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John (Fire) Lame Deer, Richard Erdoes
Summary of "Talking to the Owls and Butterflies"
John (Fire) Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes once had a discussion *Comment 1 about how they believed white men have made it difficult for themselves and Indians to "experience nature in the good way by being part of it" by creating a materialistic and unnatural society and way of life, but not necessarily without final hope. *Comment 2 Richard Erdoes wrote about their conversation in "Talking to the Owls and Butterflies," a request for the modern people of the world to sit down like the stones and trees, and "think and feel like animals."
John (Fire) Lame Deer believes that men have not only changed animals' living habits and attitudes, but they have also changed themselves by living such an organized life of career and habits, so that they are now trapped in the materialistic world that they put themselves in. "Watch the ashes, don't smoke, you'll stain the curtains. Watch the goldfish bowl, don't breath on the parakeet, don't lean your head against the wallpaper; your hair might be greasy. Don't spill liquor on the table; it has a delicate finish." *Comment 3 John (Fire) Lame Deer tells us of a reservation joke. "What is cultural deprivation? Answer: Being an upper-middle-class white kid living in a split level suburban home with a color TV." Americans have learned to sanitize everything, so that all nature has been taken out of it. This includes humans, food, and life. White men got rid of the man and woman smells, using perfumes and deodorant. White men have made food artificial, the taste and color. "Raw liver, raw kidney--that's what we old fashioned full bloods like to get our teeth into." Changing the food in this way results in bad nutrition; the Indians didn't need the vitamins and pills. He believes that white men do not enjoy the life in the open, the way he feels it should be. He gives us a vision in the beginning of the critique of how he believes life is supposed to be experienced. Let's have the grass for a mattress, experiencing it's sharpness and softness." "Talking to the Owls and Butterflies" speaks of how all life is sacred. "Men are spreading death" living in this world of materialistic, artificial trade. John *Comment 4 (Fire) Lame Deer says that white men do not want to experience the world, they don't want to hear it, smell it, taste it, feel it. He says that men are scared of the world they have created. The Indians of long ago didn't have heart trouble or cancer. All the illnesses they had, the medicine men had a cure for, but the white men destroyed their sweat lodges along with the cures. The men of the planet should not take it for granted, literally taking and not giving; selecting animals to die depending on the income they bring. The Indians use to apologize, explain, and pray to the spirits of the animals they killed. He wants modern men to experience nature, the earth, the weather, living beings and spirits the way that he and his people do.
John (Fire) Lame Deer feels that white men will soon come around, that they are at the end of their vicious materialistic and industrial circle. *Comment 5 Everything as it is now will end and men will soon live with the earth as Lame Deer illustrates. "The day is coming when nature will stop the electricity....There is a Light Man coming, to bring new light." Men will learn about the weather and about nature when they leave their houses and offices. Life will slow down, no more heart problems, just like the old Indians. Lame Deer believes men are moving back towards the natural part of life, living life as the Indians did. He believes that the original spirit and wisdom lies within each man, just like they see it in the animals of the wild. "Sometimes I feel like the first being in one of our Indian legends. This was a giant made of earth, water, the moon and the winds. He had timber for hair, a whole forest for trees. He had a huge lake in his stomach and a waterfall in his crotch." Each man is part of nature, is able to feel and live with nature, only if they let themselves be.
Lame Deer, J., & Erdoes, R. (1998). "Talking to the Owls and Butterflies." In T. H. Crusius and C. E. Channell, The Aims of Argument: A Rhetoric and Reader, 2e; pp. 209-215. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.