The Names of Things


On the shores of Lake Superior, Canaan James Smith, August 2013.

Teach your children the names of things,

all the real things before you on the green and blue earth,

in the day and in the night, teach them the names.

Hold your daughter in your arms and as you

thank the source of all things for her life, teach her to

say good morning to the mountain as it

gathers up the wind to roll it back down across the plain.

Hold your son in your arms and as you

thank the source of all things for his life, teach him to

say good night to the moon as it

steals the sun’s light to give away to the owl and raccoon.

Speak of redwings and magpies as if we have

borrowed this world from them. Bruise a sprig of

wild sage between your fingers and hold it beneath a

curious nose to set the meadow deep into remembering, for

they will need this when they are far away.

Hold their hands while they will still allow. Walk out and

away from buildings and wires. Stop and listen to

silence until their young ears can attune to it through you,

until they first realize the silence is the voice

beneath all the many voices of the world.

When they are ready, tell each of them the name of their own soul.

Yes, give each soul a name that comes from the earth so they will be

sure that they were here, known and loved, and at one

with many and for many generations. If you cannot utter it,

hold it in your mind as a secret way of looking into your child.

Say, with your mouth or with your heart, to your son

the name of your soul is wolf.

Say, with your mouth or with your heart, to your daughter

the name of your soul is heron.

Tell them that the name of their soul was waiting for them

upon their arrival as if they were always part of a

great plan of love for all that is.

Tell them to give the souls of your grandchildren names

just as you gave a name to their souls. By the end of

teaching names of all the things that you can see

and by the end of giving names to the souls of your children,

and your children to your grandchildren,

you will never need to worry for their way,

for they will know it

as they have been known by name,

and follow it

as you have been known and followed yours.

In this way,

you will live


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