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JOIN US IN FREEFALL

We homo sapiens are all free-falling through this crazy life toward home, and no one really knows what that home will be. We can moan about it, we can sob, we can rage at it, we can laugh out loud about it—everyone gets to choose their own style of dancing. The two of us have posted our choice on a humble refrigerator note: “Not one shred of evidence supports the notion that life is serious.”

ABOUT US AND OUR TOWN, FREEFALL

Here in our little town, Freefall, on the edge of the Navajo reservation, laughter comes in handy.  Freefall is not the epicenter of nowhere, but you can see it from here. One year-round cafe, one gas station, a couple of motels, that’s it. About sixty-five miles of desert to the nearest grocery store, doctor, dentist, Wal Mart, McDonalds, all the conveniences of American life.

In this tiny village are Navajos, Mormons, archeologists, polygamists, artists, river runners, small businessmen, kids, retirees, every variety of person. What a jumble we make, scooting around wildly as bumper cars, colliding in good moods and bad, understanding and misunderstanding. Definitely, we have made eccentricity into a high art. The premiere oddballs of the world have landed here, or they’re on their way.

We hope their stories remind you of your own, and we hope you’ll jump in eagerly and tell your tales of the nutty doings in your town or neighborhood (in cities of all sizes).  With luck we’ll create an ongoing community of stories.  So join the circle and tell your tales, right along with us.

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HORSES WITH POWER

by NITRO

Hello.  My name is Nitro, and I like to play with horses.

Now hold on, wait a minute.  I said play WITH, not THE.  I do not go to the races or the bookie and place bets on horses.  And I am not a cowboy who likes bucking broncos or cattle herding.  I just like BEING with them, you know?  Like pets!

Well, any real horse person will tell you that horses are NOT pets.  In fact, it is dangerous to treat them that way.  Try to cuddle them, and, big as they are, they can strike at you, kick you, and even walk all over you.  In other words, they can really hurt you.  As prey animals, they are hyper-vigilant, often fearful, and need to be mastered and managed, not pandered to.  Although I like to think of them as big dogs, they are NOT!  They have a totally different mindset, and have less than half the intelligence!

Still, I do like to cuddle them.  It is also true that they are very sensitive to emotions.  For that reason they are often used by counselors and psychologists in helping troubled individuals.  Horses have power.  And, that is something in which I have had some experience

Let me tell you my story.  Some years back I actually took a three-day course with a company I will call EAT – Equine Assisted Therapy.  We were shown all these tasks that one could do with horses, none of which included riding.  These involved catching, haltering, walking, and generally being with horses.  We were shown how the attitudes and emotions of the person working with the horse affected how the horse would respond to these tasks.

 Then on the last day, we had our “test!”  Basically, it was role playing.  I got teamed with two women, who happened to have a strong background in working with horses.  Me, I had had relatively little contact before this time except as a trail rider.

Our role play was to provide a treatment plan for a young boy who was angry at the world, hyperactive, and belligerent.  My partners were to be the therapists.  I got to play the boy!

Wow!  I REALLY got into this.  I was myself at the age of 10!  We were placed in a corral with two horses.  I immediately ran around the pen climbing the fence, digging in the sand, being a general nuisance.  One of my partners asked me if I would like to take a halter and go and get one of the horses.  My immediate response was NO!  I am busy doing MY thing.  Then I looked up and saw one of the horses was white.  I thought, “Hey, it’s Silver, and I am the Lone Ranger!”  YEAH!  So I grabbed the halter, shouted, and went running after the horse.

Well, if you know anything about horses, you can guess what happened.  Both horses looked at me, put their ears back, spun around, and ran in the opposite direction.  No way could I get near them.

I stood in the center of the ring, threw the halter into the sand, and yelled out some obscenities.  My partner at the edge of the ring then asked me gently to think a bit as to why the horses were running from me.  So I DID think.  And I realized that they were afraid of me.  Oh.  Well, then, I picked up the halter and then walked slowly over to the horses saying, “Here, Silver, here boy!”  They still looked back at me wild-eyed and stayed as far away from me as they could.

Oh!  I was SO sad.  The horses did not like me.  I sat down in the center of the ring and really felt like crying.  All my childhood feelings of being lonely, afraid, and unloved were reverberating within me.  I sobbed, and said, “All I want is for the horses to come and lick my hand.” 

Then the most amazing thing happened.  Both horses turned to face me, and then very directly and deliberately they walked over to me, and leaned their heads down over my shoulders.

This was unbelievable!  The horses came to ME!  I was totally overwhelmed with positive feelings.  I forgot about the role play, and got up and walked back to the group that had been watching the whole performance.  The horses stayed right with me and would not leave me.  I did not need the halter.  I felt so wonderful.  And loved!

You know, there really is something to this horse therapy.  It worked for me.  As a result, horses will always be a source of contentment for me.  I do like to play with horses, and I WILL cuddle with them.  Horses DO have power!

The story you have just read is true.  Some names have been changed to protect the innocent (aka: ME!).

SUNDAY DINNER

by TERRA TREVOR
 
It was a long time ago in 1956, and I was visiting Great-Grandma in Freefall. I watched her peel and slice apples. I must have been pretty small; I stood on a stool to see what she was making. She nodded at me; her eyes were quick behind the thick lenses of her glasses.  Grandma rolled out dough, filled it with apples, and put it in the oven to bake.

Then I went out back on the porch to watch an orange-black garden spider, her web a zigzag of silk, right above my head. Having Webb for a last name gave me more reasons to notice spiders.  My legs were long and thin, and the cousins called me Spider Web. I imagined myself a spider sitting in my parlor awaiting visitors.
 

Every Sunday mom and dad took me to my great grandparents house. Understand, I was an only child and I loved being in a house filled with relatives. It meant cousins to play with. The uncles talked politics shouting out their rock bottom opinions, while the Aunties gossiped and the kids played together like a pack of wild pups.
 
Since Great Grandma and Grandpa and dad and I, and all of the aunties and uncles and cousins, were all Indians, I thought it was rather funny that the black and white movies on television showed Indians sitting horses at the rise of a hill, with their faces painted and living in tipis. All of the Indians we knew drove cars and lived in houses, like we did.
 
A sweetness of cinnamon and steaming apples brought the uncles into the kitchen. “Grandma’s making apple pie.” Somebody said. I’d never tasted apple pie, but felt positive it would be the best dessert ever.

A few minutes later more relatives arrived. Nobody ever went away without eating. The aunties, apron-bound, brought out platters of fried chicken, biscuits crusty on the outside and soft inside and broiled cracked corn, and everyone gathered around the big table. So much food was pushed onto my plate. Afternoon sun poured through the window onto the table. Tiny dust particles were floating in the sunlight.
 
“Child, you eat like a bird.” Grandma said. “If you don’t eat more than that you’ll never get fat.” My older, round-faced cousins always cleaned their plates. My family thought it was necessary to eat lots of food to grow up the right way. But I couldn’t eat more, so I plainly could never hope to be normal and healthy.

Finally the pies were brought out.

“There won’t be enough pie to go around.” Someone hollered. I smelled sweet, browned piecrust. My heart pounded. I wondered since I hadn’t eaten very much, if I would get a smaller piece. A clatter of plates was passed, with a bunch of forks, sugar and cream stirred into coffee. I grabbed my napkin by two corners and shook it out onto my lap and sat on the edge of my chair, my back bony, my elbows sharp, waiting. The little dust particles swirled wildly.
 
Before anyone else, Grandma, all smiles, lifted a large triangle sized piece of apple pie onto my plate, I took a bite, tasted its warm crusty apple goodness, and I felt lucky and special.

THINGS WITH POWER

BY NITRO

Hi!  My name is Nitro, and I don’t like people!

Well, let me correct that.  I DO like people; it is just that I tend to be a little afraid of them, so I tend to avoid big social gatherings, potlucks, and crowds.  I was trained as an anthropologist, so I learned very early on all the terrible things that people can do to one another.  Having survived “academia,” I have also EXPERIENCED what people can do to one another.  People have “power.”  They can hurt you.

So, I became a museum person!  Forget people, I prefer THINGS.  Things don’t have power.  They can’t hurt you.  I can spend days alone with all these things that belonged to strange and exotic people, inhabitants of far away times and places.  They can tell me a lot, but they cannot hurt me.  Right?

Well, maybe they can. 

Back in my youth I was working for THE MUSEUM.  A group of representatives from THE PEOPLE OF THE PUEBLO in New Mexico came to us.  They wanted to see the BORDER GUARDS that we had in the collection.  These are artifacts that had been collected from their reservation back at the end of the nineteenth century.  We had the records, and we knew they had not been collected ethically.  THE PEOPLE had shown our collector the GUARDS, placed as they were at the borders of their territory, and said that they were very powerful and should never be removed.  Well, they were removed, without the permission of THE PEOPLE, and ended up in our collection.  They are not particularly spectacular or anything.  Just big wooden slabs carved roughly into the shape of a human figure, and painted with a humanlike face and features.  They had been in one of our storage units for many, many years.  I had handled them, and inspected them as part of my job.

THE PEOPLE had their special priests with them, and they went to inspect the GUARDS.  Afterwards, they told us to keep them hidden, in the dark, and to never let any member of their community come near them.  They also indicated that it would be the best for everyone if they could be returned and replaced at the borders of their territory.

After viewing the artifacts, they left.  That night, it snowed.  Big snow.  The subway system experienced a failure, and there was a crash which caused the death of several riders.  The first time such a thing had ever happened.  Traffic was snarled, and people could not get home.  An airliner crashed in the river next to the city, and all but one of the passengers died.  It was a terrible time.  It was the winter of 1978.

We at THE MUSEUM knew that the BORDER GUARDS properly belonged to THE PEOPLE OF THE PUEBLO, and wanted to return them.  Bureaucracy and politics, both in THE MUSEUM and at THE PUEBLO, caused nearly ten years to pass before the GUARDS could be returned.  But, at last they were.  Within the year after that, the Berlin Wall had fallen, the Soviet Union had collapsed, and the COLD WAR was over.

Maybe indeed things have power after all.  I mean, the GUARDS were taken, and then there was the Spanish War, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, Korea and Viet Nam, not to mention the threat of nuclear holocaust.

THE PEOPLE believe that was a result of THE BORDER GUARDS having been removed.  Well, there have been wars before, and there are again.  But, hmmm, I think I may have changed my mind about THINGS being powerless.  And, people might not be so frightful after all.

The tale you have just read is true.  Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent (aka:  ME!).

Our town, Freefall, probably has more people than populate the aisles of the average Wal Mart. Of these, about half are Navajo and half Anglo, including a single black Anglo.

Despite being size-of-audience challenged, we have poetry readings, art shows, dances, talks both important and self-important, and other good events. The state arts and humanities councils take pity on us.

Several summers ago we had a reading by some Native poets. Instead of reading poetry, one poet, a Shawnee, went on a rant. He spoke thunder and lightning about the mass killings and other crimes against red people since Pilgrim days, arriving due time at the story of the Long Walk, the forced march of the Navajo to a concentration camp.

The gentleman was telling the truth—those things happened, and they were wrong, wrong, wrong. (My Cherokee ancestors had their own version of the Long Walk.)  However, we Freefallers who live by choice among the Navajos are well-informed about such matters, and most of us are notably sensitive about red-white issues. So Mr. Poet had misjudged his audience. We wanted poetry, not a bunch of old news.

When Mr. Poet came to the Long Walk, which happened to the ancestors of local people, a Navajo voice called out from the rear. We were shocked. Our Navajo neighbors do not attend cultural events unless other Navajos are performing, and they do not interrupt.

We all saw that the speaker was a very young man, standing. “Excuse me, Mr. Poet,” he said. “I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m from Monument Valley, and my ride is leaving.”

Silence from Mr. Poet. Bated breath in the audience.

Then the young man introduced himself as a senior in high school and a filmmaker—he said he’d just completed his first movie.

“What I want to know is,” he said in a gentle voice, “are these things personally oppressive to you?”

Suppressed gasps in the audience. This young man was asking what a lot of local Anglos had long wanted to ask, but couldn’t.

“If you feel victimized by these things, maybe you should do some thinking. I suggest reading the works of the Dalai Lama.”  He was too considerate to add what the rest of us were thinking—all this stuff happened centuries ago. Then, having trumped all with his dramatic line, the youngster slipped away.

Mr. Poet sat down.  We refrained from cheering.

On the way home, later, Sarita and I couldn’t stop talking about the young man. Being excited, and not Navajo, we interrupted each other constantly, but chimed our way to agreement. That young man represents the hope for better relations between Navajos and Anglos. He is not interested in guilt. Or revenge. Or victimhood. He’s simply focused on the possibilities for creating a good life. And that is the way out of our dilemma.

Take a deep bow, young man, and acknowledge your standing ovation.

        Sallie brushed the crumbs into a little pile with her left hand, then swept them off the table into her other palm.  She sat there, holding the crumbs and watching Hiram eat the coconut creme pie she had made.  “We ought to have a bird,” she said.
         “What?” he blurted, shifting the pie to a fat cheek.  “Whatcha say?”
        “It wouldn’t eat much,” she went on.  “We make enough crumbs to feed one.  We wouldn’t have to buy anything extra.”
        “A bird?  You want a flippin’ bird?  One that’ll poop all over the house?”
        “They say they sing so nice.  Early in the morning …”  She still held the crumbs in her hand.
         “Twitter, twitter?  You want a flippin’ bird to wake us up?  We got an alarm clock!”
        “You put newspaper in the bottoms of their cages, so it’s easier to clean up.”
        “So I’ve heard.  But you know as well as me that it don’t work very well.  Look at your mother’s bird in Wichita Falls.  Little bugger throws seed hulls all over anyway.”  He put his fork on his plate and shoved it toward the middle of the red-checkered table cloth.  She noticed he hadn’t gotten all the grease from under his fingernails.
        “You want some more?” she asked, making as if she would reach for the plate.
         “Naa.  I’ve had enough.  And I’ve just about had enough of this cra– poop you put on me all the time.”
        She looked down, saying nothing.
        He could see that she was not looking at the table cloth, but through it.  Her shoulders looked thin.  “Well, do what you want,” he said.  “I won’t have anything to do with it.”
        “You put a hood over the cage at night, to keep them from singing.  They don’t sing when they think it’s night.”
        “Fu– flig it!  Get a bird, leave a bird.  I don’t care!”
        She looked down again, beginning to cry.
         “Shish!  Get a bird.  You want a bird, go get a bird.”
        Still, she said nothing.  She pushed the crumbs into a little pile in her palm.
        “It might be kind of nice,” he said, leaning back and knitting his fingers across his belly.  “Little chirp-chirp now ‘n then could be kind of pleasant.  Yeah.  Go ahead ‘n get a bird.  Go down to the pet store and pick one out.”
         “Well, if you want one, okay,” she said.  “But you know it’ll be me that has to listen to him twitter all day, while you’re at work.  And it’ll be me that has to clean up after him.  You’ll have to promise that you’ll clean his cage … sometimes.”
         “That’ll be the day!” he scoffed.
        She dumped the crumbs into his empty plate, picked it up, and walked toward the sink, smiling already at the image she had in her mind of Hiram cleaning a bird cage.

     Two Japanese monks, making their way back to the monastery, came to a flooding creek.  Beside it stood a woman, hesitating, afraid of the rushing waters.

     Though the monks were forbidden by their code to touch women, the older man quickly picked her up, waded across the creek, set her down, and walked on.

     As the two monks walked on, the younger one fretted.  Finally, as they neared home, he blurted out, “Brother, why did you touch that woman?  It’s against the rules.”

     “Oh,” said the older monk, “are you still carrying her?  I left her back on the bank of the creek.”

The Walk

       Cornflowers, blue.
       Cornflowers blow across the fields as I walk to the mailbox. The driveway’s gravel, you know, the entire way to Decatur Street. And once you get there, you’re still nowhere.
       But I go everyday, except on Sundays, of course. Sundays have no mail delivery, I can remember that, though not my daughter’s address. It bothers me how every time, I must look it up in the pretty little address book she sent me, the one with the blue irises? Which came in the mail, too, come to think of it.
      I walk slowly, one creaking knee and calloused foot at a time, one in front of the other. Step by measured step. Last year, I could do it alone. Now, I must use my cane–the one my son brought me. All the way from Tennessee.
      A one of a kind thing, he said as I unwrapped it. Carved by a crippled Vietnam vet, Mama, a former prisoner of war who sits alongside a dusty road outside of the town of Bell Buckle. You heard right, Mama, Bell Buckle; not belt, because during the War Between the States, which is what they still call it, can you believe it?  Anyway, the town people hung a bell in a tree to warn them of the Yankees’ approach.
      He’s a good boy.  I thanked him for both the lovely story and the cane.  He moved last year to San Francisco, the other side of the country.  A promotion for his job and it’s good he’s doing so well.  Can’t expect the young ones to stay.  I don’t blame him.
      The cane helps.  My body, now as withered as an October corn stalk, struggles so with this little rise of a driveway.  I find I must avoid lumps of gravel I wouldn’t have even heeded a couple of years ago.  Damn things.  Still, I’m blessed to be able to get around at all, to walk.
      This walk, it’s my major event of six out of seven days.  Something to fill the gaps; a way to keep focused.   I plan it everyday, check the weather, what to wear, when to leave.  Oh and I can’t forget to use the bathroom first, there’s that to consider!
      Then the performance–open the door, take the stairs one at a time, try to count my footsteps up the driveway.  576 yesterday, I think, but it don’t rightly matter.  Some days I count and some days I don’t.
      Upon my return, I’ll try to recollect which flowers have opened or how high the hay grass seemed against my cane.  Hang up my sweater.  Maybe fix me a cup of tea, then take a rest. I’ll be tired after my walk. My daily ritual, to and from the mailbox. More truthfully, to and from the chance.
      The possibility, the hope that you might have written.
      It’s possible. Instead of catalogs and bills and sweepstakes junk, after all this time there could be a letter from you right there, in my mailbox.
      Every time, I am as anxious as a silly, giggling girl. You always perched me on the edge of blushing.
      I lift a trembling hand, lower the small door, and exhale my wish. For another chance. To again hold a piece of you against my breast; something touched by your hand, read by your eyes, composed by your very soul.  Well, that possibility is everything.

                                                                                                                                                                                                           –by Linda Boyden