Tatanka Hunkesi : The Wisdom of Experience

Native American Lore



Today it was warm and I went for a walk. I walked past the place where my father used to live. I thought back to another warm day when I walked this way to visit my father. I was a much younger man, but he was a very wise and old man by then. It was not long after that day before he joined with the Great Spirit. But that morning, I believed he would live forever. He was sitting at his front door, using an old fashion stick drill to make holes in small seashells he collected when we went on a trip to the beach. I asked him what he was doing. He said he was making necklaces in the old style as gifts for his granddaughters and great-granddaughters from the shells he collected.

I looked at him with surprise. The drill he used was a homemade drill made from a stick, and cross bar of wood, some string and a nail. It was just as the ones his father and his grandfather used to make holes in shells so many years ago. It was the same exact type of tool our people had used to drill holes in shells and rocks for generations before the white men came to this land. (In the past they used flint or another sharp rock rather than a nail at the end.)

I watched as his old and bony hands spun the string tightly around the shaft, then push the cross bar over and over again. Each time he pushed the crossbar, the string unwound and the drill spun. Then he let the crossbar go, and used his old fingers to spin the stick, rewinding the crossbar up again and then pushing the crossbar down. His old hands did this with such ease that the nail spun on the shell back and forth, making a hole in the center. Still, it was slow and hard work, especially for his old, tired hands.

I pulled up a chair next to him and sat down. I looked at the many shells that were waiting have a hole drilled in them sitting in a basket by his side. Then I looked at the handful that were sitting in another basket with small holes neatly drilled in each. Knowing my fatherís habits, I knew he had been working on his drilling since the early morning. After a short time I asked him why he wasnít using a better, more modern drill to make the holes. I suggested he use my modern drill, or even use the old hand crank drill he had in his toolbox. They would both be faster than the old hand made one he was using. My father did not look up from his work. He kept moving the crossbar on his hand made drill as he worked. "This works as well as I need it to," he said.

"But," I argued with him, "there are many more ways that would be much quicker."

My father stopped his work and looked at me. "What benefit would quickness be?" he asked me.

I didnít understand. I answered him, "You would be done sooner."

My father looked deep in my eyes and said, "This is exactly why I use this old drill. Our people have been making this type of drill for hundreds of years. It always works in its own time. I could use a new type of drill and have all these shells drilled and strung by noon. But then what would I do?"

"I am making a gift for my granddaughters and their daughters. I am happy in making these gifts. Making the gifts is as much joy to me as giving the gifts. If I were to rush and make them with the tools you suggest, then I would be denying myself the joy that the effort gives me. If I rush, I will not have the time to become one with the things I make."

Though I wanted to, I did not understand him. I thought he was foolish, and maybe even a bit senile for taking all day, maybe longer, and putting in such an effort to drill the holes in the shells with an old stick drill. I believed my nieces and grandnieces wouldnít know the difference anyway.

Not long after that day, my fatherís spirit joined with the Great Spirit, but not before he had finished the necklaces and gave them to his grandchildren and their daughters.

When it came to be time to clean his home, I found, in his personal effects, a small package with my name on it. I opened it up and found a hand made sheathe of leather. The stitching was less than machine perfect, made by my fatherís brittle old hands. On it was beaded a bird of Thunder and a medicine symbol. Inside the sheathe was a blade of shinning, hand sharpened and polished metal. The handle was made from a deer horn. My name was carved on the base of the handle. Its rough cut and shaped beauty was amazing to behold.

When I held the knife, I could feel the spirit and energy of my father in every inch of the knife and sheathe. His being and his spirit were in this gift. Inside the sheathe, along with the knife, was a note. My father wrote, in his shaky hand, words that translate to: "My son. Now I am dead. An old piece of metal and a deer horn, like shells on the beach and a piece of string, tie this old manís heart to those he loves."

I could feel the wisdom of my father surround me. I could feel my own ignorance and shame well up in me. I knew then why my father used the old stick drill to work the shells. I also understood then, that the fastest way to do something is not always the best. Even if the end result looks the same, or better, it is the soul of the hands that make something that makes that item of value.

This day, when I walked past the place where my father lived, I am an old man. I stopped and looked at the place where my father sat with the old drill and the shells, and I reached to my side to the sheathe and knife my father made which I wear on my belt every day of my life, and I remembered him and his wisdom.



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