Harvest Home (A Samhain Reading)

(Written for and read aloud to start an October 31, 2000 feast and celebration, tables lining the entire side of my backyard, piled with beautiful foods to share)

We gather in the harvest, gather close to us our memories, our pasts . . .

Gather the sun-speckles glistening on the swimming hole,

Boys and girls laughing in shorts and mud and splashes.

We gather in lying cross-legged on itchy grass, watching bright green leaves move against a pale blue sky,

Rivulets of sweat running slowly down our backs.

We gather in summer projects, fences painted, lawns mowed, gardens weeded.

Gardens weeded . . . gardens planted in springtime, bright green leaves uncurling, thirsty for sprinkled water,

Green leaves that sprang from egg-carton nurseries, inside, protected from the young year’s icy cold.

Now those seeds, those green gardens, the quiet care of winter, the hope of spring, the sweat and toil of summer,

Have made our feast-table, filled our store-baskets, reassure us with promises

That winter will not be hungry,

That the life-time will come again.

But now, it is full-time, ready-for-rest-time.

Harvest is in, harvest home.

We gather in the harvest, gather close to us our memories, our pasts . . .

Gather in Mama’s arms, tucking us in to soft blankets, whispering safety against the darkness,

Gather in Daddy’s voice, singing, clear and calling and ringing still in our dreamtime.

Gather in Grandma’s hands, making, making . . . chicken and blankets and hand-stories told with callouses.

Gather in Grandpa’s checkerboard, his memories shared and merged with ours,

His memories and hers, of stories before them,

Back through buggies and candlelight,

Back through sowing and harvesting,

Back through their heroes, their passions, their triumphs, their tragedies,

Back through journeys and voyages,

Through feast and privation,

Through harvest, and harvest, and harvest before . . .

We gather, at Last Harvest, at Summer’s End, among them,

We carry their lights within us,

The splashing sparkling swimming-hole laughter,

Of those who fought to vote,

And those who were afraid to,

Of those who left us stories,

And those who stayed silent,

Of those who died for what they believed,

And those whose strength lay in surviving . . .

We gather, among them, harvest their legacy,

Left with love for us to acknowledge.

Harvest our history,

Harvest the fruit of seeds planted long ago,

Of springtime hopes for our future,

Of summer’s toil on our behalf,

Of all they dreamed we would carry forward,

Of the weeds we culled away, that the harvest bounty be pure and nourishing.

Here we burn the weeds,

Here we carry their light,

Here we listen, listen to the voices of our ancients,

Listen, that we may harvest wisdom, harvest hope,

Bring the harvest home . . .

Here we bring the harvest home,

Warm and secure against the dark quiet no-time,

Here we listen, and in the darkness,

Here we begin to dream.

Rest, weary harvesters, in the quiet time,

Rest full with the harvest, secure in our history,

Listening to the lullaby-voice

That whispers still, in the falling leaves.

I can never successfully title a post about my mother. She doesn’t fit in a caption.

My mother’s been at it again, posting terribly inappropriate things in sometimes jarringly inappropriate places on Facebook, her Southern gentility clearly a lost victim to her utter lack of instinct about what constitutes propriety on the internet.

And tonight, she’s been driving my daughter bonkers.

But here’s the thing: Do you have any idea what a small proportion of women my mother’s age even use the internet? And what even smaller proportion of them interact frequently through any kind of social media?

Someday, when a generation only now being born has shaped the world into something as unimaginable to me today as web-based social media would have been to my mother at age 45, I hope that I can embrace it all as fearlessly and enthusiastically as she has. She’s ventured forth–and fairly thoroughly explored–the web from its fledgling infancy through today, making some colossal mistakes–her detailed worries about an upcoming colonoscopy really didn’t belong smack in the middle of a buzzingly active discussion thread about the fashion-choice rights of Muslim women in the US–but also succeeding in being right in the thick of a mutlibillion-player extravaganza, the rollicking, information-heavy, critical-thinking-not-required craziness that makes up a digital culture unlike anything that existed in the previous million years of hominid evolution. When my day comes–and it will, I know–I hope that I can wander my own strange future spaces with the same gleeful abandon, making tremendous blunders and tremendous friends as readily as she.

Tonight, all I can tell my daughter is that, for all the completely valid headaches she causes almost literally at every turn, Grandma is an inspiration, too, and that I hope she’s not wrong when she claims that I and my daughter both carry more than a little of her rip-roaring, grab-hold-and-hang-on-for-the-ride spirit forward into a future as unknowable as it is exhilarating.

National Guard Troops Fail to Quell Unrest in Ferguson – NYTimes.com

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/08/20/us/ferguson-missouri-protests.html

Why we need to invest as much energy in training our officers of the peace in the skills of nonviolent peacekeeping, as we do now in violent confrontation:

“After more of than an hour of peaceful protests, some in the crowd began to throw bottles at the police, who brought out armored vehicles and tactical units. But many peacekeepers in the crowd formed a human chain and got the agitators to back down.”

And that’s all *after* the eruption of an enormous mess that might never have happened, had we proactively addressed racism and the dynamics of other aspects of diversity in real, complex, challenging ways before this month.

White Man’s Papers

The year I agreed to be volunteer coordinator for Native American Days at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, I acquired in a week enough good stories to last a year or two. Some of those stories involve my son, who at age 4 was my most stalwart and tireless volunteer. Some involve Flossie, the matriarch who taught me a lot about how to be tough when challenged and showed me the wonders of the rewards that could come just from not backing down.

Recent events, though, have turned my mind back not to them, but to Ray, and a lesson he tried and failed to teach me all those years ago. I’d love to let him know I finally get it.

Ray was an aging full-blood Choctaw potter, who made his living both respecting and selling his heritage. His was the first demonstration booth on the left when visitors exited the museum proper to head out into the reconstructed village, so he generally got the excited attention of each of the thousand or more visiting schoolchildren before they were overstimulated into exhaustion by blowgun competitions, dancing, and pounding corn into a pulverized mess of flour. And, between busloads of eager kids and occasional homeschooled or adult stragglers, Ray and I talked–a lot–partly because he was handily located next to the museum, and partly because I really loved his stories and was trying to devour as many of them as possible before the opportunity passed.

After a few days of this, and after an incident with Flossie garnered rather a lot of attention and a surprising level of welcome–an incident which I suppose really should make it into this blog soon–there came an afternoon lull when Ray looked at me intently, sized me up, and asked me what my heritage was.

“I’m … American, really. Ordinary white American.”

“No … your heritage … do you know?” he looked at me intently, silently awaiting elaboration.

I thought about how to answer him, tried again … “Both sides of my family were here before the Revolution. I don’t really think I can claim anything but American.”

Ray studied my face, his own inscrutable. To this day I’ve no idea what his thoughts were.

“Your red side. Your tribe, your people. Do you know?” All the while we were talking, his hands kept working the clay, teasing the reddish-brown lump into a lovely bowl with a duck’s head, wings, even feathers – even when he wasn’t looking.

I looked back at him, confused. “Ray … I’m not Native American. I love what I see here, love what I know about the different peoples who were here before and those who still stand here today. But I can’t claim that; I’m just an ordinary white girl.”

Ray studied me for another long moment, saying nothing. Then he turned his head and spit into the dirt before fixing his eyes on mine. “You’re Indian,” he declared.

Phrases like “cultural appropriation” speeding through my mind, accompanied by images of hippy-dippy white kids holding drug-drenched “sweat lodges” and declaring themselves as enlightened as Cherokee buddhas, demanded I offer courtesy and well-earned respect without claiming someone else’s property as my own. I tried again to refute my friend.

“Ray … I love that you’d think that. Thank you. But my grandfather did my family’s genealogy, as far back as he could trace it. Both sides of my family were here before the Revolution, but before that they came mostly from Scotland, a few from England and France by way of Germany, but all Western European.”

Ray interrupted me before I could say any more, speaking quietly, slowly, his voice all deep muddy water flowing under ancient shading trees.. “How do you know that?” He paused, then continued when I said nothing, his enunciation making each word a poem, standing alone. “I say you’re Indian. I look in your heart, in your eyes, and I say you’re Indian. What makes you say different?” He waited, patiently.

So I tried again, as calmly and convincingly as I could. “Ray, I’ve seen the documentation. I have a binder at home with our family tree in it, all the birth and death records, the weddings and baptisms … ” He cut me off again, this time with a disapproving grunt.

“So you believe this because they showed you these things, all these papers?”

For a moment, I thought he finally got it. “Yes, Ray, I’ve seen them. I have copies in my binder.”

Ray fixed me hard with his fire–black eyes, his gaze boring into me with the strength of a thousand lifetimes lived as if his own through the stories he retold when I begged for them, and spoke again:

“Daughter, let me tell you something about White Man’s Papers.”

~~~

Confession and Bias

Today, as I headed out into the bright summer sunshine to spend my lunch break strolling through the park by the river, I called myself out as both directly affected by sexism, and clearly perpetrating it.

 WB Intermodal

I crossed through the large bus terminal—my shortcut to the river—as I always do, and as I neared the funneling exit to the next block, I noticed a white cargo van parked halfway across the sidewalk, narrowing my most direct path to a corridor just a few feet wide.

Now, I’ve been accused, certainly rightfully, of being entirely too trusting and incautious of my own safety. I run around all kinds of places that perhaps I shouldn’t, usually in impractical heels and short skirts, and I openly befriend the strangest sorts of people. I truly don’t scare easily. But appearances aside, I’m not stupid, either.

As a woman in a culture that fails to ensure women’s safety, I’m conditioned to respond to a few situations with some level of hypervigilance. And a windowless cargo van parked in such a way that I have to walk close by to pass it, in a place with a known history of too many recent unsavory events, presents precisely one of those situations. It crossed my mind to detour altogether and take another route out. But, not only did I want to get directly to my sunny riverside, I also didn’t want to present as an already intimidated female; confidence is a surprisingly effective armor in everyday situations.

Instead, my eye quickly scanned the various other people close by, and immediately picked out the best available choice: An incredibly large, heavily muscled, very dark-skinned guy in a work shirt, calmly sipping his soda at a table just a few feet behind the chained-off boundary of the sidewalk I wanted to use, only a quick spring from the van should he choose to act.  Instinctively, literally without even thinking about it, I made eye contact, then flashed him a smile. He set down his soda and grinned back, then politely wished me a good afternoon. I responded in kind, and felt his eyes on me as I continued past the van, around the corner, and out of sight—and I was very glad for that, because something in me believed that, had anyone else suddenly presented a danger, Soda Guy would have leapt effectively to my defense.

Would he have? Americans are often conditioned not to get involved. And dark-skinned Americans in particular, have often been taught by a racist system that getting involved is exceptionally dangerous. In any situation involving a professionally dressed white woman and a big black guy in work clothes, the too-likely police response would be to arrest the guy first and ask questions later, even if he was actually the shining hero of the day’s big story. And I know that.

So was my simple open smile and friendly greeting enough to overcome all of that? What hubris of mine was it to think my smile so powerful? And yet I was convinced that, had danger threatened, he’d have acted. Without that momentary personal contact, some tiny transient sense of personal connection, I doubt anyone would act quickly enough to make a difference–which probably explains my instinct to forge a momentary link.

As I continued walking toward the river, now in the bright sunshine of more open spaces, a different niggling doubt teased at my awareness. I had leapt to a thousand assumptions in an instant, mostly based on stereotypes, and instinctively encouraged another human being to take action that could, in fact, have threatened his own safety.

The activist academic in my mind broke it all down for me. I assumed this guy possessed certain skills because he presented as large and male. (In fairness, I’d have taken exactly the same actions had the Soda Sipper been a strong-looking butch woman, but no such option presented itself.) I might have been more inclined to trust his intent, oddly for a woman with my demographics, because of his skin tone and hair texture. But like everyone else, I’ve been shaped by the life I’ve had, and the people who hurt me were always light-skinned like me, those who healed me almost always much darker. And even on those little unconscious-bias tests on the internet, I show a preference the reverse of what’s expected. We all have prejudices, even when they’re atypical and examined.

Judging by my actions, I also clearly thought I was entitled to Soda Guy’s protection, should Something Bad have happened, based on … well, absolutely nothing at all. The bottom line is, while as a human being I’m entitled to the human right of reasonable physical safety, that principle limits any would-be wrongdoers; it doesn’t as clearly compel a random guy to act on my behalf, possibly at risk to himself. (Actually, I’m glossing over a much more nuanced argument there, but it doesn’t need space in this post.) And given that I took positive action to attempt to increase the likelihood of just such a response, where does that leave me? Am I the privileged white lady who assumes she’s entitled to a black man’s muscle? Apparently, in this context and to this limited extent, I was. I didn’t like that description of myself.

I continued on, of course, to enjoy my walk by the river and even post a few pretty pictures to Twitter. But the debate still played out behind my thoughts, dissecting those few seconds of interaction from as many angles as there were lacy ragweed blooms in the park.

Part of me wanted to thank Soda Guy for simply existing, and for returning a stranger’s midday smile.

Part of me wondered if there actually had been some threat menacing from inside the van, and if some observer might conceivably have been deterred simply by seeing Soda Guy paying attention.

Part of me wondered if I was being just a wee bit paranoid to be uncomfortable simply walking alongside a cargo van parked half on the sidewalk where it didn’t belong. A different part of me answered with an entire feminist lecture series on the reality of dangers to which our society subjects its women but not its cismen.

And a big part of me suggested I needed simply to drop the whole nonincident and pay more attention to the beauty of the river and the rest of the world around me—which, ultimately, is what I did.

Except that this post proves I didn’t, quite.

*    *    *    *    *    *

(Image credit: James F Conahan Intermodal Transportation Facility, Wilkes-Barre, PA,  http://scootindavalley.blogspot.com/2010_07_01_archive.html . Today, as many days, I crossed from left to right at the “back” of the picture. The vans in this picture are different from and not connected to that described in today’s post.)

Re-Entry

Wow. Giving in to the impulse to return to this space, then looking to see how long it’d been since I’ve shared anything here–just so I get the time reference right–and finding that it’s been 200 days today since my last post… Really? 200 days? How did that happen?

During those 200 days, almost all of my energy outside of work and teaching has been consumed with a project I couldn’t discuss. I curtailed my online blathering as the easiest way to keep from saying too much; bits and pieces of innocent conversation can add up quickly. Even now, I’ll just say it’s a human rights project, and yes, it’s been worth every bit of myself I’ve given to it.

As the light begins to appear after a long quiet nighttime, though, I’ve begun to feel the impulse to write something here, something trivial, ordinary, simple… After all, life’s Big Things are no more than complex arrangements of little everyday choices, and I’ve often found the most meaning in the smallest acts. So I’m back, I think, even if slowly for now, with some little things to share.

Butch Packing, Femme Packing (Not What You Think)

5 days, 4 nights, Las Vegas.

Butch grabs two pair of jeans, three pair of shorts, one pair of dress pants, a seemingly random assortment of t-shirts and polos, a dress shirt and vest, some underwear and socks, and dumps them in a pile next to where I’ve laid out the suitcase. She explains she’d put them in the suitcase, except I’d just take them out again, so there they are on the floor. She adds dress boots and announces she’s good to go, then stretches out on the couch.

In that time, I have a good handle on what I’m going to take. Two nice dresses, five more casual skirt-and-blouse combos, a simple sweater dress, shoes, jewelry, and appropriate undergarments for each …

Butch looks at what I’ve amassed on the loveseat where things are getting organized. “What are you wearing on the plane?”

I show her the sweater dress with its accompanying shoes and jewelry.

Still stretched out on the couch, she looks at me like I’m insane. “Jeans. And shoes you can walk in.”

“I can walk in these.” 

“Please just wear jeans. You look like you’re ready to go out to a party. It’s a red-eye plane trip.”