Monday, August 16, 2010
PEOPLE OF THE SOUTH WIND
Approaching Storm, Central Kansas
Kansa Thunderhead, Central Kansas
There's a very good reason that the original Kansa Indian natives who hunted the northern Kansas Flint Hills were called "people of the south wind". There always seems to be some sort of wind blowing unchallenged through the tall grass prairies of this stark and somewhat treeless landscape, especially along the rim rock edges of the grassy hills. Ancient glaciers and erosion formed these hills, and the creeks in the valleys harmonize with the rustling leaves of the cottonwood trees that gather at the water’s edge. At the very least, a light breeze is always waving the inland seas to the rhythm of life throughout this land. And it is generally moving northward from its birth over the warm and humid waters of the Gulf of Mexico into Texas and Oklahoma and then occasionally colliding with dry and cool air from Canada over the territory named Kansas.
As a youth, I walked these pastures with a shotgun over my shoulder or grasped it in focused anticipation of the exploding rush of pheasants, prairie chickens, ducks, and coveys of quail. During one of those splendid hunts, I spied a small shaped flint arrowhead on the ground as our party moved toward a covey of quail that had retreated into a lush area of small brush and bluestem grasses. That arrowhead had possibly been launched onto the south wind, flying on a feathered wooden shaft in pursuit of the same wild game that I was hunting. I was struck by the bond that now existed between the native warrior of the south wind and my own spirit which fortuitously crossed this same sacred path that day. I’ve always admired these vanquished stewards of the land ever since I learned of their solemn ritual after the hunt. The native Indians would always offer up a prayer of gratitude for the spirit of the bird or animal that gave up its life to sustain theirs. That sacred understanding of the oneness of the universe has been lost on modern man who is now far detached from this closeness to the land and its creator.
Kansas can be a state of mind, as demonstrated in 1872 by a Native American Comanche, Parra-Wa-Samen or Ten Bears, who was responding to a treaty when he stated, “I was born on the prairie, where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures and where everything drew a free breath. I want to die there and not within walls. I knew every stream and every wood between the Rio Grande and the Arkansas. I have hunted and lived over that country. I lived like my fathers before me, and, like them, I lived happily”. Who knows? Perhaps that was Ten Bears' arrowhead I picked up.
On a hot and humid summer's day, the awesome manifestation of the plains Indians’ Great Sky Spirit looms ominously on the southern horizon. These are spectacular days with gusting southern winds and bright sunshine, inevitably giving way to dark and threatening skies. Walking those vast plains, I came to be impressed by the magnificent beauty and fury of the boiling, churning, building mounds of moisture laden thunderheads. Later in life, I experienced these towering clouds up close and personal from corporate and commercial jets as we cautiously wove our way around the intense turbulence contained within these marvels of the skies. They inevitably spawned their innocent but increasingly violent lives in the skies of the southern horizon. And then they began their swift and steady assault on the northern Flint Hills of the Kansa people, riding the wild bucking and twisting broncos of the south wind.