Friday, June 5, 2015

"Summer time when the livin' is easy"...

Note: This will be my last posting for the summer – except when I get occasional contact with a computer.  Off soon on a summer adventure…(Plans for House sitter in place - dogs looked after, garden carried for... bags not packed yet - but soon...)

My grade school - two classrooms:  one  grades 1-4, and 5-8
When I was a kid I remember the last day of school – turn in books – get report card – tell the teacher and friends good-bye – and then feel that intense liberation of ‘freedom’. I grew up in an era where there were no organized summer sports or summer camps for kids… For me it was a time to feed my imagination – The days were warm and filled with birdcalls… I loved exploring the ever changing wonders to be found in the “woods” – a piece of land on our land that sometimes flooded – that and the terrain was not suitable for machine farming. So it remained native woodlands.    It also led down to a small creek with all kinds of amazing  ‘critters’.  Some days I had friends come out from town or I walked into town to play with  them.

'Little'  creek ran through our farm - we also had a bigger "Cross creek"

There was no library near our farm – and my mother was concerned that my sister and I should be reading in the summer months.  With a good deal of searching she found that outlying farm people like us could borrow books from the Kansas state library situated in the Topeka capital building.

State Capital library - Topeka
At the time it was a big trip to drive into Topeka – over 30 miles away – a two lane road passing through two small towns, and across the old rickety steel bridge on the Kansas river…

Kansas  River
...but we drove in every two weeks to turn in our books and exchange them for new ones…I can still remember the sweet smell of all those books stacked in rows in  levels to the ceiling…  We became friends with the librarians and even invited them to visit our farm – which they did… pretty exciting!   I loved to read – especially adventure books about Indian life, the South Seas, Alaska gold miners, science books, sailing ships, fantasies… whatever delicious good books I came across.  As I got older my level of reading steadily grew to reach an ever-wider range of books… We had one of those hanging wooden bench swings hung from two chains extending to the ceiling… it was my favorite place to go off into my reading adventures. 

Kansas countryside 
Capital Building Topeka
The capital building itself was a marvel – with larger than life murals on Kansas life and history, the opportunity to climb up to the very top of the dome and long out over the entire city (for a flat land boy like me this was incredible)… there was the legislative chamber… but as a small boy what I remember most was the resonant sound of walking in the great huge building and hearing my voice echo in the halls.  We would walk past all these offices that were doing the business of the State of Kansas... pretty impressive to a farm kid like me...

Mural - capitsl bldg
Mural - capitsl bldg
Mural - capitsl bldg
Farm activities intensified in the summer – Combines harvested the fields of grain… As a small boy I loved to ride in the truck that was receiving the separated kernels from the combine – it smelled of wheat and was warm from the sun – as it came flowing over me from the combine chute. My Uncle Joe used a horse and pulley to lift great piles of cut hay taken from his fields and they were lifted with two overlapping hay hooks – then hoisted high into the barn –
Internet photo - but this is how its done - note the 'pull rope' attached to a horse ( not shown )
The barn was designed so that after that, each day during the year, a quantity of hay could be dropped, from the loft, down chutes into the manger of each cow waiting to be milked… I had my chores, which grew a more each year, as I grew older…  
Combines - they store the grain - then empty it into a truck through the chute
There were strawberries and other fruits or vegetables to pick, eggs to collect daily, kitchen fuel to be brought in, water to be pumped into the cow trough, drinking water to be carried from the household pump just outside the gate, and often I would walk into town to buy something from “Weiners “ market that my mother needed in her cooking.  I remember the warm evenings with cicadas singing in the trees - and the cottonwood leaves murmuring in the breeze.

Delia Kansas - where we "went to town"
Another part of my summer ‘education’ was 'guesting'  regular visitors from far off Nebraska, Idaho, and even California – this was an age when story telling was an art form– remembering things that happened in the past  – and in the telling I learned about where I came from and what ‘my people’ believed. Most summers my family also made a big road trip – usually to visit far distant relatives but also we saw a lot of  the American west.  Perhaps this is where I developed my love of travel.

Evening in Kansas - Imagine the smells and sounds...
The death of my father when I was 11 changed many things – The death of a parent is traumatic – and I was very close to mine… Being required to leave the familiar and move to California was like moving to another planet.  In the long run I adjusted, and like an uprooted willow tree I took root in this place and I have long come to feel that it is my home.  I will always carry with me my roots and the memories of childhood.  It is said that challenges can make us stronger…. Sometimes we never feel quite ready for the situations we are thrust into – but if we are fortunate we learn survival skills from the experiences that make future encounters with  ‘the new and different’  more manageable.

Friday, May 29, 2015

"Long ago, in the time of our ancestors..."

I am amazed, and a little humbled, when I find primitive rock art that allows me to be in contact  with people of a vastly different time and culture. This last week we visited the "Valley of Fire" in southern Nevada - Here I could catch a glimpse into the life and mind of people who lived long ago in the harsh landscape of southern Nevada.   
Sage brush - Creosote brush...

Some rock art was created at least 10’s of thousands of years ago, some more recently.   Rock art is often found in only certain rock formations ( those places where the spirits dwelled, or the magic was strong...?).     Rock art is an opportunity to project into the thinking of those that created the art.  And this is tricky because our mindset and world views today and their's then  are so different.  What makes the places where rock art is found different from those that do not have it?  Were pieces in one location all produced in the same time period or over many years and generations?  

What was in the mind of the creator of this Rock art? Is it a mystical symbol?

Were the pieces idle ‘graffiti’ or were they religious statements, attempt to make magic and control their world?  Was rock art an attempt to say – “I was here – I existed and I mattered.”?  Many rock art sites display evidence of repeated use over long periods but punctuated by episodes of disuse…were ‘styles’ ‘classic’ or did they evolve over time? 
Some are easy: I see mountain goats, a snake, a row of humans, ...but many symbols are cryptic to me...
Scientific dating of petroglyphs is difficult because these is no organic material to ‘age date’.  A site's period of use can be estimated from the age of associated activities in the landscape – such as charcoal fragments if they can be located.

Perhaps this was a totem to 'control' good hunting of large deer
Petroglyphs are made by removing the outer dark surface of rocks, called rock varnish or ‘patina’, to reveal the lighter rock underneath.  But patina takes a long time to form.  It is created by bacteria living on the rock and attaching clay particles to the rock.  
Mythological figures - "lizard people?", snakes?

In the process they incorporate the element manganese, which gives a dark color.  As soon as patina is removed, bacteria start to create patina again on the new surface.  Roughly, we can say that darker petroglyphs are older, because they have been exposed longer to formation of patina. 

( This photo I copied from the internet - but it is similar in period and style to the Valley of Fire )
Visions? Drugs? My mind wants to make these humanoid.  What did the artist intend? Are those footprints?


 The people living in this harsh desert were mostly hunter gathers – but they had communal life and traditions.   If I attempt to project myself into that life – I had the natural human mysteries brought on by the human condition – life, death, sickness and healing, puberty, marriage, desire to find food (good hunting), war… rites of passage, desire to control the weather... 
The "Patina" dark  coating that can be scraped or hammered off to draw the figures

There were undoubtedly many unexplained mysteries in their world – the seasons, rain, the daily, monthly and annual cycles to be seen.   There were probably attempts to control the unexplained and unpredictable by means of shamanistic practices and magic – rock art was likely to be a part of all this.

Cryptic,  Cryptic,  Cryptic!

Puberty ceremonies; Vision quests; Prayers for rain; Hunting magic (hoping to ensure a good hunt); astronomical indicators of the seasons; elements of rituals and ceremonies; voices of nature to be 'heard' within the rocks); visions  “seen” from consuming psychoactive plants; copying  phenomena of the natural world.  The list goes on and on....
Deeply significant or idle drawing?

It is tricky to interpret the meaning  of symbols from another culture... our assumptions and knowledge are not the same as theirs.  Also the “interpretation” of rock art symbols, alone or in combination, remains very difficult.  Simply because a symbol looks like something to us, it may not have looked at all like that for the people who created the rock art using it.  Two symbols which we judge the “same” may have been very different symbols for some culture.  Anthropologists must constantly be alert to not imposing their interpretations onto the original 'Mind of the people'. We want to avoid over simplification or missing complex ideas carried by the symbols .

Paiutes in summer homes

The most recent native people in the region of "Valley of Fire"  are of the Paiute nation...they are not necessarily the people who created the images - migrations over the eons have  made this home to many different peoples.  Still a study of the Paiutes give a good image of life in this harsh desert environment.  Paiutes were hunter-gatherers, hunting rabbits, deer, snakes and lizards, insects, and mountain sheep, and gathering seeds, roots, berries, and nuts. They also practiced some flood plain gardening, historically. They raised corn, squash, melons, gourds, sunflowers, and, later, winter wheat. The lived close to the earth, moved with the seasons, and lived according to their own cultural mores to form a society that provided continuity from one generation to the next.
With people living in a primitive life style it is important to remember that they were as fully human as us, as capable of abstract thought and reasoning... they simply valued a different body of knowledge and skills than we "modern humans".

Designed for a dry climate - shelter from wind but open to the sky... cooking was done outside