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Winter’s lethal touch seems not to disquiet this gray squirrel, seen digging in my back yard, presumably for seeds hidden during warmer climes.

Other eyes, from centuries past, have drawn inspiration from the squirrel’s activities: the Osage Native Americans who roamed these hills. Their surroundings offered food, aplenty, but had to be hunted, cultivated, harvested, preserved, and hidden away from poachers, other Indians or settlers. Survival from fickle weather, for both Indians and animals, was the communal goal.

The Osage perceived all living creatures as gifts from Mother Earth with whom they were inextricably bound. Squirrels were notable for their preparedness, sociableness, industry, and foraging for seeds and nuts, their presence by aggressive and noisome chatter. Identifying with their spirit quickened their own in the midst of daily hardship. 

Even in dire straits, the Osage were reluctant to feed off the squirrel, but did so if critical for survival, with thanksgiving to Mother Earth.

In my perception, the Osage’s proximity to squirrels and all living creatures interfaced with their imaginative story-telling; its rich oral tradition afforded ultimate meaning to their lives. From these depths emerged their legends and sacred rituals; images of squirrels on totem poles.

They knew who protected and guided them.

Wrapping story around horrific events disseminates their skeletal outlines into bite-sized pieces for readers’ assimilation and learning.

Such an event occurred the night of January 30, 1945, during a freezing snowstorm upon the Baltic Sea. The Soviet submarine S-13 torpedoed the German transport ship, the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, nine hours into its passage. On board were 10,000 refugees fleeing from the Russian and Allied offensive. Only one thousand survived.

For three years the author Ruta Sepetys, the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee from World War II, researched this disaster until, in her imagination, Salt to the Sea (2016) was conceived. The story unfolds, piecemeal, through four characters: Joanna, a twenty-one-year old Lithuanian nurse; Florian, a seventeen-year old East Prussian preservationist and restorer of works of art; Emilia fifteen-years old, Polish and eight months pregnant; and Alfred, a seventeen-year old delusional German seaman assigned to the Wilhelm Gustloff.

Like a skilled minimalist painter, Sepetys reveals more by what she leaves out. Her precise words have dropped depth charges upon this reader’s psyche, its rumble evoking a slow burn and profound feelings for the characters.

Salt to the Sea, an historical novel, also leaves me with questions. In seventy-five years, will anyone be writing of today’s refugees caught within the cross-hairs of global politics? Since when has it been all right to minimize the losses of the poor, even their lives?

All of this cries out to God—And it does.

 

It all began on the chartered buses. Sizzling energy loosed introductions, stories, and prayer among the protesters, traveling from St. Louis, Missouri, to Washington, D.C. One of them was a ninety-four-old widow, supported by two canes, who had attended all the Marches for Life since their inception in 1974. The Supreme Court’s decision to legalize abortion in Roe vs. Wade still irks many.

The morning began with Mass at the downtown Holy Rosary Catholic Church, followed by the cafeteria-style-breakfast in a nearby government building. It would be a rigorous day. Brilliant sunshine spirited the protesters’ steps toward meetings with their Missouri Representatives and later with their senators.

Rallied in front of a large screen at the National Mall, the protesters then thrilled with warm remarks from President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Three others also spoke from the main stage.

Then an estimated half-million protesters began the long march down Constitution Avenue toward the Supreme Court building. Singing, praying, bands playing, banners and placards waving, they made their way—a moral force to be reckoned with.

Synchronistically, that very day, the House passed a bill ordering abortionists to provide medical care to babies should they survive. An observer was heard to say: “I guess this is some kind of progress, but look what our country’s come to. Like slavery in the South—Like if the master failed to kill his slave but then was legally compelled to tend his wounds—Amounts to the same thing.”

The impact of the day quieted the protesters as they returned to St. Louis. They would never forget.

 

 

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