Place of the Rye Grass

Six feet tall in every direction--can you imagine?

So this is how the West was ''settled,'' as it were.  The Whitmans, Marcus and Narcissa, were killed, along with ten others, by Cayuse and Umatilla Indians.  Another 54 were taken captive.  It took a few years, but Congress created Oregon Territory in attempts to catch and hang those responsible for the deaths.

I'm uncomfortable with the word Massacre, as it seems to negate everything leading up to the incident...  the Presbyterian missionary doctor who repeatedly administered medicine for measles to Indian children who still died, while the same medicine worked for the whites.  How must that have looked?  The Cayuse doctrine that a medicine man pays for repeated deaths with his own life.

Or the way Whitman tried to convince the tribes, seasonally nomadic, to settle down on patches of land and farm, for the sake of the mission.  Couldn't have the local population moving on to salmon grounds every fall when you're trying to start a church.

There was the fake newspaper story in East Coast papers talking about tribal men asking for holy teaching, getting white missionaries excited to go West in the first place.

And the words words written by Whitman's wife, Narcissa, the first white woman to make the trek on the Oregon Trail west and a pioneer if there ever was one, in her diary and letters, that betray a certain racism in her missionary efforts.  Oh, the motives that lie within!

Because of the bickering and quarreling among missionaries, the Presbyterian leadership back East voted to close the Mission, but in an astonishing journey, Marcus Whitman left in October 1942 for New York City and Washington, DC, riding through the winter Rockies and down through Taos, New Mexico, to plead his case.  He arrived in March, and the board agreed to let Whitman Mission remain open.

Anyway, a few years after the Massacre, with the tribe on the lam and in the hills, five Cayuse men consented to turn themselves in.  They were tried and hanged in Oregon City.  It's not clear whether these men were guilty; two of them were tribal leaders; perhaps they were just trying to protect their people.

But the entire Cayuse paid.  The Cayuse War that followed the Whitmans' murders left most of the tribe wiped out by settlers, remaining members joined with the Nez Perce.

Now I believe there is never an excuse for murder, though there may be a story found in spilled blood.  I know the hearts of Marcus and Narcissa were probably as troubled and pained and grey as those of Tiloukaikt and Tomahas.  But I stand on these grounds, rye grass hills, wheat grass lining the Oregon Trail, and I wonder if things might have gone differently...

If the Black Hills and Cayuse, Appalacia and so many other parts of this land might not have come to their current government through dislocation.  Through genocide.

Most days I push it down deep, don't want to sound extremist, don't want to offend, am more white myself than Cherokee, but this isn't about racial allegiance:

the truth is, it hurts to live on stolen land.


The Umatilla,

from Lake Creek Trail into North Fork Wilderness.
We found the wreck of a downed plane: deep indent in the ground,
rusting metal everywhere, eerie and overgrown.
The crash took place in the 40s--a World War II training exercise
took a turn for the worse.

This morning, we heard an elk bugling, loud and distant,
recalling the howler monkeys of Costa Rica,
the way you'd hear them hundreds of yards off, moving from tree to tree,
coming closer.

Well, yesterday was a year since I left Honduras,
and as for the south,
I both long for and release it.

In the Umatilla, I lose count of the firs I see tipping 30 inches in diameter,
the Western Larch and Blue Spruce (Engelmann's), and White and Lodgepole Pine.

I revel in the Indian Paintbrush and yellow alpine lupines
(I've only seen purple lupines before).
I lay in my ocean blue tent and easily shut my eyes at 8'o'clock.

My left forearm swells and my hamstrings ache,
but I praise the G-d of all these trees and ridges,
of wide silent spaces and wildflowers.

Yes, may the Prince and Maker of this greenness live near me forever.


the layers / stanley kunitz

There is more to say about Blue Ridge, harder stories, but it might take a while for me to say it.  For now, this poem:

I have walked through many lives, 
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind, 
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will in tact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
''Live in the layers,
not on the litter.''
Though I lack the art 
to decipher it
no doubt the next chapter 
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.


Especially this little guy, him of the Timbaland boots and scratchy voice and ''half-Indian'' origins, who ''doesn't speak Spanish'' and laughs at the reindeer he thinks look Chinese (so bad, I know....), but who is smart and tender at times and interesting and very aware.  Who sucks his nostrils into slits like a snake and makes outrageous faces and is one of the smallest in the class, dressed like a gangsta, who misses his mom all the time, and who I constantly have to remind, ''Teacher Cari, not just Cari.''

Yeah, this one basically represents how I feel about that entire out-of-control and sweet and off-the-wall first grade class.  And that is always the hardest thing about leaving...