It’s Complicated

Without going into the whole tabula rasa thing, I’m simply going to share something I heard on a podcast a few weeks ago. It wasn’t anything I didn’t already know because I did. But what arrested my attention and kept me listening were these words by the presenter: You know what you know because you’ve been told that by someone.

That someone might have been a parent or a teacher or a friend. Still, until you heard those words, you didn’t know that fact, i.e., the earth is round. As you matured and began to read, words from a book told you things you didn’t know before. Before long, you realized you were part of a culture, and although you knew there were different cultures and peoples and traditions and languages in the world, yours was the most awesome. Maybe you were a bit ethnocentric. I was. Probably still am.

As a child, I learned to speak English. In my baby book, my mother wrote, “Jane now says so many new words each day that I can’t write them all down.” I’m confident that the words were dog (not chien), brother (not frere), and house (not casa). My parents and extended family spoke only English, not French or Spanish, so that’s what I learned. A simple example, and yet you get the point. Language is a huge and unifying part of one’s culture. 

We went to a Baptist church where I was taught that “Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world.” My young friends and I sang those words with fervor, and yet none of us really knew any other children except the ones who were just like us. Until I went to college, I didn’t have classes with any Black or Asian Americans.

In grades 1-12, my friends and siblings learned quite a lot about the traditions and history of our country. George Washington was our first president and a brilliant military leader; Thomas Jefferson was a great statesman, the third president, and primary author of the constitution; Native Americans (called Indians back in the day) were savages who lay in wait to attack Europeans as they tried to “make it” in this land.

I’m not saying the above statements are bogus. I’m saying the truth is somewhere in the middle. 

Washington was indeed America’s first president, Commander-in-Chief of the colonial forces, and slave owner of about 300 slaves (give or take). Jefferson once called slavery an Assemblage of Horrors, yet he owned around 175 servants. And then there’s Sally Hemings. Native Americans lived here long before the Europeans arrived, but now ….

I bought it all—hook, line, and sinker and was an adult before I realized how complicated things were. My awakening was slow. First, it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His “I Have a Dream” speech can still move me to tears. Then I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. The world was changing, and while I saw that as a good thing, it was a little discomforting. I read Ramona and learned more about the treatment of Mexicans and Natives, visited Juneau and stumbled upon “The Empty Chair” Memorial, toured Mount Rushmore and began to understand why the Native Americans were a bit bothered by the faces of white men carved into what they (the Natives) viewed as a sacred mountain. During the last several years, we’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many Plains states, and some of things I saw and heard and read will disturb me for the rest of my life. 

One night I watched an interview with Susan Sarandon and Jimmy Fallon in which she said, quite calmly and assuredly, that America was founded on the “genocide of Native Americans and on the backs of slaves.” I gulped. In that moment, I knew she was right and that she had known this truth for a long, long time.

I just started reading Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. It’s funny and clever and smart (like he is). At the end of the introduction to apartheid, he says: “….but the general thrust of it should be easy enough for any American to understand. In America you had he forced removal of the native onto reservations coupled with slavery followed by segregation. Imagine all three of these things happening to the same group of people at the same time. That was apartheid.”

I’m not dissing my teachers, preachers, parents, friends, books, or television for the things I blithely accepted as fact. I’m saying that being open to learning the “also truths” has been eye opening. It’s complicated.

Shadow Sides

I’m woke. I finally get it. And my awakening came during church yesterday morning.

The speakers gave talks on topics such as love, forgiveness, and following Christ. While sitting there, a character in a short story I’d just read came to mind—Mr. Stovall, a deacon in the Baptist church. In the story, Faulkner’s “That Evening Sun,” a black woman asks him when he’s going to pay her: “When you going to pay me, white man? When you going to pay me, white man? It’s been three times now since you paid me a cent—” Mr. Stovall knocked her down and kicked out her teeth.

Nancy spent the night in jail, attempting suicide toward morning. When the jailer found her, “Nancy was hanging from the window, stark naked, her belly already swelling out a little like a little balloon.” After he revived her, the jailer “beat her, whipped her.”

Barely into the story, I knew

  • that Nancy is black, 
  • that people (including Mr. Stovall, the Baptist deacon) use and abuse her, 
  • that she’s expecting a baby, 
  • and that there’s something sketchy about this pregnancy. 

Who’s the father? We soon learn that it’s not her husband, a man who says white men are allowed to come freely into his house but that he can’t go into theirs. Jesus, the husband, is angry and wants to kill Nancy—or so she believes. Is it because of her behavior or because of his own powerlessness over the abominable situation that exists?

Does Jesus know the father is white? Yes, and so does the reader. The fact that Faulkner makes a point of the interaction between Nancy and Mr. Stovall implies that Stovall is the father—or that it’s someone like him, some respectable white Christian.

But wait. Aren’t Christians supposed to love one another regardless of race or creed? Yes. everyone knows that. And yet. And yet here’s the poor, scared, powerless, penniless black woman carrying a white man’s baby (against her will) who gets her teeth knocked out by a white man who’s quite possibly the baby’s father. And he’s parading around as a Christian. And her husband plans to kill her because of her situation.

Some people see Christians as hypocritical and scary. Honestly, I can understand the hypocritical aspect a little. A bit hypocritical myself, I struggle with always being fair, loving, kind, generous, and forgiving. At the same time, I have to hold back when I hear a Christian dissing someone of another race or religion when they themselves are often cruel, bigoted, and judgmental. I have friends who dislike Mexicans, Muslims, Indians, Hindus, Syrians, Jews, transgender, gay, and any and everybody else whom they either (1) don’t understand or (2) feel superior to. 

My husband has a friend who used to say, “That ain’t right, Bo. That ain’t right.” Although his comments weren’t related to Mr. Stovall types of behavior, they align with the current hate mongering. Being okay with white supremacy and condoning racism, sexism, and all other isms that demonstrate hate, not love, just “ain’t right.”

So here’s my epiphany from yesterday. Neither Mr. Stovall nor thousands like him have personal insight into their shadow sides. They can’t see themselves with a clear eye. And nor can I. Fortunately, I have people in my life who can and do try to help me see the light. I say “try” because I, like you, am a work in progress.

Go Take a Hike

There was no playing of the National Anthem that morning. No start gun either. As long as participants were on the 6.2 mile Volksmarch course by one o’clock in the afternoon, they would be allowed to participate—quite a change from previous events at which participants gathered in the predawn darkness for events (walks and runs) scheduled for 6:30 a.m. or thereabouts. 

Arriving at the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota around ten o’clock, we parked in a huge parking lot with hundreds of other vehicles and boarded a bus that took us to the registration area. The entertaining driver turned to the passengers and delivered a special message from the Volksmarch officials: “Go take a hike.” 

Registration was easy, peasy—name, address, phone number. After completing the forms, we walked over to a long table where several people stood ready to take our entry fee: three cans of food from each person. After plunking down the cans of soup, black beans, and corn, we walked to the other side of the registration table and started walking. 

I immediately fell under the spell of the woods. So did my husband. The sun dappled path, the birdsong, and the sight and sound of the walkers in front of me set a magical tone for the entire walk. Despite there being hundreds of people around me at any given time, I could still hear occasional rustlings in and below the trees. The aspens were a spectacular sight—tall and strait with feathery green leaves and white bark. The terrain was rough in some places—and hilly and slippery. We were glad we’d worn sensible shoes.

Our co-walkers were of all shapes and sizes and ages. Some were in family groups. Others, especially those intent on speed, were more likely to go it alone. I wish I could say there were several racial and ethnic groups represented, but that wasn’t the case. I saw only two Native Americans, a father and son, during our two hours on the course; the rest were overwhelmingly Caucasian…alas. I later learned that there’s still a lot of controversy about the monument.  Some Lakota consider it a pollution to the landscape.

My understanding is that some Native Americans were disturbed by the carvings of four white men at Mount Rushmore. Henry Standing Bear, an Oglala Lakota chief, approached Korczak Ziolkowski about creating a Crazy Horse sculpture. “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too,” Henry Standing Bear said. Work on the sculpture began in 1948 and continues today. On June 1, we met one of Ziolkowski’s sons who was eight years old when his father began the project. 

In past walking and running events, an unspoken protocol dictated that participants move to the side if tired—and stay in motion and out of the way of others. The June 1 event was different. People stopped to take pics, climb on rocks, recline on rocks, eat snacks, compare notes, drink water, and laugh and talk. No pressure except to relish the time spent on the beautiful wooded trails leading to and from Chief Crazy Horse’s monument. And speaking of the monument, Crazy Horse’s head is eighty-seven feet high. Pretty impressive. 

As I reflect on the Volksmarch, I think of the beauty of the area (mentioned above) and the people who made the journey with us. 

  • Some seemed eager to share their experiences of past Volksmarches and vowed that it was addictive. Hmmm. We’ll see. 
  • Just about everyone was in high spirits. Once I leaned over to take a reflective photograph in a roadside creek loud with chirping frogs, and a man wearing a red shirt and shorts and sporting a long gray ponytail said, “Watch out for that snake!” as he walked by, laughing as I jumped.
  • We saw a man taking photo of four women, everyone laughing and talking. I volunteered to take a picture of all of them, and he told me that was his harem. Someone told him to get in the photo since it was after all his birthday. Then someone from the group took a photo of us. It’s my fav from the day.

Once we reached the top of the memorial and looked Crazy Horse in the eye, I looked around at the others who’d made the trek with us, and though we’d likely never meet again, we shared some shining moments that morning. The struggle was real but rewarding, too. The people, including Crazy Horse, made the experience awesome.

There’s another Volksmarch in late September…. 

Wounded Knee

As mentioned in the previous post, traveling Sage Creek Road was unsettling. Here we were, 21st century senior citizens who’d been around the block more than a few times, and yet we felt jangly and jittery. I thought of the Native Americans who’d persevered without air-conditioned cars, cell phones, tasty snacks, or GPS systems. We were on a dirt road that would end in a matter of miles and minutes, rain or no rain feeling the shadow of unease and anxiety—stress.

At the end of Sage Creek Road, we turned right, eventually arriving in Scenic. After getting the “straight down that road” instruction, we began the long, desolate road that eventually took us to Wounded Knee. There were few people in sight, just buildings, including a school and some small homes, and acres and acres of land on all directions. Cows and horses abounded, and we discussed what cows did in the rain, snow, sleet, or relentless heat. We were mainly quiet, though, daunted by our surroundings, barren and beautiful at the same time.

After forty-five minutes, give or take, we saw three Native Americans sitting behind a sign on the side of the road. Large and red, the sign had “Wounded Knee” written on it, but since that wasn’t the sight we were expecting, we traveled past, totally missing the church and cemetery across the road. We turned left at a crossroads, rode on about six or seven miles, and finally realized we were in the middle of nowhere. We pulled over to consult the GPS together, confirming our confusion. Tired and aggravated, my husband turned around and retraced our route, vowing that if he didn’t see something soon, we were going back to Rapid City. He was officially done.

“Come on, Hon. We’ve come so far, and it’s stupid to go all the back to Rapid City without visiting Wounded Knee,” I said. And after a moment, “This is something I really want to do to honor my mother. You know how she felt about Native Americans, especially after reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” That did it. Like my mother, he too has a special affinity for America’s first inhabitants.

We soon came to the fork in the road where the three Native Americans were seated and turned in. I got out to ask about our whereabouts, feeling every atom of my appearance and background, an older white female fortunate enough to be gadding about doing the tourist thing on a Friday afternoon. A little twinge of guilt seized my conscience, but once I was out of the car and walking toward them, there was no turning back.

One of the men, Emerald, pointed across the road to a cemetery and church on a hill and began telling the story of the massacre that had occurred December 29, 1890. Estimates of the dead vary depending on the sources one reads, but somewhere between 175 and 300 Lakota men, women, and children were slaughtered by the American Cavalry. A blizzard made burying the bodies impossible until days later. At that time, the Cavalry hired civilians to dig a trench to bury the massacred Lakota in a mass grave.

We were incredulous. Somehow, we’d missed this story in history classes. We’d heard of the Battle of Wounded Knee, yes, but we didn’t know many American Indian groups refer to it as the Wounded Knee Massacre. Calling this slaughter a battle doesn’t prettify what happened, and I can well understand the difference in terminology.

My husband and I walked across the road to the cemetery, stopping first at the fenced in area surrounding the mass grave. Ribbons, shawls, feathers, and other mementos were tied to the fence. Gone but not forgotten crossed my mind. As we strolled through the cemetery, every grave was decorated in some fashion, and I got a sense of what the deceased were like and how much they’re still loved and remembered.

The cemetery was peaceful, and I was overcome with a sense of history as I listened to the rustling sounds of the trees, noted the views surrounding the hill, and read the tombstones. Lost Bird’s grave especially touched my heart. I sauntered over to the church and looked down the hill at the little community of Wounded Knee, glad to know that descendants of the massacre still lived.

Well, Mama, here I am, I thought as we returned to the car, the hillside with its history and inhabitants behind us. I might have gotten a little choked up.

From Interior to Pine Ridge

 

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The stark beauty of the Badlands of South Dakota rendered both of us speechless—again. We’d visited the area last year and were so entranced with it that we knew we’d return if the chance came up. It did 

While browsing Facebook a few months ago, I saw the announcement of an event that was to take place at the Crazy Horse Memorial near Rapid City the first weekend of June, and from a previous tour of some National Parks, I knew visiting both sites was doable. It didn’t take much encouragement for my husband to agree. “This time,” he said, “I just hope it’s not raining.” And after a few moments, “And maybe we’ll see some bison this go-round.”

Yes! I thought. It’s gonna happen.

Nine days ago, we whizzed right through Interior, South Dakota and headed straight to the Cedar Pass Lodge for a hearty breakfast. I opted for a kids’ meal and added a pancake with ears. After all, we were planning to hike three trails, and I wanted to be fortified with vitamins and fuel. Although I was hungry, I couldn’t eat but half the pancake. That’s how generous the servings are. After breakfast, we ambled over to the gift shop where the hubs purchased a couple of tee-shirts and a hat.

After a picture taking frenzy of taking photographs of other happy campers and them taking pictures of us outside of the Ben Reifel Visitors’ Center next door, we knew it was time to start hiking. Ummm. Hiking might not be the correct word. Walking is probably better. Along all three trails we stopped to examine plants and rocks and to take photographs of the drop-dead gorgeous nature all around us. While all the trails were relatively short, easy, and awe-inspiring, the last one was probably our favorite. We felt like we were on the moon—no plants, just craters and buttes and spires.

After spending several hours at the Badlands, first called “mako sika” by the Lakota, we agreed that we’d have just enough time to squeeze in a quick visit to Wounded Knee. How could we come this far and not make the effort? We consulted with a ranger at the Visitors’ Center who advised us to take the dirt road through Sage Creek leaving the park to get us closer to Wounded Knee. Though dirt, Sage Creek Road was smooth and well-maintained. The animals, especially the small prairie dogs, were an added bonus.

About five miles down this twenty-six mile, less-traveled road, we noticed rain clouds in the distance. They were menacing, and we tried to ignore them. What if we got stuck in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone coverage? But then the clouds shifted, and we inched along, keeping our fingers crossed that we’d be spared a deluge. Soon there were more miles behind us than before us, and we began to breathe a little easier. Sage Creek ended, and there was an asphalt road before us. We turned right, and soon we were in Scenic, South Dakota, not exactly a garden spot but a unique and unforgettable one for sure.

We saw what looked like a store, and I was appointed to go inside and ask for directions. A woman at the counter pointed left and said, “Just keep going straight, and you’ll run right into it.”

“Really? It’s that easy?”

“Yes,” she said with so much assurance that I walked confidently to the car, pointed straight, and said, “That way.”

On and on and on we went through Pine Ridge Reservation, the eighth largest in the nation…the poorest too. Cows, horses, and prairie dogs dotted the fields and wide open spaces along the way, quite a difference from the rugged and rocky terrain of the Badlands. Occasionally, a home or community building came into view, and in a least one area, Porcupine, we saw people and buildings.

Turns out Wounded Knee wasn’t exactly right at the end of that road, but that’s a story for another day. The experience deserves its own post.

 

 

 

 

 

Change or Die

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Evolve or repeat; change or die; don’t look back; inhale the future, exhale the past; be proactive. Do those phases look familiar? I bet they do. We’re inundated with reminders and recommendations about change, improvement, and moving on.

Last week I saw Evolve or Repeat on Facebook and immediately thought of a similar phrase: Change or Die.

It’s been a while, probably fifteen years at least, but I’ll always remember the moment when I first saw the words: Change or Die. I had l seen them before, but this time was different. The title of an article, they were capitalized, and the font was large. The students were taking a test while I read updates on the computer. I glanced up at the class immersed in their work and then began reading.

“Change or Die” referred to businesses that refused to get with the program, so to speak, those who continued to follow traditional ways of attracting and keeping customers. The author of the article advised that unless they became internet savvy and kept up with the changing times, they would soon become defunct. Although I already knew this to be true, there was something about the title that forced me to sit up straight and take notice.

 I walked through a huge Sears store two weeks ago and recalled the days when such stores were bustling with customers in all departments. On this day, I was one of three people walking through the aisles, and truthfully, I was there because I was trying to get a walk in, not to shop. I thought things would surely be better when I got to the tools area, but no. Row after row of Craftsman air movers, garage door openers, hook sets, work benches, pocket planes, saws, tool sets, wrenches, and drills lined the shelves. The two employees stood talking to each other, and I wondered if they did that all day, every day.

I thought of the days when my children delightedly pored over the Sears catalogue choosing Christmas gifts. The huge books were even used as seat elevators when little ones couldn’t reach the dinner table. I’d love to see one of the catalogues today. Who could have foreseen their end? Who could have predicted Amazon? Not I.

I recall when the college where I worked began online instruction. Excited about the possibilities, I jumped on the bandwagon. When some naysayers resisted, one administrator was overheard saying, “This train is leaving the station. Climb aboard or be left behind.” There’s a lot of jumping, leaving, and climbing in this paragraph, but I’m not a good enough writer to write without a cliché or two. Those terms imply action and change.

For the record, the students above were taking the test on their computers, one of my first forays into paperless tests. A younger colleague mentioned that he planned to go paperless with just about everything work-related, and he graciously volunteered to be my mentor. As a retiree, I’m still teaching online classes. There are virtual schools everywhere. Teaching has changed, and if I hadn’t adapted, well, you know.

Changing or dying applies to all areas of life, personal, business, emotional, social, spiritual, physical–everything. Want to share how changing has kept you afloat–or how refusal to change led to stagnation?

Traffic Stopping Bison

 

The allure of Yellowstone with its geysers, hot springs, and paint pots is what initially sent us on the National Park Tour with Gate 1 Travel. We enjoyed every moment of it. Three weeks later I’m reminiscing about the two bison who stopped traffic in both directions as they moseyed across a narrow mountainous road and continued their slow amble on the other side. They were either oblivious or uncaring about the presence of so many humans being stalled by their promenade.

After two days and nights, we departed the town of West Yellowstone in Montana for the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Our Gate 1 itinerary describes the park as having “jagged peaks, glaciers, lakes and dense forests rich with wildlife.” That’s an understatement for the breathtaking views of the Snake River, Colter Bay, and the scenery around Jackson Lake Lodge.

At the latter location, several people hiked up a wildflower-covered hill to an area where John D. Roosevelt reportedly retreated for his lunch break. The views were spectacular, the temperature was moderate (60’s), and the breeze was gentle. We caught sight of moose and elk on our downward trek, and Browning’s words from Pippa Passes came to mind. “God’s in His heaven—All’s right with the world!”

We climbed back on the bus, and shortly before arriving in Jackson Hole, we stopped in what appeared to be an isolated spot. Although there were a dozen or so people sauntering around, the area felt quiet, serene, and well, hallowed. There sat a small wooden building called the Chapel of the Transfiguration. I wish I had taken more pictures because my words are puny in describing the small sacred structure.

 

Once inside, we felt shut off from the world, protected somehow from outside influences. When I say “we,” I mean all of us. If any talking took place, it was in hushed tones. Touched by strong emotion, a few people cried. On the way out, we left a few coins for some beautiful postcards to help us remember the spirit of the place. If you ever happen to be in or around Jackson Hole, go to Moose.

Later, we arrived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and about half of our group went rafting. We opted to discover all we could about the town itself and shared a late lunch/early supper with our new friends, Naomi and Floyd, at the Bunnery Bakery and Restaurant. The food was so gooooooddd that I went back early Monday morning to purchase some treats for our journey home. Other eateries we enjoyed are the Smokin’ Iron Bar & Grill and The Merry Piglets, the former for its ambience and the latter for its tasty Mexican food.

 

Having never been to Jackson, we didn’t know what to expect, especially since it was June and not skiing season. We soon fell under the spell of the town surrounded on all sides by low mountains and ski slopes. It’s a virtual shopping mecca, artist colony, cowboy town, and entertainment & dining. One evening at an event called Jackson Live, we saw police men and women riding their horses as they patrolled the area. We also saw several cowboys remove the spurs from their boots before entering restaurants, a far cry from what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in the South, especially the coastal area: sandals and flip flops.

 

On the second day in Jackson, we took a bus to Teton Village, a quaint shopping and recreation area about twelve miles outside of town. In addition to tram rides, horseback riding, skiing, and hiking trails, there are also lodging and dining options, and we ate ginormous slices of pizza while sitting at an outdoor restaurant. While we enjoyed the views, we were a bit travel weary by this time (the last full day of our trip) and had already seen so many wondrous things that we might have become a bit jaded.

Early Monday morning, I took one last stroll around town, snapping pictures left and right, knowing I’d likely never pass that way again.