Muscogee Nation News Column for October 2006
Last week I went for a walk along the ditch here in northwest Albuquerque. It was bare. It had been shaved of the mile high weeds and flowers lining it throughout the summer. There was a lull in the water flow so the bottom was now only mud and occasional pools of water. In a few spots crayfish were looking for soft muck. Green heads of frogs emerged here and there. Some frogs took the opportunity to sunbathe. They dove in alarm at the sound of humans or dogs. One wise frog was not so skittish. He sat out on a concrete abutment, taking in the day. I sat with him for a while to see what I could learn. Frogs are rare these days; poisons and pesticides have taken many out. This wise frog and his relatives were the most I’d seen in one place in years. Neither of us said anything as we watched the blue fall sky sweep by, and the scrambling crayfish. At the back of my mind was the stack of papers on my desk, the errands, terrorist attacks by our government, and concern for my brother and his heart. The tightness of fast society slowly unwound. When the wise frog did finally talk he noted that humans used to come and visit. And they would visit in turn. We both sat with remembering as another stream of blue passed with thoughts of clouds. We felt sad at the current state of loss in this world of progress. Somewhere along the way humans got confused and lost the way. Some still remember, I told the frog. I look for those who remember everywhere I travel. He nodded. Some of his people had forgotten too. Time pulled us both apart. We had to get on with it. We made plans to get together again. We thanked each other for the visit. When I looked back he was still there, encouraging that crayfish towards a muddy cove.
In the news this month was a story about scientists who are looking for a cure for gay sheep, or rams. They are experimenting with giving the rams extra high doses of estrogen to see if that will counter the tendency for their own kind. Sounds funny to me: the scientists, not the rams. This study probably cost more than a block of new homes for the elderly. Why not come up with a cure for hatred or judgment? We’d all get along a lot better if we’d respect each other. The wise ones don’t judge people by the color of their skin, by accumulation of wealth, or by inborn traits. It’s how we treat each other (human, frog, etc), and how we take care of our many gifts, that matters. I wonder what Mekko Frog would say about this? He’s probably laughing about those poor rams prancing about on high doses of estrogen, in the name of science.
In the latest World Literature Today, published in Norman, Oklahoma, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma said something in an interview with Michelle Johnson when talking about The Silk Road that sparked me thinking about growth of our Mvskoke culture:
"Years ago in Japan, a wise man told me that if you look deeply enough at anything thought of as local--be it music, an idea, a tradition, a craft--you find that the local thing has global roots. We think of ancient people as being so isolated, yet here is this trade
route along which religions and music and musical instruments and foods and goods all traveled. Of course, people traveled with them, and the people and the goods and the ideas and everything else all had enormous influence on one another."
I think of the Mississippi River, the Gulf coast, the Atlantic and the Caribbean, as part of the network of Muscogee trade routes. Now these routes have been expanded by air flight. I consider what has come to be known as Muscogee culture. Our culture contains many threads leading all over the world. Every day when I practice my sax I say a mvto to Adolfe Sax. He was born in Belguim, spent most of his life in Paris where he gave himself over to promoting his family of saxophones. He was vilified and booed by jealous competitors for inventing the saxophone. The sax eventually made it across the Atlantic, found a place in jazz and American music. It's one of the favorite instruments of Creek people. Jim Pepper is still the reigning jazz sax king. I remember Thomas Berryhill. I’d love to hear of others. Even my paternal grandmother Naomi Harjo played sax in Indian Territory. One of these days it might be considered a Mvskoke traditional instrument. That’s how these things happen. You never know.