The alien and the unknown are in the feet of your old age and death.
A Man Without Fantasy
That's the difference between being a bear and wearing a Jordan t-shirt with Hanes underwear. Nobody is Jordaned or Meadow Lark Lemoned from a laying on of their hands, but bear will move you. Dress in any of these masks or be naked as yourself as He Who Wears Only His Name. Either you stand naked in The Name or you hide in a mask. Groups function as masks to prevent nakedness. If there were something other than The Name to stand in, but for the human there isn't , it might be the landscape and the racial memory of landscape that "my parents and grandparents knew" (Momaday, 46). "I feel deeply about the landscape and I mean that literally. I think it is important for a person to come to terms with landscape. I think that's important; it is a means to knowing oneself" (45). So it comes down to the meaning of landscape too, but this is intellectualized. The real question is, what is the meaning of wilderness?
Superficial Existence in the Modern World
Much of this is foreign today, Bear, landscape, even ancestry have been substituted with identities of no purpose to examine. The annihilation of the traditional in tribal societies and every assimilated subgroup is a negative. Assimilation is never good, although to say it that bald is offensive. This is also the point in that First Convocation of Indian Scholars (Ed. by Rupert Costo, 1970). In answering Hopi Charles Loloma about how to assume the traditional identity Momaday says, "I think that each of us who realizes that the native traditional values are important has a great obligation to convince the young of that, who may be wavering with alternatives...[of] the dominant society which is destroying the world in which it lives" (9). "It's really up to the older people"(10) to identify "the danger of superficial existence in the modern world" (10). To counter superficial existence he says "they have a primary obligation to tell their children and grandchildren about the traditional world, and try to show them by example and tell them explicitly that there is an option available to them, and that they're damn fools if they don't avail themselves of it" (10).
Thus acculturation is "a kind of one-way process in which the Indian ceases to be an Indian and becomes white man" (10). It is broader than that too, the PA German ceased to be himself and became an English-American. Acculturation to the modern translated means to steal the birth rite identity of the traditional, its language and customs and make the native a mascot of the modern. There is a continual excavation of the Caucasoid in every subgroup that assimilates, whether Pennsylvania German, Hispanic, black, Indian. The anthropologists should excavate themselves to give them something to do, since they otherwise are the inventors and stalking horse for the modern against the traditional, looking for power by stealing it. Modern here is not the pejorative it seems if the native takes his tradition into it to return what is stolen, or as Momaday says, that "it is good to go into the enemy's camp" (12). Steal his horses! But he has stolen the children!
Pull Out the Light Poles
That said, it remains to learn tradition from the elder. In the face of radical destruction this takes more than effort, it takes surrender. Without surrender the traditional dies. Take your pick, you can think like Katie Couric and all the like spokespersons for the modern on Charlie Rose, or like grandfather. Momaday says it is a duty to teach the young. He addresses the elder's reluctance: "I wonder if you have any idea of why they shut up at a certain point like that, why they won't talk to you" (15)? Charles Loloma, the Hopi, had said that when the power company installed electric poles by force "the people came out and pulled the poles all back out. These people didn't want the electricity'"(15). This is symbolic of the whole transmission of culture of the modern against the traditional. When the enemy enters the native camp it is called deliverance, but is really theft of the child. It is destruction of the tradition, which is obvious when white missionaries go to New Guinea but apparently not when the Internet sells social network.
You have to live it, not be curious of it.
Fight Against Electricity!
Ben Barney, a Navajo, says he had a grandfather who taught him until the age of eight, but when he died he couldn't find a replacement. Another says, "my grandfather died, and he was one of the last men in the village who knew the whole ritual cycle of songs. He died without letting me or my father, or any of us record any of it. I think he felt that this thing that he had was too precious to just give out, and have it exposed to someone whom he never knew well. And he'd rather die with it than have that happen to it. It seems to me he was saying, you're not going to to live it. You're one of these people that's fighting for the electricity. (I am not, in fact)" (17). So the ticket to the traditional, the universal (!) is that you have to live it, not be curious of it. Surrender to the traditional! If you will not surrender, and the elders have any pride, they take it to the grave in sorrow. But it is not to be studied by post docs. It is to be lived. How many young think their elders outweigh the modern?
In the Esquilache Mutiny in Madrid, Palm Sunday 1766, 4400 oil burning streetlamps Esquilache had installed in the streets of Madrid, twelve feet high, iron and glass, were all smashed in protest against their illumination. So the Navajo are onto a modern dilemma the elders see, that the spy cameras, geo phones, grids that illumine the corners of the Rez and the life, surveillance lamps, cameras, microphones to make us safe, don't. You better believe it chiildren.
That you have to live it goes a long way toward knowing both wilderness and identity. Living is not an intellectual function. "But he was saying, you're one of these people who are fighting for this. My people never had electricity. We never lived that way. And if I give you my lifeway, if I tell you my lifeway, you're going to sit and laugh at me, because you're laughing anyhow just by your behavior" (17).
Only among the remnants of American tribes does anyone dare thus to challenge the modern. Other subgroups embrace it like a drug. The life way is an iPhone. The elders won't speak to this, "naturally they are not going to tell you. I mean, they can't. I can see why he felt there is no way to communicate experience; the essence of it, the reality of it. I believe he was saying: I could give you words, and you could put them down, but that wouldn't mean the same thing" (17). Is this reality versus the virtual? The track of a bear versus a video game? These things are important if you want to have anything left on the earth that isn't homogeneous and interchangeable. Like babies.
Everything said here of the American tribes transfers to every family and subculture.
Momaday avoids the satiric in his work, but it is a satiric haunt like a ghost river in every meadow, grove and stream the summer nights after the predators came. Then a foam appeared at the exit pipes of plants along the upper Allegheny. It is hard enough to name Bear and Wilderness when those subsequent masks upon masks cover up naked being. Surrender. Stand up and strip, confess, then kneel! Wilderness trees, canyons, streams and things under and in them, screeches in the night, wheat, bear, porcupine are symbols to show what they are standing for, something else, life mirrors that open doors and close the way we live. Only the sun has escaped our dominion. The sun escaped the nano tales that seine the atmosphere in a net, to take earth away.
How To Know and Recognize the Alien
These image masks are the ultimate reality that deny we are predators or aliens. If you want to know the alien go and be one. Sit in the Mogollon. Do you belong? Find a bear. Is he your friend? People wander out all the time, light fires to be found, but the ones that aren't found bone up. Coyote Wound Dresser had a talk with Walt Whitman, Wound Dresser, but things did not turn out well for Whitman. The alien cannot be modeled, but it is knowable if Unknown. I'm going to tell you what it is.
Talking to the Unknown we try to understand synergies of it in the anthropology of Edward Dorn. He says the alien is a crucifying self-consciousness of doubt at the root of his own being when he sees the Shoshone. Does he, Dorn, belong?
His doubts serve against the Unknown. They are a mirror of loss and lack. The filth on the chair that gets on his pants is an image of it..."I had a great desire to be off, to not take any more, or give any more...for I will say it, at the risk of blunder: It is impossible for myself and my people to offer themselves in any but the standard senses" (14).
At least he knows of the surrender, that you have to live it. In some freak of Methodism he wants to wash this old man's feet to tame him, this 102 year old who stands for all of Idaho, Utah, Nevada and the Great Basin before electricity, " a volume of Yaa-Aaa-Aaa" (14). "I was aware of the presumption of my thinking he would be relieved or made happy by having his feet washed" (13).
Now Here is the Alien: If you want to confront the Unknown you must to do it in the feet of your old age and death.
If we want to confront the Unknown we must to do it in the feet of our old age and death. "The place was intensely neglected, I gradually saw, and not just filthy as it looked to be at first glance. It was simply the remains of a life" (12).
The comfort of the Unknown in Dorn's account is that there are two that serve each other in it, but we don't know why. One Unknown is the wife, ust like all our mothers and wives, who "should have died, by the rules of our biology, thirty years ago. But it was evident that she would stay on, the weaker of the two, until he smelled the summary message in his nostrils, then she would be free" (12).
Is death that freedom? The alien doesn't think in known terms, but makes Dorn harbor such thoughts as, "this man and woman were the most profoundly beautiful ancestors I've witnessed go before me' (12,13). "He is the spirit that lies at the bottom, where we have our feet. The feet which step between the domains, the visible sign, the real evidence of the coming event...where this man's low, incantatory verbs spill down across the plateau and basin" (13)... not more Indian than man, still as much the flower as the fruit."
Wash his feet! Wash his hands, heart and head! Lay in the dust like a penitent Barry Lopez, close to the flagellate, and weep for the human lost. This Shoshone's name is Willie Dorsey. We don't get his real name, Alien. "I saw, the heat, the vociferous mosquitoes in the building's shade, the slightly moist filth at the back door."
Alien old age and death look like "very old animals [that] have such coats over the eyes, a privacy impenetrable from the outside" (11).
Cataracts, the blind, the lame, the sick, the living I know treated by some Doctor of the Alien. She operates her office practically as a charity, complete with science, intuition and healing to the "grim weight of bad condition, not especially outlined, more heavy with despair than one could possibly arrange with rubble" (11). This is not Ed Dorn. He is a spectator. This Doctor holds the hand, cuts the hair, absorbs the breast, the tear, weeping and praying within, but praising and thanking for the chance that comes out of the "wooden clapboard structures" (10) of lives that they could be so treated and revived. So that's the alien, it's human and knowable even if Unknown.