Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality. (The Wind’s Twelve Quarters and the Compass Rose, 2015, ix)
Most beautifully, they call death ‘Going Westward to the Sunrise’, and a series of songs are sung for the dead or dying, to send them on their way; when a child is born it is said that the girl/boy made so and so their parents, not that so and so had a girl/boy; feathers are considered to be words, and therefore accepted with reverence as gifts or messages from the birds; and when a person is in the presence of something holy, or that fills them with awe, they say (and often repeat) the sacred word: ‘Heya’.
Names are also of great significance to the Kesh, and most of them have a number of names throughout their lives. Names that are not just given by parents, but that come to them, or are found, due to life experiences, happenings, or visions. As a person grows and changes, so does their name. The character of the main story, Stone Telling, says:
In [the town of] Sinshan babies’ names often come from birds, since they are messengers. In the month before my mother bore me, an owl came every night to the oak trees called Gairga outside the windows of High Porch House, on the north side, and sang the owl’s song there; so my first name was North Owl. (7)
Further, Kesh culture, being animistic, is shamanistic, which I find fascinating. They practice vision quests, drumming, trance dancing, fasting, dreamwork, speaking with nonhumans, and use song and chanting for healing (alongside more conventional medicines)—all spiritual practices that are common in nature-based societies, and that we need to relearn in our own culture.
As a kitten does what all other kittens do, so a child wants to do what other children do, with a wanting that is as powerful as it is mindless. Since we human beings have to learn what we do, we have to start out that way, but human mindfulness begins where that wish to be the same leaves off. (29)
We have to learn what we can, but remain mindful that our knowledge not close the circle, closing out the void, so that we forget that what we do not know remains boundless, without limit or bottom, and that what we know may have to share the quality of being known with what denies it. What is seen with one eye has no depth. (29)
Nothing we do is better than the work of handmind. When mind uses itself without the hands it runs the circle and may go too fast; even speech using the voice only may go too fast. The hand that shapes the mind into clay or written word slows thought to the gait of things and lets it be subject to accident and time. (175)