November 13, 2005

Summary of The Walking People Reading Circle, Ocean Coming Like A Great Wall, Squash Blossom’s Children and Ocean Crossing p.

Introductions: To build community, we began by going around the circle and speaking hearts to the center. Since we had two new readers sitting in a circle with us, Jeanne briefly described how the Walking People got to where they are now on eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. A question arose as to what the words in capital letters or italics meant.

Jeanne replied that those were her fault and that they indicated philosophical comments. Also, Jeanne explained the significance of two and three dots as drum beats or thought beats that indicate the need for pausing and considering what one has just read. Three dots require a lengthier pause for consideration than two dots.

Ocean Coming Like A Great Wall: At the top of p. 522, the Walking People are talking about an earlier time when they had to choose which way to go and the elders chose south because they knew mountains were in the east. Someone asked how the Walking People knew that mountains were in the east. Jeanne replied that they would encounter nomadic peoples in their journey and they learned from them about mountains being in the east.

Squash Blossom’s Children: A new reader asked if Squash Blossom was a special person. Jeanne said that in a section of the ancient songs before where they start out in this story, we learned about Growing Woman. The Walking People learned from her that some sustenance grows from seeds in the ground. For them, the term sustenance had specific meaning. The People revered this kind of learning as it came in handy during their long walk. We then returned to the story of “Squash Blossom” at the bottom of p. 507:

“AND SO IT WAS that the People chose for her an appropriate and an honoring name. Where she is, there sustenance for the People soon follows. So we give her the name of something we value, something of great beauty, something whose mere existence predicts plenty. WE CALL THIS WOMAN “SQUAH BLOSSOM.” AND IT WAS SO. A STRONG NAME, NEVER BEFORE GIVEN, WAS GIVEN NOW TO THIS TRUE DAUGHTER OF GROWING WOMAN. AND THE PEOPLE SAW HOW IT WAS THAT MANY GIFTS CAME TO THEM THROUGH HER HANDS AND GAVE HER IN RETURN THE GIFT OF THEIR RESPECT.”

Joy, a new reader and a professional artist, brought up that one nation in the southwest made beautiful squash blossom necklaces. Jeanne told us that later young men are sent out on a specific mission to find Squash Blossom’s children. Vicki said that squash blossoms are a delicacy in Mexico and also in the southwest. Canned squash blossom soup is available at our local HEB grocery stores, under the Campbell’s brand. All commented on how tissue-paper-thin squash blossoms are. Jeanne described her first garden and seeing the zucchini blossoms coming forth.

This led to Jeanne’s telling us that this is the second split since they arrived on this continent. She said that the first split was harder because the elders remained behind and they kept some babies with them.

At the bottom of p. 532, mention is made again of the buffalo: “ All listened . . . and heard no moving feet of a Dark Ocean.”

Then, Jeanne asked us, what may we learn from this?” Genie cited how laughter kept them going.

At the bottom of p. 530: “There is some value in No Mountains At All . . . For who would hope to beat flat the grass of such mountains as all remember? And the general laughter carried them through another night and toward another day.

Jeanne pointed out that leaders gave short talks, telling the Walking People to be grateful for what they have.

Ocean Crossing: This story begins by describing; GRASS SO TALL the tallest man might easily disappear therein. GRASS SO TALL no vision at all beyond an outstretched hand might be obtained.” None of us could imagine such high grass. Peggy who just got her Master Naturalist certification told us there are four grasses: Big Blue Stem, Little Blue Stem, Yellow Indian grass, and Side Oats Grama. Joy said that Side Oats Grama is the state grass of Texas. This came as news to the rest of us.

We learn on p. 533, in their quest for the Eastern Ocean, that the Walking People had no idea that a continent laid between them and their objective.

After the reading, Jeanne asked, “What may we learn from this?” Peggy said that the buffalo stampedes were more dangerous than we thought. She also noted that one group was allowed to split off. She also pointed out the sense of cooperation that existed among the Walking People. Another said that without Squash Blossom’s foresight in gathering more seeds than necessary and some sensing of how much was enough, they could not have split up. Joy said that she wanted to go and see the squash blossom necklaces.

Many questions about Paula and The Walking People:

A new reader asked if Paula had committed all of this to memory. Jeanne said that she did and she also had the cadence. Jeanne quoted the last two lines written by Paula in the Foreword on p. XI: “My father lifted his head and sang. I heard him.”

Just before these two lines, Paula wrote, “I shall perpetuate these words. I will take upon myself the further task of forming them in English, accurate always, beautiful if possible.”

Vicki reread the foreword while typing her notes into the computer and was moved by Paula’s words and recommends to all that they reread them. The foreword is about half a page long.

Someone asked how many pages Paula sent to Jeanne at any time. Jeanne replied that Paula sent handwritten sections to her, which Jeanne read aloud and then typed. After reading the songs aloud, Jeanne suggested the format of The Walking People that is more like poetry rather than prose. Paula thought about it for a long time and then agreed.

Vicki asked Jeanne to describe to our new readers the rigorous training that Paula underwent with her father. Jeanne began by saying that it was not in the manner of the Walking People to explain things. For this reason, Jeanne recommends to readers that they begin with the Addendum. It was Jeanne’s idea to include an addendum. Initially, Paula was reluctant for the aforementioned reason, the Walking People did not explain things, but Jeanne persuaded her that it was necessary for westerners’ understanding. Paula was adamant about not having footnotes, etc.

In describing the rigorous training Paula underwent with her father, Leonard, Jeanne talked about Paula’s early years. Her parents divorced early. Paula’s grandmother was born on a farm. Hence, all the people were out doing chores when Paula’s grandmother went into labor. Her grandmother could not feel pain. According to Paula’s grandmother, to be Indian was to be heathen and bad. Paula’s grandmother physically abused her and Paula’s mother did not often intercede on Paula’s behalf.

Paula was raised in the home of her mother and grandmother in Los Angeles, CA. Leonard lived in a house around the corner from them. His house had a garage with a dirt floor where the two of them built their imaginary central fire.

Joy asked how Paula was able to commit all of this to memory. Jeanne responded with the story about how Paula returned from Sunday school where she had learned the story of Moses and she informed her father about his story. Leonard told her that the Iroquois had a Moses also, but their Moses was a woman. Paula pressed Leonard to tell her about Moses was a Woman until he did so. This began her learning the history of The Walking People.

Peggy asked Jeanne how much material did Paula sent at once. Jeanne answered that the material came slowly. Further, Jeanne related the folly of her setting out a timetable for Paula to follow because that is not how Paula wrote. Jeanne explained that Paula had to have the time available and be in a receptive and reflective mood to write. Genie asked if it was written and sent in chronological order. Jeanne affirmed that it was and that Paula mapped out a table of contents, too.

Joy asked why there were such gaps in Paula’s writing and sending material. Jeanne said that Paula and she got sidetracked doing other stuff, e.g., the Bicentennial Commission. Nothing had been done about a Native American piece. Paula and Jeanne wrote the proposal and applied to the National Endowment for the Arts. For the proposal to receive serious consideration, they needed to have a historian with a Ph.D. They met one who was half Norwegian and half Native American and whose wife was full-blooded Navajo. This historian had written a piece on the similarities between the Iroquois and the U.S. Constitution. The latter did not include women and slaves.

Peggy asked Jeanne if she ever rewrote anything Paula sent her. Jeanne said no, that one didn’t rewrite Paula’s work. Jeanne suggested things and gave examples for Paula to consider.

Joy asked about the extensive vocabulary used in The Walking People. Jeanne answered that Paula learned both Native American and western ways of expression. For example, the term sustenance meant something specific to The Walking People.

In conclusion, Jeanne described the Native American way of demonstrating their understanding of something by repeating back nearly verbatim what the speaker had said.