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Sharing My Grandfather’s Tale

by Richard Lane

If we want to know how it was, before change and the possible future, we can turn to the “Old Ones”. They will tell us the stories; if we only but listen.

In one of the many recesses of his rolltop desk, my grandfather kept a small tobacco tin. If I asked, he would open it so I could spread the contents out on the table. There would be the sound then of old coin against coin, and also a duller sound of arrow head against spearpoint stone. Occasionally there would be another piece to add, this time discovered in the spring earth of the garden or furrow of the field plow. Each of these small treasures had been made by the hand of man. The markings were unmistakable, whether of metal stamped by king’s authority, or flint edges skillfully shaped by stone flaking stone. Even now, I am not certain which is the higher skill.

The king’s coins were stamped for commerce, rough-edged silver coin distilled from hot metal. Upon each was the head of King George. Some early settler, first farmer perhaps, had lost the coin during his labor in these fields. And they each had been found by my grandfather. Yet right beside these coins was another equally utilitarian object of an entirely different material and sort, a perfect jasper arrow head, sharp at the edges and cut to a fine point. Size and shape and the degree to which it had been honed provided easy clues as to its use. This smaller one would be for affixing to the tip of a wooden arrow, an arrow for small game. Beside it was a stone point crafted for deer: larger, longer, and no less delicately shaped. Their arrowheads were found in the middle of the farm garden, amongst the rows of strawberries that I had picked in spring.

This is where they had been first kept for use, maybe where they had been first shaped, too. This would have likely been at the center of a small encampment, just above the open lowland meadows, near the edge of tall woods, and near a flowing freshwater spring. It could have been 300 years—or for that matter, 3,000 years—before and during long intervals of time in between. Season after season, tribes returning, hunting, and living on the vast sylvan lands. No doubt, these people had been here first, before the Dutch, before the English, and now, before us.

On the table spread before me, the incontrovertible evidence, stone arrow point to silver coin.

Years before these evenings spent with my grandfather near the rolltop desk, he had distilled this knowledge onto paper as
a young university student. He chose as one topic, “The Iroquois of Old”, signed George Campbell Hubbard, University of Vermont, February 14th, 1898. Ondiyaka’s Tale, an ancient oral legend, I share with you now. It is intimately familiar to me from the stories he had told me while he puffed on his evening pipe:

…Ondiyaka, an old Onondaga Chief and Sage, and ruling chief of the confederacy said that the Onondagas were created by Nev (God) in the country where they lived and that He made this island continent, Haoanev, for the Race and meant it for them. One traditional belief was that there were originally two worlds, an upper world inhabited by human beings and a lower world of darkness and waters, which was inhabited by monsters. Tradition holds that a female descended into this lower world and she was received on the back of a tortoise shell where she gave birth to male twins and expired. The tortoise shell expanded into a continent. The twins became gods and one was known as Inigorio or the good mind and the other as Inigohaten or the bad mind…Inigorio created the sun out of the head of his Mother and from the remains of her body, the moon and stars. Then he prepared the surface of the earth for habitation, creating all that is good and beautiful. His next step was to make a man and a woman out of earth and to give them life…. Inigohaten created the things, which challenge man, the jagged mountains, cataracts, and (even) serpents. In his desire to destroy Inigorio’s people he endeavored to hide the land and animals. There arose constant war and strife between Inigorio and Inigohaten which led to a two day battle in which Inigorio used deer horns and Inigohaten used root. Inigorio, the good mind, prevailed and Inigohaten became the Evil Spirit and sank down into the region of darkness and the triumphant Inigorio returned to the earth…

Odd phrasing, Inigorio using deer horns and Inigohaten using root. I’ve wondered, could “root” imply the entanglement, the negative powers of clouded confusion and dark status quo blindness? Could “deer horns” impute in contrast the positive powers of wisdom and collective action? Knowledge overcoming Ignorance. Is that how the land and animals would ultimately be saved from destruction by and for the peoples? Perhaps it is time for all of us to listen to the “Old Ones”, and to finally act with no less than the full powers and determination of an Inigorio.

I do believe this: within the story shared by my grandfather is the vital answer to our sustainable future, wisdom with community driven positive change.

What do you think?

Richard Lane is a retired human services professional who volunteers for several sustainable non-profits. He is also the author of the novel, “Memoir Histoire”, a personal ode to the Twentieth Century.

(Published in the 2014 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)

Other Voices of the Valley essays2004 – 2005 – 2006 – 2007 – 2008 – 2009 – 2010 – 2011 – 2012 – 2013 – 2014 – 2015 – 2016 – 2017 – 2018

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