Digging Stick

camas lily 1

Camas (quamash)

Camas (or quamash) field near Fairfield, Idaho

Camas (or quamash) field near Fairfield, Idaho

 

At Ne Logulko,

“the place standing of big pines,”

Kamama joins the women

for the quamash harvest.

Only a few weeks earlier

the entire prairie had burst

into an ocean of violet-blue.

Now, clutching her fire-hardened digging stick,

she lifts the soil beneath the withered

brown remains of a quamash

and brings up the fat tuber,

a special gift from the gods

to chase away hunger.

 

The grandmothers circle Kamama,

giving her strength and blessing her work.

 “Seek the guardian spirits,” they say,

as they line the roasting pit

with rocks, wet slough grass, and alder;

next, they add quamash roots

and layers of bark and earth.

“Never dig the quamash with man-smell on you,”

they chant, piling sticks on top of the oven

and lighting them with a burning ember.

 

Later, when the quamash is lifted

steaming and golden from the roasting pit

and fresh venison crackles over the fire,

the Coeur d’Alenes celebrate

with feasting and pony races.

The ancient ones tell stories of

Coyote and Crane and

Chief Child of the Yellow Root.

Her parents give gifts.

 

When the moon is high in the sky,

Kamama places the stick her grandfather carved

under the bearskin that warms her at night.

No warrior is allowed to touch it.

With dried quamash,

she will fill her children’s bellies,

barter for horses and beaver skins,

even pay her daughter’s dowry.

And when the Great Spirit sends for her,

the digging stick will mark her grave.

1 Camas.
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About Judy Grigg Hansen
I write poetry and nonfiction, and I am passionate about the people, places, and wildflowers of Idaho and the Northwest.

4 Responses to Digging Stick

  1. Full of rich imagery and longing. Beautiful.

  2. Thank you. I’m glad you like it. I visited the Camas Prairie in May and have been tinkering with it ever since.

  3. Jerry Knight says:

    Judy, this is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for writing. Love Jerry and Callista

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