Sky Woman (Ohsweken, Part II)

May 23, 2008

“One Moment of/in Time” by Randy Johnson, 1998; 16.5 mm high.

Out on the sidewalk, E.g. said, “You really want that sculpture, don’t you?”

“Just because I really like something doesn’t mean I have to own it!”

Penny said, “It is very nice, that one.”

E.g. said, “It’s art. There’s nothing wrong in owning art, and nothing wrong in encouraging an artist. I can buy it if you’d like it.”

I re-entered the shop. The man behind the counter looked up. Not meeting his eyes, but with a hand on the carven woman’s left shoulder, I stared at the floor.

“I’d like to buy this sculpture.”

“Do you know what it’s about?”

“No. I just think it’s beautiful, the way the bird and the woman — I can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. Could you tell us about it?”

That was when Penny, E.g., and I discovered that the “clerk” was the artist himself. Randy Johnson told us he was a member of the teaching clan, which is either Wolf or Bear, I no longer remember. Then he began to teach. There was a large clamshell on the counter, and in it he placed some dried cedar tips, which he then lit on fire. The teaching lasted far longer than the fragrant smoke; I think we were there for over an hour.

Randy told us of how Sky Woman fell through a hole where a tree had been uprooted, and fell toward the Great Flood far below; how the birds caught her to slow her descent; how the water animals, the ones who looked up and named her Sky Woman, searched for a bit of dirt at the bottom of the waters, set it on Turtle’s back, and watched it grow as Sky Woman walked in ever-widening circles, singing.

He told us of Sky Woman’s twin sons, the well-developed one who was happy and created good things, and the poorly-developed, flat-faced one who was unhappy and created bad things. He told of how they were both Sky Woman’s children, and how she loved them both.

He told us of the White Pine — you can see part of it under the happy child’s chin — beneath the roots of which the Five Nations of the Haudenosee buried their war instruments and proclaimed peace. The eagle roosts at the top of the White Pine, watching for peoples to come from the Four Directions to join the peace and bury their weapons also.

He told us many things. He took his teachings from ancient legends and recent pop-psych books and everything in between. Finally, when our new knowledge was overflowing our ears and mingling in confused strands on the dusty wooden floor, Randy stopped. From a drawer he took out a small brown feather. Handing it to me, he said, “May our paths meet again. Niá:wen’kówa.”

“Niá:wen’kówa,” I smiled. “Thank you very much.”