(Continued from Part 1, below)
After living in Chicago for 24 years, I had a chance to visit Wales and Isle of Man. I brought a piece of pipestone with me. It looked, I thought, like a standing person, so I had carved the rough outline of a man. Though Catlinite is considered a soft stone, every bit of filing I did was hard going. I could see a profile of a face when I was done, not unlike the Oracle. I felt my three-inch man had a place among my Celtic ancestors so I brought him along in a little deerskin bag.
In Isle of Man, the magical island nation between Ireland and England, my sister and I searched for our ancestors’ graves at the Lonan Church. No luck. Spying a man emerging from the church, we told him of our quest. “Oh,” he said, “you want the old Lonan Church.” When he learned that we had come by train, he offered to drive us to the ancient, hidden place. Joan and I, along with our husbands, crowded into his mini-van. In a light rain, we came upon the old Lonan Church, also known as St. Adamnan Church, with an enormous Celtic cross in its cemetery. A depression in the grass once yielded water, a holy well. Cryptic stone carvings, including one like a Cheyenne medicine wheel, were preserved in a sheltered corner of the churchyard. My sister recited a poem among them.
Our guide, Alan Pascoe, turned out to be the warden, sexton, and caretaker of the old church. He showed us the Celtic artifacts outside, the Norse stonework along the walls, and then—oh, hushed beauty—inside the sanctuary and up to its wooden altar. Alan and his wife had fashioned some crosses of driftwood for it. There was also a vase holding a pink rose, a blossoming heart, I felt. That is when I lifted the medicine bag around my neck and told this kind man I had a present for him.
How redundant to bring a stone to Isle of Man! The place is bursting with rocks. I felt sheepish about that, but offered him the gift of Indian pipestone to thank him for all he’d done. It was Father’s Day and he was late to meet his daughter for lunch, yet he lingered over the red stone. He asked me to repeat what I had said about the Indian history of the pipestone quarry and how the pipes were used for prayer and to promote dialogue and good relations. He acknowledged, generously, that my carving looked like a man and accepted it humbly. I was happy I had something to give him.
Joan and I did find burial sites with family names on them. Like fools in a fairy tale, we set out in the rain with no map and somehow our intentions led us to a sage who could guide us. And to a rose. Perhaps the pipestone man is in an island garden now, enjoying the rain.
I always knew I could speak to plants and animals. And stones. But it took me decades to learn to listen. What surprised me is how much of my deep learning happened because I moved to Chicago. There are like-minded people here among the concrete canyons. We learn together. Grandfather Stone was right: change can be good.
So this is my blog for now! I plan to post something here every week. Maybe I will find a way to make the letters darker and easier to read. Still learning…