Totems, Tokens, Things Taken

Since I got on the tangent of thinking about various indigenous-culture/immigrant persons and themes in recent times, I’m now in that phase one has of noticing connections with them everywhere.

Today’s little starting episode was that of walking up my front yard path and spying on it a lovely wing feather. I’m quite certain it was shed by the same hawk that I’ve heard giving its piercing cry and seen circling over our place on numerous occasions, and that I saw a couple of weeks ago slurping up a foot-long snake like so much hawk spaghetti right out under my backyard flowering pear tree. I’m relatively sure it’s a Cooper’s Hawk that watches over me here at home, and I love it. I’ve mentioned before that I’m fond of and fascinated by animals in general, birds among the favorites, and corvids and accipiters my particular royalty. I may have even noted earlier that I specifically think of a hawk as something like my personal secular icon, or the companion of my heart, given how often I find I’ve seen one nearby, seemingly watching over me at various times and events that turn out to be important in my life. This, of course, can be attributed to the aforementioned habit of noticing that one cultivates, but I like to think there’s room in the coincidence for a causality conundrum, a chicken-or-egg puzzle, too. Either way, I admire hawks.Photo: A Fugitive's Feather

So I was pleased to see the wing feather there, looking to my mind’s eye rather like a “thinking of you” note left for me by my guardian hawk while I was away, or sleeping. I picked it up and pondered it. I set it on my table as I started writing my post.

Then, reality began to set in, of course. A very quick web search in an attempt to confirm or correct the identification of my hawk companion led me to discover that I was suddenly a criminal, since American law forbids possession or use of migratory bird feathers, a law enacted during a period of mass avian murder on behalf, mainly, of milliners and their customers in an era of highly feathered fashions. Given those massacres, not to mention the extermination of whole animal species, both native and not, in times past in this country, I am neither shocked that such a law would have been deemed necessary nor opposed to the intent of it to protect animal life. I have no desire to hunt any animal for sport nor to denude it of its natural beauty for my amusement.

But I can understand those who are irked by the hard-line status of the injunction, given the common experience of finding shed or molted feathers of all sorts on every beach, in every garden. “No animals were harmed in the making of this” object. Still, the law is the law. So my feather went back outdoors to disintegrate naturally, as we all will do. (With the exception, I guess, of plastinated creatures, but that’s decidedly another topic altogether.)

Not before I took pictures of it, of course, because I am allowed to photograph things I’m not allowed to own.Photo: Birds of a Feather aren't Necessarily Allowed to Flock Together

And that law, of course, led me back to the whole idea of ownership with which these native-vs-nonnative thoughts are inextricably tied. The indigenous or aboriginal peoples of the continent I call home, and where I consider myself equally native though my ancestors immigrated to the place in times past, are known to have had religious and practical reasons for thinking of ownership as a notion that simply couldn’t be applied to nature: that one existed at all was a gift of nature, and whatever one did in life and death should be done with respect for that benevolence. I’ve no doubt that some applied this attitude better than others, as is true for all people and their beliefs and rules, but the concern was deeply enculturated and not easily ignored—at least until the near culturcide brought on by the colonization of the continent by various immigrant powers.

We did not inherit Mother Earth from our Ancestors…..
We have borrowed Her from our Descendants.
Attributed to Chief Si’ahl (Seattle) of the Suquamish People [to whom is also attributed the magnificent speech and subsequent letter about the impossibility of land “ownership” in response to the new government demand that the natives relinquish their home territories to US rule and non-native occupation]

Man belongs to the Earth…Earth does not belong to Man.
Attributed to Black Elk of the Lakota People

As an enthusiast of little biological or scientific knowledge of, but great admiration for, nature and all of its wonders, I find I walk a wavering line in my relationship with it. The attractions of living creatures, of all sorts of things animal, vegetable, and mineral, are often for me first noticed as visible beauties and/or curiosities, or as other sensory (often, sensational) experiences. I am drawn to the amazing characteristics and anomalies of the whole natural world. But I also live in it. I depend upon its resources for my life and health and happiness. The very fact of my existence affects, and can even destroy, other parts of nature. When I take a breath, I process the air into something that it was not before, and send it back out into the universe as a new and different thing.

I don’t begrudge myself my breath. I don’t feel I’m evil for intruding on the rest of nature by means of my very existence. But I hope that with every breath, every moment I do exist, I grow a bit wiser in what it means to be allowed to exist by nature, this planet, and the vast Otherness that holds us all in its spacious embrace. And I promise that when I do die, I will return whatever I can of what I took with me, feeding later generations of nature’s bounty with the space I once occupied, the physical remains of what I garnered from this plane, and the hawk-befriended spirit that will be grateful for as long as is possible.Digital illo from photos + text: The Earth is Our Mother

6 thoughts on “Totems, Tokens, Things Taken

  1. Wow Zkathryn, this is a very deep and thought provoking post which took some digesting. But it certainly mirrored my senrimentscregsrdingbour/e eryrhing’s presence here.

    Very interesting facts about the laws but also such a shame you couldn’t keep the feather. But a photograph is a second best I guess 😊 xx

    • It’s probably for the best that I am forbidden to collect too many Things, anyhow; as an inveterate magpie I would be buried in it all. And I am reminded that it’s important to let nature keep some things to herself. She’s better at taking care of her own than I am. 🙂

      • Apologies for the gobbledygook which I have just noticed in my unchecked comment. I get carried away typing and anyway I do it one fingered usually with a cat on my knee! I have so many excuses! Impatience is what it is and I must learn to read through and check first! 😊

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