these are “the people who can hear the river”

dancing shoesThat’s what Nottawaseppi means in English. This tribe has lived in the Michigamme (the place where food grows on water–a reference to wild rice) since forever . . . at least those who were not forcibly “removed” during the last 200 years that is.
storytalkerShe has a spirit name that isn’t appropriate to make public, and she is a jingle dancer.
jingle Every bangle on her dress represents a day in the year it was sewn into her costume.
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jingledancer dancing
He sings in a way that recalls forests primeval and shapeshifting animals. I listen with my lenses.
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The Nottawaseppi Huron are a band of the Potawatami tribe. They live on a reservation near here, and they’re letting me take pictures of them this summer as long as I don’t refer to it as “shooting Indians.” We all laughed kind of nervously over that attempt at humor.

Are we lost I arsked tenderly. Shut up he explained.

IMG_8947“You had better be there,” was the last adamant text from Charlotte (not her real name) I read, but it wasn’t necessary. I was already in the car finding my way back to a pretty, flowery place I’d never been to, at least not since the summer I turned 18. Decades of “whatever happened to her” and “did she ever cut her hair” curiosity was put to rest when I showed up at the weekend-on-the-water getaway with some of my best BFFs from high school.
Elaine singsIMG_8930
Charlotte, Genifer (also not her real name—each got to pick the one she wanted for this story) and I stirred frosty adult beverages with a finger as a fog of years began to clear and we started to see one another again. So much we didn’t know but felt, too many things that we wouldn’t be able to explain; it was overwhelming. I felt the need to set an agenda, “OK, let’s just clarify what is not on the table for discussion.” A few rounds and hours later, we had come up with an embarrassingly expository list. Suffice it to say, we would avoid sharing our . . .

  • Disappointment in our childhood
  • Disappointment in our children
  • Disappointment in men
  • Disappointment in ourselves

IMG_8968got my legs back

You’d be surprised how much was left on the table. It was 1:38am when I replayed the Greatest Hits CD for the third time. Genifer was dealing the cards . . . we all won as much as we lost. Elton John started singing something. “It was so tragic what happened to that guy,” G said. Charlotte and I traded a quick, bemused look that asked drunkenness or early onset dementia? “Ummm, nothing happened to him,” Charlotte pointed out gently. It took all our remaining brain cells to sort out the Jim Croce confusion before we collapsed into our beds.

As soon as we could launch ourselves, we were out on the boat the next morning. A few hours on the water washed out the boundaries and there we were without any more make-up, pretenses or defenses. No more flinching . . . everything we couldn’t say got said. Yes, we knew the difference between fucking and making love. We knew our mothers and genuinely forgave them; we knew ourselves and accepted our fates. We covered the rubric of all our expectations, gave each other an A in every subject, especially the ones we failed.

© Liana 7/14

(title quote by Ring Lardner in The Young Immigrants)

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what’s the story

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My friend B and her man are doing their professorial gig in Mongolia this summer. They are being treated grandly, and recently were taken to a place where for 25 yuan (about $4.30) she could dip her feet for 20 minutes in a bowl of tiny fish that exfoliate her toes to make them “radiant.”

I can hear the delight in her words emailed from thousands of miles away. YES, yes, they took lots of pictures, she assures me, and in every photo, she is laughing so big that her tonsils are showing.

what she wanted you to know

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They were frosted in pink on my wedding day, these two little sugar cookies named Shawna and Christina. There were never more adorable twins, and they made a neat half-dozen of my flower girls . . . an extravagant number resulting from how many little cousins I had, none of whom did I want traumatized by not being asked to be in my wedding.

My cousin Mike married their mama a year or so earlier, and we welcomed C and her girls into the family wholeheartedly. We wouldn’t bother to correct anyone who said, “They’ve got twins in their family,” as if we deserved credit for the genetics of that novelty. They were ours and even though extended family members (I among them) couldn’t tell them apart (like, ummm, ever) it wasn’t a problem because they were always together. If you called Shawna, both girls would look up. If you said C’mere, Christina, two little blondies skipped right over.

One of the nicest things about the twins was their happy, loving nature. Their new grandpa, my Uncle John, was the deserving object of their great affection, and the feeling was entirely mutual. He was an utterly devoted father to his own boys, Mike and Tim, but with these little girls there was more freedom to love demonstrably. I thought it was a very good thing there were two of those girls because Uncle John had that much love and attention to give, and he lavished it on them both. One girl simply wasn’t enough. Uncle John was never bored with kids, and he liked babies best of all. In a grown man, particularly in my family where politics and deer hunting were the topics of choice, it was a thing to behold. I think I was a bit jealous, in fact, but I was all grown up by then. Still, I remembered very well sitting on Uncle John’s lap, playing with his hair, laughing as he made his thumb disappear, and feeling like the center of the universe. I envied Shawna and Christina their ascendance to the throne.

After I married and moved far away, I didn’t see the family back home very often. I missed watching the twins’ teenage years, I missed their weddings, and it wasn’t until I got a call from my mom telling me Shawna was seriously ill that the reality of all the time that had gone by hit me. Shawna was a wife and new mother, which was enough of a shift in my perception, but that she might be die . . . that was beyond my ability to grasp. There is no processing such information. Within the year, worse news followed—she was gone.

Sami, I never really knew your mom as an individual—the grown up Shawna. I still think of her even now as a wide-eyed sprite who could hardly restrain herself from hugging people for no reason whatsoever except that’s who she was, that’s what she was like. I can’t tell you what she had planned for your after-school snack when you came home from kindergarten on the first day, or what words she would have said to comfort you when some girl was being mean. I don’t know if she’d let you pierce your belly button when you’re fifteen, or whether she’d approve of your first real boyfriend. She’d have figured it all out like we all do, and you’d have been in your room pouting sometimes, and laughing with her over the kitchen table other times.

I do know for sure that you are beloved, and that you belong to a family that will do anything and everything to fill up the emptiness you feel. We will tell you all the things your mother would say to you as near as is humanly possible to her own feelings in her own voice. I know that when you see your Aunt Christina’s face, you are seeing your mother, and that is a blessing beyond reckoning. And I know that for all that, it is you, Samantha, who contains most of your mother . . . and that learning to love yourself is the best way to honor her. I know without question that she thinks you are the best thing she ever did—that this is what she wants you to know most of all.

sugar cookies

how peaceful is the valley

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As I sat in this very chair sipping my freshly pressed coffee, drinking in the sounds of morning that came from bees and trees and no unnatural thing (not even a cell signal makes it down here), thinking of the blueberry cobbler (their name: clafouti) my foody-friends served after the most amazing dinner last night . . .

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I was wondering how long I could linger before brushing my bedhead, dressing for the day and heading over the hill to the studio in a converted apple cider mill where we would get to work. I decided I could give it maybe fifteen more minutes. It was at that precise moment when . . .

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a film crew appeared. In a tricked-out van full of equipment designed to synthesize the preternatural light that was happening all by itself in the Bethlehem Valley, the monstrous vehicle lurched down the track out of the Cynthiana vineyard behind the little guest house I’ve come to think of as my very own.

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It pulled up right in front of my bliss with this question: could I please move my car so they could get some stills of this scene for a feature that would appear in a slick magazine where beautiful, privileged and important people show the places they escape to on weekends out of the city?

That’s how peaceful this valley is and, rarely, isn’t.