- Hide menu

Friday Feature: Deep In the Bone, Aloft On the Smoke

At last, a warm-up: After a deep freeze that lasted the better part of a week, November first arrives with more seasonal temperatures in tow.

It won’t help the trees, of course; the early freeze has swept most of their leaves to the ground now, and those that remain are increasingly skipping their usual fiery stages of dress and heading straight to the dull gray-brown robes of winter. And amid the threadbare blanket of the season, those wilder creatures not driven, or at least not driven yet, to hibernation will be ranging increasingly far and wide in search of food to sustain them through the cold to come.

We are fortunate, this cold season, not to have to forage nor to sleep exposed to the elements. It’s a time when the need for gratitude hits home hard, particularly when a bitter north wind howls without the door while we sit warm by an interior fire.

To the outside world, this month is two things, perhaps three: the month that features the holiday the dominant culture calls “Thanksgiving”; the start of the Christmas/winter holiday season; and, for those minimally aware beyond the tip of their own noses, the first day of what this colonial culture has designated “Native American History Month.”

For us, the reality is very different.

First, for us, every month by very definition is “Native History Month”; our days are lived in the light of our history and traditions and ancestral wisdom and memory. You will notice, too, that I shortened the name. It was not an oversight. Our peoples precede anything labeled America” by the whole of recorded time and more, and we choose our own names, not a possessory colonial term.

Second, while most of us celebrate, in one form or another, the same winter holidays as most of the outside world, we do so differently, in ways large and small. Wings and I tend to mark the Solstice as both winter feast day and that which it truly is, the first day of the earth’s new year. Christmas comes at the end of our busiest season, when we are both putting in sixteen-hour days seven days a week, and our marking of it occurs more as a remembrance of childhood Christmases than current observance: a tree, a good meal, an exchange of small gifts with each other, the enjoyment of the fire on a cold and snowy winter’s night.

But this month is, really, all about the third item, listed first above: “Thanksgiving.” I put it in quotation marks very deliberately, since the myth bears no relationship to the reality. It was not a first holiday meal between friends, Indigenous and immigrant; rather, it was a colonial celebration of the wanton slaughter of our peoples, cousins in the Northeast, a massacre that was only one in what would become a campaign of all-out genocide. I’ve written about it here before, and while today’s space is not one in which to revisit its details, it’s a post that everyone should read, particularly white folks.

For today, the point is the notion of “Thanksgiving,” or better, “thanksgiving,” uncapitalized. The former is a federal holiday, one thoroughly commercialized and built wholly on a lie. The latter is a way of life.

Our way of life.

It is a lifeway, one that informs our every day, and, if we are living according to the traditions handed down to us, our every act, as well: embedded deep in the bone, aloft on the smoke that sends our prayers to Spirit.

Today’s featured work is both the embodiment of this practice, this praxis, and a tool to facilitate it. From its description in the Other Artists:  Leatherwork, Antler, and Bone gallery here on the site:

In the old way, serious contemplation or conversation was often accompanied by the ceremonial smoking of a pipe. This small personalized version, expertly hand carved in vintage style by Joseph “Joe T” Trujillo (Taos Pueblo) is infused with the meditative and spiritual qualities of the old ways. Bowl and stem are all one piece, wrought by hand out of deer antler and inlaid at the bowl’s base and partway up the stem with beautifully grained walnut. Both antler and walnut are covered with clear, transparent stain to strengthen the pipe and seal it against the elements; pipe is fully functional, useable with traditional Indian tobacco, commercial tobacco, or kinnickinnick or other smoking mixtures. Full pipe is a compact 3-3/8″ long; bowl is 1-7/8″ high; stem portion above the bowl is 1-3/4″ high (dimensions approximate). Other views shown above and below.

Sealed deer antler; sealed natural walnut wood
$125 + shipping, handling, and insurance

This piece was made by hand by Wings’s clan brother, not a blood relative but a brother all the same. He’s a talented artist, but work concerns keep him from creating his art on a regular basis. When we do have the chance to sell something by him, it’s an opportunity to be seized.

And in this instance, it’s an incredible piece of workmanship, one manifest in an ancient, ancestral traditional style. Deer antler is actually bone, formed in the same way as the bones of the animal’s internal skeleton but extruding from the skull. Our peoples have used shed antlers, as well as those resulting from a successful traditional hunt, as art, as adornment, as medicine. Carved and polished into a traditional pipe, it is certainly art, but in our way, is more properly a vehicle for medicine: for contemplation, for community, for ceremony; for prayers of supplication and healing and, yes, of thanksgiving particularly. Smoke is purifying, and it is prayer given tangible form, and the use of a pipe is never one to be undertaken lightly or casually.

On this day, we have much for which to be thankful; food, shelter, a warm fire, each other. We are thankful for the return of seasonal weather and temperatures: cold, but no longer dangerously so; a chance for the earth to wind down, to rest for a time before rebirth in the spring. The days grow short; the nights long, deep with cold and darkness. But the turn of the seasons is embedded in the bones of our Mother Earth, and our prayers, for her and for ourselves, are aloft on the smoke of our prayers.

~ Aji








All content, including photos and text, are copyright Wings and Aji, 2019; all rights reserved. Nothing herein may used or reproduced in any form without the express written permission of the owner.

Comments are closed.

error: All content copyright Wings & Aji; all rights reserved. Copying or any other use prohibited without the express written consent of the owners.