My ancestors and those to the west used to keep track of historic events on winter count records inked on buffalo and elk robes. They would document the winters when the snow was higher than the tipis, when the small pox came, and when the people were victorious in a battle. They would remember important events.
Today, I am not sure how I keep track of these moments. Maybe Facebook or perhaps in my journals.
Sometimes change come fast. Then, we slumber for, it seems, years of solitude. We come to take a moment for permanent, a person for permanent.
So it is that when I travel, I return. I often hope for things to be comfortably familiar, or maybe, in some cases, an improvement--the healing of a horse, a person or a place.
Travel changes your perception of time. There is much that can be missed. I noticed the first the swans--Waabiziiwag--on a recent drive. Hearty and majestic, they stand on small ice patches at the beginning of the Otter Tail River. That river, traveling to the Red River and eventually to Hudson Bay, begins on my lake, Round Lake--Gaawaawiye Gaamag.
Here, the water is clean, long before the industrial agriculture, and long before it turns to the Red River and carries the bodies of my sisters, the missing and murdered indigenous women. Here, it is peaceful.
My friend Georgianne Baker used to talk to me about calling your spirit. Sometimes we travel so fast that our spirit may not catch up with us or remains behind, stunned or pleased by the moment. She used to make a call, to tell the spirits she was home and to remind her spirit to be present. In the time of air travel, digital time and the jackhammer of the industrial world, I find myself caught. I call my spirit back--back to the lake, the birds and the horses. Each winter, my ancestors and I return to see who has survived the winter. They used to talk the plagues that came to our people with the missionaries and traders. Many would pass, according to the winter counts of the west. You would know the family had perished when smoke no longer came from the wigwam.
This year, I watched the deaths of young people from heroin overdoses and violence, and old from illness. The smoke no longer comes from their wigwams.
In my travel I did not notice my old friend Ruth Berquist had gone. Bergquist was a stalwart cross country skier, and the defender of the north woods. My elder, she would watch over our lake and forests with an intergenerational commitment of someone who had loved that lake since before her birth. Her passing, I mourn, and am reminded that the greatness of my friends and relatives is best honored through carrying on her work. This winter, to my modern day winter count, I remember the storms and the cold. I remember the big storm which froze the Dakotas, Iowa, Manitoba, Minnesota and Wisconsin into a stillness. I remember feeling unprepared, and knowing I knew better. I remember this year past of the fires to the west, the winds and water to the south, and I prayed for more time to prepare my people.
We often forget our own winter count. We forget to be here now, to call our spirits home. Ziigwan bi daagoshin--it is a new spring which comes. Recognized as the waabizii venture out, the Aandeg, or crows, move into large numbers. They take to the skies and signal that it is time to tap our trees, and venture from our wigwams, hoping that smoke comes from many fires. It is time to call our spirits home. I pause from my travels, and look to see my world. She is beautiful.
LaDuke is executive director, Honor the Earth, and an Ojibwe writer and economist on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation.