When the Smoke Fills My Eyes
I could feel that there was something different about today when I woke up this morning. First of all, my eyes were stinging. The smoke from the morning cook fires was hanging low in the morning air. Every morning mom would start the cooking fire by putting a load of cedar on the hot ashes from the night before. Usually the smoke would curl its way skyward, like snakes trying to reach the heavens, but like I said, today was different. The smoke hung close to the ground like a blanket and filled up the dwelling fast. I saw the hunting bows missing, which was a sign that dad and the other men had gone off into the woods hunting. Someday I would be big enough to join them. I quickly got up and went outside to clear my eyes of the smoke. It looked like I was crying with the tears running down my cheeks. I ran back inside and looked for my buckskins. They were stored where I left them in the late spring. There was frost on the ground, on the trees and on the leaves that had fallen the past weeks. It gleamed like little mirrors in the crisp morning sun. Just yesterday it was still warm, even though the leaves had been falling for a while. I guess the great Mother Earth was telling us that the summer was finally over.
After washing up in the cold water, I went out to the cook fire to get warm and to see what there was to eat. Mom was just finishing up a batch of johnny cakes and had a lot of the leftover berries to go with them. I could see a bowl of squash simmering in lard and honey on the fire also. That would take the chill off fast when the warmth hit my tummy. It wouldn’t be long before she put a load of hard wood on the fire to make the coals for lunch and supper and all the baking she was going to do. The hardwood would burn with less smoke. But the morning’s first fire of cedar was the best for me. The smell always brings a feeling of warmth and home to my nose. I have always loved that smell, and I can always tell when the summer is over just by that low hanging smoke on the first day of the frost–that smoke that fills my eyes and makes them sting and water like I’m crying.
Today I will go out into the woods with the other kids and watch my animal friends gather food for the winter. The mosquitoes are now gone. The flies that darted from place to place and buzzed my ears and nose in the summer sun are now walking and moving slow on the ground. The ladybugs are swarming indoors, ready to lay dormant until spring. All of nature is preparing for the cold winter ahead. It is a good time of the year when the smoke fills my eyes.
Bruce J. Chapman (b. 1947) is an elder with the Mohegan Tribe. His tribal name, given to him by his third cousin Rolling Cloud, is “Gentlewind.” It bears the meaning of the “Caretaker,” which he has always strived to live up to.