dinsdag 15 maart 2011

Porcupines are great wanderers

The Koyukons are a non-Eskimo people from the Alaskan Arctic who live from hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering. Richard K.Nelson's 'Make Prayers to the Raven: A Koyukon View of the Northern Forest' is filled, chapter after chapter, with stuff about animals, species after species. Most of it is practical (say: is it eaten yes or no?), but Nelson has a brilliant way of giving asides that slowly accumulate into a throught-the-keyhole vision on what the landscape means to Koyukon. The following aside about the porcupine is a good example of this. Image source
Porcupines are great wanderers despite their labored gait, as anyone knows who has followed their tracks winding almost endlessly through the forest. They are given a special power to know the landscape, I was told that this is the Koyukon reason why people should never set traps for them (no further explanation was given). Beyond this, their familiarity with the geography of the terrain is really just a metaphor representing much greater.
Porcupines know all the country. Even though they're low to the ground they really know the land. They're powerful animals. My old man said, "The whole of Alaska is something like the palm of a porcupine's hand."
For the Koyukon, no animal is just that and nothing more. Even the least imposing of creatures, those that seem insignificant from the lofty perspective of humanity, have dimensions of being that extend for beyond the realm and power of the senses. It is not a world where humans may become too proud, for nothing that lives is truly humble, regardless of how it may appear.

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