Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The #Midwessay: Pamela Dawes Tambornino, From a Cherokee Herbalist


From a Cherokee Herbalist

Pamela Dawes Tambornino


Kansas in the spring and summer are a time of renewal and provide gifts from nature that I use year round. The sweet grass I pick and dry will become wreaths and smudge braids for my house; the blood root harvested from beside streams will provide soothing balm and tincture;  and the bounty of Mother Earth will provide more than that.
     As I walk rural Kansas, I am overwhelmed by the new plants, herbs and “weeds” that are coming into new growth. It is with these that I remember my grandmother, and her mother, as they showed me the roots, leaves and barks that would help people heal spiritually and physically. Each year I gather, from the backroads and fields of Kansas, these gifts of nature and take them home. It is there that I dry, boil, or bottle what I will need for the coming winter. Dandelions are often seen as weeds, but I see them as starts to a wine that is a good replacement for alcohol, but also a rather powerful wine. 
     As I relearn Cherokee, I am now able to recall the names for many of the things I gather now and gathered in my youth. Sweet grass (u ga na s’dv ga nu lv hi), dandelion (gi ga ge  a di ta s’di), and strawberries (ani) are gifts to the People. They are the provisions provided by Kansas soil.
     Many tribes have called Kansas their home among them the: Cherokee Indians, Cheyennes, Chippewas, Comanches, Delawares, Shawnees, Fox, Illinois, and Senecas. Four tribe have reservations here: the Iowa, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, and Sac and Fox nations. Northeast Kansas is home to Haskell Indian Nations University, and of the 579 ratified tribes (recognized by the Federal Government), about seventy tribes are represented by students each year by this University.
     It is amazing in Kansas to be surrounded with so much culture that enriches the soul and helps me to remember my culture. My walks continue daily as I strive to gather the bounty that Kansas offers. It is not just the State of rolling waves of wheat, farms, and famous universities. It is the home of many cultures that thrive together. 


Pamela Dawes Tambornino, enrolled Cherokee citizen, taught and was an administrator at Haskell Indian Nations University. She graduated from Salina High School and Washburn University. She has advanced degrees in Library Science and English. Her book Maggie’s Story: Teachings of a Cherokee Healer is from Mammoth Publications, and she has also published in many editions of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

Fire season in Kansas begins in late winter, when frozen ground thaws and its dampness retards the pace of a creeping fire line. Ranchers set fire to pasture’s dry grasses and seedlings on the most calm day possible. Winds are a threat, sweeping from the Colorado Rockies across foothills, through the high plains, and across—and downward from—the high country. The scent of fired grasses blows east to the more populated towns, the sweet smell of grasses burning, an incense. This process, learned from Indigenous friends and relatives (before they were sold out to railroad companies and real estate brokers), sustains the pastureland for bison, cattle, horses, and deer who sometimes graze with cattle herds.
     In this season no person, writer or not, cannot help but be moved by the epic scale of the landscape. I am reminded of this as the season turns to this mode, particular to the grasslands. Once I drove through the Flint Hills after dark when fires still burned, snaking under a full moon, and then a spring snowstorm began. The gleam of blue moonlight on snow streaked with dendritic fire rivulets stunned me. How could I ever imagine my small life as central to the cosmos?
     All the writers’ works that represent Kansas essays in this collection live with this simple fact—the seasons and its weather will overwhelm any human enterprise, and even egos. Many of these writers’ work is new to me, and without question, I know there will be an underlying humility, even from those not born and raised in the Sunflower State. Survive a few ice storms, snow, high winds, and burning heat—and you are a member of the Kansas club. August and September are the months when fields of “weeds” are yellow with wild and a few cultivated sunflower crops. That is another marker of seasons that proceeds outside of people’s management.
     Other factors encourage the Kansas writers. A slower pace leaves time for reflection, reading, book clubs (High Plains Radio’s ambitious series, for example) and literary communities. I would guess there are more writers per capita than most places. Isolation leaves time for individuals to write, without distractions or traffic-filled commutes.
     No, the state is not all flat, nor all black-and-white as in The Wizard of Oz. But what if it were? Even more occasion for a good story. Denise LowKansas Coordinator.

What is the #Midwessay? What is the Midwest? What are the characteristics, if any, of the #Midwessay (the Midwest essay)? What gathers us together? What pulls us apart? Springing from a twitter conversation, we started asking writers and readers what they imagine (or would like to reimagine) as the Midwest and the Midwessay. The #Midwessay is a series of reports from the Midwest (whatever that is) by and/or about Midwestern essay and essayists (whatever those are). Essay Daily will be publishing these, sorted (loosely) by state, in February 2021 and beyond.  These #Midwessays will be collected here and on a separate site at a later date. If you'd like to submit a report / essay, send it our way. Details and coordinators for each state are listed here. You can also ping Ander (link at the upper right) if we don't list a coordinator yet for your state. —The Editors

No comments:

Post a Comment