Pagakanihlok: Bloodroot

pagakanihlok bloodroot sokwakik 2020

Natami pagakanihlok tali Wantastegok Wajo wskisigwaniwi. The first bloodroot at Mount Wantastiquet in early spring.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is one of the earliest spring ephemerals, inhabiting moist, rich, soils in upland or floodplain deciduous forests. A solitary white flower with a golden center opens in the fleetingly-sunlit understory, before the leafy canopy overhead brings the shade of summer. The flowers close at night and sometimes bloom just before the single leaf joins it, each on its own stem; when the deeply-lobed leaf unfurls, it clasps the flower stalk like a cloak. Bloodroot likes to gather in groups, a small community huddled in the bright spring sunshine, celebrating the return of light and warmth.

bloodroot-blossoms-leyden-ma

This little harbinger is named for the bright red sap that oozes from the thick rootstock when it is broken open. The scarlet juice is traditionally used for a strong material dye, insect repellent, and body paint, as well as for several other medicinal purposes, although skin contact should be minimized due to alkaloids that may destroy tissue.*

This memorable naming characteristic appears in the Abenaki name for the plant as well, which is pagakanihlok. The word is compounded from ‘pagakan’ which signifies ‘blood’ with a connecting ‘-i-‘ plus the suffix ‘-hlok’ to indicate ‘where it comes out rapidly’, as in bleeding. The Penobscot use a similar term, pekahkánihlαk.

* It is a prime ingredient in the escharotic preparation known as black salve, an herbal skin cancer treatment that can cause permanent scarring or damage.

 

Skamonkas: Corn Maker Moon

skamonkas corn maker moon

Catching up on the calendar again: tonight’s new moon (September 28, 2019) begins a new month, but we will take that up immediately after we acknowledge Skamonkas, the moon just ending .

The ninth month of the Abenaki lunar calendar is the Corn Maker Moon, Skamonkas, following the preceding eighth month of Temez8was, the Cutter (Harvest) Moon. The flint corn crop has ripened and is finally dried on the stalk, ready for harvesting. The dried ears will be gathered and stored for later use, often by grinding into flour or meal.

This particular lunar month began in the current year’s sun cycle with the new moon on August 30, 2019, and progressed through the full moon September 14th, which gives the name. The name itself derives from the simple addition of skamon for corn plus -ka for maker plus -s as a short ending for moon (kizos).

N’wliwni, Nigawes Kizos – nd’alamizi.  I thank you Grandmother Moon – I am grateful.

Temez8was: Cutter (Harvester) Moon

wiseman abenaki harvest

I was unable to finish this post in a timely manner, within the past, actual month (!) – but in the interests of having a complete cycle, I post it now. Tonight begins the new month, but we will take that up very shortly. I submit this entry as I had begun to draft it mid-month.

The eighth month of the Abenaki lunar calendar is the Cutter (Harvest) Moon, Temez8was, following the preceding seventh month of Temaskikos, the Grass Cutter Moon. This is the time when the first fruits of the summer planting – squash and beans among them,  and the gifts of field and forest – blueberries, blackberries, and their kin, begin to ripen and are ready for harvesting. The month began in this sun cycle with the new moon on July 31, 2019, and we are now just beginning to wax toward  the full moon August 15th, which gives the name.

The month’s name  – similar to the previous – derives from the root tem- (also spelled tam- or simply tm-) meaning “to cut, to sever tranversely, to chop” plus -ezo (or -izo) for moon (kizos) with -was signifying “one who”.

 

We should keep in mind that a moon may have more than one name, depending on the region and the people there, the predominant activities of the season, and evolving realities.  Other names used for this time, equally apropos for the harvest time, are Mijow8gankas ala (or) Michinikizosak – Meal Maker or Eating Moons. Another one is Kawakwenikas, the Gatherer or Wild Harvester, as the voluntary bounty of our Mother is also given freely in late summer, for which we give great thanks. Kchi wliwni, Nigawes – nd’alamizi!

 

Temaskikos: Grass Cutter Moon

 

jackie traverse sweetgrass mother earth

The hair of our Mother, wlim8gwkil mskiko, sweet grass – literally, “sweet smelling grass” – is one of July’s many gifts. Artwork by Jackie Traverse, Ojibwe

Sweet Grass …is a gift to the people from Mother Earth. It is said to be part of her hair, and the braided strands represent mind, body and spirit. Since sweet grass promotes strength and kindness, it is often used in healing circles and in ceremony to allow positive energy, kind thoughts and kind feelings to surface through any pain and suffering.

My Mother Earth is under the ground, surrounded by rocks known as the grandfathers. Her hair grows through the earth’s surface to allow us to pick sweet grass, providing medicine and a gift for the people. Take only what you need when picking sweet grass – offer Mother Earth tobacco in appreciation for the gifts she gives to us all.

Jackie Traverse, Anishnaabe-Ojibwe

The seventh month of the Abenaki lunar calendar is the Grass Cutter Moon, following the preceding sixth month of Nokahigas, the Hoer Moon. This is the time when the new sprouts of the year’s planting appreciate some nurturing care, in the competition of their warming rush toward the sun. The month began in this sun cycle with the new moon on July 2, 2019, and we are near witnessing  the full moon which shines in two days, July 16th, and gives the name.

The compounding word derives from three roots: tem- (also spelled tam- or simply tm-) meaning “to cut, to sever tranversely, to chop”, and maskiko (also mskiko), meaning “grass”, and -kos as a combination of “one who” and “moon”.

sweetgrass braid

Now that we are in midsummer, n8winiben, the abundance of the growing season surrounds us. Crops are growing, fruit and nuts are ripening, our other-than-human relations are raising their young. The sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata) the living hair of our Mother, is long and lush, gleaming and bright green in the meadows. It is time to harvest the strands with gratitude, braiding and drying them in a sheltered place – the sweet scent filling the air and reminding us of our Mother’s continual care.

A moon may have more than one name, depending on the region and the people there, the predominant activities of the season, and evolving realities. Culture is not static, neither is it right or wrong – it is about being appropriate and “in community.” Two other names used for this time, equally apropos for their own reasons, are Sataikas (Blueberry Maker) and Pad8gikas (Thunder Moon). You can readily understand why…

 

Kikas: Field Maker Moon

The fifth month of the Abenaki annual cycle – Kikas – is well underway now. The new moon following Sogalikas (fourth month) occurred on May 4, 2019 here in Sokwakik. In Western Abenaki, Kikas means “field maker moon.” It is pronounced kee-KAHS. The word is formed polysynthetically with the combination of  the morphemes ki(k) (earth or field or planting) + as (maker), and moon by inference. The full moon (who bestows her name upon the month) showed her face two days ago, on May 18, 2019.

Around 1645, trader William Pynchon at his Agawam trading post (near what is now Springfield, Massachusetts), a little further down the Kwenitekw from Sokwakik, recorded this month as Squannikesos. From Day, this appears as the Abenaki phrase for Spring Moon, as Sigwanikizos: sigwan (spring) + i (connector) + kizos (full moon). This is another way to note the time when planting is done.

It is important to keep in mind that several terms were used by various related peoples at sundry times, often overlapping or substituting. These are not hard and fast boundaries; the lunar cycle shifts each year, as do cultural activities with the seasons and the immediate weather patterns. For instance, the month at or preceding the current one (roughly May) according to Pynchon’s list is Namasakizos – “the fish moon” – from namasak (fish, plural) + kizos (full moon). This was, of course, in direct reference to the abundant migration of anadromous schools coming up the River to spawn: shad, salmon, sturgeon, lamprey, and herring. This was a time for gratitude and celebration, both on the land and in the waters.

Sigwan, the bursting forth…

An Ongoing Exploration: Getting to Know Red Ochre

iron seep 3 rt 30 brattleboro 2019

A very significant cultural component: ritual adornment, mortuary practice, healing properties, ornamentation… the importance of red ochre to the Abenaki, and to many indigenous cultures, cannot be overemphasized. The word  in Aln8baiwi is olamanjagw, red ochre mud; when mixed with grease,  it is simply olaman. In Anishinaabemowin, the word is very similar: onaman. Ochre is derived from natural iron oxide compounds, in mineral deposits, clay, or iron seeps , where iron oxidizing bacteria augment the chemical conversion.

iron ochre names royal society of canada 1885

Publication of Royal Society of Canada, 1885.

Local people sought nearby sources of this valuable material; if they were not fortunate in this respect, they were obliged to trade for it. Here in Sokwakik there is an abundance of iron in the local geology. An iron seep just north of Wantastegok yields an abundant flow of ferrous oxide mud, carried with the groundwater through a mineral-rich ledge of Waits River schist and emerging on the east face. In the summer, the iron-oxidizing bacteria colonies form amazing cellular structures. In the winter, these lose their shape and form a hard, crumbly crust. The pigmented mud accumulates in the crevices of the rock and can be collected simply, with a little careful examination of the best pockets.

The seep in summer.

The seep in winter

By collecting this dark red-brown mud, heating (oxidizing) ’til it reached its maximum color (too much heat will result in a darker, browner hue), and then sifting it, I  was able to produce a nice amount of orange/dark red/brown pigment on an initial trial. This could be further pulverized with a mortar and pestle, before mixing with a grease or oil and used for painting the body, or another use.

More to come…

 

 

Red Pine II

red pine bark

A (long-promised) follow-up to the inaugural post “Red Pine I” of March 2015, all of 5 years ago…

Pasaakw, the red pine. At first glance, this is a very straightforward tree, a simple tree; it rises uniformly from the ground, self-pruned of its dead branches, clean-trunked, to a compact and symmetrical crown.  Often in groves of its fellows, it stands very tall and perfectly straight, the ground beneath carpeted in needles and clear of understory. But “what lies beneath” can tell a much more interesting and meaningful story: in Aln8ba8dwaw8gan, the Western Abenaki language, it signifies the “swollen tree” or, more closely, “tree full of…” A closer look at this fullness – this internalized richness of self –  may help us to relate to this particular one a little closer.

Red pine (referred to idiomatically as yellow pine at the time) was reported as being predominant and of exceptionally superior growth, at the meadows in Sokwakik where two colonial forts were built: Fort Dummer in the southeast corner of what became Brattleboro, and at Fort Number 2 on the Great Meadows of Putney. These fortifications on the west side of the Kwenitekw were built of the selfsame arrow-straight pine that grew on the the sandy plains where they were situated: Fort Dummer in 1724, and two successive forts on the Great Meadow, in 1740 and 1755.

t dummer 1724 brattleboro equivalent lands

Benjamin Homer Hall, in his classic 1858 work History of Eastern Vermont: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Close of the Eighteenth Century, states of Fort Dummer that “The fort was built of yellow pine timber, which then grew in great abundance on the meadow lands.” Upriver on Putney’s Great Meadow, Hall describes how, in 1755, area settlers built a fort that “…was in shape oblong, about one hundred twenty by eighty feet, and was built with yellow pine timber about six inches thick, and laid up about ten feet high.”

Fort Dummer 1724 governor's academy

A relic section of timber from Fort Dummer, in the collections at The Governor [Dummer]’s Academy, Byfield, MA. The appearance of the straight, wide grain in the photograph does evoke the growth habit of  red pine timber.

It was no mere coincidence that these spectacular pine groves were found in these specific places. Today, in Vermont, we tend to think of red pine as naturally occurring on dry mountaintops and ridges, and, in a more deliberate manner, found in large, regimented plantations that date from popular soil conservation efforts in the last century. But the species prevalence and distribution of today’s landscapes can be deceiving; it wasn’t always like this. Before Vermont’s vast forests were nearly completely clearcut by the rapacious demands of “civilization”, the red pine flourished along the rivers. There are reasons for this.

Abenaki people, in common with many other indigenous groups, traditionally deploy fire as a landscape management tool, primarily in the river bottomlands. Maintaining open edge habitat encourages the diverse plant and animal communities that flourish there. Controlled burning is also used to clear the fertile alluvial floodplains for agriculture, in the form of both plantings of adapted crops such as corn, beans, squash, and tobacco, as well as permaculture of naturally occurring species including groundnut, Jerusalem artichoke, and berries. These fine sandy, alluvial depositions provide a receptive, readily-worked seedbed, and a more temperate, extended, low-elevation growing season. Controlled burns help to keep the land accessible and sunny, returning minerals to the soil, and provided a level, readily-utilized settlement space adjacent to n’sibo, the home river. European settlers made ample note of this practice when they came on the scene – a quote from a narrative by the Hon. Charles K. Field:

The intervales and meadows at Fort Dummer, upon West River, and at the Asylum farm, were found entirely bare of forest trees. Such was the fact with all the meadows on the Connecticut River at the time of the first settlement of New England. The Indians burned them over every year, and used them for planting grounds.

Here’s an interesting thing about red pine: it actually likes fire. It has several adaptations that dispose it toward success with regard to surface burning. Its seeds require a mineral soil surface to germinate, that is, one in which the duff has been removed/burnt and the bare surface exposed. This also removes competing shade-cover, even if not very tall, another prerequisite for successful red pine sprouting and growth. Trees that reach seed-bearing (thus regenerative) age tend to survive fires that might damage a younger stand. The higher crowns and self-limbing trunks also lend themselves to higher fire survival rates.  Finally, the thick, platy bark of red pine is one of the most fire-resistant in the northern temperate forest; it ranks third, after pitch pine and chestnut oak. The right fire at the right time is exactly what a red pine appreciates.

In general, red pine prefers the sandy, well-drained soils of outwash plains, along with a good dose of moisture. These locations also tend to be open and sunny. The raised alluvial river meadows of the mid-Kwenitekw easily meet those characteristics – at least historically; nowadays, many of them are flooded by hydroelectric impoundments, or developed, or farmed intensively. It is not a surprise, then, that the wolhanak, the intervales, sustained impressive stands of red pine, one hundred feet tall and three feet thick. No wonder the merchants of New Haven, CT sent a party all the way up to Great Meadow in 1732 to harvest that legendary grove.

putney-vt-great-meadow-november-2014

Kchi Mskodak (the Great Meadow) in Putney, today.

So, what about the name pasaakw? What causes this tree to be so “swollen”… what is it “full of”, after all? The simple and obvious answer is: pitch. The binomial, Western botanical name is Pinus resinosa, in acknowledgement of that very fact. The resin can be gathered on the bark surface, where there has been an injury or a parasitic insect has drilled a hole, as is similar with many other conifers. Why would one gather resin? It is used as a waterproof sealant, for bark canoes and containers (try removing it from tools or your hands with water – it requires an alcohol solvent) or as an adhesive/glue, for adhering materials together, such as a stone point on a wooden arrow shaft. Red pine will produce copious amounts of pitch to seal and heal a wound, whether from fire or penetration.

There is good evidence that red pine groves were intentionally, culturally-modified by Algonquian peoples on a regular basis, to provide a ready source of pitch for sealing bark canoes. A stand along a regularly-travelled watercourse may have been maintained and adapted through modification (wounding the trunks to produce more pitch), in order to keep a dependable supply of this raw material handy for bark canoe construction and maintenance. It may be no coincidence that the broad meadow on the east side of the Kwenitekw (in today’s town of Westmoreland, NH) – and between both Ft. Dummer and Fort No. 2 – is called Canoe Meadow. That’s another story for another night.