For Chief Flying Eagle, sustainability is as old as the dunes.
As he walks the rows of his bountiful garden outside his humble Mashpee home with shears and deadheaded blossoms in hand, Earl Mills, Chief Flying Eagle of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, is a man attuned with nature. A candid delight washes over Mills’s face as he points out the ivory-white hydrangeas and bouquet-ready zinnias that stand proudly among Black-Eyed Susans and delicate Yarrows, drawing in butterflies and bees. The fluttering, buzzing, rustling, and chirping of the fauna drawn in by the garden provide a pleasant accompaniment to the incessant drone of June bugs high above.
The skills of the outdoorsman have become embedded in Wampanoag culture over thousands of years, and Mills says he can’t remember anyone in his family who didn’t have a connection with the natural world. His grandmother on his mother’s side was an herbalist, medicine woman, and midwife. His father was so adept at hunting and fishing that he became a guide for wealthy tourists, who made their way to Cape Cod during the early part of the 20th century.
Growing up, chores were an integral part of family life. While Mills’s siblings found ways to ditch their chores, he says he relished them. Gathering firewood in the morning meant keeping the house heated for the day. For Mills, weeding, planting, raking, and mulching meant spending time with his mother doing something they both loved. Mills still feels that bond to this day, “If you could have a perfect mother, she was it,” he says.
The garden was a haven for Emma Oakley Mills. She spent over 30 years as treasurer and tax collector for the town of Mashpee, and the stress it took on her was noticeable to her son. But once she removed her pearls, changed into cut-off shorts, and worked in her garden, Mills also saw the peace that came over her. That tranquility and reverence for the outdoors was passed along to him: The two of them could work in the garden in near silence, but there was a deep, unspoken love there.
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