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We All Live on Turtle Island

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Posted on Jul 22, 2010
AP / Reed Saxon

An endangered desert tortoise rests near a group of Marines in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

By Deanne Stillman

(Page 3)

But perhaps we know enough. According to Native American myth, the tortoise is responsible for our very existence. According to Kay Thompson, it kept a little girl company in her big empty suite at the Plaza Hotel. According to the old gringo Lewis Carroll, it remembered how to dance and made sure to pass the knowledge on, before it was made into soup. Recently, I was hiking in a part of the Mojave adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park. It was my father’s birthday. He passed away 14 years ago, and as I walked across the sands on a spring day just after the first wildflowers had shot through, I heard a few lines from “Eldorado” in my head—or maybe it was drifting on the wind—I do not know, but it was my father speaking them: “Gaily bedight, a gallant knight, in sunshine and in shadow, had traveled long, singing a song, in search of Eldorado. ...”
 
I walked on with my little hiking group, and the biologist among us spoke of different kinds of blossoms and how to tell the difference between male and female, and, as we walked, I found myself yearning for the sight of a tortoise. Turning to my right, a large one emerged from its burrow. I was stunned. I had not seen a tortoise in years, and I watched the old fellow paddle across an alluvial fan, making for some greens. In an instant, many things came together. A few years earlier, on the anniversary of my father’s death, in a different part of the Mojave, a coyote appeared, running across some train tracks. My father in fact was a coyote—a trickster—and it seemed right. But a tortoise? At first the idea saddened me; had it come to this—the life of the party now represented by such an ancient, silent and gentle presence? But the more I thought about it, the more I knew the message to be true: His spirit was finally at rest—no more tricks and jokes and now you see me, now you don’t kind of stuff—and he had come to reside in the land of escape that he had conjured for me long ago.
 
I watched the tortoise clamber on, from flower to flower, its mouth greening up as it devoured the desert buffet. Judging from its size, I guessed that he (or she) was about 75 or 80 years old—my father’s age if he were still alive. It occurred to me that this tortoise could have been the last one in its range, or even the last one in the southern Mojave. Who will teach us the lessons of life and loss and rebirth if it vanishes? I thought as it headed back to its burrow under a creosote bush. Who will teach us the Mojave quadrille?

Deanne Stillman’s latest book is the widely acclaimed “Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West,” a Los Angeles Times “Best Book ’08” and winner of the California Book Award silver medal for nonfiction. Her book includes an account of the 1998 Christmas horse massacre outside Reno, as well as the story of Bugz, the lone survivor of the incident. Follow Deanne Stillman on Facebook.

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By Old Man Turtle, August 13, 2010 at 7:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“NaturalScientist”‘s evident distaste for all the, “red meat” of “terrestrial” Life,
and his stated preference for the (ideally?) flesh-less and blood-less conditions
he imagines (mistakenly) to be characteristic of the “celestial” realms, plus his
continued (feigned?) employment of pop-culturally youthful argot in his
comments here, all suggest the typical confusion of homo domesticus about
the free wild Song ‘n’ Dance of Life Herownself and the whole, healthy
expression of it we have here in the Natural Living Arrangement of our Mother
Earth.  Besides, such agonizing dissatisfaction is easily remedied.  There must
be fifty ways to leave your Mother, many of them relatively pain-less.

Meantime, if he doesn’t want to be bitten on the ass (or, in the extreme case,
his throat gone-for) quite so often while he remains here among us Savages,
“NaturalScientist” might be a little more respectful toward the “bitch” he is
himself a (bastard?) son-of.  Pay better attention to Her, and the “Dude” might
find The Way past his current adolescent obsession with “blood and gore,” and
all The Way to the recognition and acceptance of the Natural Fact that “as on
Earth, so in Heaven,” like-it-or-lump-it.

Anyhow, here in Indian Country we do have a Way to know.  It’s to go and see. 
It just takes the courage of what one claims to be his convictions.  Maybe
“NaturalScientist” will come back and tell us what he finds out about any
essential differences (other than imagined and semantic ones) between things
“celestial” and “terrestrial” here in “the Cosmos.”  Or is he just wishfully
thinking out-loud?

And that’s UNCLE Shaman to you, “Peace Dude.”  Your Auntie Shaman is up
south on HummingBird Island these Days, a bloody “inconvenient truth” about
which even Al Gore still hasn’t a clue.

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By NaturalScientist, July 28, 2010 at 7:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Hey dudes! Let’s grab the Hummer and go out and play Nature, maybe we’ll see some tortoises, coyotes, or mustangs and stuff.”

“Righteous Dude!” “Let’s go!, remember now, when we leave the hummer, watch out for snakes… bummer!” “Oh, Gila Monsters, which is it, red on black, or black on red”? “I always forget which is which”

“I love this Nature thing, man, it helps me to get away from the world, and forget who I am.” “It’s a nice diversion from all the blood and gore.” “Ya ya, there’s blood and gore out here, but at least its not human blood and gore… as long as you can dodge the snakes, and whatever.”

“Check it out man! I heard that a tortoise will climb a big mountain just to kick some ass and get a little tail.” “Ho-o-o-r-ny!”

“Yuh know what else? Bros who used to live here would eat cactus buds, get high, and dance all night.” “Now that’s cool!”

“Do we have enough gas.”?

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By Costurow, July 26, 2010 at 8:47 am Link to this comment

I enjoyed the debut of this poet of the desert’s rim and very much look forward to the next dispatches from such a fresh and thoughtful voice

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By Costurow, July 26, 2010 at 8:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I enjoyed the debut of this poet of the desert’s rim and look forward to the next dispatch from such a fresh and thoughtful voice.

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By Shift, July 26, 2010 at 7:28 am Link to this comment

Your MYTH is that you own Turtle Island.  You do not.  You are mere exploiters and temporary occupants.  The turtle is enduring.

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By Paolo, July 25, 2010 at 3:46 pm Link to this comment

As a kid, I—like many in my neighborhood—had a desert tortoise as a pet.

Unfortunately, having one as a pet today is illegal, except through official government-sanctioned means. This is quite a pity, for many reasons.

First among these is that the desert tortoise is a marginal species, with or without mankind. In a typical clutch of desert tortoise eggs, almost no hatchlings live beyond a few days, because predators eat them (ravens being the worst offenders).

In captivity, almost all those hatchlings would survive and get sold Then the cycle could be repeated. Soon, there would be plenty of desert tortoises.

They make great pets: they don’t bark, bite, disturb the neighbors, or leave lots of manure lying around.

Another interesting sidebar is the fact that cattle ranching in Nevada actually helped INCREASE the population of desert tortoises, because ruminants would eat vegetation down to the ground, forcing new growth for the tortoise to eat. Also, ranchers dig water-retention basins, which not only water the cattle, but also other wildlife, including tortoises.

The desert tortoise situation shows that the old environmentalist canard, “Man bad for nature,” is not necessarily true. The decline in ranching in Nevada has coincided with the decline of the wild tortoise population; making it illegal in most cases to keep desert tortoises may be the final nail in their coffin.

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By Leefeller, July 25, 2010 at 3:02 pm Link to this comment

Somehow I feel uncomfortable with this article in that it reminds me of someone who has been to an acupuncturist for an office visit and now feels they are an expert?  I am reminded of politicians becoming self flagellating experts on everything and telling people what they are to believe or allowed to do.  Worse pious religious leaders deciding on when women should be stoned or lashed.  Leaving it to the people who told the story seems slightly short minded,..... let Hollywood screw the tail.

If Turtle Island is a mirth a myth or a classic possibly even real, who tells the story tellers in the first place? Now since I am of Norwegian decent, I should only tell tall tails about the Vikings, for that makes me an expert?

By the way, what is the difference between a tortoise a turtle and a rabbit, I thought turtles where part amphibious and tortoises lived on land?  And, the not so great myth about a race.

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By moonraven, July 25, 2010 at 10:52 am Link to this comment

This is just plain silly.

Whites came to Turtle Island as illegal immigrants, slaughtered the inhabitants and turned it into a toxic waste dump.

USA and Canada OUT of Turtle Island NOW!

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By Elizabeth Tjader, July 25, 2010 at 8:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Welcome Deanne Stillman!

Right on! Any time there is an addition in the form of a writer or author who appreciates the natural world, its complexities, but most important, its peril at the hands of humans, I say “thank you!”

Deanne, you are a much needed addition not only to Truthdig, but to the world. (for overall balance. I love Truthdig; nothing intended to criticize this website!)

Chris Hedges has written about what the natural world does for him. It is moving, alive and filled with passion. Your prose is too. 

I’m about to order your book on the plight of the Wild Mustangs. I just heard Madeline Pickens interviewed recently over the continued slaughter and cruel round ups sponsored by BLM. My God, what has the natural world done to deserve us? What a mess.

Here’s what Earth needs: Zero Population Growth. I will always be on the side these creatures. It kills me to read of their descension toward extinction, or when literal extinction actually takes place. When will we wake up and get there are too damn many of us?

The only hope for the non human world is a non human world.

Elizabeth Tjader

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By Old Man Turtle, July 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is clear from “gerard”‘s contributions here that she(?) (There’s something rather grandmotherly about their ‘tone’ and particular concerns, but apologies if I’ve guessed wrong.) is thoughtful and caring, and genuinely troubled by the road our domesticated Human relatives are being driven-down.  She needn’t fear that our People will “give-up” on hers, either, though not so much because we’re all (as she says) Two-leggeds together, as because it’s simply not in our free wild nature to be making such determinations.  It’s totally outside our given area-of-responsibility, you might say. 

Besides, even though I and my nephew “TAO Walker” have been describing in-detail the increasingly dire condition homo domesticus’ “condition” is in, and offering observations about its origins and “prognosis” that are perhaps unflattering to many, we’ve done so in-part to demonstrate our well-grounded understanding of the disease we ‘diagnose,’ and it’s effects on them and the rest of us, and in-part to establish some valid ‘credentials’ to ‘prescribe’ the Medicine we do (Call it, today, The Way of Genuine Living Human Community.) as the specific remedy for what ails them and our Mother Earth.  We’re under no illusions, though, about the extreme difficulty of getting this information past the filters and censors the “civilization” syndrome itself has installed in its sufferers’ “individual”-ized cognitive equipment, with the specific purpose of keeping them completely ignorant of the real nature of their plight.

It seems to me the more likely possibility now is that the tame peoples will soon despair of the essential goodness of their own essential Human Nature (after hearing it denigrated incessantly for ten thousand years), “give-up” altogether on Life Herownself, and choose to give-in entirely to the temptation of their retro-viral tormentors’ false promise of perpetual ‘un-death,’ instead.  Some commenting here and there on this site suggest glibly that the (ultimately) complete substitution of artificial ‘mechanism’ for natural organism offers “modern” humans the best, even only way out of their current partly self-inflicted misery.  All I can say to that ploy is to note it was the desperation of exactly their own identical self-inflicted dead-end condition that brought those “destroyers-of-worlds” here in-the-first-place, looking for at-least an end to it, if not a Way through it offering some chance for them to come out fully alive again, as they once were ages ago.

The Living Arrangement of our Mother Earth, including us free wild Human Beings and All Our Relations (including our captive sisters and Brothers), is the actual Medicine Life Herownself came-up-with as the Living Response to their need.  It remains to be seen now only whether they’ll accept or reject it, which is again (I’m happy to say.) outside Humanity’s area-of-responsibility.

It’ll sure be good, though, for all the “beautiful babies” of every Kind, if the tormentors and their two-legged tools will just decide it’s better to let-go their “great pride” than it will be to fall with it, finally, into oblivion.  We’ll all be alright either way, of course, which really frosts their asses.  ‘Cause misery indeed does “love” company, and they were so damned certain they had US in-the-bag.

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By balkas, July 24, 2010 at 9:08 am Link to this comment

Oh how great are perils of not minding own business awaiting us and the calamities, iniquities, slaughters that are behind us and greater yet to come.

No, dianne wld not tell u this nor point the people who taught us—-nay, commanded—-not to mind our own business.

And in US, ab 98% of people do not mind own affairs; solely, because 0001% of people told them for 400 yrs: never mind, this is for us to decide!

Dianne is allowed to write on TD, but i am not. And not necessarily me, but one of us: 000001% of world pop.
And if we continue not minding our lives; others wld more than gladly step in to do it for u.
And they have been doing that to us for at least 10 k yrs! tnx

Since this simplicity a child cld understand and agree with it and most posters on TD having voted for the 0001 percenters, most people wld disagree with the simlicity, but wld understand it! tnx

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By NaturalScientist, July 24, 2010 at 8:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hey Turtle Dude!

There is a difference between the terrestrial and the celestial. I don’t claim to know, because it’s beyond knowing, but I believe there is no blood and gore in the Cosmos. I believe blood, gore, predation, tribal warfare, clannishness, and the like, are terrestrial, not celestial.

Are we all “into” the Cosmos? I believe the Cosmos scares the crap out of a lot of people. We are “in” the Cosmos, good point, which grade did we learn that in?

Is there such a thing as the “anti-Shaman”? If there is, I’ll bet he’s giving too much credence to the terrestrial, while giving little significance to the infinite celestial.

Of course, this discussion can only be food (No red meat) for thought. The only thing I know for sure is that there is a lot of gore here on Mother Earth. I believe focusing more on the celestial, other worldly, could help us to reduce all the blood and gore here on Earth. I believe that rather than celebrate Mother Nature, we should recognize that she is sometimes a mean bitch that kisses you on the cheek, just before she goes for your throat.

Peace Dude

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By balkas, July 24, 2010 at 6:15 am Link to this comment

Nature appears to me infinitely-valued; we are part of that nature; thus also infinitely-valued.

But when we are divided or segregated into different societal layers, this, to me, represents the greatest misvalue that had befallen us. 

A society functions at its best when we do not exclude no one from the table.
One wld still have professionals, generals, WH, judges, et al, but everyone wld earn ab the same.

If this wld happen world-wide, we’d behave, i conclude, much better.
Hopefully, for the first time ever, orgs like cults wld go for it.

However, if priesthood utterly controls at least 2bn people and another 2bn not that much and continues to think as before, i see only worsenings coming our way.

So, the greatest two misvalues: sacerdodal mafia and secular cosa nostra, if remain as they are, wld rule the earth and wld continue to de-evaluate nature and biota as always before!

If her collumn does no start at the begining of our downfall and people who have done this to us, i am not going to read her collumn! tnx

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By NYT 9237723, July 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Truthdig needs a good solid column on natural history and ecological concerns. Can you please find someone who doesn’t indulge in sentimental, patronizing twaddle?

It’s insulting to equate Eloise at the Plaza with Native American stories based on observations of the natural world. It’s ridiculous to come up with lines like: “Who will teach us the Mojave quadrille?”

The earth is being smothered by pesticides and industrial residue, and the oceans by plastic garbage. The atmosphere is starting to cook. Unless we wise up quickly, no one will be doing any quadrilles—Mojave or mock turtle or otherwise.

We subscribe to Truthdig for hard-hitting, straightforward news and opinion. Please give us some on these subjects.

Enough navel gazing, pseudo-spirituality by those who are insulated from living a “natural” life. Send this woman back to Sedona or Santa Fe, where she can journey shamanically with the rest of the white phonies.

Respectfully submitted by the Old Polecat

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By Petro, July 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm Link to this comment

Thank you for engaging me in Beautiful.

Your writing is very visual.

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By gerard, July 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm Link to this comment

Old Man Turtle et al:  Please don’t give up on us.
(I almost do, every day.  Then I think of how we are all two-leggeds and our babies are so beautiful and I tell myself:  “Hang in there!  It ain’t over till it’s over.”)

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By Old Man Turtle, July 23, 2010 at 3:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“NaturalScientist” betrays an ignorance of both Nature and science, when he compares Earth to a “psychopathic killer,” and attributes traits like “dumb, cruel, and vicious,” which in-fact are found only among domesticated Humans (of which he appears to be one) to “animals” (He is one for sure.), which he claims to “like” despite their alleged “brute”-ish proclivities.  Anyhow, it’s never the “tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, etc” actually taking sometimes heavy tolls on the half-lives of his Kind.  It’s always their own insistence on trying to occupy permanently places susceptible to the natural effects of those and similar events, a pretty good example of “dumb,” while most mere “animals” have the good sense to get out of harm’s way, if some tame two-legged hasn’t corralled them, or just to stay out of it altogether.

Which brings us to the urban legend of “blood lust” among Coyotes, Cougars, and Wolves.  If “Natural Scientist” really knew anything about it he’d know the organic function of so-called “predatory” animals is to help those (like sheep) with no internal “population control” capability from breeding themselves to starvation.  So when Coyote sees two hundred sheep crammed into a fifty-foot-square pen (another “dumb” thing domesticated Humans do) He just naturally reduces their numbers to something nearer that confined areas “carrying capacity.”

That’s Nature, though most of “science” has yet to catch-up with Her in the Wisdom department.     

“NaturalScientist”‘s reference to “when (he) was a boy” is a bit mystifying, because, boy howdy, the “dude” sure comes across as being one still.  What exactly does being “into the cosmos” mean?  I mean, who isn’t?

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By kerryrose, July 23, 2010 at 2:17 pm Link to this comment

I liked Ms Stillman’s article about the mustangs so much that I read her book.  It wasn’t my first introduction to the plight of the wild horses, that was as a kid reading ‘Mustang, Spirit of the West,’ by Marguarite Henry.  The mustangs were gathered for slaughter.

I am a little uncomfortable about her identification with Native American spiritual life.  There are some things that shouldn’t be talked about unless they are your own.

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By REDHORSE, July 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment

Maudlin sentimentality is indeed a barrier, that prevents the “new age” White from experiencing the powerful, fearsome and transformative living natural energies alive, on the American Continent. Robert the Bears old adage, that there may be forces alive inside us, that brown rice and meditation can’t placate, illustrates my suspicion of a “chrystal gazeing-little pink angels-lift it up into the violet light of the heart”,  manufactured and sold, spiritual reality. The authors self-deprecating and apologetic use of the word “gringo” disappoints me.

  The elephant in the room for new agers is their guilt about and self-denial of the White potentiality for violence and its’ history, as if polite political correctness and conversation can avert recognition of the blood that stains and has now, with this fascist war, come to define all our lives. The real suprise of course is to find ourselves as abandoned, defeated, exploited and alone, as Blacks, Browns, Yellows and Reds. This is, perhaps, if we can find common ground, salvation for us all. And, I feel it important to say, that some of us are free men and don’t give a #@%k about skin color.

    I remember the authors article on horses in the American West. And, I enjoyed this one. Her attempt to validate the living force of both our inner and outer worlds, and honor the connection to a third, is important. We need that dialogue to fight the emotional ice of the “plastic fantastic lover” who is destroying us. As a fellow Westerner I look forward to reading her.

    Christ said plainly that the Kingdom is not someplace else. It is here, and men do not have the eyes to see it. Where are these “eyes” of which He speaks?

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By LadyR, July 23, 2010 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you, Old Man Turtle! Absolutely agree. Ms. Stillman should blog on Huffpost in the Living section, with all the other self-appointed “enlightened ones.” She’ll feel right at home there.

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By kerryrose, July 23, 2010 at 11:52 am Link to this comment

Old Man Turtle

Your comment is as insightful and true as always.

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By NaturalScientist, July 23, 2010 at 10:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have a healthy respect for nature and Mother Earth, in all her carnality. I’m thankful for her many gifts, but she does make me a little nervous sometimes, just as a psychopathic killer makes me a little nervous sometimes. You never know when she will put a whup-ass tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, etc. on you.

I also like animals. When I was a boy our family had a black Labrador retriever. He was a great pet, full of loyalty and love. Like most male Labrador Retrievers he was” laid back” and very affectionate. Unlike his mother, the stupid bitch, he wasn’t into chasing cars. He was a macho dude, and he kicked some serious ass when a boxer from a small farm not far away encroached on his turf. He also got his ass kicked when he encroached on the boxer’s turf.

Anyway, our family pet was beloved in our neighborhood, and the neighbors used to feed him their table scraps. Once he followed me to a Boy Scout meeting, and he got hit by a car when I sent him home. After being hit by the car he hobbled away. The neighborhood grocer called my father and the whole neighborhood was up all night looking for him. Fortunately, he was discovered in our garage the next morning, and he recovered nicely from the loss of a kidney.

Alas, our friendship faltered when I discovered he had a penchant for viciously killing kittens. Also, his pink thing coming out was something of a put off.

Like I said, I like animals, even if they are dumb, cruel, and vicious brutes. Some animals have a blood lust that is unfathomable. If you put some animals in a coral of sheep, they’ll kill every last sheep before having their snack.

We all have our myths, affinities, and superstitions. I’m into the cosmos, not nature with its predatory violence. The cosmos is the bomb; it’s the king of the unfathomable. Dude! Check it out! The cosmos will boggle your mind into the realm of WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ad infinitum.

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By john, July 23, 2010 at 9:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

thank you for starting this column Truthdig.  I’ll be checking back in great anticipation of the next installment

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By gerard, July 23, 2010 at 9:46 am Link to this comment

TaoWalker and Old Man Turtle do it better!

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By Old Man Turtle, July 23, 2010 at 6:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Meaning no disrespect to Ms. Stillman, but couldn’t ‘truthdig’ have found an actual Native Person to reacquaint the rest of her sub-species (call it today homo ‘disconnectus’) with “the West”?  And how come American children’s stories about Turtle are beloved “classics,” while ours is merely a “myth.”?

If this introductory article is indicative, all we’re likely to get from its author is more maudlin sentiment intended to confirm Americans’ already much overblown self-image as truly sensitive and caring refugee ‘princes’ and ‘princesses’ bravely “slumming” here, “accessing” some of the more easily reached “natural places,” and wallowing in illusions of being singled-out “individual”-ly for special communications from those places’ surviving (despite americorpse’s best efforts) inhabitants.  This is all so ‘Sedona,’ with its commercialized exploitation of “Native American” culture by self-selected caucasians who presume to reveal and explain, to the equally ignorant, what they have no actual Personal knowledge-of themselves.

For example, us surviving free wild Turtle Island Natives don’t “live on (it),” the way most of our domesticated Human relatives think they live “on” Earth as, again, only temporary exiles or visitors or penitents “native” to some “heavenly” realm where they’re really “from.”  We live indistinguishably within the whole of our Mother’s Living Arrangement here, to which we belong and not the-other-way-‘round.

There are many excellent writers among our People today who could maybe actually accomplish to some extent what Ms. Stillman says she wants to do.  Did Robert Scheer or any of his editorial people even try to ‘recruit’ some of them to this effort?  If not, is it because of a deep-seated (and likely fully justified) fear among Americans that they might be presented with information from us Turtle Islanders, of all Kinds, that knocks-for-a-loop the too pretty and too comfortable and too totally self-serving myths about theirownselfs and their “country”?

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By Bill Reitter, July 23, 2010 at 4:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thanks for the good word from the Wild West. We are all Earthlings on a spaceboat planet. Our only lifeboat is sinking but we are not bailing together. Our bickering over idiology may be our undoing. Now is our last chance to work together for peace and justice, before it is too late.

Secular Humanist

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By ofersince72, July 23, 2010 at 4:25 am Link to this comment

ThankYou very much for this Truth Dig.

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