I Was Raised By Mountains
I was raised by the mountains - the Canadian Rocky Mountains to the North, the Olympic Mountains to the West outlining the Peninsula, and the Cascades to the East; born at the base of a live volcano called Mount Rainier in a hospital named after a character in a Biblical parable - the Good Samaritan.
My early childhood was lived along the volcano escape route, playing in the sparse trees behind my home off the highway, chasing our shetland pony named Tony - Tony the pony, we affectionately called him, and playing ‘pioneers’ a variation of the childhood imaginative game of ‘cowboys and Indians’.
Little did I know then that the Indian blood pulsed in my veins and the stories of my ancestors were woven into my heart.
When I was 12 years old I went to Spokane to stay the night with my grandmother before boarding a train with my twin sister to North Dakota for a week at a horse camp. That night my grandmother told us of our ancestors, our tribe the Sioux people of Lakota Nation. She described the flat plains of North Dakota and the way our family would place stones in a particular way to mark out the camp. She told us of our tribe - known as the warriors of the plains, and how we were horse people.
I listened eagerly to her words, imagining what tribal life would’ve been like, and anticipating the horse rides I was to go on in the coming week.
During that week at Box T Ranch, I did go for many horse rides, and I saw stones placed in the way she had described. I remembered her words, and though surrounded by a large group of adolescent girls, I imagined being surrounded by my tribe, the warriors of the plains. I imagined tipis and circles of story telling ‘round a fire.
It wouldn’t be til over 10 years later that I began to receive further wisdom and understanding of our tribe.
I was living in Australia when my grandmother passed away.
Though I’d tried to reconnect with her when I was twenty, I’d only shared one phone call with her since that night when I was twelve. In the months leading up to her death, I had a strong sense of needing to reconnect to her and made many attempts to do so. I got hold of my brother and my uncle, both who lived in the same city as my grandmother, and asked for a phone number to reach her. After a few attempts of ringing numbers that had been disconnected, and being told by my uncle that my grandmother was experiencing the early stages of dementia and was likely to not remember me, I decided to reach her alternatively.
For months, I sat in my morning practice of Tea Ceremony and invited her spirit to join me, and for nearly 9 months I felt her presence with me. My intuition had been strong from an early age, and at the age of twenty-five, seated in ceremony, it told me she was there too. I received implicate knowledge of our tribe, a deeper connection to the energetics of our stories and songs, even without being told the words.
When my grandmother passed away, I wasn’t told about it.
It wasn’t until my dad’s father passed away a few weeks later and he rang to tell me, that I was then told his mum had passed away a few weeks prior. My dad wasn’t aware of my re-connection to my grandparents when I was twenty, after many years growing up without a relationship with them, and didn’t realise I’d been fostering a spiritual connection with my grandma for most of that year leading up to her death.
I howled and wept learning of her death.
The wave of grief that had surged through me in hearing of my grandfather’s death now doubled in hearing of my grandmother’s passing as well.
I told my dad of how I’d been reconnecting to her, and had developed a closeness with her beyond logic and rational. And though my dad couldn’t quite understand how I’d built this connection across the seas, he understood that I was experiencing a great amount of grief.
In the days that followed, I created paintings for my grandmother and grandfather - watercolours depicting the Greek isles in honour of my grandfather’s homeland, and dusty pinks and oranges of the Dakota plains for my grandmother. I gather wildflowers and lit candles, said prayers and sang songs.
On a warm night a couple of months later, I was at a festival in the forest with friends, and there was a large ceremony offered in remembrance of anyone we’d lost. The few thousands of people attending the festival gathered around to watch the burning of a wooden temple, where prayers and words had been inscribed on its walls to honour those gone.
I stood with two new friends arms wrapped around each other, watching the fire burn. We each took time to say prayers and honour our loved ones. One honoured his mother who’d died years before, the other gave words to both his parents that had passed away, I offered words for my grandparents recently departed. We then gathered with a few more friends, and the one who’d honoured his mother, brought out his medicine drum and began playing.
We stood in a small, close circle, and I began to sing. The sound that resonated out of me was unfamiliar and powerful. Words in a language my mind didn’t understand but my heart seemed to know intimately poured from my lips. I felt my grandmother close by again, and knew in my heart that these were the songs of my ancestors. Tears gently trickled down my cheeks as the beating of the drum matched my heart, and the songs of my people filled the night’s air.
It’s no wonder that now, nearing five years on, I’ve been drawn to live in the mountains.
The Blue Mountains of Australia are not like the volcano I grew up beneath, though they hold a similar majesty. The many Eucalyptus relatives that spread across these peaks and valleys shimmer soft blue in the setting sunlight, reminding us of why these mountains are called blue.
The shriek of the red-tailed Black Cockatoo reminds me of the high-pitched sound of the Orcas that swam amongst the islands of my birthplace.
I find home in the cold creeks and gentle flowing waterfalls that pour through the cracks of these peaks. The vibrant ferns and soft moss remind me of my place amongst the mountains. And although the great many pines of my homeland are far fewer here in the southern hemisphere, there’s a place where Rhododendrons grow thick, reminding me of my childhood amongst their bright flowers.
I’ve always been drawn to plants, to listening and learning from them, to finding their uses for medicine and dyes.
I was raised by mountains, and they continue to be my Elders, my teachers, my place of belonging.
It’s here I’m learning to listen again. The deep listening known in Aboriginal language as ‘Dadirri’, welcomes me to still awareness, the recognition that inner spirit calls us to connection and reflection with all of Creation.
And as I’m learning, I’m also giving the gifts I’ve learned and continue to expand into.
While I’ve yet to be initiated into the rites and rituals of my Indigenous ancestors, I’m sharing the medicines that have come to me - the simplicity of drinking tea ceremonially (in the tradition of Cha Dao - The Way of Tea), and the healing power of touch that listens to the body and the heart offered by way of holistic bodywork.
I continue to sing the songs of Spirit and allow my ancestors to animate through me (something I’ve learned to be inevitable).
I was raised by mountains, and so to them I’ll always return.