their families, Yer gonna go to hell, and lived his life on the reservation getting along like everybody else. In his later years he saw a book Kent Nerburn had written and took him for a listener with understanding. He contacted Nerburn, called Nerburn to come see him. The old man, Dan, wanted to tell his story to Nerburn, and while telling his story, also taught Nerburn to understand what he was saying. He was neither a shaman nor a chief. He was just a man with a story living on the rez.

lakota reservation

Dan has a friend named Grover, one of the great characters in literature. He relentlessly makes Nerburn a representative of White Man, blames him for the woes of the Indians on reservations. He is dedicated to the old ways, like Dan, and lives the spirit of the forgotten culture. And there was Wenonah, Dan's daughter who takes care of Dan in his old age, a powerful, serious woman. She didn't like Nerburn being around, didn't like him learning their secrets. She and Grover kept Nerburn understanding he did not belong among them. It always came back to the old man called him to write his story, he was there to honor the old man's call, and it was their role to allow him to do what he was there to do. They were not white man friendly. And when you learn their stories, you understand. And there is Jumbo, big guy who eats and eats. He is a mechanic who fixes things like bicycles and cars. All are dedicated to keeping the old ways alive the best they're able. They live in poverty, the worst kind of poverty, enforced by federal government. Still, a hundred years after the Indians were conquered, they're kept in concentration camps the enemy. This third volume, The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo, is different from the two previous titles in which Dan invited Nerburn to come see him. This third time, Nerburn, living in Minnesota, experiences recurring dreams of an old Ojibwe woman appealing to him. He drove several hours to see her and she had died a few days before. She left a hand-written story in deerskin pouch with a younger woman to give to Nerburn concerning Dan's sister he lost in childhood to an Indian Insane Asylum in South Dakota, because she talked to birds. It becomes Nerburn's role to deliver this written message to Dan.

george catlin
sundance ceremony

Kent Nerburn's drive to the reservation, in western South Dakota, included a visit with a mystical old man in the deep woods of northern Minnesota, living in a trailer. The old man had been in Indian School with Dan's younger sister, remembered her being taken to the Indian asylum. Everywhere Nerburn went, the Indians did not like him meddling in their secrets, but he kept on, honoring the assignment he did not understand. The reader goes with him to the rez. He found Grover and Jumbo, who told him old man Dan is in his last days. They took him to see Dan, who was frail and waiting to die. The message Nerburn delivered in the deerskin pouch brought Dan to life, animated him, made him want to see the old man in the north woods of Minnesota. The old Ojibwe man wanted Dan to come see him when the first snow fell. This meant Nerburn was to go home and wait for the first snow. First snow, he drove to the rez, picked up Dan, Grover, Jumbo, a four year old girl, Zi, and Zi's parents. Before the trip, Dan explained a great deal to Nerburn, and later, on the drive to Minnesota, he explained more. The little girl, it turns out, is a reincarnation of Dan's little sister he had mourned and wondered about all his life. He needed closure on her, and Nerburn found it for him. The Indians told Nerburn he was not ready to learn about reincarnation, and evidently he was not, though had no choice but to see obvious evidence of it in the story he'd unfolded. I'm at the place near the end where they go to see the old man, Benais. He asks to see Nerburn alone. He let Nerburn know with certainty he did not like Nerburn recording him, and told him to get out, now. I have to wait til next reading to see what follows. The characters in this three-volume tale have entered my life such that they live within me like people I know who have gone on.
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kent nerburn and cat


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