Jim Martin was not a monk, any more than was Swami Beyonananda (described a few chapters back in this same series). Jim was grandson of the great poet and statesman Chief Joseph, of Nez Pierce fame.
Jim, like the Swami, had a Caucasian wife, though as unlike the Swami’s as she could be. Plainly this broad, silent bred-in-the-bone country woman disapproved of his visitors.
He and she were of an age at which, my empathic sense told me, it must have taken great love and an equal amount of courage for her to have become his wife. The bonds of loyalty between them — her disapproval of his participation in this newfangled coolness which American Natives possessed notwithstanding — must be both strong and deep.
And, like the monks much later (he died long before I met them — not too long after our communion, in fact — run over by a passing truck as he went to get his mail), Jim bestowed upon this poet a name.
By now another forty years have passed, and I have names and thanks from more than one other world-recognized spiritual authority, but this was my first.
I went to see Jim because, just as I was divorcing, I happened to spy a full-sized, obviously genuine and very well used teepee in the yard of a house we were passing as my infant daughter and I were wafted to our summer haven that year in the mountains of Oregon.
I commented upon its presence (discovering later that that teepee wasn’t usually up — it had only been there for a few days and then it was gone again.)
“I know who lives at that house,” replied the driver of our faithful old VW bus, the young man who was to become my companion and daughter’s able father figure for the better part of the next ten years.
“I had a conversation with him once. I remember that even though I’d never met him it seemed like he already knew me well — knew what my interests were and everything. It was strange.”
Within the next five years this very thing happened to me as well, but with a small woman of, as it turned out, Gypsy descent, who walked slowly up to me in the parking lot of a grocery store already speaking softly, almost under her breath.
As I listened closely, she detailed the most spiritually and emotionally puzzling events of my preceding few months — and then handed me the key to their resolution. Afterward she asked me for money to buy milk for her child. I had less than ten dollars to my name. I gave her some of it, and a blessing.
At the time I knocked on Jim Martin’s door, although absolutely ignorant of the then-rising practice of Caucasians seeking out elders to be given spiritual handles, a name — one unrecognizable to the other party in the abusive relationship I was leaving — was exactly what I needed.
I’d been weaned on stories, handed down through the generations in my father’s family, of our descent from Kit Carson via his Indian wife. A native name, I reckoned, would at least land close to my heritage.
Jim, wanting to honor that heritage as fittingly as possible, sent me to determine the tribe from which my famed ancestor’s beloved had hailed.
Though I failed in this mission at that time, a few years later I did run across the information by accident: She was Arapahoe, and they did indeed have a son.
Much more recently, DNA testing becoming available, the same infant daughter, now grown to be a grandmother herself, ordered one for us.
The resulting report contained two unexpected elements, the first being an introduction of Romanian gypsy blood to the Portuguese ducal household into which my mother had been born (must have been QUITE the scandal!), and the other an absence of any Native American heritage in my father’s line.
This poet is always amazed by the faith the average American citizen puts in “test results.”
As far back as the 1970’s the respected in-depth news program “Sixty Minutes” conducted a double-blind study of American medical laboratories which indicated a whopping 25% error rate (!), and the poet herself has received conflicting lab results more than once in her day.
Clearly inaccurate DNA test results have in fact quite recently been widely published. It must be remembered, as well, that the entire field of this research is an infant science.
So the poet leaves an open mind with regard to her blood heritage. The way she feels when packing to travel, when on the road, behind a deck of cards, even when building and cooking over a campfire — these things can be explained by Gypsy blood. The way she feels when climbing into a canoe and picking up a paddle, or while blending so effortlessly into a wildland that its animals begin to go about their business nearby, unconcerned — these cannot.
Unable at the time to verify the tribe of Mrs. Carson that was, on my third visit to his home I sought to reassure Jim Martin that I understood completely if he didn’t feel right about giving me a Nez Pierce name; that I’d walk quietly in the woods and receive my name, no problem. Only it seemed to me that my life’s work had much to do with breaking down, not the identities and heritage of our human tribes, but the barriers between them, so that all of us on this planet can both enjoy the individual tendencies of our various heritages and at the same time focus on our overwhelmingly many alikenesses, so that we know ourselves also to be members of one big tribe, the tribe of Mama Earth.
That was when he told me he’d had a name in mind for me from the first moment we met — “Takseen” or “Takseena.” In his native language the meaning of those words is “Beautiful Willow.”
Pleased and honored, I did indeed live under first the native and then the translated versions of that name for another ten years, until I remarried.
Fast forwarding to two years ago, the invention of the mobile online editing app set me free from both the publisher/editor/publicist gauntlet of pre Web writer nightmares and the, for me, prohibitive expense of a laptop.
I started guisering poetry like Old Faithful, soon finding myself with a dedicated international readership of first hundreds, then thousands. I needed a pen-name.
Sanskrit is one of our planet’s most metaphorically rich languages, with the defenition of even a single word sometimes running to several pages of text. But — as I had recently become aware, the words “Ana” and “Daksina,” pronounced together, mean something like “I am a fountain of gratitude.”
I am a fountain of gratitude.
Yes, I Am…