Original Instructions: A Nipmuc Storyteller Reflects on Nature

August 27, 2018
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Christine PetersonFollowing the Original Instructions, Nipmuc storyteller Larry Spotted Crow Mann reflects on his relationship to nature.

As a teenager, I struggled with alcohol addiction. I was able to find my healing by going back to what my Nipmuc ancestors called the Original Instructions. These are the teachings that instill our sacred place in the world: the renewal and remembering of our intimate relationship to all the life forces in the universe. They show us lessons of love, courage, kindness, respect, humility, truth, and wisdom. We learn the skills to interact with our environment as living beings, and we codify those lessons within our own existence.

The place I go to sync that connection is Douglas State Forest. Here, the narrow path leads me past ferns, tall grasses, and thorny bushes interspersed with an impressive stand of deciduous trees. Sunbeams rush through the viridescent canopy, gifting the understory with a shimmering contrast of light and shadow. This is a place of beauty, healing, and relationship.

Many years ago, I was out in the woods with an Elder. “Look around,” he said. “Notice how all the plants, insects, and animals know exactly what to do.” That lesson reminds me of the vital contributions even the tiniest of creatures can make to our environment and the interrelatedness of all creation. For me, as a “Two Legged,” I try to apply those teachings to my own life. Whether we are putting toxins in our own bodies or polluting an ecosystem, what we do affects more people and more things than we may realize. The healing path for all of us begins by understanding our connection to the natural world, knowing who we are, and where we want to go. (I’m not sure I can say the same for the cloud of mosquitoes that has decided to join me on this latest walk. Surely they have something more interesting to do.)

My journey takes me past a panoply of glacial stones of various sizes and anthropomorphic shapes. Many indigenous nations, including my own, refer to these giant rocks as Grandfather Stones. There’s one Grandfather Stone in front of me, about the size of a small car. It was split in two, perhaps eons ago, and is splashed with a tapestry of lichen. The chasm creates a perfect corridor for the trail running through it.

I stop in between and place one hand on each side, wanting my body to be a conduit for each half to reunite and say hello. I could never fully take in the memory within this monolith. But just like our human grandfathers, the stones hold us within their strength, their ancient memory, and their quiet wisdom.

We try to translate the emotion of such feelings through words: letters that go side to side or up and down. But our spirits do not receive the world line by line. It comes in all at once. Words can only do so much. We need to manifest these thoughts with the lives we were gifted with. This is why our teachings represent a sacred Circle. We form a Circle to be in spiritual and cosmic alignment, recognizing our physical relationship to the water, the plants, the stones, and the animals. The Circle represents the interdependence of all life and that the beginning and the end are one.

I am humbled by the forest, a place of great teaching and generosity whose gifts I could never repay. As I traverse down the trail, I give thanks for my family, my life, and that—after 28 years of sobriety—I still don’t have a reason to drink. I believe this is the purpose of a gift: to share it and pass it on.


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Larry Spotted Crow Mann

Larry Spotted Crow Mann is a citizen of the Nipmuc Tribe of Massachusetts. He is a writer, poet, cultural educator,
Traditional Storyteller, tribal drummer/dancer, and speaker on youth sobriety and cultural awareness. Learn more at Whispering Basket.