There is a lake down the road called Lake Oconee. This picture is not the lake, but I’ll get to it in a moment.
Lake Oconee struck at my brain for two reasons – first, I’d never heard of it and I was surrounded by signs to places I’ve been singin’ about and hearin’ about all my life.
Places like Chattanooga, Montgomery, Birmingham – Lake Oconee?
As we sped across the water of the lake. on a massive cement freeway that carved Lake Oconee in two, and diminished this huge body of water to a glimpse and a few seconds, I stared into the wilderness and realised that this was the kind of water you saw Indians drinking at, along with deer and bear, in the old westerns we watched on TV.
And I was stunned by how you can take a photo of a place in modern urban America and it looks like the wild places are fully alive and present – yet they are pockets, remnants, fragments.
Like the little creek in my photograph, which I came across yesterday walking Harry, my publisher’s dog.
To Harry’s disgust I sat awhile on the rocks by the bubbling water, marveling at the scent on the wind, the high and low notes of the cyprus pine, quite different to the gum of my own land, yet earthy, just the same.
As I stilled to the air and the water, again I was keeping company with shadows among the trees. Only this time the shadows were not those of the fearful dark skinned people on the run, they were the first nation peoples – because I know it’s not nearly okay to call them Indians any more and in truth I can’t quite come at ‘first nation’ either; although I like the words, the pedantry of the journalist now buried deep within inhibits me from employing the word ‘first’ any more than I could use the word ‘unique’ – because nothing ever is, either unique or first – but ‘first’ is all I have because I’m not sure ‘native Americans’ is much better, now that we have so many native generations from so many different sources.
The politics of time and tide hijack me from the shadows . . .the deer, the bear and the people who rarely chopped down the trees in the forest, who lived in skin and hide, who ate and drank and worshipped the earth their home and the animals who shared it with them . . . and learned to paint with all the colors of the wind.
Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned?
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?
Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest
Come taste the sunsweet berries of the Earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they’re worth
The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends
How high will the sycamore grow?
If you cut it down, then you’ll never know
And you’ll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind
You can own the Earth and still
All you’ll own is Earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind.