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Trails’ End

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Compassion for the Cherokee on The Trail of Tears briefly turned me into a composer.

In my last blog on The Long Walk of the Navajo, I referred to a similar forced march by the Cherokee called The Trail of Tears. As I wrote in my post, “Shamanism Revisited,” the encounter with that history upon moving to Nashville in 1997 pitched me into an extraordinary psychic experience. It was as though I personally knew something about this, which was not technically possible.

My year in Nashville was extremely uneasy from start to finish. In spite of the beautiful surrounding woodlands, the virtues of the city itself, and two wonderful new friends, I could not wait to leave. However, when my former husband and I moved to Mclean, Virginia, I had unfinished business with the Cherokee. I was haunted by their story and needed to do something about it.

THE CHEROKEE STORY

In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed The Indian Removal Act, which authorized the Government to offer the Cherokee unsettled land west of the Mississippi in exchange for their own. Of course, this was not a welcome possibility, and some 17,000 were forced to move west. About 4,000 died on the trail to Oklahoma from hunger, disease, and exposure.

Having been so affected by their story,  I had the time and the opportunity to do something with it in my new life in Virginia. My husband was commuting to his work now, and except on weekends when my stepchildren might also visit, I had the steady companionship of only my dog, Cassie. So why not write a song about the Cherokee?

Like many of my era, I had studied music growing up, and my husband, who was very generous, had given me a beautiful baby grand piano for my birthday the previous year. I found a great music teacher and went back to practicing many hours every day. Eventually, lyrics and a tune began to emerge, and I acquired an electronic keyboard and the necessary software to begin composing.

It was a very creative time, which helped me deal with a degree of isolation. Perhaps I began to look a little strange, muttering lyrics and humming as I walked with Cassie morning and evening. I didn’t get all of it computerized, but I wrote songs about Cassie, Beethoven, my Lizard shamanic power animal, and my stepson. I also wrote one for my husband (“If I lived only to be with you, I’d be gone.”) Another was about Monica Lewinsky, who was big news at the time (“Monica, far more important than you seemed”). However, the big one was “The Trail of Tears.”

In writing this post about it, I’m getting another level of closure with the Cherokee story. I am grateful to the readers who are sharing this experience. Below are the lyrics of the song.

THE TRAIL OF TEARS

They say we are a family,
Black and white and Cherokee
All siblings in the family of man.
But our faces speak so explicitly
Of fears and jeers and injuries
That love must wait until anger holds our hands.

There are wrongs it seems on every side,
And someone must apologize
For hearts to mend and peace to have its day.
“But how can this pertain to me?”
I ask the heirs of infamy.
“I’m not to blame for sins of other days.”

“Oh, I’m not to blame for sins of other days.
Polite to all, the past I deprecate.
I’ve lived my life a fair and friendly way.
I’m not to blame for sins of yesterday.”

But then I moved to Tennessee,
Where history became my memory
Of times and ways my modern mind deplores.
There were blacks and me and Cherokee,
And folk were owned while I ran free,
And the Trail of Tears ran past my bolted door.
I’m more enlightened than we were before,
But the Trail of Tears once passed my bolted door.

Now I know we are a family,
Black and white and Cherokee
All siblings in the family of man.
We are part of all that ever was,
The hope of what is yet to be,
The keepers of the memories of this land.

The keepers of the memories,
The authors of the yet to be,
The prophets of the future of this land.

This song was written almost 20 years ago, but the issue of “The Other,” which is any group of people who are not “us,” is still front page. Let’s hope this will not be eternal.

FURTHER CLOSURE

And here is the rest of my own story relative to the Nashville experience. I ultimately had to spend two more years in Nashville beginning in 2002. Home was in a different part of town, very peaceful, no sense whatever that I might be trespassing on sacred land as before. However, the morning came after a walk with Cassie in the bleak, winter setting of Percy Warner Park, when I erupted in long-denied fury over a complicated life dedicated to the “Thou shalt” commands of convention. I looked up and mentally shook my fist at the sky.

“Damn it! I am tired of feeling sidelined, dead-ended, back-burnered, and burned out! I want some f . . . . . . HELP! This is not where I belong! Get me OUT of here!” Five days later, my husband was contacted by a search firm about an extraordinary challenge that would ultimately bring him fame and fortune. It led to Alabama and to the gate through which Cassie and I would depart one year later for a new life in Santa Fe.

As the Runes say, “even more than we are doers, we are deciders. Once the decision is clear, the doing becomes effortless, for then the universe supports and empowers our action.” I hope this thought will relate in some constructive way to an issue my readers may be facing. And it is comforting at this remove to know that, in my case, the universe acted in behalf of the highest good of all concerned.

4 Responses to “Trails’ End”

  1. Anne

    Really enjoyed reading this Ellen. Deciding over doing is very pertinent for me. Thanks for sharing about a difficult time in your life. Ever think about getting another dog?

  2. Maggie

    Just as your previous article about our Native American brethren was so touching, this one is even more so because of your beautiful song. Gosh is there no end to your talents, my dear Friend……I think not. As I have mentioned before, I truly appreciate your sharing your personal experiences especiallly with Cassie…..It appears to me that you have a big Smile on your face as you announce that last sentence ….. BTW. I have printed this article to reread as I do like to ponder much of what you write…..

  3. Barbara

    This is an incredibly moving piece for all of us who believe we are all one giant community. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Janey

    ❤️ Loved this post – very inspirational 🙏
    THANK YOU!