The Wall & The Singing River

singing wall

The day I turned 26 in Alabama, I was brought on a little trip near the town of Florence, in the northern part of the state, to go and see the Wall. The Wall has been built over 30 years by a single man. His name is Tom Hendrix, and his great great Native American grandmother belonged to the Yuchi tribe. What we know as the Thenesse River, she knew as the Singing River. After she was displaced to Oklahoma, forced, with so many others, to walk the “trip of tears” she listened and listened. But the water in this new land she was forced to live on, didn’t sing. His great great grandchildren, Tom told me and my friends that she left, knowing that she would die in that place where she couldn’t hear the river. She walked for five years before she came back to her land. For every step she took Tom added a stone. The Wall has many shapes, many heights. You can walk along it and suddenly find yourself in a stone sanctuary, a semi-circle that invites you to stop walking and think about the story you just heard. The wall is that women’s journey with its trials, its difficulties, its moments of rest. The stones come from everywhere. One is a fossil, another shines with the light.  Tom points them out and remembers where he found them. He keeps adding stones to Te-lah-ney’s memorial.

I’ve seen beautiful things in Alabama, and this wall was one of them. It is unmortared, a sight that I missed from France, where I would walk in the forest and find the remnants of what used to be the limit of somebody’s farm or a man-made “pool”, all of it reclaimed by the forest, falling apart.

When Tom told us the story of the Wall, his great great grandmother’s story and his own, I didn’t ask many questions. Sometimes I wished I had more details, how did he know about his Native American ancestry? How did he learn about this woman’s story? As I let him talk he sometimes answered those questions. He also said many things that I forgot now that I am trying to share that story. There was suppression of that story in his own family if I recall, and his own quest to find out about his great great grandmother. Were there journals, or was it his grandmother that started telling the story?  It doesn’t really matter. He went on his own journey that led him to learn with other Native American woman and finally his decision to built this memorial.  What I wanted to share was what sounds to me like a myth even though that story is still connected to living human beings.  It’s a complex story with blurry parts, but with enough strength to carry symbolism, beyond one’s attention to “the truth” and the details.

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