Never Give Up on Anyone

May 16, 2005 St. Paul, MN

Up in the LAX Radisson at 3AM Hawaii time. I pray, wash and stumble around to dress and repack what little I’ve taken out in the six hours I’ve been in the room. I used to say each moment is ripe with possibility, but this morning I understand some moments are overripe and drop to the ground, other moments are dry and already crumbling to dirt or ash. Some are stillborn. This morning it’s a full suitcase, a small bag for overruns, my carryon and sax bag. It’s relatively easy to checkout, catch the shuttle and run the airport security gauntlet to my gate. I felt sorry for the terminal 1 passengers. Their check-in line ran all the way to terminal 2. Must have been a security breach as the news channels were getting the story.

Time does collapse and expand. One moment I’m standing on the lanai in Honolulu , the next I’m deplaning in LAX, and soon I’m checking into the St. Paul Hotel in Minnesota. Isn’t that how we experience and know time? It becomes memory.

Along the way met Wayne Bergeron, trumpet player, an LA studio musician on his way to Grand Rapids, MI. He’s played with everyone from Paul Anka to Queen Latifa. Check out his new album, You Call This a Living? , from Wag Records, available at his website: www.waynebergeron.com. . Great horn. Sassy and elegant. Soars. Wonderful human being, too at the center of it. That isn’t always so. Great art often comes through lousy human beings. Go figure. Proves it’s beyond us.

May 17, 2005 St. Paul, MN

It’s always a question about where to start and end on these missives from the road. No sun this morning. It’s there, behind mist and clouds. The Mississippi River appears touchable from the window. It is. Where eyes alight an energy exchange occurs. It’s a reciprocal act. The CafĂ© in the hotel is new:, flat and unimaginative decor, tables and booths set down in a seminar room. The food is decent and the company even better. Sandra and I visit for the first time in a few years. She’s still as beautiful, her eyes compassionate and sharp. We’re both dragging from the travel, and we’re both dressed in black this morning. Funny how the challenge of the Iowa writing workshop urged us to our own visions of what it means to be artists. We’ve gone on to forge our visions from our community experience. And what we carry with us to the table this morning is the struggle for home, within our souls, within the writing/artistic community of America. We talk of family, community regeneration and phobias. Here we are, thirty years later, almost thirty years exactly since that sojourn in Iowa City. Today we will discuss all this with Garrison Keillor from 8-9:30 PM in the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. I’m sure tickets are still available if you’re anywhere near this city that always reminds me of Meridel LeSueur. Otherwise, check your NPR radio station(s).

Below is a Suzan Harjo story forwarded to me by Indian Country Today. I’d heard out the re-appearance of the chvkvulv from my cousin George Coser. We are all taking note. There is a larger cultural movement in the works. It has been building in the heart of the people all this time. And the vision consists of the visions of birds, other creatures, the plants, planets and souls of the elements.

Harjo: Never give up on anyone

© Indian Country Today May 12, 2005. All Rights Reserved
Posted: May 12, 2005

by: Suzan Shown Harjo / Indian Country Today

The honorable ivory-billed woodpecker has returned from the dead and is living in a wildlife refuge in the Big Woods of eastern Arkansas. It seemed to disappear in 1944 and was long presumed extinct.

This spirit bird's reappearance 60 years later reinforces a wise instruction by Native elders: ''Never give up on anyone.''

From time immemorial, the handsome, broad-shouldered bird thrived in the bottomland forests and bayous of what is now the southeastern United States. After 50 years of developers clear-cutting old-growth trees in its habitat from North Carolina to Texas, the ivory-billed woodpecker was left with few places to live.

In recent decades, the federal government and private parties have declared certain ecosystems as Important Bird Areas. The ivory-billed woodpecker re-emerged in one of these areas, which should encourage the Bush administration - whose strong suit is not environmental protection - to establish more such safe places for the homeless.

John James Audubon painted this bird in the early 1800s, comparing its stylish chiaroscuro markings to a ''great Vandyke'' painting. Audubon described it as 21 inches long, with a 30-inch wingspan and three-inch bill, and a ''dark glossy body and tail ... large and well-defined white markings of its wings, neck, and bill, relieved by the rich carmine of the pendent crest of the male, and the brilliant yellow of its eye.''

Muscogee artists have been depicting this bird for thousands of years. A flurry of e-mail and voice messages spread the word among Muscogee people that the ivory-billed woodpecker lives.

My friend Rob Trepp, a Muscogee researcher, sent three images of the bird that Muscogee artists etched on shell and in clay over 2,000 years ago. He says the bird ''is found in many iconographic settings, sometimes pictured alone, wings spread; other times pictured in fours, heads only, at the four cardinal points around an inner image.''

I had lots of questions about this important bird. Rob checked with Muscogee cultural experts George Cosar, John Fixico and Ed LaGrone; and I asked my dad, Freeland Douglas, who's always my first call on Muscogee language and cultural matters.

Here are their consensus answers about the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Woodpeckers - toski in the Muscogee language - are medicine birds, respected for their persistence and power to ''pull things out.'' Singers of toski songs ''take on the power'' and gain the ''ability to pull things out of their patients.''

The largest and strongest of the toski is cvkvlv, the ivory-billed woodpecker. Traditional Muscogee medicine practitioners still use ''songs about cvkvlv.'' Its own song was recorded only once, in 1935. Prior to the release in April of video footage from one year ago, the last documented sighting of cvkvlv was in 1987 in Cuba.

Cvkvlv is pronounced CHUH kuh luh - ''kind of like chocolate, if you need a mnemonic,'' wrote Trepp. The word is a ''progressive contraction'' that references the ''fine feathers at the back and the color of the bill.'' Cvkvlv is preserved in a Muscogee/Cherokee family name, Chuckluck or Chuculate.

Cvkvlv is called a rather rude name by scientists: Campephilus principalis, which is Latin for grub-eater. Audubon observed that its main food consists of beetles, larvae and large grubs, but it eats ripe forest grapes ''with great avidity,'' along with persimmons and hagberries.

He also noted that the ''ivory-bill is never seen attacking the corn.'' I think this respect for sofkee (corn) must have further endeared cvkvlv to Muscogee people.

I never met cvkvlv, but I feel as if an ancient, beloved friend has come home after a long absence.

I had a similar feeling 10 years ago, about a butterfly. I had checked into a conference hotel and turned on CNN to see what news I'd missed during the flight from D.C. to Albuquerque.

The news anchor was saying that scientists in northern California were elated at the re-emergence of the formerly extinct teal blue-tailed butterfly that disappeared from the Plains in the late 1800s.

This caught my attention for several reasons, not the least of which was the phrase ''formerly extinct.'' Now that is news.

But the big news to me was that the teal blue butterfly was real. During my first Sun Dance in South Dakota, the ceremonial leader told me to listen carefully to the messages of the blue butterfly. I looked for blue butterflies for years and finally decided they were magic beings, and maybe I'd see them and maybe not.

Hearing that they vanished for a century made me imagine that the blue butterflies saw what was happening to the Indians and the buffalo on the Plains and said, ''We're outta here.''

The news that they traveled to the West Coast and were presenting themselves to elated scientists made me laugh and cry at the same time. I felt as if I were greeting a familiar stranger with an important message. I could hear my respected elders saying, ''See why you should never give up on anyone.''

Then and now, I think how Native peoples have been pushed out of our natural homelands and how long we have lived at the edge of extinction. The Native population hemisphere-wide was over 100 million in 1491. By 1900, it was under 1 million.

In the U.S. at the turn of last century, there were fewer than 240,000 Native people. The good news is that there were 2 million American Indians by 2000 and that Native populations are increasing in every country.

It is a miracle of survivance that there are Native people alive in sufficient numbers to assure a future as Native people.

It still is touch-and-go for Native heritage languages, traditional religions, sacred places, salmon and myriad other precious treasures, but no one should count them out.

Native people are revitalizing heritage languages as fast as humanly possible, even some that have been pronounced extinct for 150 years.

More and more Native young people are living within traditional religions, one ceremony at a time.

Native sacred places and salmon remain viable, despite the best efforts of government and developers to destroy them.

So, hail, cvkvlv. Hail, blue butterflies. Hail, all the formerly extinct living beings that refuse to die and stay dead. Never give up on anyone.

Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, is president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, D.C., and a columnist for Indian Country Today.

So wherever you are on this day, know that what matters, what has meaning will continue to emerge when we need it.

JH on-the-road



Radio Interview with Galway Kinnell, Lawrence Ferlingetti and me will be aired at 2 PM (PDT) on Saturday, May 14.  It can be heard live on your computer at www.kclu.org, or on 102.3 FM in Santa Barbara and 88.3 FM in Ventura. 

A reminder: May 17th
as he hosts a brand new series:
he's invited an outstanding group
of American writers to talk about
their friendships with one another—and with one another's work—in front of a live audience. The series promises to be sparkling, enlightening, and possibly contentious.

What really happens when two writers become friends? Literary Friendships features poets, mystery writers, and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists exploring the solitude of writing and the company of friendship.

Sandra Cisneros and Joy Harjo
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Met in graduate school and became fierce allies

Sandra Cisneros and Joy Harjo met in graduate school in the 1970s at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where both faced extreme skepticism from their teachers and peers: a poetry professor actually refused to include their work in class discussions. Cisneros and Harjo became allies, supporting and encouraging each other and each other's work. A novelist, poet, and MacArthur Fellow, Cisneros' many books include the best-selling The House on Mango Street, which is now required reading in classrooms around the country. She lives in San Antonio, Texas. Harjo, an Oklahoma-born member of the Muskogee tribe, is a poet and saxophonist with the band Poetic Justice. She has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas. Her books of poetry include, most recently, How We Became Human: Selected Poems. She lives in Hawaii.
Fitzgerald Theater / 8–9:30 p.m.
10 E. Exchange Street / Saint Paul, Minnesota 55101 (Map/Directions)

Tickets: Box Office 651 290-1221 or ticketmaster.com

$20 / $17 MPR members / $10 students / Special series price: $75 /

Group Rates: Discounts for groups of fifteen or more. For details, call 651-290-1496.

Announcing new book by Catherine Wald


Interviews with Elizabeth Benedict, Mary Kay Blakely, Chris Bohjalian, Wesley Brown, Frederick Busch, David Ebershoff, Bret Easton Ellis, Janet Fitch, Arthur Golden, Joy Harjo, E. Lynn Harris, Kathryn Harrison, Bill Henderson, Wally Lamb, Betsy Lerner, Elinor Lipman, Bret Lott, M.J. Rose, Esmeralda Santiago, Bob Shacochis, Amy Tan, Edmund White, and William Zinsser.

P.O. Box 443
Shrub Oak, NY 10588-0443

Human Being Training Season

In heavy training for spring season at Hui Nalu Canoe Club. As someone said the other night, we’re probably the only club in which the Senior Master Women (50 and over) train with the Open Crews (20’s and up). We have an excellent coach and it’s probably the first time I’ve had real and sustained coaching training. Because the senior master crew has several members who have paddled together for many years, and this is my first training year with Hui Nalu (last year I paddled off-season, which I miss) I often get put in other boats. Last night I was in an awesome canoe of Junior Master women. We flew. The key in all of this is rhythm, moving together, and most of all, being WITH the boat, being WITH the water. And when it’s together, as in a good band being together; you make music. Last night the music spoke of muscle, sweat, mana, grace and struggle. It’s usually dark by the time we return to the shore. Then we carry the canoes up, one-by-one. They’re heavy and require several people to carry, together. Struggle is part of it all. Working together is absolutely necessary.

Sometimes I think that the U.S. population has been hypnotized by television, Disney and other American filmmakers that each life is supposed to unfold be with little struggle, and whatever happens will all turn out with the perfect ending: the protagonist wins the race, the girl, the man, the country, the fight and is feted for the accomplishment and everyone lives happily ever after. Depression sets in because life doesn’t work this way. Hence, the proliferation of happy drugs to fix the sadness or depression (and if you read the small and getting smaller print, or listen to the fast auctioneer read of the side effects: “…liver disfunction, paralysis and death…” The whole country appears to be depressed. Seems that most of the country suffers from attention deficit disorder. Too many movies, too much tv…


The stories in each canoe, in each stroke of the canoe carry divorce, histories of cocaine, alcohol or meth addictions, rape, deaths, molestations, self-doubt, and just about any other social and spiritual problem you can find in any community. Politics in the boat can be as lethal and consuming as politics in a university, tribe or other entitiy.

Each stroke with intent, focused rhythm, connection with the spirit of water is an affirmation of what is called pono, a coming together, a fusion of compassion, hope and inner power.

And finally from News of the Weird, collected from the mainstream press by Chuck Sheperd, P.O.Box 18737, Tampa, FL 33679 and found in one of my favorite periodicals, The Funny Times, two insights from studies featured in current issues of Current Biology that prove boys will be boys, no matter the species. (Human beings aren’t the only human beings):

“…researchers studying the dance fly and the rhesus macaque monkey concluded that males will be males. The male dance fly was found by a team from the University of Western Australia to sometimes present a female with worthless tokens for the opportunity to mate with her, but by the time she discovered their worth, he had already hit and run. A team from Duke University found that the male monkey will forgo his own rewards (juice) in exchange for being permitted to view pictures of female monkey’s bottoms.”

(Maybe I’d better go back to school…)