The Music of Bunch Grass

These are our old growth forests in the Syilx Illahie.
p1960872Our sequoias, redwoods, Douglas firs, sitka spruce and western red cedars are blue-bunched wheat grass here. Forget the blue blades at the core of the rain-gathering stalks for a moment. Look at her in the fullness of her season.P2100387No seeds left in the image above, and a few left below, each with its awn.
P2100379The awns are not to catch in your fur or your hands, but to be brushed against, and to fall.P2100377 Sure, blue-bunched wheatgrass spends her spring growing up into the sky, but in Autumn, she drops to the earth and enters it and lies there and slowly swells.P2100383

Going through this grass in October is to go through music. It’s not just the music of space, but of sound, too. Listen to her name: st’iyi7. So much stronger than hay grass, which is swupúla7xw (and also beautiful.)P2100385

Her music is a series of patterned interruptions of silence. By passing through them, we whisper — sw`-uncut — and drop her seeds, and baby pheasants —sw`-sw`¿as —pick them up. The words are based on sound, but the observation is precise: we make the sound. We plant the seed. We are the grass, but not just the grass.


Umtanum, Yakama Illahie

I was asked this September, why Indigenous languages matter. That’s easy. The land can’t be described without them, and with them the most difficult things are simple and self evident. Now, look at her blue heart after a year of snow and sun.


Big Bar Esker, Secwepemc Illahie

This too is st’iyi7. This curl is an embodiment of that music and that sound.


You too can be st’iyi7. First you have to forget who you are. Then you have to remember. But you can also do it the other way around.


Note: Illahie is a Chinook jargon word for “land”, but it’s a lot more than that. Tomorrow, I will tell you that story.

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