Most people probably don’t talk to animals! Or do they? I guess one turning point from reality is when the animals start talking to the people. Wasn’t that something taken away by Spirit a long time ago because of mans lack of respect for the animals? Most Spirit teachings say that. Maybe it is something to be gifted back at some point. I don’t know!

I don’t know much, and the longer I walk on this Earth it seems, the less I really know. There is a kind of progression in living that leads one to assume that each discovery in life is a contribution to a wider knowledge of all that is. As these discoveries continue one realizes that the knowledge gained only creates more questions. Wisdom, it seems, is the realization that we really don’t know a lot about anything. In the language of the Algonquin people dibwewin, [di bway win - means truth] is what we seek. A person must find a comprehensive understanding of all that is about any individual part. Knowing all that is means understanding everything from the beginning to the end of any particular subject at hand. A tree begins from its first existence through all of its generations to its current being and onward. Taking in the all of the tree encompasses its growth, its being and its parts.

Everything! Even the best efforts of scientists have not achieved that completeness of truth about any tree or anything else, for that matter. Every discovery leaves more to be discovered. For me, it is the beauty of knowing that there is always more to know that is the wisdom and the reward.

One day a few years back I was working in the park. It was a beautiful mid week day in August. Not many people had come to hike that day. Mid week is a good time to visit Mona [Monadnock Mountain] because most people are working and so the mountain is quiet. It is Mona’s favorite time during the summer because she is not burdened with so many people walking up and down her paths.

That day I was working in the store since there were only a few rangers on duty. Not my favorite job, yet one that has its benefits if one wants to relax. Boredom was overcoming me since no customers had been in for a few hours and I went out in front of the store to sit at a picnic table and take in the warmth of the Sun. Everything on that day seemed good and I was doing my best not to focus on the issues going on in my head. It is hard sometimes not to get wound up in our own little problems and lose focus of the reality around us. For me anyway!

As I sat there looking into the forest around me a bird flew over my head and up into a birch tree a few feet from the table where I sat. It almost touched my head as he flew over and was bigger than a crow. As he glided up to the tree I could see white chevrons on his black wings. Whoa, a Palliated Woodpecker! You don’t see many Palliated Woodpeckers. They don’t come around people very often and are usually fairly reclusive. I can hear them in the woods when I hike. Their tapping on the trees is distinctive. Even when I hear them I can seldom find where they are.

There he was, not thirty feet away. He held to the side of the tree with his talon claws firmly attached and looked at me. I watched, waiting for him to turn to his work and tap the tree for the food he had come for. He didn’t begin his work though. He just held there looking over at me.

I thought about woodpecker. He is one of my helper or totem animals. I remembered the time I was traveling with my Native brother, Nish Nung. Nish Nung and I traveled and lived together for several years as I was learning the ways and teachings of my Native American brothers and sisters.

One time we were traveling through Colorado and stopped to visit my two daughters who live there. During the visit my oldest daughter, Kathy, asked if Nish Nung and I would take her, her two kids and sister, Meagan camping in the mountains. It was late in the season but the weather had been favorable that year and still good for camping. Nish Nung and I took them to Golden Gate State Park in the foot hills above Golden Colorado for a one night camping trip. At the time Nish Nung and I had been on the road for a little over a month visiting people on reservations across the country.

We took two cars and all our gear and went up to make camp at Golden Gate State Park. No one was there and the park was empty. Not even a ranger around but the campsite gates were open so we went in to set up camp. For some reason Nish Nung was in a grumpy mood when we got there. I don’t know if he just didn’t want to camp or if something else was on his mind but I was giving him some space.

After I put up my tent I looked over and noticed Nish Nung sitting in a chair with his tent bag sitting beside him. I asked him if he was going to put up his tent. His answer was, “I want you to put it up over there”. I looked at him kind of funny and said that he could put it up himself. Irritably he responded, “You are my skabewis, [ska bay wis - means helper] and I am asking you to put it up.

We do a lot of healing ceremony as we travel and in that I am his skabewis. I looked at him and said that I am his skabewis in the work that we do but I am not his slave and if he wanted his tent put up he would have to do that himself. That brought out the uglies in Nish Nung. He told me that as his skabewis I should help him in anything he wants me to do. He said that I should be more respectful of his Spirit energies and watch out about what I say.

Before I could respond to his tirade something happened. In that instant a woodpecker flew off of a pine tree and started flying around Nish Nung’s head pulling at his hair as he flew. Nish Nung started wailing his hands over his head trying to hit at the woodpecker and yelling language I won’t bother to repeat.

The sight of this was absolutely hysterical and it was all I could do to keep from laughing.

Then the woodpecker flew back to the pine tree and landed on the side of the tree about eight feet above the ground. Nish Nung ran after the woodpecker and reached as high as he could while trying to grab that woodpecker but could only reach within inches. He tried for about thirty seconds to reach that woodpecker before he realized what he was doing. As he backed away from the tree he looked at me. I looked back and said; I have Spirit power too.

Piercing eyes looked back at me as he said, “you should be careful who you pick to be your helpers.” Nish Nung then turned and picked up his tent. He found a great spot for it right behind my tent.

That was my introduction to woodpecker as my helper. As I thought about that I looked up at Palliated and he was still there looking at me.

I suddenly sensed that I was in a conversation with Palliated. I felt like he had listened to the story about the woodpecker and Nish Nung I had thought about a moment before

Then Palliated started to speak, “I have sent many of my tribe to be around you of late!”

I know, I answered. I have seen them. Every time they come around I know that I am going to have some communication with one Elder or another.

“Yes, you have seen them but you are not paying attention. Do you really think that all we do for you is to protect you from Elders who criticize? Look at who we are! Watch what we do and learn. Seek the truth!”

“You need to stay focused on what you are supposed to be doing! You accepted this work! Lately you are talking the talk but you are not walking the walk. Any distraction seems to be too much for you to resist. You are doing things because others expect that you will. It is not the way and that is why you are bothered right now.”

“I have told you these things before but you were not listening then either.”

Told me these things before? What do you mean? We have not talked before. I sat there looking at him and then, then I remembered. All of my relatives! He really is here and talking to me. I remembered!

It was a long time ago, back in the nineties. My kids were young then and we were camping in Alleghany State Park. All my focus was on visits from an Indian who was guiding us on that journey. When remembering that trip I only thought about the impact that man had in changing my life. I didn’t know anything about totems or much about Native life or about nature around me at the time. I just kind of took those things, what little I knew, for granted.

One day after the Indian left our camp we were relaxing. The kids were playing with other kids in the camp next to ours. I was sitting by the fire just chilling and thinking about the beautiful mountains we were in. From the corner of my eye I saw something big drop out of the pine tree by the road next to our camp. It was Palliated! He dropped from the tree to the base and began to tap at the root.

The kids also saw him and went over to look closer at this magnificent bird. He kept tapping as they drew closer. Soon several kids and their parents came over. Everyone kept crowding closer and closer but Palliated paid no attention to them. He just kept tapping away at the root of that tree. There must have been twenty or more people standing there not more than two feet from that bird and all the way around him. Palliated just kept tapping. When he was done he flew right up out of that circle as if the people were not even there.

I hadn’t remembered that at all before this moment talking with Palliated.

I didn’t know you were trying to say something to me then, I said. I see what you were telling me now. Be focused on my path and be determined. It does not matter what others are doing around me. I have my work.

Palliated looked at me and said, “Walk the walk!” he then dropped and flew over my head and back into the forest.

Author's Bio: 

Since 2005 Jim resides at Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey, New Hampshire on Mt. Monadnock. When not traveling to do programs and ceremonies throughout the United States and Canada he works in the park as a ranger, emergency responder, interpreter and park camping host. During the summer he travels to many parks in New Hampshire and Vermont to provide storytelling to guests. In 2011 Jim is overseeing the building of a Native American educational area in the park that will include structures and craft areas for visitors to the park.