A Map to the Next World by Adrienne Rosenberg
There they were, pouring out of the earth like fire ants, ready to settle and organize and multiply and eventually ready to consume. The emergence, as the Pueblo people call it, was difficult. The hole into the world was too narrow and they couldn’t pass through. It took the work of many animals: a fly to check that the world on the other side was correct, an antelope to butt and nudge the hole larger, a badger to scratch and demand entry. It took the work of the earth; they emerged all at once from only one source, the noise of their scurrying loud enough to overcome terrestrial labor pains as she pushed, half wanting to hold them in.
The Maya point to Lago Atitlan, the bellybutton, as evidence of their own passage, evidence that they came from somewhere. In Bali the mountain Gunung Agung is the “navel of the world.” The Pueblo people look to sandstone pools and the fresh water emptying from them for signs of their birth.[ii] Each passage marked by the emergence, slippery and wailing, into a unique cultural skin. Each with certain compromises. Each world called for different gods and different stories of creation. The highland Maya crushed limestone into their tortillas to survive. Hopi elders have said that the Hopi people have learned to think big thoughts in order not to leave the big desert sky empty.[iii] Inuit elders sometimes took themselves out onto the Tundra to die to leave food for future generations.
If the Maya continue to feed holes dug in their fields with ritual and burning copal, the earth will continue to generate. People emerged knowing that the earth is something living: pushing pulling holding rocking shaking generating. We all get our first scar from the same place and the earth itself is no exception. From what was the earth first severed? Or are those passages from different worlds still open? We all get our first scar from the same place; the same shock of landing somewhere complex and demanding. There have been many more scars etched into the face of the earth since then.
What if the earth had refused altogether? Closed the channels. Look at us now, collectively, people, peoples, tribes, families, bordered and boundaried: all of us who emerged in different places into different landscapes, each navigated by a different set of stories. Who might have pushed and clawed our way in. Whose stories might have to change to include each other. We have now found ourselves together, emerging into a new kind of world. Inseparably. We have forgotten to light candles in the pits in our fields. We were never promised the continued regeneration of the world, only that she would keep up her end of the bargain if we held ours. But now Miwok don’t burn clearings in California forest, but we all burn temperatures into the seas and skies. The Maya do not make sacrifices of blood, but the poor are sacrificed to the dry hills where it’s too hard to grow corn. When anyone touches the web it reverberates to every corner.
What now, if we have mapped ourselves out over the face of the landscape too quickly, if our collective emergence is premature. Maybe we forced ourselves into a world that was too tired or too new or we were too soon out of the oven. The question now isn’t how to live as a breathing body amidst a specific breathing landscape, but how to live as one body in one landscape.
In Abenaki the word for “being human” is the same word for “birth.”[iv] When we are born it is also a process of becoming human; while human we are constantly being born, becoming. To be native to a place is to become human there, not just once but repeatedly. I am a native of California. Sea salt air Pacific, mountain river, redwood tree, rooted there. (A tree is not a static object but also, like myself, in the constant process of becoming.) My roots do not disallow me from leaving but rather keep me connected, so even when I do leave, the nutrients of California soil toted like the beads of a necklace, still reach faraway branches. Home. It is where I became and where I continue becoming even from far away. The rivers are a part of my body. The cliffs of Yosemite are my lungs, reaching. I used to pretend I could make paper out of tree bark and survive solely on hunted rabbits. I hated belonging to the city. But these days San Francisco blinks on at night like eyelids, pulls me with a million tiny threads when I’m away. I hike chest deep downstream in my clothes carrying a water bottle and car key. Riverchild, citychild. Yosemite river pumps through my veins but I was born also, to cities. There is a moment every time I return home when I’m tempted to press my forehead to the ground. Through layers of chewing gum, spit, concrete and invisible foundations, I can feel something solid and unchanging underneath.
The first time I touched the Tuolumne River I was ten. Generally misunderstood as most ten year olds are, generally feeling ungrounded as most ten year olds do, generally realizing I was the only person who’d ever live in my own singular body. I was full of becoming. How lonely that I was becoming something that no one else would become. But the river was an entire history, of my body and any other. Leslie Silko once said of a squash blossom that “the squash blossom itself is one thing: itself.”[v] I could breathe there, far away from the folding and unfolding of truths until they were no longer true. I did not open the river like a book. I did not fold up the edges or unweave it. I did not try to take it home. I just breathed. My body has veins and lungs and a heartbeat, all flowing. The river is just a river, the granite is just granite, and I also am not a metaphor.
Many writers use words about their place of birth that recall romance, words about intimacy and pursuit. In the word of the Apache, the Tuolumne river stalks me.[vi] It appears in my daydreams the same way old lovers do, its presence warm with granite and calming. Joy Harjo once said “She doesn’t believe / anything but the language of damp earth / beneath a banana tree at noon.”[vii]Except instead of believe she meant know and instead of damp earth, warm granite and instead of a banana tree, a sky and a river gleaming silver in the moonlight. Well, she meant exactly what she said. But that’s what I mean.
I inherited Yosemite as untouched, unspoiled. I inherited the word wilderness as something unpeopled; my wilderness was empty of the inevitable degradation that society carries. I only dreamed of an “Indian Wilderness,” a place where people could live and not just vacation, a place, an entire world even, where people were wilderness. Where I could be. Emergence, is not supposed to be easy. Emergence can be like a thief. A passage from one place to another is unsteady and often painful. At some point I made a passage into an awareness of what had been lost so that I might swim in the Tuolumne, sleep in the meadows. In order for national parks like Yosemite to be created, a wilderness first had to be created.[viii] In order to create wilderness from Indian wilderness, Indian had to be removed. “…as the grand symbols of American wilderness, the uninhabited landscapes preserved in these parks have served as models for preservationist efforts, and native dispossession, the world over.”[ix] Dispossess: to deprive people of something that they own. A trend that travelled the world.
In 1891 the Miwok wrote soon after this valley was taken away from us… the great Washington Council gave it to all the white American people for a pleasure ground. The plea was originally entitled “Petition to the Senators and Representatives of the Congress of the United States In the Behalf of the Remnants of the former Tribes of the Yosemite Indians Praying for Aid and Assistance.”[x] Yosemite is no metaphor for my mind as Thoreau might fear.[xi] It is one thing, itself. I crazy love the place. White, American, rivercitychild. Who are you who have loved this land before and while I have? Who bathed, before I did in the icy rivers, who stood barefoot like I did, ankle deep. Who burned fires through the valley that could be seen for miles. My wilderness, my pleasure ground was built for me. Fires extinguished, native houses torn down, rebuilt and burned down again.[xii] What tree was cut 80 years ago that I might see Half Dome from the trail at Snow Creek? And who cut it for me, carried the log on his back before it became a bed frame in the Awahnee hotel. Awahnee is the place like a gaping mouth. Who survived together here with the animals and the land with its warm breath before I came for pleasure? Who prayed here for aid and assistance? Yosemite might not be any metaphor, but it is two very different places. Of the two, mine has made the other invisible.
Spiritual: spir·it·u·al – of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.
In the very definitions of words lie biases. The world has a shade to it, behind it, surrounding it like a cloak, running through its veins, pulsing from the inside: a code and color to it that humans cannot understand. Not with our feet or ears or tongues. Not with our physical selves, not our immaterial souls, not our solid bones, not our ability to count or speak or look at or touch each other. Only through collective longings. It lives though, in the indigenous, the invasive, the natural, the synthetic, the earth, the city sidewalk, the open/closed environments the spaces that grab a hold of our ankles. The places that reach smooth hands around our clay selves and squeeze and push and pull us into somethings. Physical shapes and bodies that move. The places that shorten and sharpen us.
Different places necessitate different ways of life. The spiritual world tells us how to live. How then could you take the spirit out of that world? Each group of people emerged into a specific landscape which molded us. A landscape that each learned to make deals with, to take from and to feed. The Kiowa entered the world through a hollowed out log.[xiii] The Hopi describe their own land as austere, material less, simple, difficult, bursting with fillable spaces, ready to be pumped full of stories. Each notch and scab on the landscape seen and acknowledged.[xiv] Where the sky is expansive, the Hopi expand.
Within each landscape each person and each tribe learned what it was to be human. Each was grabbed by the hand and led toward humanness. When I breathe more deeply knee deep in the Tuolumne, it is not my spirit that is touched but my lungs, which are also my spirit. It is not my soul that is cooled but my body, which is also my soul. In the Judeo-Christian tradition we like to divide. To yearn for good and condemn the bad. To describe the world in heavens and hells. We are concerned with beginnings and endings. Natural and unnatural. Wild and tamed, whys and hows, body and soul. The world is circular really though, isn’t it? Stories, songs, prayers, bodies, time itself. Like Black Elk once said “birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.”[xv] Spirit and soul couldn’t possibly be in opposition to, untouched by material or physical things.
Joy Harjo once stepped out of a book I was reading. And she said “Oklahoma will be the last song I’ll ever sing”[xvi] and I said “California will be the last song I’ll ever sing” and we asked, together what we might sing, together, during or before that last one. Where might we lay our selves down. Limbs, skin, spirit, brain, not like the cartoon blob but the real living oozing pulsing thing behind our skulls, soft and delicate. Tell us where we can put them that they won’t scratch or tear. Some are built for flat beds of granite, some open Apache sky, some wet tall grass and cricket song. Some fit and breathe in freshwater rivers and lakes, smooth bottomed, or cramped dark forests. Bored by grays and greens, some can only be placed in the pale woods of the northeast, soft and feathered with yellow leaves. The desert is either wide like two arms flung open or empty and vast.
Where then, can we put them, carefully scooped from skulls and rib cages, carefully flexed and strummed from larynx and chest, where can we put these souls and brains and lungs and the songs attached, that they will sit, and together breathe. And what map will lead us out of this world (sighing, relieved), and into the next one:[xvii]
It will be like a city kid who loves the jungle and grew up in the desert and has roots deep deep in the ocean.
It will be like a body, rivers flowing through it.
It will be circular. It won’t ask why or how. It will not try to point to the meaning.
We. We includes every person strong enough for the passage. We will have the same new story of emergence. We will keep the old ones as well.
We will listen, not just to the wind in the trees but deeper, to where the earth is beating.
We will not forget next time to feed the pits in our fields, we will toss inside incense, copal, corn, candles, the feeling of family, stories, epics, tragedies, the act of becoming, circles and dichotomies, and a love like the kind that lights the whole thing from the inside.
We never ask what our rights are. We ask what responsibilities we have.
We release our fists.
Imagine a world almost like this one, but with lungs as tall as skyscrapers. Imagine rivers flowing through all of us. Imagine tears plump and ripe as pears falling into the hands of joyful children.
It is not the time to look backwards.
The map will have to be written in every language and passed on with the warmth of the palm of a hand.
We know each other’s names even when we don’t know every language.
You know when the moon shines most brightly. We’ll go then.
“That’s how you tell real time. It is here, it is there. The lilacs have taken over everything; the sky, the narrow streets, my shoulders, my lips. I talk lilac.”[xviii]
Landscapes of people made of hill, stump, glacier, ant, star, marsh, cactus, tundra, plateau, beaver, reed, blade of grass, will stand in solidarity.
We are awake and alert.
The map sits heavy inside of us.
Where the land is full we are clear and empty. Where the land is dark, we are full of light. Imagine a world almost like you see this one. And then imagine that world with room for everyone else’s.
The squash blossom is one thing, itself. We are concerned with describing what is. We are concerned with truth and how everything is true.
It is bright, lit from the inside.
There is only one map of Yosemite. It is full of pleasure and sustenance and placement. It is two-legged and four-legged and rooted.
It is Tuolumne River clear and mountain-cool. It is full of small fires like cityscapes that can be seen for miles. It is generous and demanding. The cliffs do not crumble. It is peopled and animaled and planted and cliffed and open-skied.
And it breathes with many breathes. And it breathes and breathes and breathes and breathes with only one breath.
Adrienne Rosenberg is a is a gentlemen and a scholar. She loves glitter, the gold rush and pit bulls.
Image: Katie Raina Marie
[i] Modeled after Joy Harjo’s “A Map to the Next World.”
[ii] Leslie Marmon Silko, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit (New York: North American Press, 1996), 36.
[iii] Leslie Marmon Silko, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit (New York: North American Press, 1996), 40.
[iv] Janice Acoose et al. Reasoning Together: The Native Critics Collective (Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, 2008), 237.
[v] Leslie Marmon Silko, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit (New York: North American Press, 1996), 28.
[vi] Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache (Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1996).
[vii] Joy Harjo, How We Became Human (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002), 80.
[viii] Mark David Spence. Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 4.
[ix] Mark David Spence. Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 5.
[x] Petition to the Senators and Representatives of the Congress of the United States In the Behalf of the Remnants of the former Tribes of the Yosemite Indians Praying for Aid and Assistance, 1891.
[xi] Mark David Spence. Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 21.
[xii] Mark David Spence. Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 102.
[xiii] Scott N. Momoday, The Man Made of Words (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997) 45.
[xiv] Leslie Marmon Silko, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit (New York: North American Press, 1996), 40.
[xv] Scott N. Momoday, The Man Made of Words (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997) 26.
[xvi] Joy Harjo, How We Became Human (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002), 9.
[xvii] Modeled after Joy Harjo’s “A Map to the Next World.”
[xviii] Joy Harjo, How We Became Human (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002), 80.