In the Footsteps

Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness. – Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

 

The eagle lifts off the western ridge, turning into the airstream, moving high towards the top of the snow covered Blue Mountains.

Men walk through the forest, muskets on their shoulders, tied to their waists are tails of animals they have killed. Over their shoulders hangs other wood hooks and strings that hold animals to bring back to their families. Their breath puffs out into the cold, leaving for a moment a moving frost.

Their boots crunch down the frozen plants that will naturally re-bloom in the coming spring. The men, these people live in the high valleys of the Appalachian ridge that extends up into New York and down into Georgia.

This is a cold winter, yet the hunting has been good. You can see in the body language of these men their relief and unspoken gratitude. One man stops to take out a thin paper, pulling open a stringed bag with his teeth. He rolls a cigarette, lighting it from a coal carried by one of the other men in a pouch.

Life is simple, yet hard. Some live to be old, many die young from influenza, childbirth, disease. The land supplies, the people take, yet they instinctively replenish the land. They know they must give back what they have taken.

Echoes of others footsteps are heard. These men are placing their feet in the footprints of the generations of the One Nations that walked this land before them. The One Nation People had a reverence for the land, calling earth “the great mother.” Believing that all that was on the mother was alive and needed to be treated with respect. They believed in the hoop. That all was connected to all; that a balance had to be kept to keep life going. From inside the inipi’s, singing, the laughter of children, the crying of a woman as her spouse passes to the upper worlds, echoes from the past.

Prayers are felt on the cold wind of winter as these men make their way home.

Heads down, the men push through the wind towards home. The sun is setting, a decision is made to set for the night and wait towards morning to move on. They lay down their packs. Fire lit, they warm their hands and feet in silence, thinking of life

Around the fire the medicine people and the elders sit inside a lodge. The winter winds are a voice dancing around the bones of the structure. This is a coming together of a governing force to discuss what would be helpful for the people of this clan to help them survive a particularly hard winter season. When this gathering of the grandmothers and the warlords is done, the people will be called in to give voice; to be taken into consideration what must be done next. Then a decision will be announced the next day.

The sun rises, a new day is born. The men who have slept around a tended fire stand up stretching stiff bones and body, stepping into the trees and brush to relieve themselves. Picking up their packs, kicking snow and dirt on the fire so no trace is left, they walk single file towards their homes, glad to open their doors to a warm welcome and hearth.

***

The elders decide to allow the people to stay put, to weather out the winter. Conserving energy, many families share lodges, hunkering down to wait for the season to pass.

Cold waters are running rivets down and around the lodges, the air is warming, after a few false passes spring is taking hold. Fat bellied children run in the sunshine, laughing and playing. Mothers nurse their babies at the opening of their lodges. Men repair and rebuild, not ready to break down the village just yet. It is good to breath the fresh spring air.

A white man is coming down from the top of the ridge towards the village. On his back is a rawhide pack. Unshaven, tired and in the need of rest, he is grateful to see other people. He brings his hand up in a signal of no harm. Still, several young warriors step out of the shadows and crowd, to meet him before he enters where the women and children are.

They escort him to the council’s lodge. Inside sits two elders, two medicine people, and the chief.

A small fire is burning to give off enough light that the open flap cannot give. The smell of sage and sweet grass permeates the air. One of the elders beckons the bent over man into the circle, taking the pipe from her mouth, smiling, her eyes bright with intelligence and some caution. Smoke curls from the sides of her open smile.

She passes him the pipe, she asks not of his affairs that brought him there, for she can see he is tired, in need ff nourishment. A plate of green sprouts and deer stew is offered to him. He all but inhales the offering, washing it down with cool clean water. The council waits, finally, a word is spoken to him in Seneca. He understands some of their language, he bends his head and explains that he has wandered into their village lost, looking for a safe place to live. That he has been to several other clans, this is his fifth, to spread the word of peace.

The council listens to him. Asking pointed questions. No decision is made. He is given a place to sleep, a fur to cover him. A runner is sent to the other villages to get a vote on whether to let this man stay.

The chieftain, the elders watch this man for many days to see his true spirit. The runner returns with an answer. This man is of no harm, he may stay if he wishes.

After many years, a marriage and many children, the word is spread of a white man, who is now called “High Eagle Speaker.” He is called the peace maker.

***

A man pushes the heavy wood door open on his small cabin, a rush of warmth hits his face. As he steps into the large dirt floored room, his wife, who was stirring a pot over the large fireplace, turns slightly towards the sound of his entry. Unbending and standing up, wiping her hands on the cloth apron she wears over her long dress, a smile lights up her face and warmth fills the room. Two young children and an older boy run towards their father, arms open, love in their faces, calling “Papa, papa you are home.” Yes, it is good to be home.

A man who is no longer white, yet knows of their ways, pulls back the flap on the long house, heads turn, welcome is given by other men who stand or sit by their fires. He nods and smiles as his eyes search out his fire and his family amongst his people. There, wiping her hands on a deer skin stands his mate, dark hair shining in the fire light, her eyes filled with tears. He moves quickly now. Children gather around his knees calling out “Papa, Papa, look at me, Papa. Oh yes Papa.” It is good to be home.

***

Their wet foot prints dry as the votes are being taken to finish a long and arduous process. Men stand with their backs to the fireplace that is not needed during the heat of summer. The gavel comes down again and again as votes are taken.

Ben Franklin steps outside the hall, the rain has gone to a drizzle. He takes out his pipe tapping down the tobacco in the bowl. Taking a small, dry weed from the ground, he turns, using a lit candle to light the stick. Moving with ease, he lets this fire ignite the mixture. After a deep inhale and let go, he stretches out his right leg, the calf of his leg is aching again. Shaking hands with the men who are walking out the door, he says to John Adams: “You know my fellow, it will be good to get home.”

John Adams pats him on the back and agrees. They both turn in different directions, the sun is beginning to set. John Adams looks back over his shoulder, there in the dusk is the shape of Independence Hall. Limping a bit, and walking in the footsteps of the trackers, the One Nation People, Ben Franklin is going home.

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