Sunday, October 28th, 2001 1:50 pm (pandemo)
Refrigerator Art, Some Assembly Required
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
-- Winston Churchill
Rushing back to the reservation, Despina thinks, I surely hit every pothole in that entire stretch of road.
But she arrives before the start of school. Spying Paul Peter as she passes, she hails him as he climbs into his jeep to head for Mound.
"There's a slight hitch."
Bruno walks over, listening intently.
"The doors are still on, but the Freon's still in, too."
"And the motors?"
"Presumably. And the piping, as well."
Rubbing his jaw reflectively, Bruno offers, "Need more hands, tools, and how you say? Assemble line?"
Turning briskly, he sets off toward his hovel, where he houses a first-class tool chest.
"Spoken like a true engineer," Paul Peter says as he fires up the jeep and heads over to facilitate the loading process.
As long as he doesn't have to dirty his hands, thinks Despina, then chides herself for being waspish when he is helping her as she returns to her hovel to prepare for class.
Prompted by her exasperation with Paul Peter's non-directions to the campfire the night before, Despina looks up giving directions in her borrowed book. The book exercise is designed to improve direction-giving skills, both oral and written. Looking at the examples given, Despina decides to discard them all, but keep the objective.
She has read the Foxfire series, in which Appalachian Mountain students collected oral history, recipes, and instructions from the elders in their area. The books, which formed a series of five the last time she'd checked on it1, ought to provide a model for her area as well.
She decides to tell a story with a historical society tie-in, in addition to being entertaining in its own right and including a sample of how things are forgotten once the older people die off.
I'll just put on a better show than the post hole diggers.
Later that morning, she explains how to interview people in their natural element so they feel comfortable talking. She talks about how students need to prepare a written set of questions they need to be sure to get answered. If, after listening to the elders talk, things are not clear to them, they need to question further until they can actually DO what has been described or clearly understand and be able to repeat the instructions in their own words.
The importance of collecting oral history material for the future is very real, as so much of the old knowledge and skills will die, or already have died, with the elders.
She explains how some tribes are actually losing their entire language for lack of modern speakers to carry it on. She talks about how the Blackfeet and the Ojibwa or Chippewa have made heroic efforts to save their heritage and language, writing books of the stories for preservation. The Stone Circles Tribal Council's prohibition against using English on the reservation is an attempt to prevent that from happening to them, as well.
It may be prompted more due to the negative influence the USA's culture is having on tribes-members, however, than the sole desire to preserve their oral traditions. I wonder what straw pushed them over the edge?
She mentions the possible future creation of a book of their own, a set of instructions on how to do soon-to be-lost arts or the relation of tribal history, and possible video productions. So as not to scare the students before they try, Despina relates the following bit of her history. She hopes that the students will then respond more positively and willingly.
New York, Iowa
Once, my step father asked me if I had ever been to New York, (his home town). Unthinkingly, I replied, "Sure. I go through there all the time."
Since my tone of voice was not sarcastic, my mother shot me a strange glance. She was pretty sure I had NEVER been to New York, at least not the famous "New York, New York", (singing a bit of the song,) New York.
But, I had been to New York... Iowa, that is. (or was...)
A few years ago, RAGBRAI, ([Des Moines] Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) a great Iowa tradition in which bicyclists of all ages get delusions of grandeur and come out in the thousands to participate in a week long bike-a-thon, came to Podunksville and environs.
New York still boasted the church, and the grave yard with its big sign proclaiming New York Cemetery, which is still there, as well as "the River Jordan", the creek that flows past the foot of the cemetery, minus the sign naming it. But the ample churchyard and rustic wagon-wheel-rutted lane leading from the paving to the church had been planted to evergreens that pretty well hid the building from the road until one was directly opposite the driveway leading in.
In later years, a historical society saved the church, gaining infamy by laying all the area phone lines down every place they crossed the highway for the duration of the afternoon the building went by. Some folks just don't appreciate history in the making. All they did when the service was restored was gripe about the time they COULD NOT gossip...
The county went all out to spruce up its back roads to host the state's bikers for RAGBRAI. They took tractor-pulled bush hog mowers up and down banks that have never felt a blade in the 26 years that I have been a resident. They unwittingly took down my friend's electric wire on the east, but her horses stayed in, sort of... as the horse weeds were taller than their heads, and were over 20 feet thick leading to the area where the fence had been. So, none of them wandered into that area, that is, until the day a few measly hundred practice bikers decided to try out their aging limbs and wind to see how they'd fair on the real McCoy.
Horses are easily excited by strange sights. They LOVE things that move within the range of speed that they can move, and try to turn such things into participation events. So, for instance, if a body were to take a safe-broke horse into the mountains in Wyoming and encounter a mule deer at 11,000 feet, instead of suffering from oxygen deprivation as they are supposed to (after all, in an airplane, cabins are either pressurized, or oxygen masks are worn at any altitude over 10,000 feet), they WILL SET UP A CHASE to see if they can catch/keep up with the deer, bounding with great abandon over crevasses the rider would rather not even LOOK down.
Having been astride horses who bounded gleefully over enormous trap rock boulders in a Wisconsin forest preserve after weaving full tilt between trees that threatened to remove my kneecaps when my mare saw a deer; dashed with wild abandon over incredible rocks and sagebrush on the continental divide in Wyoming when a herd of antelope came up; splashed across a river that was supposed to have a quicksand bottom when a deer appeared on the far side in South Dakota, and leaped a log on a muddy track part way up a ridge on the Appalachian Trail after a rapidly receding White Tail, all without my blessing, all exhilarating in retrospect, but terrifying in the present tense, it came as no surprise to me that her horses, upon seeing the bikers, paced them down the fence line.
The youngsters turned back where the electric fence SHOULD have been, but the two riding horses, who were used to traveling down the edge of the road, kept right on going. Soon they came to a culvert blocking their path, so they did what they always do when under saddle -- they mounted the ditch and got on the highway. Right in the middle of the group of bikers. And LOVED the excitement. (People who don't think having two 1000 lb. animals breathing literally in their ear or on the back of their neck is exciting just LACK IMAGINATION.)
They had gone over five miles, with people trying to herd them, catch them, divert them, anything, when a squad car burst ahead to my house and asked if I would 1) be sure MY HERD (around 25 strong) DID NOT also join the fun, and 2) try to corral the two wayward animals (who were, after all, from my farm originally...)
So, I locked up the wanderer's sire Raven, ran the broodmares and their foals who had been out in the field with him into the front yard, opened the road gate, and shooed the strays in with my bunch. The bikers they'd passed along the way all waved, and several stopped to tell me how beautiful they were. (Arabians run with their tails up, and are very elegant. When one is not directly in their path, one has time to notice such things.)
The local constabulary, who had been trying for about seven miles to herd them, were not so enamored. Or, maybe the heat had zapped their spirits of adventure.
When RAGBRAI itself came, we trailered her stock over, corralling them for the duration.
The clever folks living in the only house in New York, (a new one, not one with any historical connection to the New York Church) set up a lemonade stand and billed it as "The Little Apple." Everyone along the route who put up a stand sold out before the afternoon crowd even hit, so were down to giving out free glasses of water or spraying them with a hose.
Every time I pass the New York Cemetery sign, I think about that day, and the sheer exuberance of the horses and people I met.
1 According to http://www.baproducts.com/foxfire.htm, as of 2000, the series contained 11 volumes.
Last updated 4/28/07. added footnote Foxfire Books 11/29/04 (Added meat from Show and Tell) 6/25/03.(8/21"The doors ...Freon, Rubbing his jaw...assemble)
Word Count: 1643
Reading Level: 9.9