Dreams, my fatherís people believed, are windows not only to the soul but to the unseen world around us.
It is exceedingly rare that I remember my dreams. I can go months and months without believing Iíve dreamed at all, though those who study the mind and its function will say we dream during sleep all the time, we just donít remember them. I donít know that I believe that: Perhaps dreams arenít meant to be analyzed, scrutinized and categorized.
It was early Sunday morning I awoke from this one. I was on the shores of Coíktangi, the "pond lily worship place," or as called by the Spanish conquistadors, Grande Avoille Cove. In my arms, clutched close to my chest, was a wooden footstool, I think, maybe more like a small step stool. I donít know why I was there, but I plunged myself into the water, struggling to keep hold of the little wooden stool and tread water.
In the dream, I kicked my way from just east of the mouth of the main channel of Sawmill Bayou to below itís south fork, and I was exhausted, fearful I wouldnít make it. I let go the stool so I could struggle more deftly against sinking and at once, there was a slope beneath my feet, a sudden upward thrust of water bottom. I climbed it, and then I was standing, knee deep, on a hump of silty bottom in the cove. Thatís when I awakened.
What to make of it? Iíve had silly, seemingly meaningless dreams, of course. Dreams where absurd things happen, or terrifying things, and maybe they have some tap root deep into my psyche. More often than not I forget them by midday after the night of the dream. But this one stuck in my head all Sunday as I piddled in the workshop.
Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking, Black Elk said.
Where did it come from? When I was a little boy, I had a little red step stool. My grandmother gave it to me, and I was very, very proud of it. On the top of it in white letters was a little rhyme:
This little stool is mine
I use it all the time
To reach the things I couldnít
And lots of things I shouldnít!
I actually still have that little stool. I found it in my grandmotherís house, my house now, when I moved in. She kept things like that: Small treasures, little victories. But the stool in my dream was unpainted, felt like cypress to my hands. Yet I know I cannot be too literal in those sleeping moments.
Still, for some reason I clutched a step stool and plunged myself into Grande Avoille Cove, the ancient religious center of the entire Chitimacha nation. I struggled to hold onto it and swim, nearly losing the struggle. And when I let it go, the bottom of the pond-lily worship place swelled up and saved me.
What is myth? Is it a word we have contrived to disguise things we cannot verify? Or is it a description of things we cannot cubby-hole, cannot fit into a practical, well-ordered life?
Is it myth, then, that a family of Chitimacha were once punished for eating a white deer they killed along the lake shore Ė somewhere very near to my dreamís location Ė and then, as if in a trance, all walked into the lake together never to be heard from again? Later, a group of Indians were struck by misfortune in the lake and, about to drown, saved by what the oral tradition describes as a hut rising from the bottom to support them until help arrived. Now and then Indians would see lights over the lake, five of them, reputed to be the souls of that Indian family. Iíve seen those lights myself, many times.
Do my dreams harness myth, or history?
That little red stool was important to me. With it, I could stand at the kitchen counter and watch my grandmother dice onions for a stew; I could Ė under her watchful eye Ė fetch things for her that were previously out of reach, though I know the sense of accomplishment it gave me was her true objective. If nothing else, I could sit on the little stool, at my grandfatherís feet, while he told me stories.
And there was Coíktangi. In every way my home as much as the little house on the reservation. My father would take me there and weíd fish its nooks and crannies, its secrets. Now and then heíd let me get out of the boat where the shell mound used to be. The one that they dredged in the 1930s for the value of its shell, and the skeletons of nata, chiefs, and holy men and Honored People rolled out of the dredge buckets, to be picked out of the valuable shell material by hand and tossed into the muddy bottom of Grande Avoille Cove. Skulls, sailing like cannon balls. Femurs, ribs, whizzing through the hot, humid air like war cries. Iíd slip over the side of the little boat, and I remember Ė oh, do I remember, or is it myth? Ė my little feet swinging below the surface as I balanced myself there on the gunwale. Feet swinging in the water, searching for firmness, and Iíd lower myself a little more, a little more, certain if I let go Iíd plunge in over my head, but my father was there, he knew better, and finally Iíd touch the hard, shell bottom of the mound and it would support me. Iíd wade around on the mound, pick up pieces of broken pottery with my toes. Broken, like the worship place itself. Sacrificed.
Ah, maybe itís hard to understand. Hard to comprehend, if weíve spent the majority of our lives on concrete, wearing rubber soles and synthetic socks. Hard to know if itís true that Coíktangiís remains, the corpse of that magical place, touched my feet and sent power through my bones. Hard to know such things, if weíre insulated from our ancestors by dogma, pragmatism and cold concrete.
Youíre waiting for an answer, about my dream? I donít have one. I donít know what my dream was trying to tell me. The danger is in trying to interpret it. The meaning will be made known to me in time, Iím sure of it. I rarely remember my dreams, often believe my sleep is dark and empty. But when they come to the light of wakefulness, rattle around in my head like stones in a clay pot, there is a reason.
For now, I stand knee-deep on a mound of water bottom near Sawmill Bayou in Co'ktangi, where my people gathered for eight millennia. My wooden foot stool is floating nearby, bobbing in green-black water. Iíll stand here and wait to see what comes. What it means. What power taken in through the soles of a boyís feet still exists in my bones.