Leaving home, leaving sorrows, but mostly leaving love and lots of beauty, I ventured into the unknown as a young woman in the 70’s. I had robust limbs, vigor, a soft soul for the world, redheaded spunk, and youthful foolishness. I carried a copy of Leaves of Grass, some Emily Dickinson poems, and Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.
I lived in Los Angeles, traveled to India, Japan, and Hawaii, and lived in Rochester, New York. I was Catholic, Buddhist, evangelical, and a fairy lover until my mid-30’s. So what? Well, this was a considerable feat for a young girl growing up in rural poverty, albeit in a land fecund and majestic. And I’m still a fairy lover.
Sometime around 40, I returned for the first time. I had gone home many times since I left in my 20’s but this was the first time returning with love brimming in my heart for the love and sorrows I had left behind. To confront all and to let the mothering of the land and my family, especially my mother, whom I always carried in a deep pocket of my heart, into my life as I had never done before.
I laid down in a rocky, refreshing stream and let the waters move over me and through me. It was Catharine’s Creek, off the Catharine Valley Trail in Montour Falls, New York. Little did I know that I had also come home to her, this Iroquois/French Queen Catharine who, like me, could never be separated from the land and the spirit of place. A continual baptism each time I went home.
Birthing a marriage, a daughter, books, including a Catharine novel just released in April 2023, I traveled more than a poor girl from a poor county in New York could have imagined doing – India, Ireland, Italy, all around the U.S., but mostly, I traveled in spirit, in soul, in healing, and returned again and again to my rural roots, my mother, my family, and most recently, Catharine, when I did a book launch on the very site that had been her village in Montour Falls.
Quite a feat for a poor girl with sorrows in her back pack, love in her pockets, and dreams bigger than she had room for. Poor? Really? l had never been poor because love was all I needed and I had had it. The empty bowls of my life were sacred vessels filled with the love of a mother, of her sisters, brother, and others. And Spirit! Love makes the essence of sorrows so sweet, only sips can be taken. Even if the losses cannot be requited, the scars are covered with love.
We can all return home, but it is how we return. Now as I prepare for another trip home to New York at 69 years of age, my mother, two sisters, her brother, and an uncle are no longer there, at least in the flesh. All in fourteen months, they have left this earth, this home I return to.
I’m Alice in Wonderland these days. I don’t like to admit it, but loss, as well as gain (such as a book birthed after I had been in long, long labor with), can do it to you.
Stop this moment, I tell you! But she went on all the same, shedding gallons of tears, until there was a large pool all round her about four inches deep and reaching half down the hall….I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night?...But if I’m not the same, the next question is Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle!
There’s much more to say, but I’ve said enough and wept gallons of tears. Please take the time to listen to this video of a brother and sister, my Uncle Ken Cope and my mother, Doris Cope Havens Filippetti Force Huston, speaking love to one another before they died. My mother, age 94, died in May and her brother, Ken, died in September 2021. He was in a nursing home and Mom was in hospice in her apartment. Note how they say that all that really matters is the love of family. At the end of the video, there are excerpts of Mom playing piano and singing in her 80s. The video was made possible by the lover of a hospice spiritual care counselor Mary Hays.
I’m celebrating the publication of my novel, Catharine, Queen of the Tumbling Waters, with a book tour. I began with a book launch in Havana Glen, Montour Falls, the very site of the village where my protagonist, Catharine Montour, lived with her people before and during the American Revolution. She was real, another hidden woman of history, an unsung heroine, except to those of us who grew up in the land of her spirit. There is an inscription in Iroquois and English on a memorial rock to Queen Catharine Montour, “Every one of you, always remember this.” Remember what? Some history, conflated and contradictory…a mystery. But we have all loved her and felt her presence in this gorgeous land.
This is the land of the Iroquois, known as the Haudenosaunee, and the Six Nations, a confederacy of Native Americans and First Nations people. They lived in Ontario, upstate New York, and Pennsylvania. Today, they live primarily in New York and Canada, but many live around the United States.
Why would I, a white woman who knew very little about the Iroquois and Catharine Montour, an Iroquois and French woman who lived through the French and Indian War and the American Revolution dare to write a novel about her? To put it simply, and yet there was no simplicity about it, Catharine Montour chose me. Come along with me on my book tour as I blog about my experiences and entice you with Catharine Montour’s life story.
Here are a few photos from my book launch in Havana Glen, Montour Falls, NY
Here is an excerpt from my novel:
“I’m not like your white women who lose their tongues and wits in a house full of men.”
So says Catharine Montour to her white captive during the Indian depredations of the 1750s. Catharine Montour, a métis, born during Pennsylvania’s Long Peace, is nurtured by her grandmother, the celebrated Madame Montour, an interpreter for the British colonies. Her uncle, Andrew Montour, is also an interpreter and sits on the Council of the Iroquois. The Montours are an unconventional, yet highly regarded family who host diverse and fascinating assemblies of fur traders, missionaries, Indians, and colonial leaders in their home.
As the Long Peace ends and the French and Indian War, and eventually the American Revolution occur, Catharine, desiring only to live quietly by a waterfall in New York, becomes a fearless, determined, and passionate leader who demands loyalty to peace in her village and for all. And then in 1779 when General John Sullivan leads the campaign to destroy all Iroquois villages, Queen Catharine, heroically guides her people to Fort Niagara. Today as American exceptionalism prevails against the recognition of indigenous peoples, Catharine’s relevant and fact-based story spans two wars and enlightens and makes visible the unwritten truths of early American history.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant --
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind --
- Emily Dickinson