“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou
Nathalie Bleser, multi-lingual writer and interpreter – Here I am, struggling with the “blank page” where I must pour words that will share the essence of my story, to inspire other people who share a love for you, Saka.g.k.j.awea. It’s been a while, and the more I try, the more YOUR story shows up, dear Bird Woman, Boat Pusher, Grass Maiden.
I’ve just finished writing a series about another woman named Grass Maiden in her Mayan language, “Malinalli.” She was an interpreter like you – and, like me, too. Maybe that’s a sign I should tell part of my life story through the highlights of your life… I realize you have blown many dandelion seeds on my winds, tiny parachutes whose canopy is made of the fabric of heavens, magical cosmic winks twinkling in the starry skies of your ethereal eyes. Ready for the ride?
Walking your Pony through the Wildflowers and Tall Grass
This memory of yours was channeled by Jane L. Fitzpatrick, in her children’s storybook about you, an Agai’dika girl named Boinair, meaning Grass Maiden, because she loved feeling the grass caressing her skin when she rode.
When I was a little girl, one day I rode a Shetland pony in a cornfield that became a maze. The horse’s owner had vanished, my parents, too, and I got lost. Left alone for a while, which felt pretty long to little me – I decided to trust.
I let the horse take me to the heart of the highest stalks. Like vegetal daughters of Goddess Lakshmi, the Corn Maidens brushed my skin with their leaf hands. The sensation felt both new and ancient. My conscious awareness of who, and where I was, suddenly ceased to exist. Bareback riding my little black horse named VIP, I traveled through time and space and I became another. Who was she? Maybe she was that Very Important Person you would become, Sacajawea. All I knew by then was that “I” was about to tend a three-sister garden, so “I” had to rub sage on my skin before entering the plot. Entering the plot… Holding on to the celluloid thread of my life story unraveled from a movie reel turned into a time machine going backward and forward. What is this memory but proof of our capacity to time travel at will?
That summer of 1980, I was nine years old – and nine is my life path number, characterized by diversity. Then I started to really figure out what my life would be made of: languages, history, cultures, travels, departures, endings and beginnings. My parents and I had traveled to Spanish Asturias, on the Atlantic coast, and one vivid memory is the frustration inherent to communication. All the Spanish language my Asturian friend had taught me, when she lived in our Belgian town, was to sing the opening theme of Maya the Bee… It was cute, but all I did was repeat sounds that were not associated with any meaning. So now in Asturias, I depended on my friend’s linguistic skills for everything. That day, I vowed I would learn languages to no longer need an in-between, and maybe to become an in-between myself.
It was in July 1980. The next month I was learning how to ride and trust “in a cornfield” of Normandy, France, where my dad spent part of his childhood. He and his family had left Belgium after World War II to work in a charming village named The Heron, not too far from Omaha Beach, site of the D-Day landing. I hate wars, but today I proudly wear my Warrior Woman T-shirt to honor you, Sacajawea, to honor me, and to honor all the men and women on a journey to wage war against the inner enemy that sometimes puts us down.
Maybe I inherited my determination from the spirit of a woman once burned alive close to The Heron: Joan of Arc. Even though doubt and discouragement may arise at times, I choose to dance to the beat of my own heart’s drum, accompanied by the soothing flute song of Kokopelli. I feel a special connection to him, maybe in part because “flute-blower” is the ancient meaning of my last name, Bläser, which lost its German spelling to become Bléser when my ancestors crossed a national border.
Without knowing it yet, the deliciously freeing – although a bit scary – solitude of the cornfield taught me that someday, more than once, I would leave it all behind, to travel the world on my own and make new homes under new skies.
Walking Across the Continental Divide
During one of those trips, the first time I crossed the Continental Divide, something awakened in my soul. I did not know why my inner voice told me it was an important part of the puzzle, but it stayed with me, slumbering somewhere in the back of my right brain. Then my left brain took me to read that you, Sacajawea, were kidnapped not too far from that Divide, and that after crossing it towards the Pacific, you went back toward the Dakotas, showing Clark the best route to cross that Divide. You did your best to bring two sides together, which would happen in a very graphic way when, in May of 1869, two iron horses faced each other on the same railroad tracks, nickering a whistle and blowing through their chimney’s nostril.
I believe you were not aware of the terrible changes this would bring for your people. Your own life radically changed twice, when you walked east of the Divide, and then west of the Divide. I can’t help seeing that geological line as a metaphor for the turn of the century, along which your life oscillated, like the watersheds flow either east or west of the Divide… Like a pendulum, two times 12 years of your life played along the divide between two eras. You were kidnapped in 1800, at 12, and then (some say) you died in 1812 after leading the newcomers across your world. My life straddles two centuries as yours did. Did centuries even have a meaning for you? How did you measure time, back in your day? Or did you measure it at all?
When the present world stepped into the 21st century, I had already lived away from Belgium for eight years. I remember, on December 31st, we watched celebrations of the new Millennium all over the world. Even though I “theoretically” knew about time zones, I was still in awe at witnessing the real meaning of the 8-hour difference between Australia and Spain. Fireworks greeted 12 am, in Canberra, while we were eating lunch at 3 pm, in Granada… The folks who lived in the Antipodes had already stepped into the new era, while we were still in the good-old nineteen hundreds. Yet, all this happened simultaneously.
When I moved to my U.S. Mountain Time area, it became a normal exercise to constantly subtract 8 hours when thinking of my folks overseas. I am fascinated by those things, like when, on an intercontinental flight, the screen depicts a mini plane “sky blazing” its way along a dotted line drawn through waves of darkness and light. Same round Earth plunged both in light and shadow – just like all of us with every one of our deeds, which can be seen in a completely different light according to the lens through which they are analyzed. It is a bit like how different people will either revere or fear specific animals, like the snake that once gave its (erroneous) name to both your river and your Shoshone people.
Snake Woman and Waterways
I’ve always been drawn to snakes. One day in Morocco, I was so fascinated by the reptile a man held in his hand that no words were needed – once the serpent was around my neck, I rubbed its own neck. I was delighted at how soft the scales felt. Facing the African setting sun that would soon drown in the Atlantic, my eyes turned green to match the snake’s color pattern. Adaptability, flexibility, proximity to Earth and Water, are virtues evoked by the snake which I try to emulate in my present Earth Walk. I also tried to transmit them to my students when I exercised as a professor.
Born in the heart of three national borders, all the places where I later moved were also characterized by coexistent languages, ethnicities or creeds. My duty, I believed, was, and still is, to learn and teach how to look at each other’s eyes. To see in those pupils the reflection of ourselves, as if we were contemplating our face on the water mirror of time and space. Even though our reflection is upside down, we are still the ones depicted there.
One summer day, with my dad, I paddled on a Belgian river. I was 16, and would soon fly from the nest to study translation and interpreting, thus fulfilling part of my destiny. Although for a split second all could have changed, because our boat capsized when we passed small rapids. I fell underneath the pirogue and was dragged by the current, the boat drifting above me, preventing me to breathe. There I knew I was a survivor. I loved life way too much not to fight and get back to the surface, because I felt I had important things to do – even though I did not know yet what they were.
Maybe that’s how you felt, Sacajawea, when rescuing the documents that fell in the river on that stormy day? Maybe you did not know either how your actions would change your world, but you carried on, you adapted to the circumstances, learning along the way and committing to serve others, thus “wearing many hats.”
One day at Indian Market, I tried on a North Pacific tribal hat. For a moment, I fancied it was made out of the red bark of a cedar tree overlooking the Sahalie Falls, because Sahalie rhymes with Nathalie… Maybe upon hearing my wishful thoughts, a Hidatsa elder told me the story of one of many misunderstandings between two cultures. The first French speakers who encountered his people could not make out the meaning of the sign language word for “waterfall,” which they mistook for “big belly,” and started to call the tribe Gros Ventre. The elder told me to always listen to and learn from others, and to always try to overlook differences and find what unites us all. In parting, with a wink and a smile, he added, “Behave, but not too much.”
“So I listened, I thanked, I learned and went to my ‘inner-net’ of knowledge.”
Remembering the first time I had seen the Atlantic, I heard again the question my child’s eyes asked to the immensity of the Big Water, wondering if a big fish would show me the way to where I really belonged. I think of it as I watch a wooden whale on my desk. It is made of several layers spiraling toward their own abyss. I call it Capas del Muelle, a play on words based on the double meaning of capas, “layers” and “capes,” and muelle, “dock” and “(bed) spring.” The object helps me dive deeper into my “spring self” to contemplate life from the edge of my own layers, an ever-spiraling soul longing to pierce the secrets of eternity.
My first words in Spanish, taught to me by the lady sitting on the Asturian rock, slowly made sense when I started to learn her language years after the Maya song. Its last line had always captured my attention: “buelbatuogar.” It did not mean much until it was clad in the letters of its real spelling, vuelve a tu hogar (go back home). This morning I checked the “official” lyrics and that line is nowhere to be found…
Is this an example of the mysterious Mandala effect? Was it, from my friend, a subconscious longing for her Asturian roots, unearthed and transplanted in Belgium for the time of her childhood? Or was it a wink from Spirit, telling me that my real hogar or “home” was yet to be discovered?
Since then, I changed countries and professions, and I wish to call myself, among other occupations, a writer. To honor the blooming writer in me, I repeat like a mantra the questions I spontaneously asked Sacajawea when I learned how to build a dream board related to her story. Striking the computer keys, facing the young woman with a buffalo, portrayed by Native artist Fred Cleveland, I see you, Sacajawea, and I ask you the questions that feed your story.
And when I ask those same questions to myself, every time I perform the rite of the writer’s ride, from atop his pencil, the Kokopelli I built out of wood and corn bounty, answers, “JUST WRITE!”
Be ready, and share your story with the world!