Mother, and her Big Ears: A Settler Colonial Holiday Story

by waaseyaa'sin christine sy

i woke up early this morning and was drawn to go outside for a walk along the trails where i live. being sick for the past week, i just wanted to be out in the quiet, fresh, newness of the land. wanted to see what was up but also just be out there with her, say a good prayer away from neighbours and just be.

the rains throughout the night made for a fresh and gentle morning. it was nice to be out there with nobody around; just me, my asemaa, and the land. late spring, minokimii, is always an exciting time. everything is so pretty and just eager to be. invigorating.

i wished i had the language to acknowledge everything i recognized properly. either way, here’s what was going on in the neighbourhood:

odeminan – little baby strawberry plants in bloom all along the trail i was walking

horsetail

jack-in-the-pulpit

mullein – if it wasn’t so close to the trail edge i would have offered some tobacco and picked some for a tea. but you know, dogs and dog business is always a bit of a worry for harvesting medicine around here.

honeysuckle with a ga-zillion rain droplets caught on tiny leaves. i couldn’t help but check them out for awhile.

dandelion leaves, of course.

pichi – robins. everywhere. everytime i see pichi i’m reminded of the anishinaabe story about the father who used his son to try to gain acclaim amongst his community members. he wanted to be acknowledged just as much as some of the other fathers were about their children so he tried to make his son fast for much longer than was typical. turns out that the son was suffering so much and the father ignored his pleas to let him come out that gizhe manidoo turned him into a bird—a pichi…the bright red of his breast was the marker of beauty for his suffering and a reminder to parents not to use their children to serve their own needs. this story is about parents but every time i see pichi i also think about how community sometimes does harm by raising certain people up or the children of certain parents up, failing to honour the gifts and strengths of everyone in the circle.

zhiishiib – ducks – a female and male were walking along the trail and when i said ‘aaniin’ they zipped up and into the forest where there was a little pond and chilled out there as i walked by

male cardinals – as if being bright miskwaa wasn’t enough, their nigamonan are beautiful and unique. i have much respect for the male species, between the cardinals and the mallards, it’s obvious to me how hard males in the bird world work to attract their mate

there was this little black bird, a grackle, perched on a young poplar in a stand of poplar just chirping away. i was once attacked last spring…well, not attacked, but seriously engaged by a family of grackles while trying to harvest lilacs from a lilac bush, which obviously contained one of their nests. the way this sole grackle was chirping away, i thought i must have been near a nest. anyhow, shortly after i stopped the grackle flew south and at the same time the sound of one nikaa soon filled the silence—honk, honk—and then she soon flew over that poplar stand, too. she was flying north. another zhiishiib–male–came by at that time as well, flying with determination to the east.

well, it was shortly after being amazed by the jack-in-the-pulpits and then seeing a ‘field’ of mayblossom (trying to remember what they were called) that i was walking home and looking into the woods for deer—who love it around here—that a couple of big ears in a small clearing of bush caught my eye.

i stopped.

took a few steps back, quietly, to try to get those ears back into view.

between two trees, there they were: these very big, lovely (ok, comical) shaped ears amidst all new green leaves and behind those ear an empty field. it made for the perfect silhouette. the big ears were as still as i was, standing there. i thought of Elder Brother and how we characterize him. those ears, or whatever they are, though. i couldn’t see waawaashkeshi’s face but i knew she could see mine. i took one more step back so that i would be behind a tree and out of her view. i wanted to know what she’d do if i was out of sight.

i was feeling pretty thankful there were no people around because stealthy anishinaabe ikawe mode, that’s why.

i stood there calm, hardly breathing, thinking about the air flow: could she smell my scent? (because stealthy etc.) after waiting for a bit, i slowly peeked to see her beyond the tree that was hiding me (it was about twenty feet away and she was about another twenty beyond that) and yes! my plan worked. she carried on with her life and was munching away on the leaves in the bushes she was standing amongst. my plan worked and so did my savvy bush smarts. i was able to witness her do her thing. after a bit, she turned her body so i tilted my head to see on the other side of the tree. yes. there she was. i could still see her. then, sounds. kids or something way off in the distance, to the west.(note the keen sense of direction.) she stopped eating, raised her head and paused. then, she went back to eating. i continued to watch her because, i was still being all anishinaabe-ness there on the trail in the woods behind where i live. i watched her eating, her ears just moving away.

eating, and eating. i could still see her big ears. i looked away down the trail to see if anyone was coming. nobody. i looked back and there they were, her ears. i looked behind me down the trail. nobody there either. i wondered how long she would eat for and didn’t want to move because i didn’t want to startle her. she kept doing her thing. i started to get curious because she seemed to be interested in that one patch for a long time. i’m not sure how long i stood there for and am not sure it matters. all i know is i was there hiding out of her view behind a big tree, peeking around it by tilting my head watching her for a bit of time. pretty pleased with myself, to boot. after getting bored, i thought i would take a chance and move out of view of the tree to try to get a better view of her. i took two steps back, quietly, thinking i would get a better full view of her from behind.

well, i have to tell you. i’m sure glad i move. it was the best thing i ever did. doing so allowed me a full view of where she was.

that’s right.

where she was.

past tense!

i stepped out from behind the tree to notice she was gone!

i couldn’t believe it! gone!

i peered closer into the bush and beyond. where did she go? there was no sign of her at all.

how long had she gone for? how come i didn’t see her? those damn bushes and branches making me think her ears were moving.

i could have swore i was watching them.

i had to laugh. that’s Mother for you. Mother, and Her Big Ears keeping anishinaabe ikawe just humble and laughing.

it was a pretty good way to start to this settler colonial holiday.

Note: Here is an article that talks about the origins of Mother’s Day: zinnedproject.org/2014/05/mothers-day-for-peace

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