We Learned to Fear Tiger and to Love Squirrel
Writer and Producer Lisa Lee Herrick on the
Emergence Magazine Podcast
Emergence Magazine is a quarterly online publication exploring the threads connecting ecology, culture, and spirituality. As we experience the desecration of our lands and waters, the extinguishing of species, and a loss of sacred connection to the Earth, we look to emerging stories. Each issue explores a theme through innovative digital media, as well as the written and spoken word. The Emergence Magazine podcast features exclusive interviews, narrated essays, stories, and more.
In this episode of the podcast, Lisa Lee Herrick recalls her grandfather—a master squirrel hunter—bringing home a squirrel for spicy hunter’s stew, and how this dish helped unravel a hidden past. Lisa is an award-winning writer, artist, community organizer, and media specialist who helped produce the film, The Hmong and The Secret War, now available online at PBS.org.
From the episode:
We brought with us only the essentials: our words, our ancestors, our hands, and our hunger. We nourished ourselves with stories, soil, rituals, and hunting. We learned to fear Tiger, who is the Demon King of Illusions, and to love Squirrel, who—like us—is chased by his enemies from all directions but never caught because Squirrel knows how to hide in plain sight. Only the best Hmong hunters tasted Squirrel. We remembered that all things were spirits, even the rocks and the wind, and that the forest always reclaims what you take without gratitude. Never brag or boast about sweet fruits you have found or fresh meat you have snared. The Lord of Nature will trip you, rip out your throat, and eat your three souls. We gave the Lord of Nature an annual offering so that he would bless our villages with fat pigs, chickens, cows, and a bounty of sweet rice and rainbow maize. We grew hemp to coax into cloth, bleached the fibers with ash, and kept our hands busy spinning yarn. Good Hmong daughters are never still. We gathered in front of the fire after meals to spin tales because stories nourished the ancestors living within us. Remember, and your ancestors will catch you when you fall down.
Eventually the world found us again. America turned our hunters into soldiers. The mountains were set ablaze. The wild animals fled the bombs, even Tiger. The forest filled with demons and suicides. There were no more birds, monkeys, or insects singing the hours of the day. Squirrel disappeared, or went extinct. Our mouths grew hollow, like our faces, and our dead sons were wrapped in white sheets and dropped from the sky by metal eagles. RWhere do you run when you are already on top of the highest mountain? And then we fell.