From: Merle Hanson
The land was where I grew up. Chores didnít take care of themselves but my Papi urged me to walk the bluffs and bottoms. He would sometimes walk with me and his long stride made me run to keep up. He would find a stone to sit upon and we would watch the world open up with its secrets. My mind would relax knowing it was here where I felt as safe as I could. We could feel that tension leaving our souls and we felt so much better after a walk and a sitting.
I will always remember those wise, old eyes that brought gentle comfort when things were tough. It wasnít what he said but how he said it. You had to hear the inflection in his voice and see the twinkle in his eye to understand what he was really saying. That was how we talked.
Papi and I were closest in those river bottoms. You could smell and feel life happening down there. It was the unknowing sounds and those musty smells of life changing that brought my mind into focus. I breathe happily when I think of all the time we spent there.
We never wanted to leave that land of river bottoms and woods and bluffs. Our food came from that land we loved. It was there I started eating the nuts and berries. We caught our fish and cooked them in any way that gave us variety. We ate the mushrooms and Mami said they tasted as fine as the ones from back home.
I was a young man and could not have imagined a better place to grow up. You could see the animals and the trees and the leaves and watch the seasons pass. I can still taste those nuts and grasses and mushrooms she used to cook, and they bring a smile to this boyís face yet today.
Mami would pluck the grasses and wildflowers of the prairie and we started and ended our days with a simple cup of her tea. The gentle tingling the tea gave to my body was sometimes the best part of my day and I still felt that tingling of tea on my death bed. I saw many things as the final curtain closed and for now I will keep those to myself.
I could breathe while outside. The quiet of the backwaters and the silence of the mossy tree was where I felt most alive. That croak of a frog breaking my train of thought as I try to get the worries of work out of my mind was natureís meditation.
I can still remember that sound of the river lapping the canoe and shore. Those sounds of the old frying pan as it sizzled the walleye and the smell of the dayís catch as it filled my lungs and relaxed my mind. It wasnít Mamiís, but it was the best cooked food I ever ate.
My Indian friends would visit and we would share their tobacco and my tea out on the river. We would pass the pipe and the visions of a past gone era became part of who we were. They told stories of long dead legends and big fish and great bears who sacrificed their lives so the people could eat. They talked of their ancestors and at times I thought I saw the faces of the past in the flames of the campfire. I took a deep breath and my heart began to feel the past and my mind began to see life in a different way. It was my first vision.
I looked around and saw the world as I knew it. I heard the trains and saw the steamboats and knew this way of life was ending. The sad eyes of my Indian friends saw tomorrow and realized progress was going to trample the life they knew.
This life which was dear to me was ending as I knew it. The trees from Wisconsin being milled in the lumber yards of Winona and used to build all points west would take many years to recover. As I sat on that island I knew I had to preserve those memories and visions of life so the children I never had could remember life as it was.