Cover image for When the night bird sings
When the night bird sings
Hifler, Joyce.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Tulsa, Okla. : Council Oak Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
174 pages ; 19 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E99.C5 H66 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In this charming collection of brief essays, Hifler pays tribute to the simple blessings of daily life and shares the lessons she learned from those who nurtured her during her childhood in Cherokee County. In each small piece, she reflects upon a memory or incident from which she extracts fresh meaning. Planting beans, for instance, prompts a meditation on the unending story of creation.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In a charming collection of tiny essays, Cherokee writer Hifler captures the earth-based wisdom of her people and of the Christian tradition, as well. Each short piece, the length of one of her syndicated newspaper columns, reflects on an incident or a memory, then extracts a moral, though rarely moralistic, meaning from it. Planting beans leads to reflection on the continuing story of creation; gazing in a mirror elicits reflections on the mysteries of the body; a memory of mother love spurs meditation on the maternal spirit in all life. Hifler's prose has a deeply rooted sensuousness that transcends region, culture, and religion to express a generous human spirit and a soulful approach to life's joys and tribulations. --Patricia Monaghan

Publisher's Weekly Review

In more than 50 vignettes, some of which have appeared in her nationally syndicated column, "Think on These Things," Hifler (A Cherokee Feast of Days) blends reminiscences of growing up on an Oklahoma reservation with asides on the lessons she has drawn from the natural world. In brief, loosely chronological chapters, she presents sketches of her family members and the highs and lows of her childhood: the joy of a picnic alone with her mother; the day her cousin finally won recognition at the school they attended with the "oil-field kids" by revealing his intimate knowledge of trees; and the death of her beloved grandmother. There are also many short meditations on natural scenes, from which Hifler draws simple aphorisms, usually with a spiritual emphasis, such as "these flowers, these plants, these bits of bright color are simply basic Truth." In another, she asserts, "listening is essential," but cautions, "because we listen and know does not mean we do what [our ancestors] tell us to do." While these philosophical asides and passages of nature writing can be evocative, they can also feel fragmentary, lacking a strong narrative pull or obvious point, perhaps because revelation is "not our people's way," as Hifler's mother points out. While Hifler's words hold wisdom for those willing to meditate on them, to others her reticence may make her writing seem elusive or opaque. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Hifler, a syndicated columnist and the author of A Cherokee Feast of Days (Council Oak Dist., 1992), shares brief vignettes of her childhood in the Cherokee country of Oklahoma. These tales are interspersed with bits of inspirational wisdom on faith, prayer, and our relation to nature. The reader gets tantalizing glimpses of Hifler's youth, her many relatives and friends, and the countryside of rural Oklahoma. But the book is too short and scattered to provide detailed description, ultimately descending to a series of quick but thoughtful sketches, many of which began as newspaper columns. Light reading suitable for larger public libraries.ÄGwen Gregory, New Mexico State Univ. Lib., Las Cruces (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One MY PEOPLE PAPA TAUGHT ME how to shoot, Uncle Carl taught me how to cuss, Grandmother E lis i taught me how to gather herbs and greens, and Eli sti, Cherokee Mama, taught me how to pray. It was the latter that saved me.     "You are a Cherokee, and you are a Sequichie. Act like it."     Such words cover a multitude of rules for behavior, and I lived by them.     Mama in Cherokee is E li sti. My mama's nickname was Gyp, short for Gypsy, because she had dark skin and green eyes.     Mama was afraid of nothing. Not of dogs -- the neighbor's dog, Bingo, bit everybody in the neighborhood except Mama.     Not even of snakes. As we walked to the mailbox each day, we had to go over a rocky hill where I gathered little round rocks to put in the rock garden. One day, Mama saw a huge blacksnake crawling up over a bank beside the road. She said "You know, I always heard a person couldn't pull a snake backward. I wonder if it's true." I started yelling because I knew she was going to try it. Sure enough, she grasped the snake's tail, braced her feet and tried with all her strength to pull it back toward her, but to no avail. Finally she dropped the snake's tail and brushed the dirt off her hands. "Well," she said, "They were right."     Her strength amazed me. I saw her put a splint on a young heifer that had fallen and broken a leg. Most farmers would have said the heifer had to be destroyed, but not Mama. She held that heifer down, put its leg in a splint, and it lived to bear many calves.     After I'd had a tonsillectomy Mama was sitting with me in the hospital when several wreck victims were brought in for emergency treatment. The hospital was short on staff so she was drafted to help out. She worked for hours helping to set broken limbs, sew up cuts and bind up wounds. When he heard about it later, Papa said, "Well, I didn't know they could ask someone to help that was not a nurse." Uncle Carl said, "This hospital brings in people to sweep for a couple of days and then calls them nurses. Gyp's a nurse."     But those same hands that wrestled with snakes and set broken bones did delicate needlework. Most of the time we embroidered and Mama tatted lace with nothing but thread and a little celluloid shuttle. She worked long at her little Singer pedal sewing machine and was a genius at cutting her own patterns and making my school clothes out of hand-me-downs. Any little scraps of fabric left over were knitted into rugs or stitched into beautiful quilts.     Mama was strong-willed and self-sufficient, traits which helped her raise me and many of her sister's children. Aunt Nina had ten children and Mama provided a complete layette for each one as they came along. When my cousin Es went to college, Mama made her clothes. A lot of love went into the things she made, as well as work. And she prayed for all of the children, too, as they grew up and went away to school or to war.     Mama also wrote a news column for the Nowata Star . One item that she wrote said, "The Yorks transacted business in the city this week." But when type was set, it turned out, "The Yorks ransacked business in the city this week." Uncle Carl never let Mama forget how she insulted our good neighbors.     Many young men and many nephews lived nearby and all of them had great respect for "Aunt Gyp." She saw my cousin Bus and his friend Bill York slip into the shed one day but she said nothing because they came right out and left without a word. After they were a safe distance away, she went to the shed and found a half-pint of whiskey hidden. She knew they were attending a party that night. Mama emptied half of the liquor from the bottle, poured water into it and returned it to its hiding place in the shed. Many years passed before she admitted what she'd done. "Weak whiskey!" Bus said after her confession. "And we thought we could really hold our liquor. We didn't even get a buzz!"     I grew up believing Mama could do anything. She had a second sense about many things. She could find lost articles and often found nests that setting hens and guineas would hide in the woods.     I was playing in the rock garden one day when I heard a drone. As it grew louder and louder I made a dash for the house. When I told Mama what I heard, she said, "Oh! It must be a swarm of bees!"     She left the sewing machine, ran to the shed and brought out an old tub. Then she found a heavy stick, and began beating the tub with it.     "Shout as loud as you can!" she told me. "We are going to settle those bees!"     We made enough noise until one by one they began to settle on a tree limb. Soon there was a round ball of crawling, humming bees around the limb. But we did not have a hive to put them in, so gradually, they flew away again. Honey for biscuits would have to wait until we found a bee tree in the woods. Still, I learned how to settle bees should I ever decide to be a beekeeper.     By the same practical methods that she used to settle bees or remake hand-me-down dresses, Mama taught me to pray. From Mama I learned early that prayer never fails -- unless there is no faith at all. She told me about the time I was a baby and had diphtheria. The doctor told her I would not live through the night, but she wouldn't accept such a negative edict. She prayed through the night and I was cured. She never told me and I never asked, but I have a feeling that in those prayers she dedicated me to the work I am doing -- and the Great One honored that request.     I learned from Mama that the true church is within each of us, and it is a personal responsibility to keep it orderly and to worship there often. I have not forgotten. I go there every day. Copyright © 1999 Joyce Sequichie Hifler. All rights reserved.