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The fresh wound didn’t seem like it would be such a problem until I saw the blood trickling out. Sure, when I had cut my self by grabbing a piece of saw palmetto, I felt my skin ripping and quickly retracted my right hand. However, my want for adventure to explore the tree island overcame the small bit of pain I felt. An adrenaline rush helped me overcome all of the annoyances pushing through the dense brim of the island, like palmetto leaves and spider webs, as well as the myriad of other obstacles upon finally penetrating.
First there was the ground that wasn’t as firm as I thought it was; my right sneaker falling victim to the deceptive scattered branches that littered the floor, probably only inches thick, allowing water to creep in and wet my sock. Then there were the dead branches that I tried to use as a bridge to avoid this, which snapped under my overbearing 150 pounds. And of course every branch was connected to the last by a series of intricate spider webs; every one I ducked to get under just happened to have a neighbor right underneath. The list goes on. But the small wound where the palm of my hand met my thumb didn’t seem like it would be a big deal until I was back in the boat. I didn’t realize that it would trigger such intense emotions and drag me so deep into a pit of despair.
Sitting there, about to row towards the professors, a bead of sweat dripped into the wound. Not only did I realize that this tiny cut would be a bother until it scabbed, but the pain of a half a day’s rowing suddenly caught up. Then I realized that the “adventure” of walking through the tree island had felt more like a difficult mission than the fun time I had expected. This got me really upset.
Here I thought I was doing so well, because I had canoed various times before, and I had walked through equally difficult vegetation. So why was I so upset? Why was I so damaged, and in so much pain? I wanted to scream! Instead I let out my frustrations on the mosquitoes, swatting them away while my canoe partner fought his way back into the canoe.
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It seems outrageous, especially considering my present aches and pains, but it also reminded me of another series of books I had read. This series, by Orson Scott Card, details the story of a boy in the late 1700’s-early 1800’s in America with magical powers. This fantasy series has a different version of history, where the Native Americans were never pushed west or forced into reservations, but instead occupied all lands west of the Mississippi River on their own volition, covering the river with a fog to protect from invasions. The main character, Alvin, learns how to run with the Native Americans’ “greensong”. This “greensong” enabled him to run like “…the red man ran…hearing the greensong of the living woodland…not thinking where to step…no sticks breaking when he stepped…” until he became “…part of the living forest….Like a Red man, who could run forever through the deep forest, never needing rest, covering hundreds of miles in a single day.” (Card,Prentice Alvin, p. 52) The sixth book describes the song as being the collaboration of wind, trees, animals, heartbeats…basically anything with life. In this instance, it is described by someone who learned to hear it without a Native American teacher like Alvin had. Alvin had taught him to hear it, although he could only faintly do so without Alvin around.
So this all led me to wonder if it could be true: is there a sort of “greensong” I could tap into? Granted, I can easily separate fantasy from reality: but Card researched Native American writings for years before writing the books. And the Willoughby text served as another example of this ability, however not quite so explicitly stated. So what else could I do but wonder of its possibility?
However, there I was, clearly the typical white man, suffering through the pains of being an intruder in this land instead of part of it. Could I be like Alvin? Could I learn this Native American way of connecting to the earth so much to become a part of it? This had been a focus of many of my past meditations. Sometimes I would go to Kendall Indian Hammocks Park and try to tap in; but the little “forest” area of the park was still close enough to the main roads that car sounds interrupted any chance I had to fall deep enough into a medative state. Perhaps it would take coming out to the Everglades, finding a spot where I could be alone, and maybe I could hear a faint note of this song. I even thought, getting ready to row, about staying after class to do so.
But then I realized that I would have to work that night, and I felt the frustration building again. Then I remembered something else from the text. The books that I had read covered the span of about twenty three years. And even when Alvin first learned the “greensong”, America was quickly expanding, destroying the natural world to make way for paved roads and massive cities. By the sixth book Alvin had to struggle a bit to hear the song, even in the thickest forests. So how would I, devoid of any contact with any Native American with the potential for knowledge about the “greensong”, ever be able to tap into this music of the land? As distant as parts of the Everglades are from any sounds of the city, there are still many man made roads and borrow pits that are probably far closer than any roads that interrupted Alvin’s ability to hear the song. At that moment, grabbing my oar in an odd way, so as to not let my wound touch it, another little bit of the dreamer in me died.
Card, Orson Scott. Prentice Alvin. Tor Fantasy, New York. 1989.
Card, Orson Scott. The Crystal City. Tor Fantasy, New York. 2003.
Willoughby, Hugh L. Across the Everglades. Florida Classics Library, Florida.5th ed. 1992