Dreaming in Hawk
Called by an Ancient Dreamer
In the mid-1980s, I moved to a farm outside Chatham, in upstate New York, to get away from the hurry of big cities and the commercial fast track I had been on. I bought the farm because of an old white oak behind the house that had survived the lightning. I felt an ancient kinship with this oak. When I sat under her canopy, with my back against her broad trunk, and let my awareness drift, I found myself watching scenes that might have been played out on this land in the centuries the oak had stood here. I felt I could slip down deep into the earth through her roots. I felt a deep earth energy rising up, strong and juicy, through the soles of my feet, up through the base of my spine and up through my lower energy centers. I let my awareness float up, and drank the sunlight, like the tree. I flowed into the deep dream of the heartwood.
I opened my eyes and looked skyward. A red-tailed hawk hovered directly overhead, turning in slow circles. Its underfeathers flashed silver-bright. Its wedge-shaped tail was a deep russet red. It cried out several times, a sharp, slurring call. Krrrrr, krrrr, krrrr. As I walked back to the farmhouse, I found that the hawk had left me a wing feather. I took it as confirmation of what I had felt, sitting with the oak. I was being called to this land.
After I moved to the farm, the red-tailed hawk often appeared when I was walking the land, circling low over my head, speaking with gathering insistence in a language I felt I could understand--if only I could speak hawk.
One night, the hawk lent me her wings. On a night when the lightning bugs were dancing over the fields, I drifted in the twilight zone between waking and sleep. I found myself lifting effortlessly out of my body. I flowed towards a window, and its texture stretched like toffee to let me pass. I reveled in the sense of flight as I lifted above the tree line, traveling north above the village in the direction of Lake George. The sense of flying was vividly physical and, as I enjoyed it, I realized that I was neither disembodied nor confined to my regular form. I had sprouted wings. They were those of a hawk, but scaled to my human proportions. I enjoyed the sensation of riding a thermal, and of swooping down to inspect the shoreline of the lake--then a small stab of discomfort as one of my wings scraped the needles of an old dried-up spruce.
I noticed that the scenes below me seemed to be those of another time. There was no development around the lake, no modern roads, few signs of any kind of settlement. I flew over primal forests. I felt a tug of intention drawing me even farther north. I chose to follow it, without any sense of compulsion. I was drawn down to a cabin in the woods, and felt I might be somewhere near Montreal, though in this reality the city of Montreal did not exist.
I was welcomed by an elderly woman of great beauty and power. She held a wide beaded belt. One end was draped over her shoulder. She stroked the belt as she spoke in a musical cadenced voice, wave after wave of sound lapping like lake water. I noticed that the beads were cylindrical and were mostly shining white, so bright they cast a glow between us. Human and animal figures had been outlined in darker beads.
I was thrilled by this encounter, but mystified. The ancient woman’s language was more foreign to me than the hawk’s. I could not identify her language, let alone decipher what she was saying. I knew so little about Native American cultures at that time that I could not even identify the belt as wampum, its white beads sliced and shaped and drilled from seashells (the columellas of the small whelks of the New England shore). I had no idea of the mystical importance of these “shells of life” for the Iroquois, or that in Iroquois tradition nothing of importance is uttered in public without wampum.
My flight to the ancient woman set me in search of information on the First Peoples of the area where I was living. I soon determined that I was living on what had formerly been Mahican land, and that many of the Mahicans had been adopted into the Mohawk nation on the other side of the Hudson River. The Mohawks--formidable warriors and diplomatists, as well as powerful dreamers--were an Iroquois people who had dominated the early American frontier.
In subsequent dreams and visions, I was drawn deeper into the world of the ancient woman. Though she spoke in a language I did not know, she spoke--like the hawk--as if I should understand her. I wrote down bits and pieces of her monologues, transcribing the words phonetically as best I could. Then I sought out people in the ordinary world who might be able to decipher them for me. Some Iroquois contacts suggested that I seemed to be dreaming in an archaic form of the Mohawk language--"the way we might have spoken three hundred years ago"--laced with some Huron words.
As I studied these words, I realized that my dreams had introduced me to dreamways that go deeper than mainstream Western psychology, and deeper than the surface world.
When I first spoke of my dream encounters to an elder at Onondaga, he said matter-of-factly, “I guess you made some visits.” He explained, “Some of our great ones stay close to the earth to watch over our people and to defend the earth itself. They might talk to you. You dream strong."