I don’t remember who I discovered first, Kent Nerburn or Ohiyesa. Or was it they who discovered me? Together, they have gently guided me to a better understanding of Native America, and more importantly to a better understanding of myself and my role in the ever-expanding universe.
Having read nine of Mr. Nerburn’s 11 previous books, I looked forward to his twelfth, Voices in the Stones published less than one month ago. It was my Christmas gift to myself. I turned the 167th and final page last night. In two words, another gem.
Being brutally honest, I was not particularly enjoying this book subtitled “Life Lessons from the Native Way’ until I reached page 70 and read, “When I was a child, my parents gave me a little black puppy.” Despite growing up next to a veterinary clinic, my parents never allowed me to have a dog, much less a puppy. Dogs have been an important part of my adult life, and I do consider them at the pinnacle of creation.
Mr. Nerburn’s book is not about dogs, but he touched my heart when he wrote about his final moments with his dog,
“I was raised to believe that we humans are the apex of creation, as my Sunday school classes had taught me, in the image and likeness of God – the only element of creation possessed of an eternal soul … As I held my dog in my arms and watched he light fade from her trusting, caring eyes, that conviction drained out of me as surely as the life drained out of her aged and trembling body … Her eyes had held a consciousness that was equal to mine. No one could tell me she didn’t have a soul.”
Having experienced that moment most recently in the early summer of 2016 with Caesar, the book had my full and singular attention that grew white-hot like the melting point of sunlight through a magnifying glass. Mr. Nerburn struck me deeply in his chapter “The Hip Bone: We Are Children of the Earth; We Walk in the Footsteps of Those Who Came Before Us.”
“We are common kin, born of a common earth, far deeper and far richer than the movements of people and events that take place upon the surface of creation.
That is why we feel the presence of ghosts when we stand on hallowed ground – the battlefield at Gettysburg, the hard stones of Dachau, the rocky promontory of Masada, the lonely hilltop at Wounded Knee.”
I walked that hilltop on a gray, windy day in October just passed. The ghosts are real.
Voices in the Stones rises above most books you have read or that you are apt to read. As we emerge from the dark winter, I recommend you pull up your chair to a warm fireplace and learn some lessons from the Native Way.