Monday, October 18, 2021

Native at Heart

Sterling holding an earthworm, or nightcrawler as we called them when I grew up here.

She held an earthworm in her hands with a smile on her face, that small life held in her hands. She adored it. Her brother looked towards her, capturing the moment in his own memory as he held an eagle feather.  We were all part of a fellowship of Native Americans and white people of European descent, walking the land and learning the history. This was a day of sharing deep history and bearing witness to tangible artifacts in the land. And yet... it was my ten year old daughter who best experienced the day.

Our Native American guide walked over to Sterling and observed the cradled night-crawler in her hands. He asked her if she had ever seen a salamander. Her face quickened as she said, "No." He flipped a log and deftly swept up the mud-puppy. He extended his hand towards her and she quickly laid the night-crawler to the earth and held her open hand towards him. The four-legged little creature slipped from his hand to hers.

I was enraptured with the moment. A descendant from Native American braves and a little girl adopted from China. History intersecting history, converging here in a moment shared with  a lizard thing. She immediately asked me if it was a boy or a girl. My intellect failed me as I responded, "I don't know." 

She carried the little fella (he looked like a boy) until we came to a barbed wire fence that we needed to cross and then she set him down. It must have been the journey of his life! Now the little mud-puppy fella was a stranger in a new land.

How often I have felt that way in my own life. Suddenly everything somehow shifts and I find myself in a new place.  This of course was not the case for Sterling. She was off to exploring the woods around her, running ahead of our guide and being called back by the sound of my voice.

Sterling was perhaps our soul-leader for the moment and we only subconsciously understood. She was leading us to be engaged in the moment... the immediate present. 

The world can shift in a moment. One spoken sentence changes everything. Grandma died last night. You have to wear a mask. I don't love you anymore. Yes, I'd like to have dinner with you. The power of spoken word. It changes our entire outlook with a breath. Nuclear.

Sterling. My ten year old daughter. She was grounded in the moment. What can I learn here? She is fully present, probably more than any of us. Grounded in this present reality while the rest of us are overthinking everything. I am arrested while I type these letters and words. I am called back to that moment. I stand on the trail, still... and I am listening.

It is the breeze that speaks to me. There is nothing threatening on the horizon. It is cool and light and serene. This is the reality of the world that I live in, but it is not the reality that I see. Too often I am caught up in the "what-ifs" of tomorrow and the "what-onlys" of yesterday.

"Dad, is it a boy or a girl?"

I had to travel so far to be present in that specific moment. It was as if my mind had been forcibly grabbed and pulled through the worm-hole of racing thoughts and slammed down into the earth on that hillside with her little face looking up to me expecting answers.

Mudpuppies, binary questions, and a mind that means the world to me. Sterling's question put me in the right head space for the rest of the day as together we followed the footsteps of our Native American guide and friend. I only had to open my mind as Sterling had opened up her hands. She received a salamander, and I received a fresh awareness of my place in that sacred space.

She was there naturally, but for me, I had to remember again that despite the noise of our American culture, we are all created native at heart. 

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