A Valentine's Day Story about my husband Chris,
as featured in the Middleburg Eccentric Newspaper by Rene' White (Feather).
Some doctors describe “good medicine” as a pharmaceutical painkiller. My mother and father, both Native American, would call good medicine anything natural that our Creator God made from the “beginning.” I have experienced this natural medicine first hand, because my parents placed a lot of lettuce leaves, potatoes and tobacco on me when I was a child.
I am from a state recognized tribe called the Lumbee. My husband, Chris, is of Cherokee descent. Our grandchildren named Chris “Paw-Paw,” which is an Algonquian word. The pawpaw is a tree that bears fruit.
My husband has helped me appreciate that in Native American culture, medicine can mean different things. Laughter can be good medicine for people who need more joy in their lives. Empathy can be good medicine to people mourning loss. I believe my husband’s medicine is helping animals and nature.
Winged, Finned and Four-Leggeds (animals) seek sanctuary around my husband. Dogs do not bark at him; hawks fly over when he talks; deer walk up to him; bears stand and look at him; and eagles fly over his head.
This week, it is a Screech Owl.
During this week’s big snow, Paw-Paw was out taking photos of rocks for an art piece he plans to exhibit at the “Art at the Mill” in Millwood VA. I was inside on the computer.
I was making new friends on the computer while he was making a new friend outside.
Inside, I was reading an article I had clipped from the January issue of the Middleburg Eccentric newspaper. You know how you can have a stack of things you want to read, but you never get to them? Well a window of time opened.
I am finally reading the article about an American Bald Eagle, Dr. Belinda Burwell rehabilitated and released. I just clicked LIKE on Facebook for Dr. Burwell’s Blue Ridge Wildlife Center, checked out www.BlueRidgeWildLife.org and in puffs my husband.
When we first got married years ago, I would ask a lot of questions when he puffed in. But now I can just tell by the sounds he makes, or how his boots hit the floor when he enters the house or how he calls my name, that causes me to want to stop what I am doing and check out what he is up to.
Believe me, it is always something unexpected. Once he walked in with a wounded hummingbird. Another time he was scolding a hawk over our chickens. What could it be this time?
Let me take you back a few steps. While I was inside on the computer, at the same time my husband was outside walking up the drive. With his camera still out, he walked up on a small owl sitting on our drive way in broad day light.
Now, if you know anything about owls, you know they are rarely seen during the day. Most owls are nocturnal, actively hunting their prey only in darkness. This one is sitting on the ground holding a mole in its talons. There is blood on the rocks and ice nearby it.
What would you do?
Using a fishing net, my husband brings the owl inside so it could rest and be safe and protected from predators.
This is not the first bird to seek sanctuary here. A Barred Owl, we named Clea, sought out my husband once. The crows would have killed her if he had not brought her in. She recovered and was released before we could take her to a wildlife center. Same for the woodpecker.
When he brings these winged ones and four-leggeds in, most look stunned for a few minutes, promptly recover and fly or walk away -- quicker than I can grab my camera and include them in our family album.
Sometimes some do not make it; like this poor little hummingbird one time.
When I met my husband, he said I had hummingbird medicine. When we met, I worked in the Pentagon and within international circles. I could fly up to the General’s office, down to the Sergeant’s office and left and right like the hummingbird. At times, I could even dart backwards.
My husband says I have “good medicine.” He said, when I appear in something, I am “very engaging, then move quick.” When the conversation ends, “poof” I am gone. I could show back up as soon as I left, he said. He also associates me with “flowers and sunshine.”
“The occurring to an observer is that they are happy to see you,” he says about me. “Lots of smiles back and forth, lots of energy in it. Some people try to hold on to you, but you have to be free to be who you are.”
My husband liked that I was slightly different from other birds, I mean women.
That is how my husband sees me.
My husband says about animals, “We observe their nature and characteristics and we can see those characteristics in personalities. Understanding the nature of an animal can enrich your sense of self.”
In Cherokee, Hummingbird is pronounced with slightly different inflections, “walela,” “waleli,” “walelu,” or “waduli.”
Now! There is a Screech Owl in my living room getting ready to be put in a large cardboard box and taken to our spare bedroom in the basement. We contacted our new friends Dr. Burwell at the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center to make arrangements. But we are being snowed in. Roads are closed. We have to just wait until tomorrow. For now, Screech is resting.
In 2010, I noticed my husband’s owl medicine was strong and I had a medicine shirt made for him. It took a year to design and to make his shirt from deer skin with the help of Sharon and Barry of www.NativeArtsTrading.com.
Sharon who use to live in the states, is of Cherokee heritage like my husband. Sharon and Barry now live in Scotland. They host an image library online of their beautiful art including my husband’s shirt.
Paw-Paw wore his owl medicine shirt recently during a sacred ceremony in California. He was named the “Commander of the Commandery of Virginia,” a non-profit non-government organization (NGO) with the Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. The investiture ceremony took place inside the Benedict Castle in Riverside, Calif. The co-founder of Utah’s Oklevueha Native American Church James Warren ‘Flaming Eagle’ Mooney nominated my husband because of his courage, honor, justice and readiness to help the weak.
A few years ago, my husband yelled my name. I knew by the sound that I should bring my camera. Along my husband’s path, between his shop and our house, he had nearly stepped on a fish lying on the open ground. Not an ordinary fish. It was a 16” catfish just lying there on my husband’s path.
Now, ask yourself, “How did a 2-3 pound catfish get here,” “any fish for that matter?” The closest river, the Shenandoah River is a least two miles away.
After close inspection, it was easy to see talon marks left by what we believe was a sacred “White Headed” (Great Bald Eagle). It must have dropped the fish as it flew over.
The day that “White Headed” sacrificed that fish to my husband is part of another sacred story that needs to be told.
The Screech Owl is now resting until we can take it to the wildlife center tomorrow.
Did you know owl feathers can render an owl almost undetectable under certain conditions? The edges of their feathers are serrated. The surface of the owl’s flight feathers are covered with a velvety texture. Somehow they muffle out the sound of their own wing beats. They fly practically silent. The owl’s eyes are disproportionally larger than its skull; another characteristic which aids in their nocturnal prey capture.
To me, the Screech Owl’s plumage mimics the colorations of Fall orange leaves and textures of our forest’s tree bark.
It is morning now. Today is Valentine’s Day. We woke up to more than 24 inches of snow.
The Screech Owl?
Screech did not make it. My husband found Screech lying down on a purple and black tribal rug on our basement spare bedroom floor.
In response to the loss of the Screech Owl, our friend Michael Dowling said, “That’s sad. You made his last hours here comfortable though.” Michael is a local business owner, former editor of the Clarke Daily News, Berryville VA resident and blogger at www.GrowingInterest.org.
I agree with Michael.
It is fortunate my husband found Screech. For his last hours he was in a safe place. What an honorable thing to offer someone or something -- a peaceful place to die.
In Cherokee the word for Screech Owl is “wahuhu.” I know this because our friend Brian Wilkes is an author of The New English Cherokee Dictionary. Cherokee is not a widely spoken language and it is nice to know someone is trying to preserve it.
Like this little “Wahuhu,” my native language died. We were not permitted to speak it. No one was allowed to pass it down. And no one will ever hear it again.
My husband speaks a little Cherokee. Last Christmas, our local church asked him to read for advent in Cherokee the Bible Book of Isaiah chapter 2 verses 1-4. While the whole New Testament has been translated into Cherokee, the Old Testament has not. It took my husband, Brian and several other spiritual leaders working together to translate these four verses.
On the day my husband read Isaiah 2:1-4, I played the flute. Our daughter shared with the audience that those who were hearing him read were among the first to ever hear Isaiah spoken in this Native American language. Let us hope not the last.
If our animals are dying, someone needs to help them. If our languages are fading away, someone needs to keep speaking them.
As fewer people protect our animals and speak our languages they could all disappear before our very eyes and ears.
We need more people like Dr. Burwell protecting our animals, like our friend Brian protecting our words and like our friend Michael protecting our sense of community.
We believe we are all related and that we are all protectors of Mother Earth and all her inhabitants.
“Mitakuye Oyasin” in Lakota means “we are all related.”
It is too big a job for us alone.
For now, humbly I write and weep for Screech the little “Wahuhu.”