Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

April 18th, 2005

Kich

There's been no relief here. Almost daily, banshee winds howl from dawn to dusk, knocking over garbage cans, rattling street signs, tossing debris around. I don't recall a spring like this. Even the windy spring of 2001 wasn't this bad.

This week I made one scouting trip to the lake, only to find water levels extraordinarily low from the westerly and north-westerly winds. Everything was muddy, too, like well-milked coffee. It was good to be there again, but useless to attempt to fish.

Other parts of Louisiana are reporting wonderful catches, but those areas affected by the Atchafalaya River are hit-and-miss, even for those brave enough to fight the winds. I could maybe do it with spinning tackle, but boat control is a frustrating consideration at best, and the condition of the water in my immediate area is not very promising.

So I am still pretty much grounded. I sit at home and try to involve myself in worthwhile projects, but don't have the heart. There's something else, too. Something missing from spring besides lake water, fly rods and fish.

My father's people had many special and revered animals in our culture. Among them was kich (pronounced "keesh"). This was a little mottled-brown bird, probably some variation of wren, that would speak to our people and we spoke to it. Kich would warn Chitimacha of danger, if friendly visitors were coming, if hostiles were coming, if there would be rain or flooding. The old people knew exactly which sounds kich made to indicate each event. The only exception was flooding: If there was a flood coming, kich would circle silently overhead, as if afraid to come down.

My grandmother was the last one who could talk to the bird, even though she wasn't Chitimacha by blood, though moreso in spirit than many. She was taught to understand it, to speak to it, by her mother-in-law. Each spring, after the winter finally faded into memory, kich would come and speak to her. It would perch in the big fig tree in the back yard, and they'd converse there. I remember holding her hand as a small child, listening in wonder as the little bird would shriek to her, and she would answer in Chitimacha.

Kich also predicted death from time to time, but in my recollection such a prophecy was never made, or if it was, my grandmother kept it to herself.

When she passed from this world to join her Creator in 1997, I was already living in the old house where she had spent seven decades of her life. In that first year, kich came to me. I don't know how I recognized it among the sounds of all the other birds. Perhaps from my childhood memories the tenor of its call conjured recognition. But it perched in the fig tree every year since then, speaking to me, giving omens, promises and prophecies.

I do not understand it, because I was not taught Chitimacha. Like my mother's people, who were Cajun, my elders had been absorbed, taught to believe that such things were an embarassment, something to be ashamed of, something that kept their children from being accepted in the American world. My elders were taken to Carlisle Indian School and beaten if they uttered a word of their native languages. I know only a few sparse words now. I believe that the language needed to speak to kich was not only Chitimacha, but a translation of the words necessary to converse with the bird into Chitimacha. That dialect likely died with my grandmother.

Yet the little bird came to me every spring, and I'd go sit with it, listen, at least give it company, at least let it know someone still believes. If everyone stops believing in something, it ceases to exist.

I still believe, but I have not heard kich in the fig tree this year, and I am growing concerned. I have come to rely on its presence each spring, looking forward to it. In my perceptions of our visits, though I could not understand, I liked to think that in addition to whatever news it brought me, we shared memories of the old woman who for seventy years was its sole companion, its only confidant and solitary believer.

Has it grown frustrated with my inability to comprehend? Have I failed to recognize some warning, some promise? Or is the strength of belief from just one man not strong enough to sustain it? My faith is not as strong as hers, my will not so resolute.

So I sit and listen, longing for the sound of a little mottled-brown bird in the fig tree. Sometimes I curse myself for my indiscretions. I am like Rabbit. For two-thirds of my life, I turned my back on my grandfathers, despising the boundaries, prejudices and pitfalls of being their heir. I am like Rabbit, who was ordered by the Creator to bring medicine to a very sick little girl. Rabbit was warned not to wander or stray from the signs, but Rabbit did and got lost. In his haste to make up time he fell and split his lip on a sharp rock, a mark he still carries today to remind him of his indiscretion. Though I eventually came back to my blood and embraced it, I am like Rabbit. My lip is split, and I have no strength to make things right.

If everyone stops believing in something, does it cease to exist? I have always felt this. I have also always felt that sometimes it doesn't matter if you believe in something or not, so long as something believes in you. The little bird believed in me for seven years, and now I wonder, have I failed its confidence somehow?

I am longing for lake water, for the back ends of dark canals, and for little mottled-brown birds this spring. They are my fulcrums. The pivots upon which my existence revolves. My grandmother, the last medicine woman of the tribe, cured herself of throat cancer in the 1970s. She did this by finding the roots of the plant she called bahjootah, which grew in my back yard. I was with her when she collected it, but it no longer grows there. I don't know it's taxonomical name, and barely remember what it looked like, but she drank the tea she made of the roots for six months, the six months she was given by doctors to live, and the cancer vanished. She lived twenty years more and died a natural death.

There is no bahjootah in the back yard anymore, and I fear there will be no kich in the fig tree this year. I am not strong enough to keep them extant. My lip is split, and no matter how I have hurried to make up the time I lost, perhaps I am too late after all. ~ Roger

It's out! And available now! You can be one of the first to own a copy of Roger's book. Native Waters: A Few Moments in a Small Wooden Boat

Order it now from www.iuniverse.com, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble.com. Roger will also be giving away three autographed copies to readers. Stay tuned, for an announcement on the Bulletin Board on that soon.


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