ALL THINGS LITERARY. ALL THINGS NATURAL.

A blog for those who desire a more creative relationship with the natural world.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Celebrating the Elders


What is an elder? That's the question a close friend asked me when I told her about the Elders Christmas Dinner hosted last week by the American Indian College Fund. "It's a blessing to help serve the meal," I said. "There were over 200 Indian elders there, from dozens of different tribes." My friend lowered her head shyly and asked, "What's an elder?" Her question made me ponder how we treat elders in the dominant culture of which I am a part. She knew, of course, what an elder was but not in the context of a special event held strictly to honor our elders.

The dinner was a special affair, but not a serious one (it's hard to be too serious with 200 adults eagerly awaiting the arrival of both dinner, and Santa). "If you're over 55," said emcee John Gritts, "please have a seat and a youngster (anyone under 55) will bring you your food."

The day after the Elders Dinner, Rick Williams, president of the American Indian College Fund, sent a thank you note to those who had helped. In the note, he shared something he had written several years ago about elders, and he gave me his permission to share it here:


"Tunkashila, Grandfather, Great Spirit. It is this way that we begin our prayers in Lakota. Tunkashila also means one's own grandfather. The reason that the words are used this way is because our Grandfathers are the Elders of the Tribe and in many ways personify the sacredness of the goodness and wisdom of the Great Spirit.

"Our Elders teach us who are ancestors were. Our Elders are our connection to everything in our past. It is with their knowledge that we understand how we fit into the World. Every Grandmother and Grandfather are sacred in many special ways. It is because of this that we will always 'Respect our Elders.' Hau, Mitaku Oyasin."


I'll bet a lot of you already have special traditions for your elders. Maybe, every holiday celebration, your family also serves the elders first? Maybe your children have been taught to wait until their grandparents are seated, before seating themselves? Maybe your children read holiday stories to their grandparents? If so, wonderful!

I think I will start compiling a list of all the literary elders who have appeared in the books I love. Maybe even a list of the literary elders who have written the books I cherish. Like the old fisherman Santiago in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea? Or the aged Wang Lung and O-lan at the end of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth. The list is endless. If you have some favorites of your own, leave a comment here with their titles. We'll grow a list together!

I'll end this holiday note with blessings for the New Year, and by sharing one of my favorite photos from the 2009 River Writing and Sculpting Journey - Lorilyn celebrating on party night with her 80-year-young mother, Lorraine. You can't help but smile!

Thank you to Jaime Aguilar and the American Indian College Fund for use of the dinner photos.

Read The Denver Post article by Tina Griego.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Grand Design of Our Lives: Connecting the Synchronistic Dots

SYNCHRONISTIC MOMENTS - seemingly unrelated events that connect in unplanned ways.  How often do they occur?  How often do we fail to "connect the dots" that tie these moments together?  What do they tell us about the Grand Design of our lives

When the old man in John Steinbeck's collection The Pastures of Heaven stared down into the valley where he had lived his life, tears came to his eyes and he beat his hands helplessly against his hip. "I’ve never had time to think," he said.  "I’ve been too busy with troubles ever to think anything out. If I could go down there and live down there for a little while—why, I’d think over all the things that ever happened to me, and maybe I could make something out of them, something all in one piece that had a meaning, instead of all these trailing ends.”

All those trailing ends--the threads of our lives that we long to weave into something whole and meaningful.  But how do we begin the braiding?

Sometimes it helps to simply "connect the dots."  Identify points of intersection in seemingly unrelated events.  Don't try to attach meaning yet, just marvel at the places where your life comes together.  Here are some of the latest synchronistic moments in my life that connect in delightful and curious ways.  Who knows where the trail will lead?  Who knows where your trail is leading?


DOT #1:  November, 2008, I attend a keynote talk with Richard Louv (author, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder and Chairman, Children and Nature Network) at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature.  As a Senior Associate with the Children and Nature Network, and a friend of Rich's, I'm a huge advocate of the "Leave No Child Inside" initiative. Rich gave me a great blurb when Fulcrum Publishing brought out the trade paperback version of my memoir In Search of Kinship, a collection of personal stories about raising my kids outdoors. 

DOT #2:  September, 2009, I attend Fulcrum Publishing's 25th anniversary celebration and meet Kirk Johnson, Chief Curator at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature.  We talk about getting together to discuss ways to bring a more rural/ranching/children/nature component to the museum. 

DOT #3:  October, 2009, while participating in a strategic planning committee meeting for the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education I meet Pavlos Stavropoulos, Sustainability Director at the Woodbine Ecology Center, and am immediately impressed with his passionate, forward thinking, cooperative approach to problem-solving.



Dot #4:   December, 2009, I attend the 30th anniversary celebration for The Bloomsbury Review - 30 years of publishing "the finest Book Magazine in the land." Marilyn Auer (pictured), co-founder, publisher and editor, has been gifting me with complimentary copies for my retreat participants for years. I leave with 50 copies in tow.

Ed Warner, director of the Sand County Foundation, introduces himself and we strike up a conversation.  The Foundation started back in 1965 as caretaker of the 120-acre Aldo Leopold Memorial Reserve.  A community-based conservation network, they are a vital tool for reconnecting people and the natural world,  "harnessing the experiences of rural people and policies in Africa and North America." 

Here's Ed's favorite photo of himself kneeling and taking a wild rhino's pulse while administering oxygen (taken at the Save Valley Conservancy near Chiredzi, Zimbabwe).  Ed has a contagious enthusiasm for life with a non-jaded abiliity to allow life to surprise him, and to share that surprise with others.  It's delightful.


Dot #5:  It turns out Ed and I know many of the same people, including Richard Knight (professor, Warner College of Natural Resources at CSU) and co-editor of Home Land: Ranching and a West that Works and the Quivira Coalition director Courtney White.  It also turns out that Ed is a Trustee of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (see Dot #2), and knows Kirk Johnson.  It also turns out that Ed has spent hundreds of volunteer hours reconnecting children to the outdoors.

Dot #6:  After Ed and his wife leave the Bloomsbury party, I talk more with Pavlos of the Woodbine Ecology Center.  Woodbine is guided, in part, by the Seventh Generation Principle, an Iroquois belief that the decisions we make today should be based on how the next seven generations will be impacted by those decisions.


Pavlos speaks about his own indigenous and migratory Greek roots. "We are all indigenous," he says, "even if we're descendants of slaves, or indentured servants, or refugees, or voluntary immigrants.  We find ourselves—people of all colors and nations—here to stay. This is now our home and the home of our children and great-great grandchildren." (read more at Woodbine's Vision). 

I tell Pavlos of the six generations of ranching roots that tie my grown children to Colorado, how their great-great-great grandparents migrated to the healing high country air of Colorado to save their asthmatic son's life.  "I wrote In Search of Kinship," I say, "because I believe these roots can be transplanted; that they do not need to shrivel and die.  Our stories keep them alive."  Pavlos nods his head in agreement.


Dot #7:  The next day, I browse the history page on Woodbine's website and learn that the Center is located on Indian Creek, in Sedalia, Colorado.  I smile at the synchronicity.  This photo is of my son Matt with his grandmother, Edie Lambert Higby.  The Lambert Ranch was homesteaded in 1862 in the heart of Indian Creek Valley.  It was on this creek, in the heart of Chief Colorow's Ute country, that my children's father grew up.  "Colorow was reported to have traveled to Sedalia," the history page states, "where he attempted to trade a horse and some beads for the baby of the Manhart family, one of the founders of Sedalia..." 

My daughter is named after Sarah Manhart, and it was with her great-grandmother's uncle that Chief Colorow tried to trade.  I tell the story in the prologue of In Search of Kinship.  "'I remember pulling on Mother's skirts,' said the baby's older sister, 'and begging her not to make the trade.'"  In the photo on the right, I am standing at Sarah Manhart's grave marker in Sedalia.


Though we no longer live on the Lambert Ranch in Sedalia, when my daughter Sarah has a child, and my son Matt, these children will be the seventh generation to carry on this legacy of the land.  (photo on the left: Sarah riding her mare Magpie)

Are these simply synchronicities?  What do they reveal about the Grand Design of my life, and the lives of my son and daughter?

What “dots” can you connect in your life?  What will they reveal about your journey?