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Frank Waters and the Maya

My brother, John Nizalowski, teaches creative writing at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. Although he hails from upstate New York, as I do, he has become immersed in the culture of his new locale to such a degree that he has been given the nod to be the official biographer for Frank Waters, a writer of 25 some books that represent much of the culture and civilization of the American Southwest. Waters was nominated five times for the Nobel Prize in literature. To read about my brother John's transition from a denizen of upstate New York to a desert dweller, pick up his multi-genre book Hooking the Sun from Farolito Press.
I have been working my way through Waters’ last major piece of writing entitled Of Time and Change [a memoir]. One chapter recounts a visit that Waters had to the Mexican state of Chiapas to visit the Lacandones, the last surviving full-blooded descendents of the Mayas. His host was Gertrude “Trudi” Blom, widow of archeologist Franz Blom. The Bloms had come to Chiapas in 1950 to study the Mayan ruins and the Lacandones and started providing living quarters for other anthropologists and archeologists engaged in similar activity.
Waters came for a visit around 1970 and one of the most rewarding experiences of the trip was spending time with Old Chan K’in of Naha, an eighty year old religious leader of the northern Lacandones. I want to quote several paragraphs I feel distill the philosophy of the ancient Maya and the fears that Chan had for the future of his culture:
“The stories he told as he lay in his hammock and smoked cigars were earthy and often humorous. Most of them were of the creation of the world by the gods as well as the interdependence of men, animals, trees, stones, and stars. He was not reluctant to tell these stories to us outsiders, nor was he self-conscious about his easy, intimate relationship with all living things in heaven and earth.
“One of his stories struck me as being especially significant. Whenever a tree is felled, a star falls from the sky. Hence, a Lacandon before chopping down a great mahogany asks permission of the forest and of the stars above. So too do the pueblo Indians back home in the Southwest ceremonially ask the great pine they are about to cut for permission to sacrifice it.
“The Lacandon belief explained Old Chan K’in’s fear of the growing interest of Mexican officials in the mahogany trees of the Lacandon rain forest. Accompanying this threat were Lacanda’s abandonment of traditional beliefs and adoption of Christianity, the steady influx of modern gadgets and cheap whiskey, and increasing numbers of visitors like ourselves”. [p. 239]
Gertrude Blom (1901-1993) was quite an interesting individual in her own right. She spent five decades documenting Mayan culture and was a “pioneering environmental activist”. Her home has been preserved as a cultural and resource center “devoted to the protection and preservation of the Lacandon Maya and the La Salva Lacondona rain forest.”
Her Wikipedia entry has this to say about this senior citizen activist: “The systematic deforestation of La Selva Lacandona by loggers, immigrant settlers, and the Mexican government changed the direction of her life yet again. In the 1970s, Blom decided she must speak out, and thus became one of the first environmental activists. She traveled the world, lecturing from first-hand experience about the death of the jungle and showing slide shows of her documentary photographs. In three languages, she wrote hundreds of articles protesting Mexican policies. In 1975 she started El Vivero, a tree nursery that still distributes free trees for reforestation. Blom said, ‘I am hopeless, but I plant trees.’ Here is another quote worth repeating: “If mankind continues abusing the planet as we are today, the effects in the near future will be far worse than the devastation that would be caused by any atomic bomb”
Here is another interesting point: her academic training was actually in horticulture. I couldn’t help but think that the travails of the Lacandones have parallels with the themes in the movie Avatar.

Ed Nizalowski
Newark Valley, NY
by edniz
Wed Mar 31, 2010 8:44 am
 
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Hickory Leaf as Ballerina

Here is a second entry on the theme of artistic impressions of new growth:

The leaf of a hickory is quite a complicated masterpiece of engineering. Not to diminish the miracle of any leaf coming back to life in the spring, I have watched hickory leaves in particular because of two trees that I have on my property and the ease with which I can see them open and mature. The bud seems to swell to three or four times the normal size as the protective scale begins to break under the pressure of the incipient leaf. And then you stare at something about the size of your index finger, a miniature rendition of something that will eventually have five to 9 leaves coming off a long stem, some of which may be as big as your hand.
What I have been seeing over the last few years as I watch this phenomenon is a ballerina squatted into a crouch on a stage with her hands completely enshrouding her head. Slowly she picks up her head and begins to move her arms down around her body. Moving into an upright position with arms curved around her side, her legs begin the rise until her full height is reached. And as the leaf on the hickory reaches its full length and size, the ballerina comes to life and begins a joyful dance across the stage.

Ed Nizalowski
Newark Valley, NY
by edniz
Mon Apr 19, 2010 12:18 pm
 
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New Growth as Impressionist Painting

As the woods fills out with new growth, I have been experiencing a different type of impression over the last few years. There is a particular period of time when the hillsides transform themselves into an impressionistic painting. First come the splotches of red from the red maples. Next is the iridescent quality of the first poplar leaves. When these two trees reach their peak of this quality, this is when I imagine Monet, Renoir or Cezanne working on a canvas that is more like a half mile high and two miles long. It’s quite a rush.
For those of you who know the woods better than I, are there other trees or greenery that enhance or add to this effect?

Ed Nizalowski
Newark Valley, NY
by edniz
Mon Apr 19, 2010 12:14 pm
 
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Native Americans as Promoters of Mast and Fruit Trees

I got this from the following website: http://www.indigeneouspeplesissues.com

Native Americans As Active and Passive Promoters of Mast and Fruit Trees in the Eastern USA

Marc D. Abrams, Gregory J. Nowacki, 2008

We reviewed literature in the fields of anthropology, archaeology, ethnobotany, palynology and ecology to try to determine the impacts of Native Americans as active and passive promoters of mast (nuts and acorns) and fruit trees prior to European settlement. Mast was a critical resource for carbohydrates and fat calories and at least 30 tree species and genera were used in the diet of Native Americans, the most important being oak (Quercus), hickory (Carya) and chestnut (Castanea), which dominated much of the eastern forest, and walnut (Juglans) to a lesser extent. Fleshy tree fruits were most accessible in human-disturbed landscapes, and at least 20 fruit- and berry-producing trees were commonly utilized by Native Americans. They regularly used fire and tree girdling as management tools for a multitude of purposes, including land clearing, promotion of favoured mast and fruit trees, vegetation control and pasturage for big-game animals. This latter point also applies to the vast fire-maintained prairie region further west. Native Americans were a much more important ignition source than lightning throughout the eastern USA, except for the extreme Southeast. First-hand accounts often mention mast and fruit trees or orchards in the immediate vicinity of Native American villages and suggest that these trees existed as a direct result of Indian management, including cultivation and planting. We conclude that Native American land-use practices not only had a profound effect on promoting mast and fruit trees but also on the entire historical development of the eastern oak and pine forests, savannas and tall-grass prairies. Although significant climatic change occurred during the Holocene, including the `Mediaeval Warming Period’ and the `Little Ice Age’, we attribute the multimillennia domination of the eastern biome by prairie grasses, berry-producing shrubs and/or mast trees primarily to regular burning and other forms of management by Indians to meet their gastronomic needs. Otherwise, drier prairie and open woodlands would have converted to closed-canopy forests and more mesic mast trees would have succeeded to more shade-tolerant, fire-sensitive trees that are a significantly inferior dietary resource.


Read more about Native Americans As Active and Passive Promoters of Mast and Fruit Trees in the Eastern USA - Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources

Ed Nizalowski
Newark Valley, NY
by edniz
Sun May 09, 2010 10:23 pm
 
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