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The Storyteller: Leslie Marmon Silko

Leslie Marmon Silko (wvu.edu)

Leslie Marmon Silko grew up on the edge of a Laguna Pueblo Indian reservation, being school by Pueblo family matriarchs in the old ways, the old stories. 

Now, after a lifetime of path-breaking contributions to Native American literature – American literature – Leslie Marmon Silko is looking back, looking around, taking stock. 

She’s slowing down, intentionally, moving away from too much talk with humans, and pulling closer to the nature around her in southern Arizona — to bees and rattlesnake and the very stone around her. 

We speak with Leslie Marmon Silko about her latest book, “The Turquoise Ledge.”

-Tom Ashbrook

Guest:

Leslie Marmon Silko, award-winning Native American novelist, essayist, and poet. Her new book is a memoir, The Turquoise Ledge. You can read an excerpt, or read it below — just scroll down. Her breakthrough novel “Ceremony” (1978) sold more than a million copies and has been described as the greatest Native American novel ever written.

Read some of Silko’s new memoir:

From “The Turquoise Ledge” by Leslie Marmon Silko, Viking Books

CHAPTER ONE

My friend, Bill Orzen, taught me to speed walk on flat ground in town, but I prefer the hills to the city, so I adapted the speed walk to the steep rough terrain. The walks took me back into the Tucson Mountains to the old trails where I rode my horses thirty years ago when I first moved here. The trails are narrow footpaths made by the ancient tribal people who lived in the Tucson Mountains for thousands of years; later on prospectors used the old trails and made new trails to their mining claims.

The trail I took on my walks passed the Thunderbird and Gila Monster mines—old diggings—they were never actual mines—the former is a shallow cave in the hillside and the other is a twenty foot vertical shaft where two big white barn owls live and once emerged as I rode by on horseback—truly startling and astonishing.

On foot I can see the ant palaces, some in solid rock, others with starburst circles of stones they’ve mined and somehow moved up from below. The star pattern reminded me of the Star Being images incised into sandstone thousands of years ago.

Eventually the trail descends and crosses the big arroyo and continues; but here I turn and follow the big arroyo back home. The sandy bottom of the arroyo is criss-crossed with bird and animal tracks that make the trail that humans have used for thousands of years. In rough steep terrain arroyos may provide the only access to an area so the arroyos are “right of ways” for wildlife and humans on foot.

At first I didn’t pay much attention to the stones in the arroyo because I was focused on my walking—I was new to the notion of a speed walk through the desert. In the arroyo the deep drifts of fine white sand had a gravity of their own that sucked my feet down. So in those early months of learning how to walk over rough desert terrain at a fast pace I had all I could do to keep moving. I wasn’t thinking about rocks in the arroyo.

I learned not to lift my feet in and out of the deep sand but instead to slide my feet through the top layer of sand very rapidly, to shuffle them back and forth so they wouldn’t have a chance to sink further into the deep sand.

Slowly it got easier and I started to notice the pebbles and rocks in the fine white sand, and the animal tracks and signs of coyote and bobcat in the arroyo. I began to find small rocks and pebbles streaked with turquoise. Over the years I’d picked up some of these turquoise rocks but I wasn’t as interested in the stones as I am now. I needed almost daily contact with the turquoise rocks on my walks to develop my interest.

Turquoise doesn’t originate deep in the Earth as many precious minerals and gems do. It forms when certain chemical reactions take place during the weathering of surface minerals. Water is a necessary component of the formation of turquoise—no wonder indigenous people of the deserts connected turquoise with water and rain—it wasn’t just the color of blue or green—turquoise meant water had been there.

The surface minerals necessary for the formation of turquoise are: Copper, aluminum and phosphates.
Turquoise is a hydrous hydrate of copper. Hydrate of copper indicates water in the lattice-work of the turquoise molecule.

Iron can substitute for aluminum and results in a color variation toward green.

In my research I learned the turquoise stones I’d found were technically not turquoise but chrysocolla which is a minor copper ore, a hydrated copper silicate restricted to a shallow depth of less than twenty meters. Volcanic disturbance is required to make the cracks and fissures that allow water to reach the aluminum and iron ores in feldspars. Turquoise, malachite and chrysocolla are often found with one another so they all were called “turquoise” in the old days. Some turquoise was harder and shinier while some was chalky and soft. “Chalky turquoise” was the term for chrysocolla. It is not as easy as one might think to tell the difference between the two without chemical analysis in a laboratory.

I prefer the lovely sound of the word “turquoise” and even ”malachite” to the sound of “chrysocolla”. Chrysocolla sounds like the name of a soft drink—”Chrissy Cola”. Turquoise comes from the 16th century French word for “Turkish”. So I will use the word “turquoise”.

After a walk I would make a few notes about what I’d seen and where. The next time I walked I wouldn’t be able to locate any of the places I’d noted on the earlier walk. The ant palaces I’d have seen the previous day would have vanished.

If gravity is distributed in this Universe unevenly, then there are places here on Earth where the gravity is weaker or stronger, where even light may speed up or slow down. At a certain walking speed, my eyes received light images from a parallel plane. Parallel planes or worlds may be visible briefly at certain points in this world from time to time. Thus the discrepancies between my recollections and notes immediately after a walk and what I actually find when I attempt to locate these places again.

The idea was that the exercise and open air would help release my mind into a less self-conscious state where I could better perceive the delicacy of the light and the dawn moisture in the breeze. How sweet the air smells and how luxurious it feels to move through this yellow dawn light. The idea of the fast pace was a cardiovascular work out, but also the pace of the walks helped me edit the experience of the walks to the essentials.

As I walked along, I began to imagine a great ledge of turquoise temporarily buried under the sand and rocks. To find so many pieces of turquoise in the millions of tons of arroyo sand pebbles and rocks meant the turquoise ledge must be large. Or there is more than one ledge of turquoise?

The distribution of the pieces of the Turquoise Ledge may reveal its location to be somewhere below the place where the main road crosses the big arroyo. I don’t think the ledge occurs higher in the Tucson Mountains.

My speculations and guesses proved to be wrong. I walked up the arroyo higher into the mountains far above the main road crossing and I found pieces of rock with turquoise streaks. I even found a small turquoise rock near the place the cottonwood used to grow higher in the mountains.

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  • Gloria

    I have read numerous historical books on Native culture since I was a very young girl, the constant yearning to “be Indian” has been with me most of my life. It was reading “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” and the sequel “The Wolf at Twilight” that I have become even more in tune with Grandmother Earth. Every whisper of breeze and flutter of leaf, every cloud above, each drop of rain, each ray of sun, all creatures, winged and four legged have taken me to an even deeper place, one of quiet, peace, happiness and a feeling of being fulfilled. I have long wondered if somewhere long ago, that I myself was Indian. I know I am white, but that is in this life. Even my family sees this flow from me naturally. Perhaps this feeling is best suited to the true First Peoples, I am not a “wanna be”, I am who I am and what I feel is real. I do not question any of it. I just know that a day without human contact is a day acceptable.
    There is power in being one with nature, looking, listening and learning, valuable lessons are there, outside, for the taking, if we take the time to see.

  • Pamela Haggerty

    I tell my kids (grown now) – “whenever you get discouraged or feel that life isn’t worth living, look at the trees, look at the sky, listen to the wind – you are a part of nature. No matter what happens in ‘society’, we always have this beautiful world to live for.”

  • Raht Ketusingha

    The two topics today (A Manhutton Project For Energy and The Storyteller: Leslie Marmon Silko) are like the Yin and the Yang. Thank you for presenting them together.
    There must be a way that we use what we can learn from Leslie Marmon Silko to solve at least some if not all of the energy issues. A challenge is how to derive a politically practical path, I think.

  • http://ncpr stillin

    Ahhhhh a soothing voice of reason, what a pleasant change..thank you. Most likely channeled through nature and god/jah no doubt, a voice so needed today.

  • Nay

    The highlight of this desk dweller’s week is to return to nature and by doing so, to myself. Immersion in nature renews my sense of humanity. In the solitude between the mist and the fern I remove the robe of my week, the mask of consumerism and pop culture, and experience the eternal “I” and “we”.

  • http://ncpr stillin

    I was privledged to participate in a series of Mohawk ( northern ny canadian border)sweat lodges for an entire season and what an experience…I loved it. It was a spiritual experience that still stays with me. Nightly I walk our local dike and run my dog, no human voices period. I have a fireplace to stock and sit by during our long cold season that also helps..I love solitude and I use it after being with kids all day as a teacher. On an end note, Bernie Seagal the cancer doctor said solitude was mandatory DAILY to maintain health. I practise it.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Solitude. Someone did a study on the number of words Americans speak per day, and I noticed it was probably the same number I use per year.
    I don’t think solitude requires communing with nature. Getting closer to the sky might be a kind of retreat from the madding crowd, but not necessarily. A walk alone might not be an advance into a deeper, um, connectivity. I know that the human voice, the human face, is a crucial part of the natural world, and if you spend great long stretches without that contact, you need it the way you need the sky. It’s a matter of balance. Sometimes we have to get into the fray and try to coordinate ourselves.

  • David

    Not that it makes it right at all but making slaves of captives was practiced by Native Americans prior to the arrival of Europeans.

  • Mari McAvenia

    Ms. Silko points out the real history of Native America.
    The 13th Amendment did NOT ban the enslavement of Indians. My grandmother – who was raised on the Texas/Mexico border- always taught me about her mother’s life experiences. My great grandmother was Cherokee, from Oklahoma, but this was something we should keep to “ourselves”, grammy said, it should not be discussed with others. Why? I asked. Because it was “worse than being a Negro.”, She said.

    Thanks for the timeless wisdom, today, Leslie.
    Love, Mari

  • Ellen Dibble

    Looking at the number of books Marmon-Silko has published, I am wondering if this writer is an oral storyteller in the Indian tradition, which is much more social than the write-alone variety. Or maybe she teaches. I thought writers had to have vast solitude, or most of them, from the git-go.

  • Nick

    Humans must learn that we are just one small part of an intricate, vast living ecosystem: Nature.
    If we continue to destroy, pollute, + assume dominion over Nature, humans will ultimately perish.
    The living planet will survive w/out us.

  • Jon

    This is ridiculous – anthropomorphizing insects, snakes, etc is silly at best and dangerous at worst. I do agree that being respectful of nature and critters is a “good thing”, but that rattlesnake has no idea if you are a threat or not and bees can not recognize people or their intent. They are wild animals and if they feel threatened they will bite/sting/whatever. I can’t believe that I am hearing this on NPR.

  • Mimi Bull

    four months after my husband’s death, I was in Santa Fe
    waiting for a ride to the airport. I was in a garden
    and I suddenly realized I hadn’t thought of my husband
    for a while, and I said irreverently, “Okay, Buddy, send me a sign.” Instantly, a hummingbird was in my face -hovering before me, it flew off and yet again it came
    and hovered. I was shaken because so like my husband,
    this bird was high energy and in my face. When I’ve told this story, I invariably hear such stories from others.

  • Mari

    Er, Tom, you didn’t let Leslie make the point that scalping was introduced by the European invaders.
    Indians just reciprocated the behavior, in kind.

  • http://www.onpointradio.org/about-on-point/john-wihbey John Wihbey

    For those unable to download the excerpt, we’ve posted the text above. Thanks for listening! -On Point staff

  • John

    Found that I inherently feel many of the traditions of the native American’s although i am not direct descendent. Is it possible we all possess a naturalist view by nature and the surrounding environment works on changing that view over time? Sharing responsibility in a teamwork effort to further the tribe is a lesson we have forgotten to apply to our own society.

  • harry

    I lost both of my parents this past year. As we burried my father in January a flock of canada geese flew right over us – close enough to throw a rock at. my father had always wanted to learn to fly.
    We burried my mother in April. As we pulled up to park at the cemetary a turkey in full plum – just like in a picture was sitting on a hill watching us. My mother, the cook, the caretaker was watching us. I am suburban Boston, Jewish, mid 50′s. Seeing is believing and believing is seeing.

  • Gerard

    Sometimes, I forget that I am not the only one that appreciates nature on such a grand scale! Thank you Leslie & all of you that have commented.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I think Leslie might be redirecting us from left brain to right brain. Some people might find intuitions from the right brain to be almost divine, “unearthly.”
    Is that it?

  • Eleanor

    Yes, you CAN “communicate” with insects and other so-called “pests”. If you respect and honor them, they will respond. I have done this with ants, ticks, flies, mosquitoes, spiders and others. I never kill them. The book “Kinship with All Life” also describes this very well.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Right brain, pre-use-of-writing, pre-male-dominated societies. Right brain, pre-monotheism. Pre-patriarchy. The mother nature era. ??

  • Jeff South Carolina

    I had the terrific opportunity to work & live in Gallup, NM for one year and work with the First Nation People. For me, that meant my caseload was comprised of over 97% Navajo children.

    As one who lived for 50 years in the Northeast and now in the Southeast, the teachings from not only the Navajo but the Hopi people were beautiful, spiritual, and earthly. Collectively, they changed my life: my outlook is now much more in-tune with our earth and what is truly important. The peace that resonates within is wonderful.

  • John

    teaching my kids the imagination that comes with nature seems to return greater results of their disposition than watching TV, playing viedo games, or other manufactured entertainment. Not saying it is the same for everyone but my girls always enjoy a good nature excursion.

  • Susan

    Totally agree with Jon. I love Tom Ashbrook, and I’m an environmentalist by profession, but this conversation cannot be taken seriously. It minimizes the importance and complexity of the natural world to focus on pablum like “the ants don’t bother me because I’m nicer to them” and pseudo-science like tuning into extra-terrestrial communication and the power of talking rocks. I’m disappointed in this choice of a guest. Who’s next Christine O’Donnell on witchcraft?

  • Ira Morgenstern

    Unfortunately when the Europeons smothered the Native American cultures, we as the new Americans lost their wonderful reverence, respect and co-existance with nature and the environment. We instead adopted the rape, pillage and spoil the land of the Europeon tradition. If we had absorbed some of the Native American culture, our enviroinment would be in a very different place.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Right brain — also visual (this is from science a decade or so back, but there is a psychiatrist who had a stroke that afflicted her left brain so she has since written a book about left brain, the calm, go-with-the-flow side).
    The reasoning side, the competitive side is the left (think right-hand side), and we seem to use it in our working lives.
    The intuitive side — hopefully you get to use that and train that (sudoku for the left?) once you retire.

  • http://ncpr stillin

    So lucky am I, so blessed, that I can access solitude anytime outside of my work day. I do believe time away from people, truly not seeing or hearing humans, is a gift. There is a reason she is called MOTHER nature.Nature is not a riddle to be solved, or an item to play with, it is our right to immerse ourselves within her for renewal,it is necessary.

  • Mari

    It is beautiful to read and hear stories of animal/human spirit bonding. That’s what it is. My experiences with Nature and her children are very intimate and sacred. Here’s just one:
    I found a dead red-tail hawk by the side of the road. I carried it home, knowing that the correct thing to do was to honor his life and treat his body with dignity.
    When I was wrapping him in white cloth and sprinkling him with tobacco- praying to Great Spirit to carry him home- another red-tail shrieked that high, unmistakable whistle overhead. I looked up. There she was. His mate had come to join in the burial ceremony. She swooped low over us, in circles, calling out until her mate was safely under the earth.

  • Grace

    Jon,

    Leslie is sharing her life and her ways, those of her people. She is not asking you or anyone to believe what she does. As odd as it may seem to you that many of us can hear nature speaking to us, we think it is odd Christians(Catholics) believe the wine in the chalice turns to blood and the communion host turns to flesh during Mass.
    I am more apt to believe that life speaks to life.

  • http://ibelieveinbutter.wordpress.com Soli

    Thank you for this hour, never really knew of Silko before and now have two of her books en route to me. (thank you library)

    For those of you questioning the connection of people with nature and claiming it silly or impossible: think for a few minutes on what life was like before our modern era where we make such huge boundaries (both buildings and in our minds) between “us” and “nature.” When part of your daily activity is direct interaction with all the other living things in the world, and not just running over an errant squirrel, you have a very different perception and relationship happening, and see firsthand how it all comes together.

  • mark

    Leslie’s idealistic description of the pacifism and harmony with nature of native culture seems to have more in common with hilly ideals than with the harsh practical realities that her ancestors faced. Tom seemed to call her out on some of her nonsense, like the lack of native violence, the idea that there is extraterrestrial life in turquoise rocks, and her vague critique of linear time.

    For example, not only is there ample archaeological evidence of deaths and massive wounding in pre-columbian warfare, but there are also unimpeachable histories of brutal strife both from European observers and from the natives, themselves. E.g. in Mesoamerica, the Aztecs, Maya, and their neighbors even wrote their own blood-drenched histories.

    As for the rest of her story about native life as some sort of hippie Eden, it also falls apart under the archaeological evidence of the massive changes humans had on the land, plants and animals of the Americas. From the extinction of megafauna to the burning of forests all across the hemisphere, these people were just that – people – not some sort of hippy spirit angels who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

  • http://wwwsnughollow.com Barbara Napier

    Ms Silko is on the mark! Snug Hollow Farm B&B in Kentucky offers guests a 300 remote acres of nothing but nature itself. I have been on the this land for 32 years, no TV, no air conditioning just spring water, birds, featherbeds, log house and nights skies. Our guests are searching for quiet days and this is what we offer. Vegetarian meals. Snug Hollow is the perfect place to experience the unforgettable magic of things still wild and roaming.www.snughollow.com

  • Mari

    Whoa, Mark, tell Sequoia that he was a wacky hippy.
    Red Cloud, Tecumseh, Seattle, Sitting Bull…wacked out hippies, all of ‘em, eh? Go back to school, please.
    Blood-thirsty white men have written all the histories of all people in their own favor.
    Does that make all Europeans forever tainted, too? Lighten up, please. There is good and evil everywhere, all the time. Creation is not just nano-particles arbitrarily dividing and colliding.
    “It ain’t the thing. It’s how you look at the thing.”

  • Ellen Dibble

    I don’t think it was the native Americans who practically rendered the buffalo extinct.
    Tonight PBS where I live is broadcasting an award-winning documentary about American Indians. I know there is a lot published, fiction and nonfiction, about native Americans, but talking about reservations and gambling casinos, and also considering what we hear about alcoholism and crime among Indians, it reminds me that culture in mainstream America seems to be on a different track from native America. This writer seems (seems) to exemplify this. Parts of Indian tradition that are structural parts of her worldview don’t have the careful decades and centuries of contextualizing that, say, Catholic communion has had, and so they can seem laughable; they haven’t been incorporated into modern science and so on, both to the advantage and disadvantage.
    Hiawatha — Longfellow — is the contextualizing I got to know as a child, plus some books of Indian stories illustrated for children, all using nature as a relational aspect of reality. There was The Ladder of Rickety-Rung, whose title has stuck in my synapses long after the actual narrative. It was not like the story of Jacob’s Ladder, but I believe the ladder went to the sky.

  • Winifred Grace

    So enjoyed today’s program with Leslie Marmon Silko and resonated with Mari’s comment. How sad our native heritage was so shamed that it was silenced in the past. The same thing happened in my family. I know there is native American heritage in my lineage, but don’t even know where to begin to find it because it was so hidden out of shame in generations past. I’m grateful to my Mom for not keeping silent. I also appreciated the thoughts about stones. Afterall, are they not simply much of the living past? Even Jesus in the Bible (Luke 19:28) tells us that “If these (the disciples) are kept silent, the stones will cry out!” I love that verse. Like it or not we all are connected, so we might as well rejoice and be glad in it! Thanks for a great show.

  • Mari McAvenia

    Please watch or listen to this:
    http://www.halcyon.com/arborhts/chiefsea.html
    Hard to disagree with Chief Seattle, isn’t it?

  • Grady Lee Howard

    The ambition to become a “vegetarian hippy spirit angel” is a pretty high calling, but without that alternative I’d be nothing but a grubby little money grabbing nuisance. Like Mari says; it’s in your head and not in your portfolio or science text. Our spiritual possibilities are more heavily cloaked in wonderful mysteries over time. We are the rocks, the sky, the animals and the waters; not only creatures of dust. Marijuana would have no effect on people who smoke it if we were not co-evolved with canniboid enzymes waiting in our brains. We are what we do, so be careful what you do today. Feed your head. Leslie Marmon Silko is a head-chef.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’m trying to track the children’s literature about Indians. Holling Clancy Holling published The Book of Indians in 1935, “Paddle to the Sea” (a toy canoe that travels from the Great Lakes south) in the 1940s, “Minn of the Mississippi” (a traveling turtle) in the early ’50s, all about Indians and about nature. I don’t see anything about his heritage. He was born in Michigan. But the link below is of a New Zealander who caught the Indian spirit via Holling’s books, and you can read about the Hollings museum. Letters etc are at the University of Oregon.
    http://hollingcholling.blogspot.com/

  • Brett

    The natural world is communicating with us all of the time; we can either listen, not listen, respond, commune, etc. We would do well to listen–even commune–either for a kind of meditation or in restoring our sense of deference and even reverence for the natural world, or in creating an environment wherein we can live more in harmony with the natural world.

    We tend to anthropomorphize the creatures of the natural world in attempting to describe our kinship with them; the trouble with such an approach is that it can come across as sounding superstitious and can turn off some people. In a way, such an approach can sometimes unwittingly reinforce our sense of superiority in the world. The flip side is that sometimes this approach can bring people to an awareness they wouldn’t have otherwise developed.

    I am part of a group who manage the care and promotion of an 18-acre community garden that includes ornamental gardens, vegetable gardens, and meditation gardens, as well as woodland walks that have been restored by introducing indigenous plants back into the environment. Our outbuildings all have been built with recycled/natural materials and utilize living roofs (the roofs reduce runoff). It is an all organic garden, and the administration of the garden makes every attempt to avoid harming the animal creatures of the garden (sometimes to our consternation, especially those often pesky groundhogs).

    A couple of years ago, it was decided to build a native American sun wheel. The project didn’t get off the ground very well, and the site chosen was IMO in the wrong place; it was in a high traffic area, not in a place conducive to meditation or promoting the kind of reverence needed for a sacred place. We had lined up a genuine native American medicine woman who goes around the country helping to instruct people on proper installation and use of a sun wheel, as well as ensuring proper rituals are followed in its dedication (of which installation is a part). We were fortunate to have her travel to us and help us.

    I decided to take over the project’s momentum at one point, and one of the first orders of business was to change the site to a more secluded location in the garden, to make it a more sacred place one had to seek out, a place that would promote communing with nature and meditation.

    We followed the four cardinal directions in stone placement, buried crystals and copper symbols in strategic places around the wheel, performed blessings on the area (including traditional “smudgings” and spoken odes to the natural world in its dedication ceremony). The few of us who had worked to bring the project together also participated in a traditional pipe ceremony, the day before the wheel’s dedication, which was lead by the medicine woman.

    The project prompted a lot of renewed interest in the garden; also, the dedication brought out 17 people to participate the day of the installation.

    I, along with four or five others, worked on the project for about a month, preparing the site. There was an eagle that hovered over the garden during that time, circling every day; it disappeared the day the medicine woman arrived. A fox would come watch me work from the woodland’s edge…Many ostensibly mystical moments happened during my work, including an abrupt thunderstorm and heavy downpour when some teenage boys became a little too boisterously disrespectful during one of the days of preparation. One could either see those moments as supernatural forces playing a role; or, as I viewed them, one could see those moments as a combination of increased awareness and wonderful synchronicity as a result of our increased efforts. Either way, something was created that has been a positive addition to the community.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Someone scanned in T.C. O’Donnell’s Ladder of Rickety Rungs, now otherwise unavailable. This is one page of it, the ladder itself, into the sky.
    http://www.childrensbooksonline.org/Ladder_of_Rickety_Rungs/pages/001_The_Ladder_of_Rickety_Rungs.htm

  • Ellen Dibble

    Mari, I was trying to save your link as a shortcut or to make it my screen somehow. What wonderful visual reminders.
    Chief Seattle may have been right that to the native Americans the earth is our mother; to the white man it is property, something to own, to plunder. Then he warns that we will be the victims of our own disregard.
    He couldn’t imagine “owning” part of the earth, let alone “selling” part of the earth.
    Beautiful photography, wonderfully interpolated with wise words from someone who treasured this continent.

  • Olivia

    Eleanor is right: “Kinship With All Life” is a must-read book by J. Allen Boone (as are his “Adventures in Kinship With All Life” and “Letters to Strongheart”). Boone’s tales about learning from movie star German Shepherd Dog Strongheart how to listen and communicate with his whole heart and mind are magical, as are his subsequent encounters with all manner of wild creatures, including a common housefly.

    To those who pooh-pooh Ms. Silko’s accurate observations about man’s inherent oneness with all life and consequent ethical obligations to animals, I recommend the new website http://www.CreatureQuotes.com. It is loaded with excerpts from deep thinkers throughout history who understand that the Golden Rule extends to our treatment of all sentient beings.

    Each one of us has built-in compassion for ALL beings; we just need to have it unlocked by someone like Ms. Silko, so we can learn how to live it.

  • http://Terry@enjoylifenow.com Terry Thirion

    If we are willing to pay attention, nature can help us overcome sadness and even communicate to us.
    I had an exceptional experience when my brother passed away in Belgium.
    I had stayed at his home before and after the funeral stayed a few more days. I was getting my bags ready to leave to return to the States. A gorgeous moth came and landed on the cabinet near my brother’s computer. It stayed there several hours. I coaxed it back outside before going to bed.
    The next morning I got ready for my ride to the airport when the moth appeared again. It landed on my carry on bag. When I tried to go over to it, the moth came flying towards me, and came landing on my chest, I stood there with my arms open, not moving, it flew away and flew right back towards me, in a wild agitated way, not landing. I knew without a doubt that it was my brother’s spirit trying to reach me one last time, from his home.
    Terry Thirion
    October 18

  • MIchael Mikowski

    Tom, you need to screen your guests more carefully. I do not doubt the size of Ms. Silko’s heart, but she does not engage the intellect. To take a single example, when you pointed out that indigenous Americans waged incessant war, her response was that the behavior of birds who make other birds regurgitate their food is not the same as the behavior of humans who waterboard other humans. Really? Do those birds not suffer? Do not their offspring suffer and die from the greed and rapine of the bullying birds? If you think I’m anthropomorphizing the animals, then you are not seeing the same behavior by Ms. Silko. Whether animals have morals is still an open question, as well as an anthropomorphic one. Humans, on the other hand, have morals because they make choices, and Ms. Silko chooses to ignore the fact that nature is “red in tooth and claw.”

    • Worzen

      Mr. Mikowski as my Bubbe said, ” I have more brains in my pinky than you have in your whole head!”

  • Isaac Nichols

    Ants take slaves, Lions go to new prides and kill the cubs, orcas bat live seals back and forth before killing them, house cats torture mice, I don’t think water boarding is any more more cruel than any of those things. People are just another aspect of nature. No better or worse, just unique in how we’ve managed to develope a society. We have many problems, but I do think people idealize nature. It isn’t perfect either.

    • Worzen

      So Mr. Nichols your level of conscience may be that of an ant or perhaps a house cat. Some of us are human and are capable of more, much more; and then so many of us appear human but apparently are not! Wm. B. Orzen

  • Ellen Dibble

    I think our relationship to wild animals and nature would be different if we didn’t think we owned it. I happen to live in a city where mother bears and their cubs regularly live downtown and visit backyards, the library, the UPS store, the post office, what have you. People’s dogs and cats have been seized from back porches. One confronts the fact that even in densely civilized human space, we could suddenly experience our helpless in the face of the nonhuman. It doesn’t take a herd of elephants to make the point. The cavemen drew pictures of hunting (or was it trying not to be the hunted?). So when I go out and a butterfly flies shotgun to my bicycle as I cross a bridge, it seems like an otherworldly companion come to me, or when a butterfly sits on a casket during the funeral after an untimely death, or when every member of a clan decade after decade precedes their own death by about a day by mentioning a wrinkle in a lapel, there is a kind of crossing of our helplessness with the religiosity that held our psyches together when we were a whole lot more helpless. The romantic version of nature seems to me to be the dominating species experiencing its dominion; no other human is challenging me; rocks and birds don’t fight me for turf. Consider the bird species where there are almost always two eggs, two that hatch, and there is never enough for two, and so one sibling ALWAYS has to kill the other. Or that’s how it turns out. The stronger or more bull-ish bird grabs the most food, and when the other is weaker, it flat out kills it. The parents know this is how it happens. It’s called natural selection; it breeds for strength.
    We seem to breed for greed. This trait will winnow the overpopulation once enough power is accrued, and meanwhile we have only nature where we can feel secure — non-human nature. Are we mourning in advance for losing our place, our foothold? If it is so evident in our relationships, in our social arrangements, that even hard by the desert one needs to vacate the human space, perhaps this is valid.
    Old people will take that view, and then we look at the young, and ask them to write about the desert, expecting one sort of thing, and instead we get a discussion of ice cream versus lemon meringue pie.

  • Grady Lee Howard

    “It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days. They will not be many.” This from the transcript of Chief Seattle’s speech, as he agreed his people would retire to a reservation.

    I don’t want to agree or disagree with what he said.
    It could even be a partial fabrication. We didn’t defeat our dependence on nature when we genocided the Amerindians. Our commerce and science has provided no safety net to replace biodiversity and a functioning biome. Life without nature replicates that of the trapped miners with which humanity was so enthralled. Do you want your children to grow up to be “trapped miners?” (Thanks for the link anyway, Mari.)

  • http://www.treymoore.org Trey Moore

    Dear Tom Ashbrook, a lesson on civility might do you well, something you might have learned from your laplander friend, if that story was true. I was appalled at your cynicism. Ms. Silko is one of the greatest American novelists in our brief history, who brings a decidedly different point of view to American Literature. Her novels are innovative, historical, and beautiful: Story Teller, Ceremony, Almanac of the Dead. The way you so callously asked if native stories were EVEN important? Well are yours important? Why do you have a radio show? It was obvious you have not read any of her writing, what poor tact for an interviewer?

    What did work however was the contrast in mind sets, while Ashbrook (representative of the ethnocentric white male) was challenging the importance of the smallest members of our intertwined ecosystems, Silko spoke eloquently to the importance of all life. What beauty? What courage?

    Anyone else going to stand up for the Fly? The Manatee? The Mountains? Your Brothers? Your Sisters?

  • Mary Platt Clements

    I suspect, from all the comments, that few humans have a grasp of nature at all. Nature is just nature…not good, not evil…just Nature. But, as usual, the victors write the histories, and it is humans who have done that. And just because science hasn’t discovered the whys and wherefores of Ms. Silko’s experiences doesn’t mean it’s not real. Oxygen wasn’t discovered until the 1800′s. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.

    Love, Peace, and Light,

  • Raht Ketusingha

    Tom might have asked such questions to make us think. (Playing the devils’ advocate.) His track record does not show that he’s a typical white man with a typical white man’s mentality.
    Sincerely,
    Raht

  • Raht Ketusingha

    Tom might have asked such questions to make us think. (Playing the devils’ advocate.) His track record does not show that he’s a typical white man with a typical white man’s mentality.
    Sincerely,
    Raht
    (Massachusetts)

ONPOINT
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Jul 30, 2014
Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City, Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Israel escalated its military campaign against Hamas on Tuesday, striking symbols of the group's control in Gaza and firing tank shells that shut down the strip's only power plant in the heaviest bombardment in the fighting so far. (AP)

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Conservative firebrand Dinesh D’Souza says he wants an America without apologies. He’s also facing jail time. We’ll hear him out.

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The U.S. Senate is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP)

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