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SONG OF CREATION

Singing Tree’s True Story

By Dr. Don Noyes-More Ph.D.

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MORE TRUE STORIES FROM DR. DON

Home | FRONT PAGE | SAGE! | THE WITCH INTERVIEW | WHY I MARCH: FROM ACROSS AMERICA WOMEN SPEAK UP! | PEGGY BLACKWELL: Photography | COCINA DE LYNN! CHICANA Y MEXICANA COOKING | POETRY CONNECTION | EDWARD HOPPER | THE CONNECTICUT MUSE: SUZANNE CAREY | GORGEOUS GEORGE | JOSS ROSSITER: South African Artist | AMY STEWART HALE - ARTIST INTERVIEW | VIRGINIA HEIN - ARTIST | VOICE OF THE GENERATIONS | BY INVITATION: GUEST CREATIVES | HINDENBURG: | WILD THING EXPERIENCE | GUSTAV MAHLER | KOREATOWN | UK & EUROPEAN UNION BUREAU | EDDIE SOLIS: Punk Rocker-Transit Freak-Radio Host | STEVE HAMMOND | JENN VILETTA: FASCISM IS... | SAGA: UNAUTHORIZED DTLA HISTORY | LAC-USC MEDICAL CENTER REVEALED! | HISTORICAL POSTER ART: Vietnamese Patriotic Front | WPA POSTER ART: LESSER KNOWN EXAMPLES | OUR RUSSIAN HISTORICAL HERITAGE | DPRK REVEALED | LATIN AMERICAN BUREAU | SLAVERY IN AMERICA | TOM STONE: A WITNESS IN PURGATORY | MAGAZINE COMMENTS | A NEW TASTE | PERMANENT EXHIBITS | DTLAL MAGAZINE FAMILY ALBUM | CONTACTS | PAST PEEKS | ECOSPHERE RESOURCES | BRIAN BROWN: SOUTHERN HERITAGE | A KENTUCKY STORY | VICTORIAN WOMEN OF COLOR | EARLY TELEVISION! | MAPPLETHORPE & WAGSTAFF | SHARON MARIE TATE | BARBARA MULVAY | CARNEGIE HALL | A GAY GANGSTERS' LIFE

Late spring was a rainy one in Los Angeles. It was my 13th spring. Rain to Los Angeles is like an electric charge in the air. There is new green grass, new green hills, new green shrubs and green in places I never thought had plant life. The Baldwin Hills are bright green in the distance. The air takes on a soft freshness that’s comforting. Looking to the east after a rain you can see the San Gabriel Mountains. All of a sudden nature that seemed to have been missing most of the year is set in it’s proper perspective. It was on one of those spring days my good friend Jeannie and I went for one of our many neighborhood walk-abouts.

Jeannie and I had a bond deeper than that of many friends. We shared our private lives and family secrets. Jeannie and I loved and cared for each other.

We would take walking tours of our neighborhood. This was my idea. I wanted to learn about every neighbor, block by block. Jeannie thought my idea was very odd and “weird”. She, as always, went along in spite of her feelings. The idea I had was to go up to anyone we met on our walks and start talking. This habit has continued all my life to the dismay a many.

The rain had just stopped when I telephoned Jeannie and asked her if she wanted to go for a walk. “Sure,” came her reply and I sprinted over to her house. Arm in arm we started our walk down the street. We often passed an odd house that sat far back on its property. It was an old house on about an acre of land. From the front it seemed overgrown and unkempt. Trees created a wall effect on part of the front. The house had a hidden entrance since the house sat sideways on the property. Seen from the street was a large glassed-in day porch with a slanting glass pane roof on it. The glass panes were like beacons shining in the sun.

“Let’s go look!” I said to Jeannie as I grabbed her hand and pulled her along. Slowly we crept over the wet ground and around overgrown hedges. We walked over to the day porch. Jeannie and I stood inches away from the day porch windowpanes. Staring in we saw hand woven baskets of every size and kind. There were small baskets on rustic tables filled with dried flowers. Here and there on the floor were large baskets. Flowers and herbs were hanging on bamboo cross bars. The room was cluttered with all sorts of things. The room’s slanting roof reached about 16 feet high. There sitting in the middle of all the clutter was a long and wide bench with a flowered cushion on it. There were arrow heads in a hand-made pottery bowl near the window, a spear on a wall, feathers of all kinds, and a tanned hide covering a table with a large Indian design pot on it. On one wall were large and small Indian animal-hide drums.

Jeannie and I stood silently taking in all this Indian exotica. The glass door on the other side of the day porch opened. We panicked but didn’t run. An old lady with a long brown skirt and a billowy white blouse walked in. Her gray hair was to her shoulders, pulled to one side, and tied with what looked like a bead necklace. Our eyes met. No one moved. She came closer to the window and motioned for us to come around to the side.

Jeannie said, “Should we run?”

“Naw,” was my answer. I, with Jeannie in tow, walked around the house. We came to a beautiful and long grape arbor that led us to the front door. The arbor was about 30 feet long and had clusters of ripe concord grapes hanging from the top and sides. The walkway under the arbor was paved with uneven stones set in cement. In the walkway between the stones were broken pieces of colored pottery – pink, turquoise and coral bits. The large wooden door to the house was opened and out stepped the old lady smiling.

In a husky voice came, “Hello, friends. I’m Gertie. Gertie, yep. That’s me!”

“I’m Donnie. She’s Jeannie,” I said meekly.

Gertie invited us in. We walked into the large bright room and Gertie shut the door behind us. The room was filled with all sorts of Indian baskets and rustic hand-made wooden furniture. “This is the welcome room,” Gertie said proudly. “What you see here is a collection of Pomo baskets and over there, she pointed to a number of large ceramic jars in a corner, those are Zuni, all hand made.” On the walls were hand-woven rugs and blankets. “Pretty aren’t they?” She said as Jeannie and I and touched the blankets. “Those blankets were made on meter size looms tied to the Indian. They make one side then the other. Then they sew both sides together – all hand-made vegetable dyes too!” Gertie was very proud of her collection.

“I’ve lived with them all, Pombo’s right up in Northern California, Zuni’s, Apaches, Sioux, Navajo, Piute’s, even Mexican Indians down in Sonora and further south even from there. I was born in Rawhide. My father died when I was a baby, so my mother baked bread and did laundry for the miners. She made a good living from all that too.” We walked around the house, which was a life’s collection of the cultural property of many Indian tribes. I liked the drums she had. She knew every piece, every artifact. Each time she picked an item up it had a story closely connected to a person she knew.

Jeannie and I were entranced by Gertie’s stories and seemingly endless collection.

We were asked to sit while Gertie made tea. “Touch anything, it’s OK,” she said as she went to the kitchen.

Jeannie’s eye caught a large turquoise stone on a table next to the split log sofa. “Isn’t this so boss!” Jeannie said as she held the stone in her hand. Gertie walked in with a blue teapot and mugs. “Think you’ll like this tea. It’s made from wild sage and marigolds.”

“Wild sage?” I thought to myself. She poured the brew into the mug and smiled. One taste of the tea and I asked for the sugar, three or four spoons of sugar to cut the flavor. Jeannie took a sip and almost gagged.

Gertie just smiled. “Wild sage tea is called high desert tea,” Gertie said. “Good for you too!”

Gertie’s husband died from the flu two years after they were married. They had no children. He left her a good sum of money, which came to her after her father died. His father was a businessman in Carson City, Nevada. “The old gentleman was real well-heeled,” She said with a laugh. Gertie packed up and decided to travel after her husband’s death. This was something young ladies did not do at the time. She was a self-styled cultural anthropologist, spending most of her years living near or with Native Americans. She was able to live off the interest of her husband’s money and from the odd jobs she did.

Gertie traveled to different Native Reservations and made many friends. She made friends with the Indian agents too. I suppose her behavior was so odd that people couldn’t resist talking and being friends with the curious white lady.

Gertie had large leather-bound notebooks filled with Native American names, places, dates, pencil drawings and pasted little things like leaves or a dried flower. It was her collection of the stories, places, and things she had heard and had seen through her life. She pointed to a number of pictures of raggedy looking Indians. “These are all my family,” her voice trailed off into a private thought as she closed the book.

Many times that spring and early summer I was to visit Gertie. I spent hours listening to her stories and the nature of each piece she had collected. She told me about Indian medicine and beliefs. I didn’t really understand a lot of what she said, but her voice said it was important to her, so I listened and asked questions. I was also interested since my mother and grandmother were Native Americans. Gertie retold the story of the Cherokee (my people) “Trail of Tears,” the deportation from the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky to Oklahoma. In the dead on winter. Hundreds perished on that trail.

Sometimes her stories got intertwined with other stories, but it really didn’t matter to me. I told her about my mother and grandmother and she pulled out a Cherokee grammar book and told me stories about Sequoia and the history of the Cherokee nation. I was deeply moved by Gertie because my grandmother lived as a girl and young woman in Oklahoma. Gertie was sharing my heritage, held in silence in my family. My grandmother’s Indian name was “Fire Bush,” which became a family joke on the white side of the family, of course. I was too young to understand. My mother always considered herself “white,” as did everyone in her family except grandma.

Gertie bought me a book on American Indians. We would leaf through the book, and she would give details about the different tribes and their lives. She showed me on her arm where she had been badly burned. She said an old Indian woman had wrapped her burn with bear fat and moss. There was no scar on her arm. “See, hardly anything at all!” she said proudly.

One day Gertie, took me to a large closet at the end of a hallway. In the walk-in closet Gertie had hundreds of jars and bags with all sort of herbs, dried mushrooms, bark and ground up powders. “These are Indian medicines. I know how to use most of them. I know how to cure all sort of ills and such. This, let me show you this,” she said pulling out a leather bag about the size of a fist. The bag had leather ties at the top and there was a dried up nasty looking bear claw tied to the end of one of the draw strings. “This, with the medicine, gives a person special power. Here hold it.” Carefully I took the bag in my hands. “Press it against your heart, Donnie.” I pulled it towards me. “Against your heart. Against your heart!” Gertie yelled. I held it over my heart and she smiled. She placed her hands over the bag, her dark eyes locking onto my eyes. It was a spiritual embrace.

It was towards dusk one day that I wandered over to Gertie’s. The door was opened the moment I entered the long arbore walkway. Gertie was standing at the door with that same warm smile. “Donnie, today is your day,” she said with her deep voice.

“My day?” I asked. She led me to the day porch, which was filled with the gold light of the setting sun. “Sit down, Donnie,” she said as she sat me on the bench in the middle of the room. “Today is your Indian birthday. Today you take on the Spirit of your people.” I thought this was all a great game, and I was more than willing to have fun. Gertie picked up the white deerskin and tied it around her. Next she handed me a small drum, and she picked up a large rattle from a table.

“To my beat” she pointed her fingers up above her head and then, as if hitting a drum with her rattle, she struck the beat. I kept the beat on the drum. Gertie next picked up her bear claw medicine bag and put it around her neck. She slowly started to chant in the Cherokee language. Her voice in all its tones raised and lowered. Her singing went on for 15 minutes, and then stopped abruptly. She dipped her fingers in a clay pot and when she pulled her fingers out they were red. Gertie stepped over to me and made marks on my face and forehead. She then wiped her hand, turned to a side table and took a feather with a string on it. She tied the feather to my hair mumbling something I didn’t understand. “You are now Singing Tree. All creation has a song. Learn the Song of Creation, Singing Tree,” Gertie said smiling. I sat crying.

I never returned to Gertie’s again. It was soon after being “made” an Indian by Gertie that my mother died. Pain and sorrow took up many weeks and months. I went to live with my cousins for a while before returning home. My path in life never again crossed Gertie’s. It is only rather recently that I have reflected on what she did for me. She paid me an honor. She gave me a tie to my ancestors. Gertie made me aware of the Song of Creation and I’m still learning to sing it.

In 1990 my partner Rick and I drove cross-country to move to Virginia. On the way we stopped in Clinton, Oklahoma for the night. We awoke before daybreak to continue our trip. After eating a breakfast in the little cafe next to the motel, we both walked outside. We could see for miles across fields, all the way to the eastern horizon. I thought of my Cherokee ancestors and the many sunrises they had seen from that land. There was red and gold on the land stretching out over the fields. I could feel Gertie with me. I could hear her song in my heart. I could feel the drum beat inside of me. Singing Tree’s path had finally led back home.