Earth's Mind

S.K. Grant

Roger Dunsmore is the author of Earth’s Mind, a collection of essays published last year by the University of New Mexico Press, and he is an old friend of mine. I met him thirty years ago in Europe when he had just finished reading Black Elk Speaks, the remarkable collaboration between Nicholas Black Elk and John G. Neihardt, a book that in the 196s opened a door that most non-Native people did not know was there to be opened, and in the pages of which Dunsmore heard for the first time words “of the deep human past of North America, carrying the wisdom and pain” of 4, years of tradition into his own time. Dunsmore was surprised then to learn that Black Elk was a contemporary of his and not a man “belonging to a past that was gone and inaccessible,” which is how the New World has always defined Native people and their traditions. When he got back to North America, Dunsmore set out on a life study of Native culture in North America, a process that became a search for the mind of the earth, the soul that claims us rather than allowing us to claim it. He began to learn what it is to be of a place rather than from a place. The essays in this collection are a profound reflection of that learning, and they range widely from the sweat lodge to the classroom, from Laurens Van der Post in the Kalahari Desert to Simon Ortiz contemplating road kill on a Colorado highway. And to the poetry of Wallace Stevens, who wrote: “there are men of a valley who are that valley; the soul is composed of the external world.” This is an exciting and necessary book, a book that shows the way. Another reflection of Earth’s Mind can be found in the pages of The Arctic Sky: Inuit Astronomy, Star Lore and Legend, by John MacDonald, just published by the Nunavut Research Institute with the Royal Ontario Museum. This is a gathering of the celestial knowledge of the Inuit, especially around Igloolik, where the author, who manages the Igloolik Research Centre, has been involved in oral history projects with Inuit elders for the last ten years. This is the first book to treat this important subject, which has been ignored or dismissed by commentators of the last hundred years, most of whom seem to have assumed that the Inuit navigated by extracelestial means, while waiting for European astronomy to come along and show them the way.

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