Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hazy, OK

If you've ever lived in the Midwest, you know what a hazy day looks like. It's different from Los Angeles, where the sky fills with white billowy puffs, or, on some days, with pollution. A Midwestern sky is partially white, mixed in with blue, but a timid blue, not bold. It's clear, but not sharp. Hazy sky means hot.

We walked on "the land" over the weekend, 30 min. outside of Tulsa, land deeded to Tom's great grandmother in 1907, when Oklahoma became the 46th state. The Dawes Act of 1887 set in motion the parceling out of tribal lands to individual Indians in Oklahoma; Tom's great grandmother, on his mother's side (Shawnee Tribe), received 120 acres. Half of it was sold, as were so many plots, back to the government. Like most people in those days, families needed money more than they needed land. This family plot of 60 acres is now the exception, surrounded today by privately owned land. If you climb the ridge you can see a big Walmart distribution center, an eyesore in the middle of woods that once was entirely Indian territory. 

Across this ridge, a Walmart distribution center

On our walk, the sky was hazy, the woods were humid and sweltering hot, the ticks were hopping. I've never seen so many ticks, tiny ticks, with red markings. Our jeans were covered, as we walked to the pond where a goose once attacked Maya. Tom's mom almost died of Lyme disease, so we were vigilant.

This land is old. Graves lie out here, engraved with names that have lost their meaning. Maya wanted to see them, but they lay deep within the woods, a wood covered in ticks, not to mention being almost done in by the heat and humidity—another thing you know well if you've ever lived in the Midwest.

It was Tom's mom's 80th birthday celebration the night before, and her children threw her a big bash with family and friends at the Holiday Inn in Broken Arrow—a night of honoring a much beloved woman. Ona Mae Shawnee was born outside of Tulsa, and grew up with six siblings on land near Miami (pronounced Mi-am-ah), in the furthest corner of northeast OK; their front door opened onto deep lead mines and chat pilings, which the children jumped over and played in on their way to school. Ona Mae's father, William, was a popular tribal elder, who grew even more popular as he grew older, with young people seeking his advice, and listening to and learning his ceremonial songs. He had charisma and good stories, something his daughter Ona Mae still possesses into her eighth decade.

Ona Mae as a nursing student (slide show)

 Ona Mae with grandson Mekko...

...and granddaughter Maya

The party was a happy, boisterous affair, held on a balmy Oklahoma night, with Orion in the sky and beer on tap.


  1. Sounds like an amazing family get-together. Love the pictures of Ona Mae. And a walk on "the land," too. The ticks give me the shivers, though, now that Lyme disease is everywhere. Oh, and the link to the article about the collapsing, contaminated mining town is so sad.

    1. Although Miami isn't Picher, the mines have caused a lot of damage to people and the environment. Still it's full of life; this is the area where the Quapaw powwow takes place and we hope to go this year... thanks owtd for your comments always!