Kiowa wind, grass, colors

Map of the Kiowa Territory in Western Oklahoma, 1833-1843, from Alice Marriott, The Ten Grandmothers, p. 15.

In 1944, Alice Marriott in her book, The Ten Grandmothers, recorded Kiowa Spear Woman’s narrative of the motion and color changes of prairie grasses.  The “Ten Grandmothers” are ten Kiowa medicine bundles.  The bundles still exist, but they have not been opened since the 1890s when the last person who had the right to see the contents died.

For Leah the south porch of the big house was the best part of home.  Here you could sit and watch sunrise or sunset; watch the shapes of the earth change and move as the sun moved.  Then you knew, when you sat out there, that the earth was alive itself.

Spear Woman sat beside her granddaughter and thought that the earth had gone dead.  Lights played and moved, and cloud shadows came and went, but the earth itself had somehow died.  It was all one color now; not like the old days when its shades really changed and flickered like flames under the wind.  She stirred and sighed and spoke.

When the buffalo moved across it, there were other colors and other lights.

The thought was near enough Leah’s own to startle her.  There are lots of colors there now.

Her father spoke behind them.  Not like there used to be.  In the days that even I remember, there was one color when the wind was from the north and another when it was from the south, one from the east and another from the west.  Now the grass is all one color on every side, and it doesn’t change with the wind.

Sometimes the colors change.  Down near Lawton there is a prairie where the grass takes different colors.

* * *

[Spear Woman insists they travel to Lawton (Fort Sill, Oklahoma), fifty miles away.]

She brought her best Pendleton blanket from the trunk and spread it over the seat.  She put on her very best clothes and painted her face….

Two lines of high, tight fence spread across the prairie from a gate, and Spear Woman sat stiff, suddenly.  What is that!  That is grass like the old days.  Real grass.  All different colors.

It was, too.  It was like changeable silk, the kind the Delawares used to trim their blankets.  Yellow as the wind struck it; rose-color as it died away; then a sort of in-between color, with patterns that moved like patterns in silk when you folded it….

Shade was not even in sight, and when they had driven through the gates, with the lines of the fence on either hand, it was still not easy to find.  Spear Woman didn’t care.  She sat and watched the grass turn over in the sun, flickering and bending and straightening like little campfire flames, and was happy.  It was the old kind of grass, the old, rippling, running prairies, even if there were fences.  She was glad her eyes were dim, because she didn’t always see the fences, and could forget about them.  It was all peaceful and alive again.

From Alice Marriott, The Ten Grandmothers, pp. 285-288.

* * *

When I was a boy, my grandmother drove between Brownwood and Bend, Texas, near San Saba to visit relatives.  I watched fields of grass sway in the wind on either side of the road, a narrow two-lane highway.  She would point out to me where she and her family had camped and where she had seen buckboard wagons ascend a hill along the creek, the hubs carving their initials along the cliffs.  I saw them and put my hands in wagon-hub grooves when we stopped to rest.  The prairie wind flowed over the grass, moving stems and leaves in a rhythm, a wave of motion like water I saw in Corpus Christi Bay.

* * *

Last year I planted six acres of native grasses in the Pecan Tree Pasture.  The grasses are native to the Cross Timbers of Oklahoma where Spear Woman found peace again, and the grasses are native to our ranch that is also designated as Cross Timbers.  The grasses in our pastures grow waist-high, chest-high in some areas, and when the prevailing wind, a southwest flow from Mexico, crosses the pastures, grasses move and bend and change color.  As I go up the road towards Huckabay, Texas, about six miles away, I always notice a very old stand of Bluestem that turns reddish-brown in the Fall and Winter, but becomes blue and green in the Spring.  The stand of Bluestem is only an acre in size and machines have not touched it in many years for it is on the side of a hill.  It is old, that family, and I care for it.  If I could move that acre of old Bluestem to my ranch, I would.  I can’t.  But I have planted its relatives in the Pecan Tree Pasture and there I shall attend to their health and growth.

______________________________

Notes:

The citation is: Alice Marriott, The Ten Grandmothers, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1945.  I have the fourth printing, October, 1951.  In the excerpt, I have omitted quotation marks and substituted italics for the spoken words.

Lawton, Oklahoma, is also the home of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, that is seen in the map above.  If you click on the map, then enlarge it with your computer, you can see more clearly the locations of encampments and the Sun Dance locations.  The Cross Timbers designation flows all the way down into Texas and includes our ranch, Flying Hat Ranch, Mingus, Texas.

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12 Comments

Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance, Nature Quote of the Day

12 responses to “Kiowa wind, grass, colors

  1. I will need to take a look at the small bit of family history I have, but I believe my maternal grandmother came to Minnesota from Oklahoma. I need to read more of this type of narrative. I love reading about grasses and trees.

    I have been thinking of returning some of my yard to meadow grass and see what wildflowers will show up, too. I don’t mind the mowing, but I think I would enjoy seeing a meadow rise at the edges.

    So good to hear from you, read of your stewardship of the land. It’s inspiring.

    • It is also so good to hear from you, too. Would that not be interesting to see if your grandmother did come from Oklahoma? There are still many parts of it that are untamed. And, I hope they stay that way.

      It would be interesting to see what native grasses could come up and seed at Lonewolf (are you still calling your place Lonewolf?). We mow up here around the barn and house. I do shred the broomweed in the front pastures, early on. But other than that, I try and leave things alone.

      Your place looks beautiful when mowed, too.

  2. Kittie Howard

    Jack, this is a beautiful post. We lack the expanse of grasses you have in Texas. As a child, thought, when we visited friends in Texas, the chest-high grasses you described delighted us, especially, like you said, the colors. I remember how I learned the word INDIGO from such waving grasses (I sometimes thought they waved at me)! Our recent trip to South Louisiana showed that filled-in bayous make a slow return, a good thing. Unfortunately, too much land has been cleared, either for crops or ‘city’ people who’ve moved into the area and want large, chemical-green lawns.

  3. Thanks, Kittie. I’ve not been writing much lately. Lots of work at school and the commute. But, quotes from The Ten Grandmothers have been knocking around in my head for some time.

    I do love to travel through the richness of Louisiana. Wide open spaces have their place, but so does your home state.

  4. I enjoyed reading about the grasses in your part of Texas. It made me recall some of the grasses I loved in the southern part of Arizona, just up from the border in the Fort Huachuca area. Planting and caring for it is a good thing that you are doing!

    • Well, Montucky, you have seen a lot of North America, from Arizona to Montana. I think I know which you like best. It’s such a pleasure to carry your work in photography on the blog. Thank you for saying I’m doing a good thing.

  5. Thanks for sharing this passage – so glad to know about this book! To hear when folks rejoice in the native species coming back – like Spear Woman being relieved at seeing the beautiful wild grass again – is a big relief in itself. As our actions change ecosystems and species disappear, it is important to recognize it. And act to change it in whatever way possible – as you are with the planting of the grass!

    • It is a big relief, isn’t it, that she was relieved and peaceful. Your work in New Mexico and with the wildlife corridors, I admire so very much. You, too, work towards changing attitudes.

  6. This is a beautifully written testament to a culture long gone and times of the past. I am hopeful that through people like you, Jack, we can open these wonderful secrets to those who have not yet seen these enigmas of the past.

    Big bluestem one of the great prairie grasses is known for its great variety of colors displayed when the wind blows. When in flower the colors range from steel blue (hence the name) to a brilliant bronze! The colors of the sky on a stormy day and a brilliant late sunset. When the plant ages it turns to red, brown, and purple and is a wonderful background to the changing autumn leaves.

    It does grow here in the east on the edges of sandy wetlands but nothing like you have out there, especially in sod busting country.

    A brilliant, educating piece Jack, and exceeding well written. Thank you very much.

    • I love the Big bluestem and you describe it so well. Brenda and I try and find the patches of old bluestem around here. There’s been so much clearing, but here and there we see old stands of grasses and trees. You are right, it is a steel blue, isn’t it. Yep, it’s sod busting country out here. I wish people wouldn’t clear brush so much, but some people are fanatic about it. Thank you, Wild Bill, for taking the time to comment. As an ecologist, you add so much to the blog world. We’ll do the best we can to instruct the values inherent in nature.

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  8. What a treasure your blog is. First I find you while looking information on fires in your area, and then I find you again while looking for information on the fires north of you in Lawton.

    This piece is beautifully written. I came to prairie-love through William Least Heat-Moon’s Prairy Erth, and am so grateful I was able to return to my home state of Iowa and walk on a bit of unbroken prairie there.

    Thank you for so much beauty – and education!

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