The next morning, on her 5 a.m. trip to the local hospital, Alberto again joins her. On their way Cu comes up, catching his son and throwing him high into the air. Alberto squeals with delight, and when he returns to the ground, spies a rock and branch combo that forms a perfect letter A. Grabbing his father's hand, he teaches the letter to him, carefully tracing the outline with his fingertip just as Despina had done with the snake's trail.
Before long, he is teaching the alphabet to his father and any other adult who comes within striking distance. Cu is marvelous with his son. Alberto, whose attention tends to wander, attracted to everything, stays focused when he manages to attract an adult's attention, especially Cu's.
Sending Alberto back to Adriana's for breakfast, Cu looks at her and requests, "Ven conmigo," holding out his hand and heading into the desert. Soon they pick up the trail the jeep made coming out of the hills. Following it single file into the steeper parts of the ridge separating the road from the village, they ascend, surrounded by the glorious colors of early morning playing on the rocks. The sheer drops and steep angles are breathtaking. They climb clear to the ridge where the jeep had started its slide. Touching a fresh gouge along one rock, he eyes her speculatively, but says nothing.
"¿Dónde está la cueva?" he asks, as they return.
"The cave? It has to be around here, somewhere. We pulled away a tree, and the firelight showed in the opening." But she can't find it.
Finally Cu shows her. After pulling the vines away, she and Cu enter. The light from the enlarged opening shows the footprints she and Paul Peter had made in long-undisturbed dust. They hike back to the road in a silence that feels uncomfortable, accusing, somhow, to Despina.
"De dónde vienen Uds?" Alberto greets them upon their return.
Laughing, Despina ruffles his hair before she heads into her hovel to write in her journal, dress, and brush up the day's lesson plans, leaving his father to explain why he was not included on their extended early morning walk.
Prompted by her exasperation with Paul Peter's non-directions to the campfire, Despina looks up giving directionsin 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 Foxfireseries, 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 it, ought to provide a model for her area as well.
She decides to tell a story with a historical society tie-in, as well as something that is entertaining in its own right, and also includes 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 to them. 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 back what has been said in their own words.
The importance of collecting oral history material for the future is very real, as so many 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 the straw was that 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 then 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, New York. (She sings a bit of the song.)
But, I had been to New York... Iowa, that is. (or was...)
A few years ago, RAGBRI, 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 the big sign proclaiming New York Cemetery was there, as well as "the River Jordan" 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 and gained infamy by laying all the area phone lines down everyplace 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 RAGBRI. They took the tractor pulled bush hog mowers up and down banks that had 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 head, 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 you 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 like 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 and see if they can catch/keep up with the deer, bounding with great abandon over crevasses you'd rather not even LOOK down.
Having 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 the mare I was riding 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 Appalachain Trail after a rapidly receding White Tail, all without my blessing, all exhilerating 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 going 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. (Peoplee 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, after all, were from my farm originally...)
So, I locked up the wanderer's sire Raven, ran the broodmares out in the field with him, and their foals, 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 you are not the one directly in their path, you have time to notice such things.)
The local constabulary, who had been trying for about 7 miles to herd them, were not so enamored. Or, maybe the heat had zapped their spirits of adventure.
When Ragbri itself came, we brought her stock over (in a trailer) and corralled 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 the 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.
Last updated 3/2/02.
Current mood: reminiscent
Current music: "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine" by Gene Autry