I’m going to tell you about one of my favorite religious beliefs. This one comes from the Cheyenne and Arapaho and Sioux teachings, and I can call it “religious” because it in fact does come from their religion.
Their religion teaches that all things come from Mother-Earth, with the stars being no exception. The stars form unseen in the earth and then kind of drift around down there until they find the roots of the Cottonwood tree, where they enter and reside, until…..
It’s been several years since someone from around my home in Iowa stopped here at my farm to visit, and while we were standing in the shade of an old large Cottonwood tree in my yard yakking, he bent down, picked up a twig, and broke it.
“See there,” he said, as he pointed the broken joint at me. “That star you see in that broken joint is how…..” Then he went on to tell me all about how the Plains Indians believe that the stars come from the Cottonwood tree.
The stars, it is said, reside in the Cottonwood tree in those “joints” that the tree naturally forms until someone or something breaks it open and points it at the sky to release it.
When the “Spirit-of-the-Night-Sky” decides she needs more beautiful stars to light up the heavens, she calls on the Wind-Spirit to help her. The Spirit-of-the-Wind sends his blustery gusts in all directions. Soon the Wind shakes the magical Cottonwood trees so hard that the twigs begin to break off. Then, as each twig breaks away, the stars are released; and even more escape when the twigs break again as they hit the ground. Now new stars race up into the night-sky where each one is carefully put into a special place.
Now, when the Spirit-of-the-Night-Sky has enough new stars, she tells the Wind-Spirit to stop; and the wind settles down to a gentle night breeze. Of course, the Spirit-of-theNight-Sky wants to thank the Wind-Spirit for his help so she asks all the new stars to twinkle brightly for him. This way the Wind-Spirit can see where all the new stars he has helped escape have been placed.
The Cottonwood trees in my yard thus seem to me to be here due to some magical or religious reason, so that I in turn might be able to tell you all about them. It does seem kind of spooky that I grew up in Iowa not a couple of miles from the largest Cottonwood tree in Iowa, which resides in Brownville State Park, not five miles from where the home farm is located. I don’t remember the exact diameter, but is is in excess of five feet across.
Finally, if you want to keep young children busy, and you have access to Cottonwood trees, show them how to break the fallen branches at the joints, or “knuckles,” to look for stars, and two things happen.
One: They seem quite persistent at picking up and breaking and looking, and will keep at it for a longer span of attention than one would initially believe children could exhibit.
Two: You will get all the twigs in your yard picked up, if you provide some kind of garbage can in which they can throw the rejects.
It’s really intriguing in some way, this breaking and looking, and one tends to do it to find a five-pointed star even better than the last one.
I have to go. The Wind is creating more stars.