All day yesterday and the day before, warm spring wind rippled through this fold between the mountains that holds the Andrews Forest buildings like small blocks of wood in a giant’s hand.

That wind brought down a dry rain of small branches bearing wispy banners of epiphytic lichens. They nearly covered the road in places like blankets textured with green and grey, woven by the dark threads of the twigs. Pieces of lobaria that look like poorly sewn on patches fallen from an old man’s tattered coat.

They still have life, those old men’s beards–like the Spanish moss of the bayous of the southeast. When the same wind that brings life to my lungs touches them, they quiver, little flags still representing their nation, one that does not like to let go, that clings to the branches, the trunks, anything that gives them purchase. Here in this forest life attaches itself to life. Even the gate that has been swung back and latched open is plastered with green moss, soft and spongy and drier to the touch than the rusting metal hidden beneath it.

I gathered up some of those fallen gifts from the high branches, knowing what they are, yet my eyes and my brain are still fooled every now and then by the grey sprays into seeing them as squirrel tails. A pile of them rests now on the table next to me, like trophies taken after a day of hunting for meat

Was there a time that I remember when squirrel tails would be hung from the radio antennas of cars? I know that during my years in grad school when I hunted squirrels I sometimes saved their tails after skinning their warm bodies, feeling the slickness of firm red muscle beneath my fingertips, slicking out their guts and returning them to a hole dug in the leaves, then taking the hind quarters to our two room Quonset hut apartment where my wife Carol, would fry them. We were poor then by the standards of many and our meals often centered around what I could gather from the woods and fields or take with my grandfather’s old pump action 12 gauge. Cat tails, dandelion greens, and milkweed in the spring. Pheasant, partridge, squirrels, the berries that came in late spring and summer and fall. Strawberry, the gift of the Little People. Raspberries as red as blood, blackberries hanging in dark clusters on heavy vines, blueberry bushes so laden with fruit we’d fill buckets with them as we gathered on the top of Turkey Hill. We ate them and gave thanks for their lives sustaining our lives.

Cycles. I think of cycles as I pick up one of those squirrel tails of lichen wrapped around the brown bone of a Douglas fir twig.  Car wheels run over those fallen bits of the high forest, human feet kick them to the side to clear the pavement. But they are the flags of a nation that is undefiled by being broken, being torn, being crushed into the soil. They fall bearing their gifts of nutrients, nets that hold the earth, the roots, the healing rain.

I press a handful of them against my face, inhale the clean, dry, almost animal scent. A part of me wants to keep them, to never let them go. But I know that is a foolish wish. For they symbolize nothing except themselves and their use is not be hoarded away as human possessions, as tangible metaphors. A small laugh escapes my throat as I think that because my eyes have drifted to another pile of pale green on that same table—the currency I took from my pocket and dropped there last night. A twenty and four ones. The legendary amount supposedly paid by the Dutch to purchase Manhattan on May 24th of 1626. Sixty guilders, actually, an amount equated to that fabled twenty four simoleons. Money for land, an exchange that has never been truly understood-and why should it make sense—by the native people of this hemisphere, where the earth is often seen and experienced as a relative, a sustaining parent, and not something to be cut up and consumed like a piece of meat.

I pick up the twenty. My least favorite bill for it bears on its face the face of Andrew Jackson, a man whose life and fortunes were saved by his Muskogee allies. Men who, with their families

Joseph Bruchac PDFs:

Selected Poems and Writing

Joseph Bruchac has been creating poetry, short stories, novels, anthologies and music for over 30 years.  His work is a reflection of his Abenaki Indian heritage and Native American traditions. He is the author of more than 120 books for children and adults. The best selling Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children and others of his “Keepers” series, with its remarkable integration of science and folklore, continue to receive critical acclaim and to be used in classrooms throughout the country.