Nature Notes - April 2020
- Story by James Inabinet
“Who can tell the dancer from the dance?”
One mid-morning, a small group of friends and I walked along the bluffs in the deep shade of enormous water oaks near the bayou. We rested quietly until one of the us broke the silence by perfectly imitating a Barred Owl. I answered the challenge with a call of my own. Another followed suit. Almost immediately a shadow moved over.
Looking up, we saw a huge Barred Owl on a limb about fifty feet away. He looking down at us, jerking his head, attempting to find the owl that encroached upon his territory. His look was wild, fierce. Not one of us moved a muscle.
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What does it mean to story the land? What does it matter? For the most part, Americans appear ready to move on a whim, the land disregarded; even the house receives little more than fleeting notice. Places have become “mere,” the land easily abandoned, barely remembered.
To story the land would impart a shift in attitude, from mere backdrop to essential, as much a vibrant part of “home-ing” as blood family. But that would require a different notion of stories than we commonly hold, and a different way to arrive at them.
I’m inspired by Aboriginal Dreaming stories, the original Dreaming that instigated the creation of the world, an event that is somehow outside of time. Creation happened then – and it’s happening right now!
Old creation stories are tales of current events, too; being and place co-arose and co-arise, continuously. In the original Dreaming, ancestral beings brought form to a formless landscape by merely traveling across it, by just being there.
Ostensibly they were just walking around checking the place out and things happened (don’t they always?). Wherever they sat or got burned or drank copious water or slithered or fell became landforms, creeks and hills, valleys and watering holes.
The original creation is ever re-enacted by the people to ensure that the creation-ing can endure. By following the Dreaming, songlines are created, dreaming trails forged, mythlines that outline creative pathways–places where mana can enkindle person and place, where a mighty something! can provide a creative touch, evoke a creative response. By following the mythlines, the stories, the potency of a place is ensured, a potency both a Dreaming and a Dream.
Sean Kane, in Mythtelling, echoes this Aboriginal cosmology when he declares that creation stories are out there waiting to be heard. Creation happened and it’s happening now.
Such stories are myths, not myths as falsehoods but myths as true stories of the relationship between humans and earth, stories that tap into “ideas and emotions of Earth.” We embody these ideas and emotions by being there, by listening, by attending to.
When we sing and story a place into being, seminal ideas of great potency can arise, ideas coalesced at the boundary of thought. Myths story the land, true stories of people and place, an ecology of place and its inhabitants. It requires going there, not so much a walking as a dance, a dance of power. Who can tell the dancer from the dance?
I am seeking stories of home. Experience leads to stories, stories about things that happened, stories of people in place.
There are two kinds of such stories. One kind might be about going to the grocery and finding potatoes on sale and it’s on the grocery list! As awesome as that is, there is nothing mythic in the story, no potency to be felt. By contrast, another kind of story might be about walking through the neighborhood at night and hearing the eerie sound of a Screech Owl, right when you are in a dark place, physically and psychically, and you realize that you are alone with a wild, undomesticated Other. The hair stands up on your arms.
This second kind of story has potency. It opens up a mythic dimension, a door that swings open into a world of un-domesticated wildness. I am going through it.
I have lived in my forest home for thirty years, ever trying to engage in dialogue with La Terre. By listening for stories as they arise within the dynamic of place-and-I, a series of stories have become woven. A vague mythline has begun to take shape.
There is the place “where owl looked at them,” the place where “coyote tricked them,” the place where I came to know the “name of that tree,” the place where “snake taught snakeness.”
These are potent stories of my dialogue with earth, of La Terre, stories of home that involved ideas and emotions of Earth. I am grateful to be alive in this storied place.