Time is our sacred connection to the past. The Authors Collection.
November 10, 2013
NPR was playing on my car radio, a rarity in itself as I prefer the car quiet, yet what a stroke of fortune that I did tune in that day. Not one, but two different bits of programming that fascinated me were broadcast in the short time it took to deliver photos to some of our clients.
The woman’s voice that caught my attention initially was that of a native from Fort Peck Reservation in northwestern Montana, home to two Indian Nations, Assiniboine and Sioux. She was being interviewed about their receiving 68 head of pure strain buffalo from Yellowstone National Park, the only pure strain existent in this country. After a six year struggle to obtain them, the buffalo were coming to Fort Peck. Big deal may have been most listeners next thought, until she spoke, that is. Her words clutched at me, goosed bumped my arms and caused a shiver to run through me.
With quiet intensity, she spoke in a hushed tone explaining how these were the same buffalo through lineage that felt the sting of her great, great, great, great grandfather’s arrow, trod down the same grass that cushioned her elders moccasins and shared their muscle, blood, bone and spirit with her people. They lived under the same sky as her elders, breathed the same air. In this unbroken line to the past, the past moved forward as if it were present. That is as sacred as a connection can get for people who still carry in their hearts awareness that all is One.
For those of us not native, the arrival of the buffalo to this native nation might be akin to going up to the attic and finding a trunk you’d not noticed before, opening it and not only discovering old photo albums and artifacts from your past, but also momentarily becoming embedded in that history not intellectually but viscerally, feeling it as your blood and bone.
And then, there it was, as I always feel it, that tug that makes me feel like I just came to know something but can’t yet put it in words. Yet it is as real as that of an attention-seeking child’s pull on my sleeve. What’s that all about ? I wondered, only to be distracted as Garrison Keillor came on next.
He began introducing Lincoln, Nebraska where his show was coming from. One of the local references he mentioned was the Ogallala Aquifer from which the present- day residents of the area get their drinking water. It is a huge aquifer, one of the world’s largest, and it underlies an area of approximately 174,000 mi² (450,000 km²) in portions of eight states: (South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas). The Ogallala, like most aquifers, if it does refresh itself at all, does so so slowly that it is safe to say the drinking water Garrison was referring to could have touched the lips of a saber toothed tiger roaming through the vast grasslands of the Pleistocene Epoch, a time before the last glaciation when the world was a vast savanna (even the Mediterranean Sea was a grassland) and huge mammals roamed various continents. I’m not saying the tiger drank from the same aquifer. I am saying that the water that dripped off his chin could be in your glass. That the Pleistocene we relegate to past history is still present in this strange way, and who knows how many such threads of the past punch through into our present.
Then came that tug again, an unsettling but captivating pull on my gut, as I sensed a mystery around me that made what I thought I knew about past and present something to be examined all over again. So says Jorge Luis Borges:
Time is the substance from which I am made.
Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river;
it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger;
it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.
Time is the wonder that inflames us all.