My son amazes and inspires me.
When I returned from Tekoa with all my new wild plants, he jumped at the chance to help me create a place in our yard. Maybe it was the trampoline I promised a few months ago, or maybe he just loves that kind of work. Actually, I don't think he remembered the trampoline in that moment.
He helped me plan the best locations in our yard, and then launched in with his shovel. They say many hands make light work. I say my son brings light to my life in general. I'm grateful for his enthusiasm and strength.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
My son amazes and inspires me.
A couple days ago, my mother and I made something of a pilgrimage to Plants of the Wild in Tekoa Washington. They specialize in plants native to Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.
The purpose of our journey was to purchase plants native to this region to replace some of the foreign species in our yards. For me, these plants are part of my cultural and spiritual heritage, but they also allow me to consume fewer natural resources. Instead of using plants that require large amounts of water or chemical fertilzers, I chose plants that naturally thrive in this particular climate. In this small way, I contribute to the overall health of our community.
And besides the cultural and ecological intentions of our trip, I got to enjoy a much needed visit with my mom.
During our visit to Plants of the Wild in Tekoa, I picked out a few of my favorite plants from among the many. I could have taken home the whole batch, but finances just would not allow for it. In the end, I settled on two serviceberry plants, two foamberries, two yarrows, one wild rose, and one kinnick kinnick.
Recently I've discussed the social phenomenon created by the Facebook generation. People from the many scattered memories of my life emerge from the woodwork with a desire to re-forge old connections.
Well, the phenomenon continues to unfold.
Within the last few months, I've begun to re-connect with a group of friends from the late 90s and early 2000s. We were bound by a common experience in a personal growth training known as Spectrum. At the time, I was very passionate about my experience because the training opened many layers of individual awareness and gave me a sense of connection to my life purpose. For several years, I traveled regularly to Boise to attend community gatherings or to staff other training sessions.
Sadly, Spectrum went out of business some time after 2003 and my connection to that community faded.
But as my Spectrum friends begin to reappear, I've made a special connection with Sheli Yerkes Gartman. Our brief chats online progressed into lengthy telephone conversations that always seemed to begin with the phrase, "What if..."
What if the community we created never really died?
What if the work we started all those years ago continues?
What if we created new community experiences?
This level of questioning progressed quickly into a set of concrete plans to create something of a reunion workshop for Spectrum grads and others who had done similar work. We didn't really know what to call it, but we were clear about our intention to create an opening for the work to continue.
Thus was born the "Spring Thing" Workshop.
Last Sunday, I flew to Boise where Sheli and I facilitated the workshop. In all, 30 people attended to share a common experience and to begin opening possibilities for future events.
What a wonderful feeling to share that space with old and new friends!
My little Whiiter Bug isn't so little anymore. She recently celebrated her 10th birthday and demonstated all the social changes of a young girl moving out of childhood. Oh, she invited me to the party at the local bowling alley, but at some point, I became the old man in the background while all her friends took center stage. I suppose everything happens right on schedule.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The kids have been home for almost a week, but I'm still catching up on the important stories. Well, there's too much to include even the basics, but I will do my best to highlight the people as much as possible. Jenyfer impressed me always with her strong insight and deep sincerity. She connected emotionally to just about everyone, and yet never faltered from asking difficult questions. The world will greatly benefit from her sincerity and intellectual strength.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Speaking of beauty, the indigenous cultures of Ecuador offer many rich artistic and spiritual traditions to the world. Margarita is an example of one who values her culture and continues to wear the traditional clothing of her region. It's inspiring to see people who continue to honor their roots in this way.
Throughout history, the meeting of worlds often occurs with bloodshed and a clash of cultures, but not so with the Ecuador youth. They arrived to the United States as gracious ambassadors, and to Indian Country as long lost brothers. It's difficult to describe in words the deeply emotional connection that occurred between the youth and Native peoples in Washington and Idaho. I can only say that we've been separated far too long by invasions and politics we never chose.
Mayumi is a powerful example of grace and the female warrior spirit. When we visited the state capitol last week, she stood at the front of the group to challenge our elected representatives regarding their respective positions on education. Even some of the more seasoned politicians stammered in response to her sharp inquiry. And when we visited the tribes, a softness and sensitivity to spirit emerged. She connected quickly and deeply with everyone.
In this photograph, she is standing with her newest friend, my cousin Arrow. After the exchange, Arrow said that he dreamed he became good friends with several of the youth. It makes me wonder how much we dreamed each other into our lives to become a sparkling reality.
Yicela comes from an indigenous group in Ecuador known as the Awa. Their lands are still very remote, without modern means of transport to connect their villages to the rest of society. As a result, much of their lifeways have remained intact across the centuries.
Throughout our exchange experiece, Yicela demostrated quiet wisdom and leadership. For example, during the sweat lodge ceremony, she noticed some of the other young people expressing powerful emotions. It was nothing bad, but she instinctively knew to lend herself as a support for the spiritual process of others. She gathered the group into a circle and led us in a ritual from her people designed to give strength and courage. She told us where to stand, how to act, and what intention to hold in our minds. She took complete control and provided a beautiful, calming influence to the people.
This photograph was taken during our return trip on the edge of the Clearwater River.
After the sweat lodge ceremony, the gifts and the speeches began to flow. In gratitude for his experience, Santiago gave his mask of the Ayauma to Janet and Arrow. It was a very touching moment that brought tears to both Janet and Santiago. This gesture was especially meaningful because Santiago made this mask with his family before coming to the United States. It was a gift twice blessed.
This story has an older origin.
When I was a Mormon missionary in Guatemala, my official title was "Elder Moses." At one point during the mission, someone asked my name, and when I told them my title, they mistook the name for something else. As it turns out, "Elder Moses" sounds a lot like "El Hermoso," especially if the words are not spoken clearly. "El Hermoso" means "the Beautiful." This became something of a longstandng joke for people who heard the original story.
I'm not sure how it began, but the joke continued with the Ecuador group, though it shifted somewhat. To this group, I became "El Bello," which is just another name for the Beautiful. In another version, I became "El Mero Bello," which would be something like a slang term for the most beautiful of all. In time, the joke morphed into a whole story about me being some kind of king of the beautiful people, complete with a court and the royal wave. After a while, I had my vice-beautifuls waiting in the wings to take my place.
As the joke grew, Alexander became my first "Vice-Bello," like a vice president waiting for the coup d'etat to overthrow my reign. It sounds silly, but it was actually quite hilarious. Every time I saw him standing behind me, I would make a comment about always having to watch my back and we would all burst into another fit of laughter.
After the sweat, we had an opportunity to present gifts. In that moment, I gave Alexander a band of apple branches and crowned him the new "Mero Bello." We laughed, but then we cried because he presented me with his mask of the Ayauma. It was a beautiful experience.
Ever since we planned for this year's exchange, I knew Valentina needed to connect with Janet Blackeagle. I didn't know how or why; I just knew that she deserved to make that contact. On an intuitive level, the powers just seemed to move in that direction.
During our drive to Kooskia, Valentina rode in Janet's car, so I know they got a chance to talk.
Then after all the ceremony, my cousin Arrow gifted Valentina with a genuine arrow made by a relative or friend of their family. It was a powerful gift, no doubt shooting a stright line to connect our cultures.
During our preparations for the sweat lodge ceremony, I was moved by how much my aunts included the youth. It would have been so easy to do everything themselves, but instead, they enlisted their support as a means of instruction.
This particular scene touched me.
My auntie Barb asked David to prepare some of the herbs used during the ceremony. I won't give any specific details of the methods they used, but I will simply share that the scene transported me to other levels of being. On one level, the simple wood structure surrounding the lodge reminded me of the homes we visited in the Ecuadorian Amazon. I could almost picture Casimiro making medicine in his jungle house.
On another level, I was moved to see David making medicine for the people. Again, I seemed to see the faint glimmers of ancestral knowledge channeling through his body and into the stone.
By the way, this photograph is actually a re-enactment. We didn't take any pictures during our preparations for the ceremony; it just seemed out of place in that sacred setting.
Ever since the 2009 Euador exchange began, I sensed a kind of spiritual movement stirring within some of the youth. This is especially true for Santiago. More than once I found him up late at night pondering the mysteries of life on both a personal and collective level. In quiet moments, he often expressed a sense of vulnerability and deep inner change.
At some point during the bonfire, his eyes adjusted to the dark and he suddenly noticed the mountains standing watch over the Kooskia Valley. Janet looked on with approval. She smiled and said, "The grandmothers have shown themselves to you." From that moment he made a plan to arise early the next moment to climb the mountain. Again I felt that same stirring within his spirit.
The alarm went off at exactly 5:30 the following morning and Santiago began to wake the others. "Let's go," he pressed, but no one made a move. Everyone who agreed to climb the mountain now refused to leave their warm beds. I was tempted to get up and share the journey with him, but something inside told me to stay. "You go alone," I said.
And so he did.
I could not even begin to call his experience a vision quest, at least not in the fullest sense, and yet a hint or a shadow of that old archetype emerged. Santiago was the one who had expressed some of the deepest spiritual changes, and now he found himself climbing the very mountain others had used to find their visions. Once again, I find myself humbled to witness the ancestral spirits manifesting in the youth.
By the way, this is a photograph he took from the mountaintop using my camera.
During our visit, we also became better acquainted with my relatives from the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. I've known Janet for many years, but to be quite honest, we only see each other once a year during the winter dance. I see my cousin Arrow even less than that. In fact, after all these years, I've only been to Janet's house one other time.
Of course the Ecuador youth got a once in a lifetime experience by visiting the lodge, but their presence also opened the door for me to know my own relatives better. In my heart, I have to thank them for bringing me closer to my own family identity.
During our visit to Kooskia, my cousin Arrow took responsibility for building the bonfire, buying groceries, and providing for the needs of our students. Needless to say, his maturity and concern for our comfort impressed me greatly.
For brief moments, I caught glimpses of Arrow fufilling the ancient hunter/warrior role, but within a modern context. Centuries ago, people like him really would have gone out to catch food for the people and guard the community fire. He seemed to know this instinctually.
Of course, the irony is that today he showed a playful side through bringing potato chips instead of meat and building the fire with lighter fluid instead of traditional methods. Despite the obvious difference, Arrow seemed to channel a genuine concern for the people, much like the warriors of years past. I wonder how much he even knows this about himself. The old warrior spirit lives powerfully in him.
Santiago rested on the back of a vehicle while the light of the bonfire cast a warm orange glow over his face. His small reed flute lifted a haunting melody into the black night sky, like sparks of ash rising up into the darkness. And like Valentina, I could feel a movement of spirit within him reflecting changes on a personal level and all around the world.
Valentina rested on the tailgate of a pickup truck while she contemplated the bonfire and held a charango within her arms. Between the moments of laughter, I could almost sense her thoughts floating between the worlds, north and south, spirit and stone.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
We arrived in Kooskia at about 9:00 Saturday night, exhausted from the long drive back from Seattle. As Janet invited us into her home, all the kids proceeded to crash on couches or just about any available spot on the floor. "We want to sleep," they repeated over and over again. But then Janet's son Arrow arrived on the scene and built a bonfire on the back field. Exhaustion gave way to another round of energy, followed by singing, dancing, and laughter.
The Ecuadorian youth are always ready to sing. They can make a dancing ritual on the drop of a hat, in parking lot, a conference room, or an empty field. They brought the spirit of Inti Raymi (their Sun Festival) to the quiet fields of Kooskia, and created a connection between the indigenous peoples of both North and South America.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Two days ago we visited the state capitol in Olympia to learn more regarding the workings of government and to meet our elected representatives. The capitol visit gave the Ecuador youth a unique opportunity to see the democratic process up close, but I also learned a few things about my home state. For example, I never understood the degree to which Washington State divided the executive branch to prevent the abuse of power.
This is an example of the type of experience we have shared with the Ecuador youth.
The youth presented two exhibition dances during the Pullman Powwow. During the first dance, the youth presented a dramatized history of Ecuador spanning the last 500 years, beginning from the creation of the world, passing through the conquest, and ending with the present time.
The second dance was performed by only one of the youth.
Santiago danced with a traditional Ecuadorian mask inspired by an ancient spirit known as the Ayauma. The original music suffered some kind of technical difficulty, but in order to not lose the experience, he asked the Dancing Horses Drum to sing for his performance. Obviously, he wouldn't normally perform this kind of dance with singing from the Spokane Tribe, but the combination of cultures sent a powerful message of indigenous unity.
After all the events at the powwow, the youth left with bright, glowing faces. No doubt they will treasure this experience for many years to come.
Too much has happened to express in detail, but suffice it to say that we have shared an amazing experience. The group has focused much of its attention on ecology, sustainability, leadership, and indigenous cultures. The youth possess a level of insight and sensitivity that will empower them to become great leaders in the future.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
It's almost too difficult to write about my experience with the Ecuador Youth Leadership Exchange. One amazing thing will happen, and before I can think of how to describe it, something else come along that is equally incredible.
The youth participated in the WSU Powwow at Pullman and performed a special exhibition dance expressing the indigenous history of Ecuador. In addition, they also danced in the Grand Entry where three were chosen to bear the flags of Ecuador and the Andes.
Writing my observation of these events seems cold and distant, but having lived them, I feel unbelievably fortunate.
This powwow presented me with the first opportunity to dress in my regalia since the winter season officially ended. One by one, the kids posed for pictures with me.
Hall Creek Drum from Inchelium, Washington graciously allowed the youth to sit around the drum during their songs, despite the fact they had never met each other before. Dancing Horses Drum also allowed the youth to participate.
Valentina went from drum to drum, introducing herself and making friends. By the end, she sang at three or four drums in total. She also made many important contacts with cultural leaders from the Native community.
Like most of the youth, Mayumi comes from an indigenous community in Ecuador. In spite of obvious linguistic differences, the cultural similarities between North America and South America amaze me.
Alex proudly wore the flag from his school as he danced.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
The story of my relationship to this tiny plant deepens and grows.
Last Saturday, Rhonda and I visited a cultural site in Spokane to check on all the traditional roots and flowers as they begin to sprout. We did this in preparation for the young people from the Ecuador Youth Leadership Exchange who planned to visit the following day. After a long, hard winter, we mostly wanted to see what plants would have grown enough to show the youth.
When we arrived, we stepped onto a small patch of green grass where hundreds of buttercups stood in full bloom. I can hardly explain my reaction; a wave of emotion welled up within me and almost spilled out through my tears. Was the winter really that difficult for me? Had my seasonal affective disorder taken that much of a toll? A spontaneous song burst out from my body, colored with gratitude for the persistence of life, even through my darkness and occasional depression.
The following day, I returned with ten amazing students from Ecuador, two adult leaders, Valentina, and Colleen.
We spoke about the cultural and ecological history of that place, and managed to identify a handful of indigenous plants in the area. At the end, we returned to the same patch of green grass and buttercups. We stood in a circle, stopped the video cameras, and gathered our spiritual energies into one common purpose. We sang the songs I inherited from my father and grandfather. It was a beautiful moment.
A day later, the youth initiated a spontaneous talking circle regarding their experience so far. Most of them mentioned the songs and many of them said the songs created a pivotal moment in the program. One of the youth stated that he had one experience the week before, but the songs opened an entirely different dimension, almost as though the two experiences were different.
I stand in awe of the power of the plants, the spirits, and the ancestors. Who would think such a tiny, seemingly insignificant plant could affect people so deeply? Who would think it could reach across two continents and make brothers of people from such different worlds? This little flower continues to connect the many paths of my life with the invisible cords of spirit.
Friday, April 03, 2009
Our return trip from Victoria provided a memorable experience in its own right, but let me back up, just a little.
After we left our vehicle in Seattle and rode the bus to Vancouver, Rhonda received an emergency phone call from her brother in Spokane. Rhonda's mom suffered a minor heart attack and was admitted to the hospital. As we waited to board the ferry, we huddled together at the back of the bus and cried. Both Rhonda and I felt helpless and confused because we had no independent transportation until late the following evening. We certainly couldn't return as quickly as we would have liked.
Over the next few hours, positive updates trickled in and brought some degree of comfort. We learned that everything would be okay, so we were able to enjoy our vacation somewhat. However, we did decide to end our trip early, once we had our car again.
From the northern suburbs of Seattle, we thought we could get back to Spokane more directly through Stevens Pass. Unfortunately, about 10 miles past Monroe, we encountered a series of flashing road signs saying the pass was closed. We had to turn back to Monroe, head south to North Bend and connect to I-90. The detour brought us right by Snoqualmie Falls (pictured above).
Crossing Snoqualmie Pass, the snow began to fall in blizzard proportions. More flashing signs advised us to tune in to the AM radio to receive emergency updates. It turns out that Snoqualmie Pass was about to close for controlled avalanches. We made it over the pass within minutes of the announced closing time.
On the east side of the mountains, the sun reappeared. At about Sprague Lake (pictured above), the clouds returned.
The skies grew darker with each passing mile...
Except for brief moments of sunshine....
As we left Victoria, we finally got to have our Clipper experience. They say the vessel only travels at about 35 miles per hour, but it feels much faster. Also, the boat is much smaller than a normal ferry, so we felt all the tiny bumps and waves as we crossed the Puget Sound. We arrived at downtown Seattle just after nightfall.
Near the end of our trip, we visited Craigdarroch Castle (pictured here), which isn't actually a castle, but a mansion built near the end of the 19th century to show the conspicuous wealth of its builder.
Thursday, April 02, 2009
We didn't get a car, so we ended up walking everywhere during our brief Victoria vacation. Fortunately, all the main attraction lie within a short distance of one another. Even so, my feet hurt by the end, and we were all quite soaked from the rain.
The family posed in front of the Empress Hotel in the photograph above.
We did get to ride a double decker bus later in the day. Ridership fares were a whole $2.25 for adults, and $1.40 for children.
No trip would be complete without my classic pose in front of some major monument or building. We didn't intend for the picture to turn out this way, but I notice that I am standing between the native totem pole and the British-style Parliament Building. Is this some kind of sub-conscious commentary on the inner cultural conflicts of my mind?
We also visited the London Royal Wax Museum, just across the street from the Parliament Building. This collection was also quite impressive, though some pieces were more realistic than others. The upper floor displayed mainly historical figures, while the lower level showed mostly scenes of torture from the middle ages which were quite gruesome.
The figure above shows Queen Elizabeth II sitting very regally behind the main entrance of the exhibit.
Henry VIII and five of his less fortunate wives.
Chief Dan George.
Princess Elizabeth with rows of wax heads in the background.
The kids also insisted on seeing Miniature World, an exhibit tucked into a small corner of the Empress Hotel. Actually, it wasn't that small. We encountered quite an extensive collection of miniature displays showing many aspects of history, wars, fairy tales, and cultures. The top photograph shows a scene from World War II, while the bottom scene shows a coastal village of pre-contact British Columbia (two of my favorites). The scenes were quite impressive.
My children agreed that the first place they wanted to see was the bug zoo. Even McKenna agreed, which surprised me. Bugs are so far outside her range of interests. We saw a huge ant farm, hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, millipedes, and this giant green cricket thing.
After a while, I turned around and found myself alone. Rhonda and the kids had left me for the cute plastic bugs in the gift shop. The fake bugs are much safer, I suppose.