Thursday, March 31, 2011


A friend of a friend recently asked me to write a Salish translation of the Sherman Alexie poem near Spokane Falls. Given my limitations, the project was somewhat daunting, but I accepted the challenge as a way to increase my proficiency in the language.

I was able to make a simple translation based on my own experience and a few words from the Spokane Dictionary, but some phrases were impossible. For example, the poem mentions "unrequited love." No matter how hard I thought, I just couldn't come up with a way to express that exact concept. Maybe someone else could make a better translation, but I had to simplify the core message in order to make it work for me.

Despite the challenges, this project succeeded in expanding my knowledge of the language.

One portion of the poem states, "Coyote, I don't trust you." I wasn't totally sure how to express feelings of trust in Salish, but using the dictionary, I translated that phrase as: "spilyeʔ, tam kʷyec nt'k'ʷelsm."

My grandmother is a fluent speaker, so I called her to confirm the translation. Speaking over the phone, I pronounced the phrase in Salish and she immediately reflected my words into English and said, "Coyote, you're not in my heart." Her words surprised me because the dictionary defines nt'k'ʷels simply as trust (tam nt'k'ʷels would express the opposite), but my grandmother added a much deeper sense of emotion than I expected. We talked about this phrase in its positive and negative forms, and I got the feeling from her tone that this word signifies trust and much, much more. I also got the impression that my grandmother would never use this phrase in a casual or light-hearted manner. When she pronounced these words, the unspoken message was, "I trust you with all my heart; I trust you with my life; you are in my heart."

Salish is a beautiful language. The more I learn, the more my heart opens to the spirit of my ancestors.


By the way, Dakota and I recently took this picture of the coyote poem in downtown Spokane. It fits the story, so I am posting it again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Born to Entertain

Whitney presented her best audition ever for CYT Spokane's upcoming production of Alice in Wonderland. She sang a one minute version of "Born to Entertain."

Something wonderful is happening for Whitney, though perhaps she does not recognize the shift. Within the last several months, she's found a new passion for performing. She always loved singing, but now she's rising to a whole new level. No sooner had Music Man ended, than she began practicing her latest audition song. No one pushed her to perform or told her to sing, and yet she devoted many hours to improving her skills, driven by a deep sense of intrinsic motivation. Her new found dedication inspires me.


Dakota had not originally planned to audition for Alice. He mostly wanted to focus on maintaining good grades in school, but as soon as he saw the other auditions, he changed his mind and rushed to prepare a last-minute audition song. I knew he couldn't resist.

I had planned to also post his audition video, but he said, "Nah, it's not my best."

In the end, Whitney got a role as a villager, while Dakota got the part of Garvin. I have no idea regarding the characters, but Dakota says that Garvin is connected to the Red Queen, which in this version of Alice, is actually a rock band.

McKenna did not audition. She said she wanted to take a break.


The CYT website describes this production as a "contemporary adaptation of the classic 'Alice in Wonderland,' presented by young people in a 'rock opera' genre." This show is going to be a blast.

Purchase your tickets now by clicking HERE.


On Friday afternoon, I drove to visit my family on the Spokane Reservation and made an impulsive stop by the roadside. The weatherman predicted overcast skies and rain, but in that moment the clouds opened and the sun cast a brilliant light over the earth. The sudden flash of color and warmth offered me a welcome escape from the passing gloom of winter, and before long I lost myself amid the trees and the tender shoots of spring flowers. I also lost track of the minutes and hours as a sense of timelessness erased any feelings of urgency or obligation. I was totally immersed in the present, but then I looked up and saw the sun setting behind the trees. Had it been that long? When I got back to my car, I realized that I had wandered on that hillside for more than two hours.

That kind of timelessness is a beautiful feeling. It's like being a child again with all the wonder and innocence of exploring the world for the first time.  

Tiny flowers were beginning to emerge from the dead undergrowth. The yellow flowers obviously belong to the buttercup family, but I'm having a hard time identifying the purple flowers. In some ways they look like part of the blue-eyed grass family, but then they seem to droop and the petals are more rounded than the Idaho or Montana blue-eyed grass. Any other suggestions?

A view of the valley below the hillside.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Dakota received a call from a talent agency requesting that he update his resume and photographs. He applied more than a year ago, so I guess his file was out of date. So far he hasn't gotten any acting jobs, but that didn't stop us from launching into an extended photo shoot in downtown Spokane. Opportunity is much more likely to find Dakota if he maintains a current file.

The sun appeared in the afternoon sky and the temperature rose to a balmy fifty five degrees. After such a dreary winter filled with freezing days, overcast skies, and sporadic illness, the pleasant weather created a wonderful setting for an outdoor photo shoot.

The river roared to life with a magnificent, rushing torrent of spring run-off. Feeling inspired, I spoke to the water and said, "qʷamqʷmt x̣est łu ntx̣ʷetkʷ..."

Dakota asked, "What does that mean?"

"The river is beautiful and good." I answered. This is the place our ancestors called sƛ̓x̣etkʷ... fast water.

These two photographs were taken under the Monroe Street Bridge.

Some of the pictures were serious, but we also took a few whimsical shots. For this picture, Dakota lay over a Sherman Alexie poem embedded in the sidewalk, while the sunlight reflected on one of the polished tiles.

The Otis Hotel in downtown Spokane looks abandoned, but I'm not sure. I love many of the old brick buildings around town.

The top of a pillar on the front of the Inlander Building.

This photograph was taken near the Abraham Lincoln statue by the Spokane Public Library.

Many of the brick alleyways in downtown Spokane are popular places for senior pictures. By the time Dakota graduates, he'll probably have hundreds of these photographs.

This photograph was taken across the street from the Old Spaghetti Factory, in a place known by local street kids as "Glass Alley." We only know this because Anthony once mentioned this place as the setting for one of his many fights. The alleyway certainly lives up to its name. The ground literally sparkles with broken glass, and as you can see, the walls are covered in graffiti.

Glass Alley is a cool backdrop, but we didn't wait to see if anyone else might show up.


In the end, we had a very enjoyable day, and hopefully Dakota also got a few usable pictures for his portfolio.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Nothing profound happened on my way to visit a friend in the hospital. I worried about the well-being of her family, and a hundred other things, while I parked my car and rushed to avoid the rain. But then something about the shape of this tree interrupted my thoughts and forced me to stop. The branches reminded me of a river flowing toward the sky, and for a moment I stood with rain water dripping down my face, reverenced by the simplicity and beauty of nature.

And for one small moment, I was awake.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Some time over the last few weeks, I heard news of a so-called 'supermoon' that would appear 10-15% larger than normal. They said the moon's orbit is not perfectly round, but instead follows an elliptical course about the earth, meaning that the distance between the earth and the moon actually changes from time to time. Every so often, the moon approaches and even exerts a stronger influence on the ocean tides.

After hearing the news report, I forgot about the supermoon, that is until my wife and I went to a movie on Saturday night and saw the moon rising behind a thin layer of clouds in the eastern sky. We had just parked our car on the upper level of the mall when we saw the moon and remembered. It really did appear larger than normal. But unlike some of the incredible pictures I found online, there was no Taj Mahal or striking mountain vista to frame my photograph of the moon; only a few neon signs on the side of a concrete wall and a tangle of power lines and street lamps. But despite the urban distraction, I cannot help but feel inspired.

The moon rises above it all.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chill Spot

My friends in the nature connection movement, folks like Jon Young and Tim Corcoran, encourage people to find a "sit spot" someplace in the natural world. Coyote's Guide to Connecting With Nature explains the practice in some detail, saying in part: "Find one place in your natural world that you visit all the time and get to know it as your best friend. Let this be a place where you learn to sit still - alone, often, and quietly - before you playfully explore beyond. This will become your place of intimate connection with nature."   

Even before I knew Jon or Tim, I understood the value of knowing a place as if it were a dear friend or a close family member. Almost by definition, indigenous cultures have established generational relationships to ancestral lands reaching back thousands of years. We remember the rivers and the mountains, the animals and the roots - and they remember us. Every year we travel to the same places again and again, always deepening our relationship to the spirits of this place.

As a culture, we have been sitting here for 10,000 years, and as individuals, finding a sit spot is a beautiful and deeply renewing practice.


Not long ago, I attended a workshop with Jon Young, Randall Eaton, and Tim Corcoran. They were encouraging the participants to visit their sit spots and to connect with nature in a meaningful way. A young man in the group said that he doesn't always sit; sometimes he goes just to connect. For this reason he prefers to call that place his "chill spot." Some folks laughed, but we all appreciate the way he re-scripted this enduring spiritual practice into a more contemporary, youth-savvy language.

Afterwards, I joked with Jon and said that I don't even have to visit nature to find my own personal chill spot. He gave me a questioning look, but then I laughed and explained that Chill Spot is a business that just opened down the street from my work. They serve sandwiches and frozen yogurt. I promised to take Jon to the Chill Spot on the way to the airport, but we got back later than expected. We'll have to visit next time he comes to Spokane. For now, he'll just have to appreciate this photograph that my wife and I took when we had lunch today. As we visited the Chill Spot, we thought of Jon.


All joking aside, Chill Spot may not actually connect folks to nature like a personal sit spot in the woods, but its business model takes a fresh, community-centered approach. The owner is almost always on site taking orders, manning the cash register, or serving food. When he's not helping customers, he's smiling, visiting, or making friends with the people who walk through his door. One night, he even sat down with my group and gave us a mini-exhibition of his daughter's art work. This is the kind of business I love to support. The food is great, but the atmosphere just makes me happy. Chill Spot is not some kind of distant corporate entity, but rather a locally owned place that adds value and connection to the Spokane community.

In the end, connection is all that matters, whether we're connecting to nature or to one another. In either situation, we need a time and place that allows us to escape our busy schedules and just chill.


Young, J., Haas, E., & McGown, E. (2010). Coyote's Guide to Connecting to Nature. Shelton, WA: Owlink Media Corporation.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The earthquake in Sendai, Japan offers a shocking reminder of the awesome and sometimes destructive power of nature. Over the last several days, I have found myself watching amateur videos and news reports of the tsunami that completely devastated many of the coastal areas near the epicenter. The immensity of the destruction and human suffering are utterly unfathomable.

At times like this, I think that my individual concerns are quite insignificant by comparison. I also feel humbled by my own mortality.


When I was a child, I lived for about eight years on the south side of Seattle, which has its own history of earthquakes. At least once a year, my grade school practiced earthquake drills. The teacher would stand at the head of the classroom and announce a make-believe tremor, then all the students would scramble under the shelter of tables and desks. We were instructed to crouch low to the ground with our backs to the windows and our hands over our heads. This position was supposed shield our bodies from broken glass and falling debris. From the innocent perspective of a child, these drills seemed like a game. I never imagined that the earth could ever really move beneath my feet, but if it happened, I felt confident and prepared.

In all the years I lived in Seattle, I never felt the earth shake.


My first earthquake experience happened during my mission to Guatemala when I had been in country for less than a month.

On September 18, 1991 at 3:48 in the morning, an earthquake measuring about 6.0 on the Richter scale shook the nation of Guatemala, though we later heard varying reports regarding its intensity. The epicenter was probably less than a hundred miles away.

The quake woke me from a deep sleep. The ground jolted in a sharp side to side motion and felt as though a gorilla had grabbed a hold of my bed frame and jerked it violently from one side to the other. The sound was startling. We lived in a one room shack with no insulation and a corrugated tin roof. All the metal rooftops in the neighborhood combined into a deafening roar, like the sound of a passing freight train.

When the shaking stopped, a chorus of howling dogs pierced the air, mingled with the screams of frightened people.

The whole event lasted about ten seconds. In fact, it all happened so quickly that it seemed like a dream. I sat up in bed and struggled to see into the darkness. Finally I called out to my companion, “Compa, what happened?”

He seemed annoyed by my question. “It was an earthquake,” he mumbled, “They happen all the time; now go back to sleep.”

As a child, I prepared for this moment, but when it really happened, I felt utterly powerless. I must have sat awake for more than an hour as the proverbial "Fear of God" became palpable and real. In my youthful arrogance, I sometimes felt immortal, but the earthquake made me think just how insignificant we really are and shattered all my illusions of human dominion over the nature. In that moment, I stared into the face of my own destructibility.

The next day, we heard that nineteen people died in a neighboring town.

I realized that for all our technology and learning, life is still fragile. Throughout the following days, I reflected on my childhood earthquake drills and realized that my preparation did nothing to help. By the time I understood the danger, the earthquake had already passed. We simply had no time to even consider taking shelter. If my house had fallen, I would have died, period. As a young person growing up in the United States, I was conditioned to believe that I control my own destiny, and while I still believe in personal choice, I realized that some things cannot be helped.


Now as I watch the horrifying images from the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I find myself stricken with grief. I struggle to understand why some survived and others perished under collapsed buildings or under the black wave of the sea as it extended beyond its normal bounds. Perhaps some things are unknowable. Yes, life is fragile, and ultimately precious. In the end, we cannot control the awesome forces of nature, but we can always choose to act with compassion for our fellow beings.

To help the victims of the Sendai earthquake and tsunami, you can find a listing of various relief organizations working in Japan by clicking HERE.

Photo Credit: Kyodo News/AP

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Salish Karaoke

The Salish Karaoke Contest was one of the highlights of the 2011 Celebrating Salish Conference convened at the Northern Quest Casino and Hotel. 

Of course, now that it's done, I can look back and say how exciting and wonderful it was to sing before an audience of 350 people, but at the time, I was a nervous wreck. For my part, I sang "Love Me Tender" by Elvis Presley. The song did not translate easily into Salish, so I re-branded the song with new lyrics: kʷi swinum̓ti, kʷin x̣menč (you are my beauty, you are my love). I can honestly say this was not my finest vocal performance, but I earned a few cheers and a 4th place prize of $90. Those who placed higher absolutely deserved their winnings.

Everyone gave a phenomenal performance. 

A video of my song and several other photographs appear below:

I translated the lyrics as follows:

kʷi swinum'ti, kʷin x̣menč,
ta nem x̣ʷelncn.
qʷamqʷmt x̣est łu in x̣ʷlx̣ʷilt
nełi kʷin x̣menč.

kʷi swinum'ti, kʷin x̣menč,
nem unexʷ łu i sqeys.
čnunxʷene l' anwi,
yoyot kʷin x̣menč.

tl' qsipi, kʷin x̣menč,
x̣ʷl a snx̣pew's.
tl' nišut tl' i spuʔus,
yoyot kʷin x̣menč.

kʷi swinum'ti, kʷin x̣menč,
nem unexʷ łu i sqeys.
čnunxʷene l' anwi,
yoyot kʷin x̣menč.

kʷi swinum'ti, kʷin x̣menč,
nk'ʷuʔ łu qe spuʔus.
mił čyec lemti x̣ʷl anwi,
nem qe kʷntwexʷ.

kʷi swinum'ti, kʷin x̣menč,
nem unexʷ łu i sqeys.
čnunxʷene l' anwi,
yoyot kʷin x̣menč.

It is easy to become discouraged when we consider the potential extinction of our Salish languages, but this conference renewed my faith in the future. In particular, the karaoke contest helped us all embrace the language in a way that was light-hearted and fun. I am proud of everyone who put themselves out there in support of the language.  

Saturday, March 12, 2011


i sl̓ax̣t Shelly Boyd u łu nłamqe.
My friend Shelly Boyd and the Bear.
During the second day of the Salish conference, I made new friends who are committed to preserving the language, and renewed my connection with many others.

Some time after the morning session, I spoke with a woman from the Kalispel Tribe and learned that we share many similar memories of the language. She told me that she often attended traditional gatherings as a little girl and heard the elders speak to one another in Salish. I also remember attending dinners and give-aways at the Spokane Tribal Longhouse and hearing the elders speak in our language. Those days are gone, but I feel fortunate to remember that experience. 

łu qe px̣ʷpx̣ʷut samtic̓e.
Our elder Samtic̓e.

łu sp̓eƛ̓m, łu smłič, u łu nłamqe.
The bitterroot, the salmon, and the bear.
Arnie, Jamila, and Samtic̓e.

Perhaps the greatest inspiration came when several young people addressed us in Salish. They gave me hope that our language and traditions will continue. And perhaps someday soon, we will once again hear our people speaking to one another in the Salish language at gatherings, dinners, and community events.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Celebrating Salish

The Celebrating Salish 2011 Conference gathered at the Northern Quest Hotel and Casino in Airway Heights, where more than 300 people represented tribes throughout the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Most of those in attendance are best described as Salish learners with varying degrees of proficiency, but several fluent speakers remain.

During the first session, I attended a storytelling workshop with several fluent speakers, including Kalispel tribal elder Francis Cullooyah. Francis offered a brief introduction to the session in English, but as soon as the doors closed, he addressed us only in Salish. I'm not fluent in the language, but I was able to understand more than half of the words he spoke.

Francis also shared the session with several other speakers.

One man inspired me more than all the others. He mostly spoke about supporting our children in learning the language, but I surprised myself when I was able to translate the majority of his words into English for a friend who sat nearby. I didn't know the man; I only heard that they called him Etwan.

During the second session, I attended a workshop with Spokane tribal elder Pauline Flett. Years ago, I took Pauline's Salish class at Eastern Washington University, so this session was a like a homecoming for me. I always appreciate her humor and warmth as she shares her expertise in the language. I learned several new words tonight, along with a few new stories about familiar places on the Spokane Reservation.

This conference is an inspiration to me. I look forward to all the stories and workshops during the upcoming sessions.

The lobby of the Northern Quest Hotel.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Sacred Hunt

This weekend, I attended another workshop sponsored by my friend Tim Corcoran at Twin Eagles Wilderness School: The Sacred Hunt. The keynote speakers were Dr. Randall Eaton and Jon Young.

The workshop examined the sacred experience of hunters from a variety of cultural perspectives, including that of indigenous people around the world. Unlike the industrialized killing of animals within this present market economy, traditional hunters experience a deep, relational connection to the animals. Ironically, those who hunt from a place of deep connection almost universally demonstrate a profound reverence for the earth and for all living things. As Dr. Eaton indicated in his lecture, hunters have done more to preserve nature than almost any other segment of society.

Most workshop participants shared tender and heart-warming stories regarding their connection to the natural world. Some described intense cathartic experiences when they first internalized the beauty of the earth on a spiritual level. Almost everyone shed tears throughout the sharing of stories. For my part, I was deeply moved to witness the humility and love expressed by all the participants.

When not sharing stories or listening to the presentation, the community gathered to practice traditional skills. My friend Daniel brought a deer hide and enlisted the group to support him in the tanning and stretching process. The photograph above shows the people stretching the hide. At first, I resisting his invitation to help, but in the end, I just could not walk away. Afterwards, I laughed and said to Daniel, "It was very clever of you to bring your deer hide to a gathering of nature enthusiasts. You provided them with a learning experience and also got them to do all your hard work." He smiled with a just the slightest twinkle in his eye.

At one point, the hide stretchers enlisted the children. Like a scene from an Alaskan village, the adults held the edges of the hide while bouncing the children high into the air.

My friend Ethan learned to prepare sinew for making arrows.

A few participants made a tiki torch using all natural materials: willow branches, cattail leaves, and cedar bark twine. 

On the second day of the workshop, I woke up at 6:00 in the morning and took a short hike to the river. I got several beautiful photographs of the frozen landscape.

From left to right: Randall Eaton, Barry Moses, Jon Young, and Tim Corcoran.
The final day of the workshop landed on a Sunday and on my 40th birthday. As we concluded the session, the entire group sang Happy Birthday and presented me with the tiki torch as my "birthday candle."

Our friend Sandy owns Scotia House which hosted the entire gathering. At the conclusion of the workshop, she read a poem.  

Friday, March 04, 2011

Birthday Dinner

The birthday celebrations and good wishes have continued all week, even though my actual birthday isn't for a couple more days. This evening in particular, a small group of friends and family joined me for an informal birthday dinner at Best China Buffet. We go there only rarely, but I was craving something out of the ordinary for us - sea food and crab legs. Whitney sat next to me for the first part of the meal. In the photograph above, she looks on while I break open a crab shell. In the photograph below, her look of concern turns quickly to one of disgust. Rhonda captured these pictures one after another, and of course we all shared a good laugh because of her facial expressions.

This is the plate Whitney found so disturbing.

Whitney and McKenna at my birthday dinner.

McKenna, Rhonda, and Dakota.

My friend and co-worker Carole, with her husband Kevin.  

Patrick, Dena, Norma, and Raylene at the theater.
After dinner, we all drove downtown to the Bing Crosby Theater to watch yet another performance of Music Man. Well, Rhonda and I generally watch every show at least four or five times, but most of our group had not seen it yet. When we arrived at the theater, I was surprised by how many people I knew in the audience - friends, parents, grandparents, siblings, co-workers, acquaintances.

Everyone gave me a beautiful, happy day. I feel blessed.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Another Photocopied Proposal

The man with the photocopied marriage proposals paid a disturbing visit to my workplace.

You may recall that my co-worker Jessica received a marriage proposal from a complete stranger while shopping several weeks ago. Early this evening, that same man was seen distributing a similar proposal 'flyer' in our parking lot - some were placed on car windshields, while others were given to female students as they entered the building. Some of the students complained of harassment and asked me to intervene. Others were simply frightened to go outside.

In response, I contacted our security guard and asked him to direct the man away from our campus. Come to find out, he had already been asked to leave several times before as a result of the same behavior.

When Jessica first received this letter, I felt somewhat sympathetic toward this man whom I perceived as socially misinformed and lonely. But as a repeated pattern of trespassing and harassment emerges, I feel something shifting within myself. Most importantly, I feel more protective of my students than ever before.


The photo above shows a letter that was received by one of our female students as she entered the building this evening. It's very similar to the one received by Jessica several weeks ago. As a bizarre side-note to this story, the man also gave her a package of strawberry shortcake glaze. Strange.

Once again, I removed the name and phone numbers before posting the image online.

A Birthday Celebration With Co-Workers

This Sunday is my 40th birthday, but the observances have already started. Yesterday evening, my co-workers threw a small birthday celebration in my honor, complete with turtle cheesecake, sparkling apple-pomegranate cider, and a gift.

Of course, they couldn't resist at least a little good-natured humor about 'getting old.' They gave me one of those gag cards that plays a pre-recorded message when opened. The recording has two comical-sounding, high pitch voices that laugh between themselves and say:

"Oh, you're not old. You're not that old. No, there's lots of things older than you. There's a ton of things: redwood trees, rocks, most of the planets - did you say Napoleon? Napoleon. Yeah, you're younger than Napoleon. Compared to him you're in an infant - a baby. We could go on and on and on, but let's just say: Happy birthday you young whippersnapper!"

The best part of our little celebration was that Ward came back to visit after battling a long illness. What a blessing to witness his recovery and to see his happy face!

Music Man Videos

Professor Hill organizes the River City school board into a barber shop quartet. Dakota sings the high tenor part.

"The Sadder But Wiser Girl"

"The Wells Fargo Wagon"



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