September 25, 2005

Summary of The Walking People Reading Circle, Grass Ocean p. 495

Circle sharing: Our thoughts centered on the two recent hurricanes and how they have affected our nation’s collective behavior. RC contended that they have raised our consciousness such that we are more connected to each other. He stated that our greater inter-connectedness began in the aftermath of 9-11.

Vicki agreed, in part, but held that we seem arrogant as a nation and cited the underutilization of Mexico’s state-of-the-art disaster relief unit to help victims of Katrina. This lack of use led to its early return home.

Peggy Robinson said that Katrina had affected her but not as much as Hurricane Rita because Rita affected family members, many of whom were displaced. That brought it closer to home for her. Jeanne’s houseguest, Jean Landes, had fled from her home in Houston. Peggy was responding in part to RC’s question of what does empathy mean. Then, RC shared how he came to differentiate between compassion, empathy, and sympathy.

Jeanne commented that although 9-11 was a disaster for us because it happened on our soil, worse events had occurred and cited two prime examples, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As the “greatest” generation shed their earth robes, WWII and its horrors are growing increasingly “distant upon the ear.” The latter is a phrase borrowed from James Michener who used it to describe WWII.

As we closed this discussion, Vicki said that the Walking People would not have remained so long upon such a shore as the Gulf Coast, given its long-standing history of hurricanes. Mary Sidelnick reminded us that in “Sheltered Valley”, the Walking People had a place near the lakeshore and one further inland.

Grass Ocean:

Jeanne asked us if the description is an apt one for the People who had never before seen shoulder-high grass. Peggy affirmed that it was a fitting description, but that it’s hard for us to imagine the impact of such an unusual scene upon the People. Mary told us about her visit to Alaska last summer where she saw and walked through grass higher than her head. RC told us that Johnson grass grows very tall, too. Jeanne said that she and her friend Jean Landes are going to visit a place in Oklahoma that has high grass. Vicki commented that the grass ocean had impressed Maru during her visit to South Dakota last summer from Japan. Vicki is a native of South Dakota and lived on a ranch on the prairie for the first seven years of her life, close to a Sioux/Lakota reservation. Thus, she has seen very high grass, but back then, everything was taller than she was!

This story contains an apt description at the top of p. 499 of what we all encounter in our daily lives, “BUT, purpose is one thing and arrival another.”

RC pointed out how the People walked as one facing the grass ocean so that they shared a similar perception of it.

Jeanne commented that the People chose this as a “NEW CENTER PLACE.” This signified its importance to them. The People did not lightly choose and designate center places. Moreover, they stayed in their center places for some time.

Dark Ocean:

Peggy admired the phrase in the middle of p. 501, “that a way newly become ancient” for its depth of meaning stated so succinctly.

Jeanne mentioned that in a recent e-mail, Laurie Roberts (Paula Underwood’s daughter ad her assistant for many years) described an archaeological site west of Denver which may be where the People lived a while before crossing the grass ocean.

In the Addenda on p. 829, Paula distinguished between two kinds of buffalo: “A Shaggy Four-footed People, dark in hue” seems clearly to refer to the kind of buffalo we are familiar with. The People called them, “Thunder on Earth.” Whereas, she stated that the “Great Shaggies” described in the Forest of Mountains, seem to be describing the larger species of buffalo (bison latifrons) that she has seen described as traveling more separately, as well as being larger. The latter became extinct at some point.

Peggy shared with us an experience she had in a class for teaching students with learning disabilities. The class was shown a black and white picture of what initially appeared to be some rocks and white spaces. Much to Peggy’s surprise and that of her classmates, they learned that what they were seeing was the face of a cow. The lesson learned was that we tend to see details before we see the whole. In short, the old adage applies: we literally cannot see the forest for the trees.

Squash Sister:

Jeanne told us that in this story we learn that the People already had acquired one of the three sacred sisters, beans p. 505, “WHEREAS WE WERE A PEOOLE who greatly valued the podded seeds which might be easily eaten or kept and dried and later simmered in water so that even a greater softness than before was achieved.”

In the Addenda on p. 829, Paula stated that, “Pods being of so great a size: clearly refers to squash (the second sacred sister), that is described within the context of concepts current at the time.

We can all appreciate as the People did that a squash can feed many, “And this pod also grew to such a size that one might feed a number of people.”

The value of these tow gifts from the earth is summed p at the end, “SO THAT NONE OF THE PEOPLE ANY LONGER WENT OUT FROM OUR CENTER PLACE WITHOUT THESE SEED SISTERS.”

Culinary facts: Squashes were eaten all through their various developmental stages. They were prepared for winter storage by removing the seeds and cutting it into strips, which were sun dried. The seeds were also sun dried and used.

Squash Blossom:

In this story we learned about “the True Granddaughter of Growing Woman: and “That the People chose for her an appropriate and an honoring name.” The name symbolizes for the People, “ . . . something we value, something of great beauty, something whose mere existence predicts plenty.”

Culinary factoids: Squash blossoms were used by the Aztecs and are still used by them and other Native Americans for soups and in fillings for tacos, quesadillas, egg dishes, and even pudding. Plus, they are often dipped in batter and fried.

Two Ways:

On p. 509, the two ways are described: “AND even as our People had learned how to encourage seeds towards Earth, so did this People learn to encourage a dark Ocean toward cliff ledge so that an occasional mischance became a regular occurrence.”

We all liked the phrase found in this story on p. 509, “Time beyond time.” In the Addenda, Paula reminded us of the difference in the People’s concept of time described in the annotations at the end of The Walking People. She went on to say that a more linguistically accurate “translation: might be “before and before” in the sense of Path, but that “time beyond time” is not inaccurate and is more intelligible in English.

In the addenda on p. 829, regarding “Over some cliff edge” on p. 509, Paula stated that this purposeful driving of a herd of buffalo over the edge of the cliff is borne out by bone piles found here and there.

Jeanne told us that the term seed was also used to refer to any unfamiliar thing.

Peggy said that the story serves as a reminder of how complacent our people have become with respect to reliance upon oil and other natural resources. See the top of p. 511, “So did they understand that even this Dark Ocean might yet run dry. And so it was in their mind to seek self-sustaining ways upon the Earth so that a limitless number of subsequent others might celebrate this Wisdom. AND YET, IN NO WAY could they make this understood to any other People.”

“NOW IT CAME TO BE that the People began to be discontent in this place.” At this time, whole seed families were irretrievably lost due to other people’s lack of foresight, lack of interest in learning how to cultivate seeds, and trampling of seeds by the great herds. Thus, the People were sad and thought “OF THIS MOST RECENT CENTER PLACE AS A PLACE OF GREAT LOSS.” While the People’s discontent is understandable, they usually remained in a center place for some time as Jeanne had told us earlier because such places were very important to the People.

Small Fruit:

In the addenda, Paula stated that it is logical to assume that this is what is now called peyote and that these passages describe a time when this plant was less guided by experience than it is now. In the middle of p. 512, the People remember consuming many berries too quickly and the death of too many as a result. This was a very hard lesson learned by the People. The First Mountain Telling, “How Vision is One Thing and Understanding Another,” describes this grievous event. Pp. 440-444.

None of us had seen peyote. So, Vicki did a google search on it and recommends that you do the same to get a visual of it. The first thing that came up, Peyote: the divine cactus, showed a picture of this small spined fruit which is described in the same manner as on p. 512. Then Vicki read some of its history that reinforced Paula’s logical assumption that this was peyote. See the following paragraphs for excerpts from the fascinating history of this hallucinogenic plant.

It has been used for more than 3,000 years according to recent specimens discovered in dry caves and rock shelters in Texas. An early Spanish chronicler Frey Sahagun said that it is white and, “Those who eat it or drink it see visions either frightful or laughable. This intoxication lasts 2-3 days. It is a common food of the Chichimeca for it sustains them and gives them courage to fight and not feel fear, hunger or thirst.” The Chichimeca live in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. (Note: San Miguel de Allende is in the same state.)

The personal physician of King Phillip II of Spain, Dr. Francisco Hernandez, was sent to study Aztec medicine. He said that it is woolly, and” . . . of a sweetish taste and moderately hot. Ground up and applied to painful joints it is said to produce visions by its users.”

A manual published in 1760 and found in San Antonio, contained questions for priests to ask converts about peyote, e.g., if they had eaten peyote and it they were soothsayers.