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When I was a kid, maybe eight or nine, I remember plucking reed-like horsetail plants and dismembering each section. I was left with an imaginary pack of green cigarettes. I never lit them on fire, but I did “smoke” them. Gratefully, pretend smoking never led to an actual habit (unless you count the marshmallows I like to light on fire to eat their crunchy, gooey, charred remains). I suppose I was fascinated by the way the plant came apart like a natural erector set and by the positions smokers took when lit up. I never liked the actual smoke my aunts blew my way, not wanting to foul their air with the exhalations, but I did notice how they seemed to take a different body stance during the act. That smoker’s poise was my intent with imitation.
I also didn’t know that when I grew up, I’d be hunting for wild horsetail to make a bone-strengthening brew as a mid-menopausal woman. I’m yet a teeny-bopper in crone years, but I understand that the transitions my body is experiencing require a different medicine cabinet than the mothering years. No longer do I need raspberry leaf or yarrow. I’m incrementally adding more Motherwort to my daily intake, and I can’t seem to get enough nourishing nettles these days. No longer do I believe cigarettes make women look cool. I’m okay with looking like an oddball at any age, wearing expandable waistbands, and returning to the flannel shirts of my youth.
For my son’s wedding, though, I’m being aiming for classy. I bought three new pairs of sandals — a fancy copper-toned heel, strappy white flats, and open-toed black leather wedges. We have rehearsal dinner, the wedding and reception, and time to visit. My excuse for watering in these heels is that I want to make sure they fit properly, that I can walk in them safely, and, well, I feel extra pretty in my PJs and flannel overshirt with heels on. I don’t need a cigarette, real or fake, between my fingers to strike a cool pose with my garden hose. Despite the heels’ few inches of extra height, my MOG gown is about 8-inches too long. My necklace is two inches too short. And I’m running out of time to order any online fixes.
Don’t get me started on my hair. It’s starting to escape clips and binders, emerging a wild thing. It’s curling in weird ways, and I’m starting to think I should shave it all off. However, my future DIL arranged for a hairdresser for the mothers and wedding party. Technically, I’m still in lockdown per Michigan orders until August 11. They get married on August 15. I’m also in quarantine, waiting to hear back on the COVID test the Hub had to take after being exposed. I’m lost in limbo with a shaggy, uncooperative mop with no access to beauty parlor visits.
Nature is wide open, however, and I go to places where I can avoid people, pick rocks, and tie a scarf around my roaming hair.
Last week I returned to my favorite McLeans beach and encountered seven loons, one a month-old chick. They sat at the edge of gentle waves and shoved off the rocks into the water as soon as I started fumbling in my daypack for my phone. Later, one loon returned to the beach and I swam-crawled (my way of crabbing among the rocks to stay cool in the water and not get rolled over by the waves) for a closer examination. He either found me not-threatening (I doubt I look threatening to anyone when swim-crawling) or thought I looked loony enough to be close kin. He preened his feathers and sunbathed until other beachgoers emerged from the wooded trail, and he was out of there, zipping into the water in such a way that he shoved off from the rocks with back legs not built for waddling but for swiftly swimming.
Among the rocks, I also picked up litter. Some old, like sea glass, some new, like plastic. Evelyn Ravindran, Natural Resources Director for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC), says, “This is what it means to be human. You have to take care of the world you live in. You have a responsibility to do that.” It’s not enough to trample across beauty. We need to slow down, appreciate it, and truly experience its wonder. It’s important that we have wild spaces where all the nations can be. I mean, the plant and animal nations. We need to protect nature around us.
While we’ve been in a pandemic, the indigenous tribes of America have not slowed down in their protection of the natural world. The Water Walkers of KBIC have been fortifying their medicine cabinets with the plant nation and upholding their first treaty as stewards. They are preparing for their annual 17-mile walk around the bay to honor Nibi — water. I’ve been singing to Nibi as I was taught and hope to join the Water Walkers once again on their three-day walk across all the ceded territories of the Keweenaw.
My wise Water Walker mentor, Kathleen Smith, says, “What matters is that we advocate and give a voice to the things that cannot speak.” That fits in with what we do as writers. We explore ideas, culture, relationships, and the recesses of our own hearts and minds. We seek our voices, as well as give voice to the voiceless. Creative writing does much to instill empathy in both readers and writers.
This video is one example of how people all around the world are working to protect nature. What is happening in your part of the world, in your neighborhood? The opening song is the one I learned to sing to Nibi.
Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.
July 23, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story to show what it is to protect nature around us. It can be set in any era or told in any genre. You can fictionalize a true story or completely make it up. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by July 28, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
To Protect and to Serve by Charli Mills
Reba pointed her kayak east and sprinkled a pinch of asemaa into the breeze when the sun’s first light touched the water. Her grandson had grown the tobacco last summer that she dried over winter to fill her pouch. It became an offering to the spirits, a promise. She paddled to shore, singing to Nibi her gratitude and respect. Driving to work at the tribe’s fish hatchery, Reba passed the community gardens and the inlet where rice grew on the water – manoomin. Everywhere she looked, she saw the First Treaty upheld – to protect and to serve the precious gifts.