Don’t Give Up the Ship


by T Max

I’m headed out on this beautiful Labor Day to a noon appointment in Haverhill. It’s an hour drive from Gloucester. I get there but the person I’m meeting hasn’t arrived yet. I order a sandwich and wait for a while sitting on the steps that lead to the business meeting which turns out to be a no-show. I was warned that it was a holiday, and that I should make sure the appointment was still on. Too late for that now, so I head back to Ipswich where I can maybe set up a last-minute music rehearsal with Peter Goutzos (the percussionist whom I wrote about in the September issue of the Noise). I call him on my cell but his wife Priscilla answers. He’s not at home. Knowing he could be somewhere in the small town of Ipswich, I decide to search the streets. I get lucky and end up spotting him. He tells me he’s headed out to do some kind of nature ritual and invites me to join him. I’m up for it. He runs in his house to gather the necessities: a buffalo jaw, an abalone seashell holding flakes of sage, a sage smudge stick, tobacco in a pouch to offer the spirits, and a couple of small blankets. Peter, also known as Little Hawke, is a Native American who holds some rank in the Abenaki nation. We take a short drive then march though the woods and open fields with the burning sage stick clearing our spiritual path. We pass rows of large plastic-wrapped round bales of hay and a couple of small cornfields.  It’s a long walk.  Peter leads us to a very narrow wooden hanging crossbridge—and I wish I had my camera. But he says it’s not the right spot. We walk more, down to an opening to where the rusty still river is exposed, then spread out our small blankets and sit by the riverside. Peter tries lighting the sage in the shell with a lighter but needs some dry leaves to get a little fire going. We sit quietly listening to nature. Peter breaks the silence to tell me this is a place where his people lived. He explains that his horizontal line tattoos carry significance in what he has done with the Abenaki. I ask about the tattoo on his left forearm—it’s a turtle that he designed himself. Then he takes the tobacco out of the pouch and shows me how to offer it while turning to face each direction—north, south, east, and west—with my arm extended to the sky. He tells me that I can ask for something while I am copying his movements. I ask to be united with the one I love. We stay for a while longer then set out on our walk back through the rolling fields and woods. I notice we are headed in a different direction from where we entered, but Pdittle (my nickname for him) says confidently that he knows his way though these lands. I look back at the cornfields from which we are walking away, knowing we walked alongside them on the way in. We walk. I pick a lot of wild clover to feed my favorite guinea pig later on. We walk. We finally see a house—and it sounds like a chainsaw is being used. Peter strays away from the house. We are most likely trespassing. We walk more. We finally see a road—well, more like a gravel path. At this point Peter admits he really isn’t sure where we are and which way on the path is correct. We could use the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz now. We choose to walk to the right. Soon we see a car up ahead. From a distance, Peter is pretty sure it’s Topsfield Road. When the path and road meet, Peter flags down two bicyclists to get an idea of where we are. At the same time I spot a horse standing in the shade across the street. Peter gets no helpful information from the bicyclists, and I’m petting the speckled-peppered white horse. I remember the clover in my pocket and offer it to my big new friend. He chomps it out of my hand and lets me give him hugs and kisses. I love this animal. Peter is pretty sure about which direction we should head. I say goodbye to big white pepper as he exposes his large beautiful teeth while gnawing on the bark of a tree branch. Peter and I walk again, now at least along a road. Pdittle is just not sure if we are headed in the right direction, and finally asks if I have a cell phone on me. He calls Priscilla to rescue these two old men who have out walked themselves. Ten minutes later Priscilla drives up and Peter mumbles, as he tries to avoid sitting in the front seat next to Priscilla, “She’ll never let me live this one down.”

Later that same night, I dream about the spirits responding to the tobacco offering.

Comments are closed.