Adapted from the Notes from Lamar Marshall and Darryl Patton
* Thursday last bore down with abominable heat as
our little truck turned southward away from the cooler hills of Northern
Alabama towards West Florida's steamy pine woods. Seven hours of midday
heat nearly turned our frames into something resembling well-done pork
roasts. Are we crazy, we said to ourselves, who travels in this weather?
Our destination was the Little Green Corn Ceremony. From big cities, little
hamlets, Everglades' saw grass to the hills of Alabama, Creek descendants
of Apalachicola Tribal Town, were gathering to fast, sing, dance, give
thanks, speak their once forbidden tongue, wear traditional attire, drink
sacred herbals and submit to ceremonial scratching for purification. When
all obligations had been accomplished, they would break their fast with
joy at a great feast similar to one Americans stole and called Thanksgiving.
* Cooking, well underway as we arrived, was rich with spicy smells only a Native American cook can impart. Tables weighed heavily under burdens of the anticipated feast. Our mouths could already taste delicious mounds of ever-present corn, a staple--and, fresh vegetables--begging to be consumed. Ah, the fry-bread! There are those who say they would drive through hell for good fry bread. The weekend's heat provided a similar, if not precise, opportunity.
* At the Grounds, where ceremonial fasts called Busk are held, temperatures had passed the 100 degree mark. The little open hill offered no great trees to shade us. Had the intentions of Father Sun to give us warmth gone awry? We were broiling--or so we thought. The Grounds had been swept clean. White sand glistened in late afternoon sunlight. Children galloped about unaware of the oppressive heat. A few folks had spent a hot afternoon cleaning off the Square Ground. Why weren't these good folks dead from the heat? Hardy weeds were perishing! Later, all played an energetic game of Indian Stick Ball in the indomitable heat and then danced well into the night.
* At sunset, elders offered prayer tobacco in their sacred Fire to give thanks for cool breezes. With sweat from our brows, we carried an arm load of wood to the Fire because the elders had said the Fire was hungry. As evening passed, quiet conversations were heard, often peppered with good laughs, often at the expense of non-Indian neighbors and their antics. An elder told wonderful old Creek animal stories, known to most as that pesky Br'er Rabbit. Suddenly, it dawned on us it was chilly enough to put on a long sleeved shirt--definitely time to pay more attention to these elders! They gave thanks for coolness. Coolness came. Is that the order of things? Give thanks and then expect it? Having been raised away from grandparents' culture, we had much to learn--much indeed.
* Saturday burst forth in one great moment of instant heat--no slow sunrise on this day. Soon, men were covering arbors with fresh willow. The Beloved One, a respected white haired elder, was busy brewing leaves of the yaupon tree for a sacred drink. Women scurried about the cooking camp while children and dogs scampered freely. Nine o'clock--all wasn't well; it was hot! The Maker of Medicine--they don't have medicine men--carefully selected certain willow branches, a species of mint, wild rabbit tobacco and several other wild herbs. The willow was bruised then boiled into a medium tea. The mixture was aerated from pot to pot. Next, other herbs were added and the whole batch subjected to the ministrations of an Old One who held a cane tube and gently blew into the mixture several times. With each bubbling, he chanted a small prayer and sprinkled the "medicine" all around him. Two young men took the whole tub over behind the east arbor and sat it down. It was called Hot Weather Medicine. We would soon know of its cooling magic.
* It was near noon--102 degrees registered on the thermometer. Women had begun their most sacred part of the ceremony, the Ribbon Dance. Each woman wore a long old-fashioned dress with cascades of bright ribbons. Many also wore heavy sets of leg rattles called shakers made from pebble filled turtle shells or cans. The women's feet marked sharp cadences as they dance around the Square Grounds several times. The resulting rhythms were indescribable yet beautiful. Many feet dancing in unison punctuated the air with authentic ancient sounds that evoked the might and power of a steam locomotive. One's heart could not help but jump a little. With each step of the dance, the whole community was transported back in time--or so it seemed. Accouterments of the 20th century were suddenly not important anymore.
* In fact, it was as if everything of the new order, as they speak of the European arrival, had disappeared. These were ancient times again! Not a dream or hallucination, it was the right reality. Quickly as it began the dance ended. Other dances came and went, games were played, meals eaten, hard work completed, hugs and kisses passed around. All stopped and stood respectfully. An elder was speaking. He invited all to bathe in the cooling mixture of Hot Weather Medicine; he reminded us to sip only a little and to take it home with us when we left. He spoke in Creek of old times and old ways. "Creator allows no problem to which there is no answer. Nor does Creator spoil us by too many gifts or easily obtained answers." He continued, "Everything has purpose and is given for a purpose--we must seek that purpose always. A life without seeking purpose and giving thanks always, well, it's not really a life; it's just a mere existence." *
* Quietly, truths about Creek culture and heritage dawned clear as a bell. The Elders' wisdom was indeed a gift to us--the best kind of gift--the gift of challenge. We sought quick answers; they insisted we dwell on understanding questions. We sought cures; they insisted on prevention. But when we got very hot they gave others and us Hot Weather Medicine. It works well. James Howard, an Oklahoma anthropologist, used this medicine at a Seminole Square Ground. He marveled at the full day of activity in temperatures well over one hundred degrees. No one passed out; no one suffered heat exhaustion--everyone enjoyed the day. A Seminole leader, Willie Lena, had invited Howard to take the medicine. Soon, he too, was refreshed and comfortable. Something about the way elders see and understand the world around them helps to keep us in balance and focus. It was an awesome experience coming "home" that first time; we'll be back to our roots often.
* Journeying home, we reflected on all that we experienced and learned. Non-Indians largely control this land now but don't yet own an understanding of the land. That still largely belongs to Indians and those who appreciate Mother Earth. Those who are still Indian in their hearts are willing to share and teach that understanding but not to have it exploited. Unfortunately, there are too many who are Indian only in their bloodlines, heads and pocketbooks but not in their hearts. They rush forth to help destroy their culture by half-truths and greed. "I don't think the elders have a medicine for that," said Dr. Jane Christian, an anthropologist and frequent visitor to Apalachicola, Pine Arbor Tribal Town.