Friday, August 27, 2010

Assorted bits

Once again I've got a bunch of short stuff I wanted to share here. At some point I need to write an entry or two about My Cowichan Adventure (!), but that will come later...

We survived the first week!

We all (in my household) survived the first week of school. For a minute there on Wednesday morning, it looked like Pirate was not going to let Dexter leave...

But then he did.

According to Dexter, another way to think of SSR, which is supposed to stand for "sustained, silent reading," is "sit down, shut up, and read." We laughed about that one, but you know, I think he's right. Reading without distraction is a practice everyone needs to develop. I hope my students are good at this. Maybe at the university we should come up with another acronym that includes "turn off your cell phone and/or internet and/or FB" as part of the reading process... ("SSTOYCPIFBR"?)

Dinner was a bit sketchy last week, but I'm learning to accept that the goal was eating food, not necessarily eating well balanced meals made from local, fresh ingredients. *sigh* We did fine, thanks to Patrick coming to the rescue with spaghetti, but I sure hope I have more energy for meal prep in the next 14 weeks than I did last week.

Signs and wonders, part eleventy billion

On my way in to campus one morning last week, crossing the bridge where I enter my workplace, I saw this in the creek:

It was hard to make out at first, even in person, so I'll tell you what you're looking at: That is a SNAKE eating (swallowing) a FISH!!! The fish was about as big as two decks of cards laid end to end, so pretty big. The snake was huge.

When I was able to ask Denny, a retired science professor friend, what it might have been, he said he would bet, just from my description and the situation, that it was a Northern Water Snake, who are fish-eaters and have that kind of pattern on them. I was a-feared it was some sort of exotic pet set loose in the sewer, but he said no, it's local, and quite belligerent. You can't handle one of these, Denny said, without getting bitten; he said they have a sort of "Make my day" attitude. So I'm glad this one was busy with the fish. I thought also that maybe it had died because it was so still, but it was gone the next day, and Denny assured me it was just working on the fish.

Being a literature person, a story person, OF COURSE I have been thinking about the symbolic richness of this image. What message is available to me, having witnessed this event? Is it: Don't let the semester swallow you up? or perhaps: Don't bite off more than you can chew? Hmmm...

Writing Friday

For the first time since I was hired eight years ago, I am not teaching five days a week. I finagled having class-free Fridays, or what I'm referring to as Writing Fridays, in my schedule this semester.

I will keep my practice of having meditation/prayer/quiet time for a couple hours. (I've been leaving Friday mornings blank on my calendar for a few years now for this reflection time. It was really hard to do at first, and even hard to imagine--a couple hours in my schedule not available for work or appointments?? Thank goodness my friend and teacher Sage convinced me to try it. I think it's had a really good effect on my sense of well being, and certainly on my health. I still work about 60 hours a week, but for a couple hours every week, with the house to myself and plenty of quiet, I get peaceful, go inward, and breathe...)

I have set aside the rest of the day for writing--and not just any writing, but working on pieces I could eventually send out to be published or that I could present at a conference. I'm working up the courage to take those sorts of risks again, and excited about what I'm writing, so that's at least a good step. And on my first Writing Friday, I churned out five pages. Which I'm ecstatic about. They may be five rough pages, and very spotty in places where I need to look up or reread or investigate something, but they're five more pages than I had the day before. Huzzah!

I took an unusual route to school on Thursday, and saw this on the way, which I'm definitely taking as the best possible sign ever:

The neglected garden surprises me

I've been wondering lately if I should just give up on the whole veggie garden idea. (I made a raised-bed box for the veggie garden last year, which I chronicled here in a post about UnFinished Objects--some of which, I'm sorry to say, are still UnFinished!)

I usually don't get my plants in until late in the season because I can't manage to do anything with it until school is really done (usually around Mother's Day, which happens also to be commencement day. Every year. Happy Mother's Day to me.). We go away for as much as three weeks at a time in the summer, and our house-sitters are fine with watering the garden, but not really into weeding it and whatnot.

And while we're at it, I'm not that great at keeping up with the weeding. I hate weeding. Yes, it's one of those jobs where you can really see you've made a difference (I like that in a household task), but my goodness, by the next week you have to start all over again. And sometimes it's nasty work--especially when the ill-mannered dog next door has decided your raised bed makes a good pooping place. (Don't get me started...)

This year one of my tomato plants had a blight, so the yield has not been great--more discouragement. So just when I was thinking about not having a veggie garden next year, I went out there just before lunch and gathered these:

Beautiful. Maybe I'll do this again next year after all...

You'll notice that I did NOT provide a photo of the garden itself; until this afternoon, it was overrun with weeds, and the basil is so big it flopped over onto one of the pepper plants, and the tomatoes really overwhelmed the bamboo sticks that I tried in place of cages this year (good info. for next year). So it looks like hell, definitely not worthy of a photo. But it's still bringing me happiness--especially when I eat the teeny "sweet 100" tomatoes, which are really quite good.

I hope you make a pleasant discovery today!


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A prayer of sorts (I think)...

O, day filled with meetings,
thou rearest thine ugly head before me.
I can see thine eyes, looking at me as a target,
and thy lips, curled so I can see all of those sharp, sharp teeth.

And behind that head lies a long body,
made up of fellow meetings,
stretching out beyond what I can see,
into December's cold,
unimaginable in the heat of August.

And alongside that body lies another
filled with classes to teach--some delightful, some frustrating,
some that will leave me questioning,
"Just who do I think I am?"
It has scented me, and will turn toward me in a moment.

I may not feel ready,
but I am strong and brave,
and I stand straight before thee,
and stare right back.

(I kind of wrote this in my head last night when I couldn't sleep. I was thinking of a pair of dragons, and myself as the little person in front of them, impossibly outgunned but standing my ground anyway. Fall 2010 semester, here I come!)

May you feel strong today,

Monday, August 9, 2010

My tipi story

(Note: All the images in this post are from the web, as I don't have photos to post from the Sun Dance grounds... but I looked for ones that kind of looked like our tipi.)

While we (my partner & son & I) were in South Dakota last month, we had the opportunity to camp on the grounds of the Hollow Horn Bear Sun Dance, and a friend of mine even said that if we wanted to, he'd arrange to get a tipi there for us to stay in. WOW, YES! I took him up on it.

So on a Tuesday we went to the grounds and met the tipi man there--Peter Gibbs. He's originally from England and still has the accent, but he lives on the Rosebud Reservation (has for years) and teaches at Sinte Gleska University. He brought our tipi, and we helped him set up ours and a couple others.

Setting up a tipi--or, more properly, a tipestola (the Lakota did not call them tipis, but the name stuck once outsiders kept referring to them that way)--is a lot of fun. You first put four poles in place, tie them together at the top with a special knot, and lift up three of them--the tripod. Then you put all the other poles in the tripod, placing them in a specific place on top. Then the rope is wrapped around them, the final pole with the canvas is put up, the canvas unrolled and wrapped around the poles, and the bottom staked down. It's a really neat process, but I kept remembering that WOMEN were the ones who put up and took down the tipis back before the reservation days. I think they must have helped each other; I don't see how one person could do this. Also, they had to have been STRONG!

So on Tuesday night, we slept in our tipi. We had arranged for some modern accoutrements--a cooler, plenty of water, a couple air mattresses, a couple flashlights--to make sure we were comfortable. I am not very good at camping; typically, I don't sleep well on the ground, which means I'm cranky all the next day, which means everything seems annoyingly difficult and frustrating. I asked my friend: was it okay, kosher, to use these things on the Sun Dance grounds? Oh yes, he said, lots of people do what they need to in order to sleep comfortably.

(This is fancier than our stuff; wouldn't you like to stay here?)

So, technically, I should have slept like a baby, comfy on my air mattress, surrounded by my small family and looking forward to Wednesday's activities. But I didn't. I felt like a little kid being told I had to sleep at Disneyland or something--it was just too exciting to sleep!

And it was so beautiful inside there. I looked up toward the top, and the circle of the tipi, with the poles coming down, reminded me a little bit of a spider web. It was awesome, and something I'd never felt in a tent. It was like there was an organic shape around me and I felt happy in it.

Wednesday, Tree Day, was beautiful and moving. (I'm writing about that in another venue, and will share something here once I get it in share-able shape...) And then it was time for Patrick & Dexter to head back up to Pierre, to Grandma & Grandpa's house; after a small dinner and some rearranging of stuff, I visited with some other campers I'd met and then got ready for bed. It was incredibly peaceful in camp that night, and there was a real feeling of community. I felt at peace. And tired. So I fell asleep easily, and soundly. Then...

BOOM! A thunderstorm blew in, the wakinyan spirits visiting us, at almost 1am. And it was really raining! My waking thoughts were pure fear: what if lightning strikes one of these poles? I'll be incinerated!

Then, as the thunder and lightning calmed down, my concern (less panicked now) turned to the rain. My friend had explained the physics of the tipi in weather; he had stayed with some kids in a camp where it was 20 degrees below zero, and they'd been okay (though, of course, they had to sleep in shifts so someone was always awake to tend the fire). I had closed the smoke flaps before turning in for the night, and I'd done a good job--no water was coming in there. And nothing was coming in in the middle of the poles--they were nice and tight, and the water was running down the poles. I'd opted for the liner, so when the water dropped from the poles, it was behind the liner. The physics of the tipi were working perfectly.

(Here's a tipi with the smoke flaps closed. But front door open.)

Only I was getting wet. After an hour of hard, hard rain, the canvas was just saturated and started to drip in several places. I had my flashlight on, inspecting where the drips were coming down, moving stuff and rearranging stuff and putting things I thought shouldn't get wet out of the way... I tried to go back to sleep. But it kept getting worse. And the tarp on the ground was starting to make puddles. My pillow was wet. Ugh.

When the rain finally slowed down, sometime after 2, I gave up and headed for the car; there was no way I was going to be able to sleep in the tipi. I moved the "important" stuff--stuff I wanted to try to keep relatively dry (or not let get more wet)--into the car with me. I sat in the driver's seat, reclined it as far as it would go, turned on the heater for a while, and then turned off the car and dozed somewhere around 3am. My tipi was set up close enough to the circle to be able to see the Tree, even through the thick fog that was beginning to settle over the grounds. The Tree stood strong and straight and steadfast. It gave me a really good feeling. Despite all of that mess in the middle of the night, I felt good.

And then at 4:30 am, the anpo ilowan (dawn singer) started to do his thing, and it was time to wake up and get ready for the dancing, which would begin just before sunrise. On the one hand, I was thinking: well, so much for my good night of sleep. On the other hand, I gave thanks for such a beautiful song. (Florentine Blue Thunder often comes to that Sun Dance just to sing the dawn song for everyone; he has one of the most beautiful singing voices I've ever heard...) And I gave thanks for the tree, our relative, standing in the circle and waiting for us.

After the fog burned off that next day, I spread everything out on my rental car--my "war pony," as my friend called it--and managed to dry it out. The sun was incredibly strong, and the day turned warm after all.

That was my last night in the tipi, as it turned out. (I had to leave after the first day of dancing to go to Moon Camp--see below. :) ) But I loved sleeping in a tipi for a couple nights, and living in one for a couple days. It was much easier than staying in a tent--more roomy, and you can stand up in it. It also felt right, somehow, or appropriate, or... peaceful? I'm not sure what the right word is. But I can't wait to be able to stay in a tipi again. Maybe next year.

May you enjoy where you're staying today!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Getting in my own way

I've been wanting to post to the blog, but having a problem. I'm having one of those crisis-of-confidence times that I suppose many writers do. Every time I sit down to write something for an audience, I think: Why would anyone care what I have to say about that? Why does what I want to say about that matter? I'm pretty much nobody; why would I think I should say something in public?

That negative voice is also talking about my other writing--specifically, two essays I'm trying to write about being at the Sun Dance ceremony. I keep becoming discouraged and thinking: what's the point? I'm just some white girl who's done this a couple times; I'm no expert. I don't know nothin'.

But today, as I was journaling (thank goodness that's still working), I had a small moment of reprieve. I remembered: it's not about me or who I am or how deficient I might be; it's about the subject. There are plenty of other people who are more knowledgeable, more experienced, more clever than I, sure. But this experience means a lot to me, and there's something about it that wants to be expressed, wants to be shared. It's too important to keep to myself. I need to get it out there for its own sake, not mine.

(this is a sculpture on the Mall in D.C.--a silver tree... beautiful!)

And as for the blog posting? It's more mundane, a bit smaller. But I can share it with my friends and family and they will hear my voice and I will connect with them in that way, and that's worth it. And if all else fails, at least my sister Keet will like it. :)

So stay tuned for what I think will be a post about how I slept in a tipi. (Spoiler alert: I loved it! Despite the howling thunderstorm on the 2nd night that meant all my stuff got soggy...)

May you enjoy a moment of reprieve today,