HERE TO CREATE


A story can be told in two ways: the way it happened, and the way it is remembered. The storyteller is welcome at every table, though the story may change with each telling. It really doesn’t matter, it is after all, just a story.

Children are the best story tellers, since they have little recall, the stories they tell are usually created in the moment. If you question the story, they are able to embellish it on the spot. When I was a little girl of four, I created four big brothers. When questioned, they were suddenly locked up and fed bread and water. Clearly a mistake. Are these kind of stories a form of wish? The idea that exaggeration somehow enhances our self-image arrives early.

We are here to create, and all stories do not involve overestimating one’s own abilities, though a stretch of the truth often gives flavor to the imagination.

The creation stories of the Native American cultures, Greek and Roman mythology. and the stories of the Bible are all crossover creation stories. Oral tradition is extremely important, for without it, there would be no story telling. Each tribe, like each family, has its own story, of which there are multiple versions. Just as two or more siblings remember the events of childhood in various ways, our own stories take on new luster in time. More often than not, the Native American stories involve animals or humans who transform and do miraculous things, all explaining the unexplainable mystery of life.


“I Am a Child of the Sun and the Rain” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

We are all story-tellers; you tell me your story and I will tell you mine. Those stories may change from time to time either from new experiences or from remembrance, but the things we say are mostly true. Taken all together stories form the glorious tapestry of our lives.

CANTALOUP AND KOOL-AID
by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Where is the door to the story?
Can we all walk through it?

A story lives on the lips of
Diego from Hollywood days.
Far from this dusty village
Where nothing happens.
Cantaloup and Kool-Aid
And a bedroll on the floor
In this stone village
where he tells his stories.

Even the tree outside our windows
seems to listen with ruffled
leaves tipping and cooling
in the evening chill.

The pleasant knicker of an Indian pony
through the open window over
heads drowsy with sleep
announced the coming of the dawn.

We sat around the fire pitching our
own stories into the lap of the story teller.
We dropped troubles and pain.
Are they now someone else’s stories?

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BIRTH OF THE AMERICAN COWBOY


“RUSS ANDERSEN, Cattleman ” Watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

“CORRALLED” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

In the mid to late 1800s, some 10 million cattle would be driven north out of Texas, in the greatest forced migration of animals in human history. It was the birth of the American cowboy.

Though romanticized in book and movie, the life of the men and boys who drove cattle was dirty and hard, sweating in the heat of the day and freezing at night. The miserable conditions in rainstorms bear no description, and certainly take the romance out of the working cowboy.

Cattle had been trailed from Texas to Missouri as early as 1842, and to California as early as 1854. Although the maps depicting these routes suggesting an orderly branch of roads, on the ground the paths taken were often circuitous as the drovers needed to provide water and grass for the herd along the way. This meant following rivers and creeks and tracing the routes of old Indian and buffalo trails.The earliest endpoints were the railheads of the Union Pacific and the Missouri Pacific railroads, which were gradually extending their tentacles of track westward now that the Civil War was over and capital was available for their expansion.

But nothing about this trail driving scheme turned out to be quite as easy as it looked on paper. The first challenge: a cattle drive required horses, but freely roaming mustangs needed to be roped, corralled and broken by a skilled broncobuster.It typically took five to six days to properly break a wild mustang. And to trail cattle north, a journey that could take three to six months, drovers needed four to six months, drovers needed four or five horses per cowboy.

Cattle drive

The second challenge: the behavior and temperament of the wild Texas Longhorn itself. It was a challenge for cowboys to round up these wild cattle. Texas Longhorns hid in the brush during the day and did most of their foraging during the night. Only briefly in the summer, when the tormenting mosquitoes were out in force, did they spend the daylight hours in open areas, where they hoped to find a breeze. Most of the time the cowboys were compelled to ride into the thorny brush to flush the cattle out. But a cow with a young calf was prepared to gore a horse to protect her offspring and the Longhorn bull was notoriously ornery, sullen, morose, solitary and pugnacious, as one cattleman put it; “The longer he lived the meaner he became.”

“HOME ON THE RANGE” oil painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Once a herd was assembled, the profit-seeking Texan faced his most grueling challenge: the trail drive itself, since railroads throughout the south had been badly damaged during the Civil War and had never ventured far into Texasl It required a minimum of eight men to drive a thousand head of cattle. The trail boss usually rode a few miles ahead, scouting out water holes and good places to graze the herd. The cook followed on the mess, or chuck wagon. Two cowboys were positioned at the point of the herd, and two along each swing, or flank. The two most junior cowboys brought up the rear and were known as drag riders. Their job was to keep the slow and lame cattle moving along. They were constantly subjected to dust and spatterings of the herd’s manure. They took the full brunt of its noxious odors. One staple of the diet was known as son-of-a-bitch stew, concocted from leftover cattle parts.

On a good day, a trail drive would cover fourteen or fifteen miles, usually with a break at midday for lunch. The greatest threat facing the drovers was a stampede. It didn’t take much to spook the jumpy Longhorns: lightning, the appearance of a wolf, the snap of a towel.

In the spring of 1867, some 35,000 headed up the trails,the next year, 75,000, the year after that 350,000, and in 1871, some 600,000. The great migration of Texas Longhorns, the largest forced migration of animals in human history, had begun in earnest. In all, some ten million cattle would be driven north out of Texas, accompanied by half a million horses and some 50,000 cowboys.

Exerts from “Cattle Kingdom” by Christopher Knowleton

HOW FANTASY PARALLELS REALITY



Grusha Russian circus bear

The gift of friendship is unparalled, and I received a warm and fuzzy gift from our dear friend in Niles, singer/songwriter Michael McNevin, who gave us an impromptu performance of his new song about Grusha the Russian circus bear. Michael is a storyteller, whose songs reflect the human experience in a kind and deeply thoughtful way.

Grusha attached himself to Michael’s heart some time ago, and as fantasy bears sometimes do, he wouldn’t let up until Michael agreed to tell the world a musical rendition of his story.

It’s a smple story which some of you may remember from my previous blog of May 7, 2012, about Grusha, he was a bike riding attraction in the circus who longed to return to his home in Siberia. Going round and round, doing the same job every day, with no hope for his future, he seems familiar somehow. Michael first saw my painting of Grusha which lives in the small Haus in our garden. and then in pure serenditity, as things often do, bear mind control took over and Michael saw my blog. The result is a charming song sure to delight all ages.

As a friend of Michael’s said “Aren’t we all Grusha?” No matter what we do, or for how long, we are “all peddling our bikes to get back home”. Home is where warmth is, where love is, where family is. Gusha is readily recognizable.

Michael’s joyful song shows Grush’s excape and his journey back to his home in Siberia. His story fills us with hope and joy in the celebration of his freedom.

YOU CAN’T GO BACK


“You can’t go back”, but what if you didn’t go anywhere, and things changed all around you? Places and people change, stores and restaurants go out of business, people move and others move in, seemingly in the blink of an eye.

How did it all happen? Silicon Valley beckoned, and people arrived to fill the need for tech workers, who in turn needed a place to live. So the developers continue to have a field day, turning vacant spaces into high rise apartments after filling the larger areas with single family developments. To arrive on time for an appointment, one must leave an hour early to drive across town.

Years ago, a man commented that the streets in town were nice and wide and easily navigated. Today those streets are filled with the traffic generated by the newcomers at all times of the day.

We are told to use less water, so our gardens are dying of thirst, all to accommodate those newcomers. Where are the people on the planning commission?

I’m glad we found this town so many years ago, when you could still walk down the street and possible know your neighbors along the way. When your children could play outside till dark or walk to school without worry on your part, and when you didn’t make sure all doors were locked before your went to bed. Homes which a short time ago sold for a nominal price now go for upwards of a million dollars, thus making the term “millionaire” meaningless.

For many years I left the doors open to the studio while I worked, and people often stopped to pass the time of day and see what was going on. It was nice. There were two large dogs in those days, Lisa, the German Shepherd, and Max, the Dobie. Both welcomed visitors, with the correct amount of wariness. It was nice.

Do I sound old and crotchety? I suppose so, though I try to go with the flow and realize this phenomenon is repeated itself in most places today. It is just the way things are and are likely to continue, so “get used to it lady!”

BIRD BRAINS


We were awakened in the grey dawn by the frenzied barking of an angry Jack Russell, announcing the return of Henry, our semi-resident crow. Henry and his pals come to scrounge our yard and annoy us periodically. Our prejudice is reflected in our language; after all, a group of crows is called a murder, which seems a good idea, and their relatives, the ravens, are called an unkindness. Is it their color, their loud voice or their aggressive behavior?

It is too bad that these glossy black corvids have aroused the same suspicions as black cats, black sheep and black hats. A sexy little black dress might elicit some suspicion as well. I think it has everything to do with the voice. When the crows come to town, their raucous cawing announces their arrival. I have the same opinion of certain politicians. Their aggressive behavior can be frightening, as well.

The same sentiment is reflected in art: American realist Winslow Homer’s iconic 1893 painting Fox Hunt depicts the popular nineteenth century notions of crows as symbols of doom. In the painting, two low-flying crows harass a red fox as he makes his way over a snowy landscape, while in the background more crows lurk ominously. In the painting the crows are chasing and frightening the fox, and the viewer wants to shoo the birds away. And despite the fact that the most famous quote of his writing career is attributed to a raven, even Edgar Allen Poe considered the whole crow family grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous.

In 1989, the British House of Lords rose in outrage that corvids should receive some sort of protection like other birds. But one lawmaker cried out “What if the ravens left the Tower of London?” Legend warns that this would mean the fall of the Kingdom, and to prevent such a catastrophe, the nation employs a royal raven keeper.

But these birds aren’t a gang of nasty villains. They are really just birds who are among the most family-oriented birds in the world. Crows and their relatives are expert tool users. They actually make tools to help them accomplish their goal, and they can use two different tools in succession. They frequently work as a team.

When in Alaska visiting many fisheries, Dr. A often witnessed ravens working together to steal shrimp off the large trays in the packing houses. The shrimp were covered with tarp, and the crow army assembled in well rehearsed formation. Some on the ground, a couple on the tarp, and of course, watchmen to announce human arrival. As the ravens threw the tarp off the shrimp, they threw them onto the ground, where waiting ravens took them away.

In the city, crows go even further; they manage to use human tools to their ends. Walnuts are a crop new to Japan, but lately groves seem to be springing up everywhere. Crows find walnuts tasty and nutritious, but the shells are hard to open. The solution; crows pluck the nuts from the trees, then fly to perch on the traffic signal at the nearest intersection. When the light is red, they fly down and place the nuts in the front of waiting cars. When the light turns green, the cars run them over, cracking the hard shells. when the light turns red again and the cars stop, the crows fly down to safely eat the nutmeats.

The answer to facing up to these efficacious winged intruders is don’t get mad, get smarter.

IT ISN’T EASY BEING OLD


Crow Print by Marvin Oliver

It’s a shame that just when you get comfortable being youngish, you suddenly find yourself being classified as “elderly”. You see strangers being referred to as elderly when in their 70’s. I suppose we are lucky that the longest period of our lives is called middle age. But the middle of what?

What makes us “old”? Since Dr. A, at the age of 91, is often seen out and about, either walking Charlie or sweeping leaves, he is often offered help; either to get up if he is pulling a weed, or loading a bag of compost into the car. Shaking his head, he wonders if they think he is old. I always use the line uttered by Hermine Gingold to Maurice Chevalier “Oh no, not you.”

The question is not so much how we look. Obviously the years take their toll in ways we would rather not think about. The story inside a beat-up second hand book is just as good as when the book was new. I a heard young man the age of forty something complain that he was getting “old”.

The First Wednesday group met last week and celebrated two more 90th birthdays. We were joined this time by two daughters, one granddaughter, and a little great-grandson. Generations in action. I began paying more attention to the questions my friends asked. One asked me if any of Dr. A’s old friends were left.The answer has been “no” for many years. Another asked if I were still cooking. The answer is “yes”, she was not. Another asked if my hearing was still good. She had just got hearing aids, and doesn’t like them. I have never heard of anyone who loved wearing them. They fall into the same category as false teeth; an unavoidable necessity.

Do all these things make us old? No, they are the exterior signs of lives well spent. If we are given the gift of age, it behooves us to do the best we can to get on with it. Dwelling on what we have lost is boring and non-productive.

Having said that, I visited the eye doctor again yesterday for a new glasses prescription. Something glamorous and sexy and makes me look 65 again would be nice. Before this can be achieved, you review the same old tests everyone takes to determine how much you can actually see. The result was neither more nor less than I expected, since my eyesight has been failing regrettably faster than I thought.

On the last visit, they showed me a few magnifying devices said to help failing eyesight. Yesterday there were a whole shelf full of lighted ones, a couple to wear on your head, though I couldn’t find the buttons meant to work like binoculars. Strange looking things which would scare the dog into thinking you came down from an unknown planet.

I have found that some things, like youth, cannot be recaptured; sight being one of them. We need to go with the flow as long as the river runs.

Back to my original question, “What makes us old?” It isn’t the loss of our looks, or the loss of our capabilities. It’s the loss of hope. The loss of interest in new things. The loss of someone or something to care about, or who cares for us. All those things are at the core of Life. If we lose them, yes, we are old, and it isn’t easy being old.
As a good friend called over his shoulder the other day while leaving the house, “Old age sucks!”

PERSPECTIVES OF A CHURCH


“Ranchos de Taos”
watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

It’s entire name is “San Francisco de Asis Mission church and it has stood in the plaza in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico since 1816. Possibly one of the most photographed churches in the Southwest, its rear view has attracted the attention of artists from all over the world because of its smooth sculptural adobe form.

Ansel Adams used the church as part of his Taos Pueblo art book Georgia O’Keeffe described it as one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards. I have been fascinated by its colonial era beauty since I first came upon it in the 1960’s. I have painted it many times in watercolor, oils and acrylic and it changes each time, and each time I paint it, I love it more.

Front view of Ranchos de Taos Church