Friday, April 16, 2010

native intelligence

The Fishermans Wife by Ben Ryan

A native is a man or creature or plant indigenous to a limited geographical area--a space boundaried and defined by mountains, rivers or coastline (not by latitudes, longitudes or state and county lines), with its own peculiar mixture of weeds, trees, bugs, birds, flowers, streams, hills, rocks and critters (including people), its own nuances of rain, wind and seasonal change. Native intelligence develops through an unspoken or soft-spoken relationship with these interwoven things: it evolves as the native involves himself in his region. A non-native awakes in the morning in a body in a bed in a room in a building on a street in a county in a state in a nation. A native awakes in the center of a little cosmos--or a big one, if his intelligence is vast--and he wears this cosmos like a robe, senses the barely perceptible shiftings, migrations, moods and machinations of its creatures, its growing green things, its earth and sky. Native intelligence is what Huck Finn had rafting the Mississippi, what Thoreau had by his pond, what Kerouac had in Desolation Lookout and lost entirely the instant he caught a whiff of any city. But some have it in cities--like the Artful Dodger, picking his way through a crowd of London pockets; like Mother Teresa in the Calcutta slums. Sissy Hankshaw had it on freeways, Woody Guthrie in crowds of fruit pickers, Gandhi in jails. Almost everybody has a dab of it wherever he or she feels most at home. . . But the high-grade stuff is, I think, found most often where the earth, air, fire and water have been least bamboozled by men and machines. In the scrub desert of Eastern Oregon, or along any river, Ma's got it. She may have it in coyote-raw form, but she's got it for sure: I've seen her stand and watch for an approaching flight of geese long minutes before it came within range of ear or eye; I've seen her sneak up and goose muskrats with the toe of her hipboot; she predicts storms, deaths in the family, weddings, hard winters; she guesses who'll get the next fish when the riverbank is choked with plunkers . . .

I don't think you get native intelligence just by wanting it. But maybe through long intimacy with an intelligent native, or with your native world, you begin to catch it kind of like you catch a cold. It's a cold worth catching. 

After 34 years living in the Willamette Valley in Oregon some native intelligence has seeped into my cells. I understand this area where I've done the majority of my living. I have lived longer in this house with small property that Michael and I bought over 11 years ago than I lived in any other house in my life, and the same is true for him. Trees that we planted early on are now taller than the two-story house, mature enough now to accommodate a full cycle of bird life. I become expectant this time of year for the return of the Rufus Hummingbirds. In autumn I watch for the Nuthatches' month-long stopover during their migration. The hugest bumblebees spent an afternoon recently harvesting pollen from the abundant staminate on the male Weeping Pussy Willow Tree outside my kitchen window. We planted it from a cutting given me by a neighbor ten years ago. She moved from their large property after her husband died. One other neighbor has also died since we have lived here; we gave him a card on his 80th birthday. Babies have been born and favorite teens have graduated high school. Last week I had a hug given me by a neighbor girl who I remember as a little blondie shyly trying the keys on our piano during visits. She recently visited Vancouver B.C. with her middle school band.

On Tuesday, from my kitchen office window, I watched the last of a beautiful row of tall, old birch trees being limbed for the final assault. Just as the summer concerts were about to begin... One of my summer pleasures has been listening to hundreds of birds singing from where they roosted as the final rays of the sun setting over the coast range made the tops of those birches gleam. The birds always sounded so joyful, so content, so pleased about their communal safety. Many of them are using our three giant Sequoias for temporary shelter now, but evergreens aren't their preferred nesting trees. They have been chattering nervously, undoubtedly mourning the confusing loss of newly-created nests. All are welcome to stay here, try out any of our trees (they have competition on the Mountain Ash as a family of four squirrels has claimed a hollow in the trunk), feast on the increase of seeds, nuts, and corn in the feeders, sing new symphonies for the setting sun other words, share some native intelligence.



Darlene said...

Lovely post, Lydia. I really enjoyed reading about the growth of your trees. That, to me, is what makes a house truly yours.

I always think of native intelligence as plain common sense.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post. I too live in the Willamette Valley (only 19 years for me!) and love waking to the sound of the bird choir every morning. I'd like to think I am developing a little native intelligence for this beautiful place I call home. :)

bookmanie said...

"Interesting post. Learning new thing, with you, day after day. Thank you very much."

Amy said...

This was a very thoughtful post Lydia. I think aging contributes to our "wisdom" which is very much like the "native intelligence" you described. Isn't longevity wonderful?

Hattie said...

I like this. We, too, have lived long enough in Hilo (since 1196) so that we have experienced those gradual changes that sneak up on you. The neighbor boy is taller now than my husband, those lovely adolescent girls are now mothers and the little girls are lovely adolescents. The woman in her 90's with Alzheimers is gone. My mother in law is gone.

The avocado sapling we planted 11 years ago is now huge and prolific. I've retired from the job I held for ten years.
And entropy has caught up with our house. All the renovation work we did now needs to be done again.

Lydia said...

Darlene~ Yes, plain common sense. Doesn't that seem to be a rarity?
Thank you for appreciating our trees.

Cara~ Congratulations on your 19 years; I suspect you felt at home almost immediately as I did. It really is an honor growing in native intelligence here!

bookmanie~ I thank you for your kind comments. Nice to see you in the blogosphere a bit more lately...your Twitter time must be sharing. :)

Amy~ Yes, Amy, I think longevity is wonderful. I like this concept of yours...developing a native intelligence about ourselves also as the years go along. Nice tie-in.

Hattie~ I know you said that you feel so much younger being back in Hilo after your vacation to the mainland, probably moved there in 1996!!!!!
It was interesting to read the small saga about changes around your place, and interesting that you brought up the subject of the house in particular. I understand. We painted the outside of our house early on and it most definitely needs it again.

Khaled KEM said...

Hi Lydia,

I am finally back to my blog, poetry and my friends. I changed my URL so you have to update your feeds.
I will cruise now through your blog and read your recent posts.

Take care


Lydia said...

Khaled~ Wonderful to have you back! I have truly missed your poetry. Am on my way to pick up the new URL... :)

Maggie May said...

it's a beautiful, intelligent expression, as is your writing.

Lydia said...

Maggie May~ I so appreciate your visit and comments.

Phivos Nicolaides said...

I much enjoyed your 'native intelligence' dear Lydia!

Lydia said...

Phivos~ So glad you did, my friend. :)



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