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It's Nelly's World

If Wishes Were Horses

alec vanderboom

Sometimes you'd wish something so hard it felt as if something inside you might break. As if wishing it would bring it into being, changing all of history behind you. And you, sitting on the fulcrum of this world, could change the years to come because you changed yourself.

That is the way it was with me, in the days I wished I was an Indian.

I looked into the mirror, at my shiny dark hair. Hey, that could mean I'm an Indian! I looked at my family, and decided that since they didn't "understand" me (who could?), it meant I was adopted. Oh, how I wanted to be adopted! That would explain everything, and also give me the hope of what I wanted to believe: that I bore in my veins the blood of the noble, true people. I wandered the woods collecting things of the woods; I spent hours alone there, imagining being captured, or capturing in return. I walked with my toes in, as I was informed the Indians did, in order to move silently through the woods.

All summer long--oh idyllic Ohio summer!--I went barefoot. (Do children still do this today, or is it another sensuality lost, the heat on the sole, the gravel ouch, the cooling grass?) And when I came home, my parents called me Melissa Blackfoot.

Did they know how much I wanted this to be true? Their joke was my dearest hope.

The Blackfoot people, of the area that is Montana and Alberta, Canada, were the "Indian" Indians--they were the ones with the tepees. They used dogs to pull travois, until they were introduced to horses in the early eighteenth century. These they called "elk dogs."

The Blackfeet had the honor of becoming the first natives killed by the encroachers who called themselves Americans, but were not. At first trusting of the Europeans, they soon realized, as did all their confreres, the trust was misplaced. When they learned the men of the Lewis & Clark expedition had traded guns to their enemy tribes, the Shoshone and Nez Perce, they attempted to steal the guns back. One warrior was killed.

They believed that each day, it was a perfectly new sun that climbed over the eastern horizon. How profound a philosophy, how purifying a therapy, this is has only dawned on me now.

I did not know any of it when I was a child who wanted to be an Indian, but was merely a little savage. Indeed, if I had, the flames of desire to be one of them would no doubt have burned hotter. Murder and injustice--now there was something I could really have wrapped my imagination around.