Indigenize!

Rekindle Your Wild Joy and sense of deep Belonging through spiritual ecopsychology and the arts, incl. bioregional awareness, animistic perspectives, strategies for simple living, & low/no-tech DIY fun.

Square Dance in the Rural West: An Oral History July 26, 2016

Don & Fay promenade

Check out my new article in the Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS) online journal. It’s based on interviews with my elders, who can really tell a story, and contains small photos of those faboo 1950s dance outfits.

Best of all is getting to witness how community dance like square dance or contra dance forges community.

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“Square dancing hit its heyday in the far west during the 1950s, and many elder members of my family were heavily involved in it. Hank Fields, my dad, was a popular square dance caller long before I was born. I follow lightly in his footsteps as a contra dance caller today; thus my interest in what the dance scene had been like for him. What are the similarities and differences with dance today? And what got so many people so passionately interested in square dancing back then?

“At a Fields/Glascock “inlaws & outlaws” family reunion held on my cousin’s ranch in rural Idaho during the summer of 2003, I spoke with a number of older folks who had been active in the square dance scene back in the 1950s, asking about their experiences.”

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 To read the whole thing, go to:

CD+S Online, vol.1

Or get directly to my article itself

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 I hope you like it! Please leave comments here.

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Honoring Veterans November 11, 2015

My dad Hank just told me some hairy stories a couple of days ago about flying bomb runs over fascist Italy and Germany in WWII. They sent him on some of the more dangerous missions: over half of their company never came back (and the story was later immortalized in Catch-22!) He flew 54 missions before they decided that was enough. He apparently has some strong guardian angels.

I’m a pacifist – very against these contemporary US invasions masquerading as “just wars” – AND I’m appreciative that Hitler and Mussolini didn’t get their way in that one, in part because I’m one of the people who would not be alive today if they had.

Thanks, Dad.

Some good-hearted people struggle with honoring military veterans if they don’t honor the act of war, or particular wars. I think it makes more sense (and more heart) to separate the two in our minds. Look at the example set by the Dalai Lama, facing the horrors of exile and genocide of his Tibetan people perpetrated by China. When asked (paraphrased from memory), “Don’t you hate the Chinese?” he responded, “No. But I do hate the Chinese government.”

So I think we can – and should – strive to change the destructive nature of systems such as the US military-industrial profit complex, while simultaneously respecting each being caught up in it. Respecting one another at the core (beyond preferences, current ideas, past actions, etc.), and deep appreciative listening with the goal of truly understanding, is a vital skill that paves the way forward to peace. What better way to honor Veterans Day than by working to ensure that no more of our children have to become vets; to endure the horrors of war?

Thanks to each of you, veterans of wars and veterans of peacemaking alike.

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#HonoringVeterans

 

Machine Moment September 17, 2015

2face_sewingmachine_behindthevoiceactors.comWe who enjoy material prosperity in the modern day Industrial Growth Society are expected to chuck out imperfect possessions that we don’t use anymore and go buy new ones.

However, I like to repair and repurpose things, so I’ve been doing some mending.

Some of the clothes on the pile are nearly worn out. But that’s because they’re favorites and therefore too beloved to just let go softly into that dark night of the rubbish bin or consigned to a second life as cleaning rags without a fight. Others, I want to alter in some interesting way; to usher their good raw material into a new and more currently useable form.

Even though I’m much more skilled at sewing the archaic way, with a simple needle and thread, I got our old sewing machine out for the first time in many years to make the work go faster.

“Faster,” she said. Ha! As soon as I attempted to begin, the thread snarled up in incredible thick tangles over and over behind the bobbin. This being on the bottom side of the piece, I didn’t notice it until quite a few inches were already sewn and I was congratulating myself on the excellent choice to employ some metallic plug-in help. Then the snarl caught on the foot hardware and everything stopped cold. I turned the work over, and omg. In certain places, what was intended to be a neat row of small stitches was a mass two inches thick and a half-inch deep! What a mess.

I tried a few more times, with no luck. As a last desperate resort, I finally broke down and got out the owner’s manual to try and understand what was happening. Not surprisingly, this helped. Improper settings for the kind of material, thread, stitching style, etc., had indeed caused part of the problem.

But really, getting deeper to the core of the issue, machines have never liked me.

You’d think they would cut me some slack due to my family: my dad, a mechanic, served their kind his entire life. He worked on aircraft, cars, motorcycles, and small stroke engines like chainsaws and outboard motors. He even single-handedly rebuilt three-and-a-half P-51 warbird airplanes from the WWII era, one from a husk found abandoned out in the desert. And my mom cared for this exact same sewing machine for decades. Where’s the gratitude?

But machines don’t seem to think that way. It’s all about their needs and their individual relationships with us soft-bodied creatures, and something about me is apparently just too much water to their oil.

Thinking about it, maybe it’s because I’ve not given this one a name, nor painted Celtic knotwork all over it, or suchlike. I seem to get along better with the machines that I anthropomorphically spoil, or at least art up. Or perhaps it balked because I don’t use it enough, and it feels under-appreciated; without a strong purpose. Hm.

You reading this: how do YOU personally develop a mutually happy relationship with the machines in your life? Inquiring, frustrated minds want to know.

For myself, I think I am better off sticking mainly to simpler tools like the hand needle, thimble and thread. Even with it occasionally drawing blood and me taking a lot longer to complete tasks, there’s less wariness between us. We know what to expect from one another. We can get along.

 

Dreams at 98 May 6, 2015

Filed under: Adventures,With Elderly Parents — BrujaHa @ 11:38 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Dad, 2013

My dad has been having dreams about my long-dead mom. At first he didn’t want to tell me their content. They’re sexy dreams; sweet dreams. He’s in bed with her. He gets up to go to the bathroom, and they are conversing. So simple; so sweet.

He often feels now that she, or his also-deceased second wife, are there in the room with him. Sometimes he gets the strong sensation that one of them is in a room he’s just about to enter, and he’s surprised when he opens the door to find she is not there — even though he knows full well they’ve not got bodies anymore.

The veils between the worlds are growing thin for him.

This is one element of what it means to be 98 years old.

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I haven’t been writing about life with him here. I share some stuff with my friends on Facebook, but not here because I keep thinking this blog should not be personal in nature, but of widespread interest. The longer I go through this journey with my beloved elder, though, the more I shake my head and think, “Wow, I sure wish I’d known about that before.” So I’m going to start writing about it here for myself to process and help remember, and also for you folks, because there’s a chance you might find something useful for yourself in my experiences. And also because what the heck: life is short, and stories are best shared.

 

Horned Toad Hospitality March 16, 2010

I discovered my first Desert Horned Lizard in my father’s lunchbox.  After two interminable days away, my dad finally came through the front door.  Joyfully, I ran to greet him, lunging forward with a big hug.  I took his coat and hung it up, glad it would stay in the home closet for awhile. Then, as routine dictated, I sauntered off to the kitchen to clean out his lunchbox. As I lifted the metal lid, I anticipated used napkins, food wrappers, and maybe some leftovers. But WOW!  To my surprised delight a small, intelligent reptilian face was looking right up at me.  In that instant, I fell in love with a wild horned toad.

When I was growing up, my father had a job flying a small airplane for the telephone company in northern Nevada.  In those days, all telephone service was provided by one single cable that lay buried across the entire Sierra mountain range.  Every long-distance relationship in the West was dependent on that cable; if it became unearthed and was cut, westerners would have their connections to each other and the rest of the world severedliterally.  My dad’s job was to fly the full route of the buried cable every week, covering one bit per day, in order to make sure that it was still buried, intact and secure.

He observed that same vast area from the air every daylike a bird above its life-long territory, watching the land change. He noticed its colors and moods changing suddenly and swiftly through differing weather, and transforming gradually through the seasons and ever-creeping human ‘progress.’ He grew to know it with a rare depth of understanding and love.

Every Saturday, my dad would take me up in his Super Cub for a half-day of work.  And every Saturday, I’d throw up in the little airplane barf bag, a trade-off which was entirely worth it.  Every Monday, he’d fly straight east and, because the route took him so far in that one direction that day, he’d stay overnight in Elko.  The next morning, he’d continue on to Utah, make the loop, and then fly back to Reno in time for dinner with his family on Tuesday evening.

On his way home, my father would land somewhere in the eastern Nevada desert to stretch his legs and have lunch.  The predominant quality of the Great Basin Desert that far out feels like silence.  No human settlements exist nearby; no machine noise, aside from the occasional airplane passing overhead, assaults the ears. The federal government has justified their choice to locate nuclear waste in Nevada by viewing this sort of land as barren, uninhabited, a ‘wasteland.’ But really, a lot happens there every moment; it’s just that it takes a softer, slower mindset to notice. At first, one hears or sees very little in such a landscape, especially if accustomed to the noises of human colonies or the riotous colors of lusher regions with their innumerable shades of what we simplistically call ‘green’. But after awhile, the senses become more sensitive, and this land’s subtleties more tangible. The hills, perhaps at first seeming only clad in tones of dull brown or grey-green, after some quiet contemplation suddenly contain purples, golds, blues, pinks; and all of these ever-changing with the moving sunlight. Many nonhuman peoples live there: coyotes, rattlesnakes, small burrowing owls, piñon pines. In a thunderstorm, juniper trees and sagebrush lend a wonderfully overpowering scent to the air; the same refreshing incense used by the native Washo, Paiute, and Shoshone peoples for purification before spiritual ceremony.  Being alone out there can feel renewing.

Once in awhile, after he finished eating, my dad would look around for a Desert Horned Lizard or two. He’d catch them and bring them home to me in his old-fashioned black steel lunchbox with the rounded lid. This provided the source of much surprised hilarity when my mother went to clean out the lunchbox and would find, instead of the expected used sandwich wrappers, a little face looking up at her. The lizards would only stay with us one week, and then back into the lunchbox they’d go for the return trip to their desert habitat.

I was delighted with the “horny toads,” as we called them, although they are actually lizards sporting flattened, pudgy, somewhat toad-like bodies.  Their tiny, wild otherness awed me.  They were so prehistoric looking, ferocious yet so delicate, with their softly articulated limbs, little clawed hands, the pebbling around their eyes, and their elegant subtle colors.  Although their backs and heads were covered with spikes like a small dinosaur, their bellies were very soft.  Their tongues darted out like lightning.  They maintained a constant silence.  Because of their rotating numbers, I really got to notice each one as an individual.  Each was very different from her or his fellows. Some were huge, some were wider or flatter than most, some had more vibrant colors, some looked wise, some had a feisty temperament.

Beautiful HornedToad quilt made by Susan Cranshaw


Their eyes look quite a bit like ours, with light brown irises and round black pupils, but they could shoot blood out of their eyes, and shoot it far – up to five feet away. Horned lizards’ first defense lies in the visual realm: invisibility and distraction. When threatened, they’ll freeze in place in an attempt to become invisible. If that fails, they’ll run a bit in weirdly angled directions, stopping in spurts and angling off in some other direction, in an attempt to confuse the watching predator. If that doesn’t work, their second defensive strategy is to seem dangerous. They’ll puff themselves up in order to look bigger and pricklier, making their spines stick out in a ferociously cactus-like manner that screams “I Taste Bad and Go Down Hard.” If actually grabbed, they might hiss, bite, or try to stick the assailant with their spines. Finally, if all that fails to deter the would-be lizard muncher, they will squirt an aimed stream of blood right into the assailant’s face. They do this by deliberately constricting the blood flow from leaving their eyes and heads, which increases the blood pressure there so much that the tiny blood vessels around their eyelids burst. This spurt of blood not only surprises and perhaps even temporarily blinds the would-be predator, it’s also reputed to taste terrible. It’s easy to imagine how this would put anyone off their meal.

My friends all wanted to see the lizards spurt eye blood, but I generally refused to entertain in this way. The Encyclopedia Brittanica my folks had bought from a door-to-door salesman said it was a sign that the lizards felt severely threatened, and I wanted them to be happy while they were with us.

Lizard guests deserve the best.  My dad built a terrarium hotel for them out of a flat metal oil-changing tub.  It stood about 6” tall and 2 ½ feet in diameter, and was topped by a Plexiglas lid complete with drilled air holes and bolts to fasten it in place. We filled the hotel with dry sand and a water bowl, and as their nominal caretaker, I was charged with capturing food for our reptilian guests.

We quickly discovered that horned toads only enjoy live fare, so I had to go out several times per day to catch ants, the only insects I could reliably find. Fortunately, our locally plentiful Harvester Ants are caviar to Desert Horned Lizards.  Yet unfortunately, I soon learned that humans are not really built to be ant predators.  I suffered for weeks in my efforts to collect enough of them to satiate gluttonous horned toads.

Try this as an exercise in humility:  Capture running ants, one at a time, between your fingertips.  Pinch them hard enough to grab them, but gently enough to keep them unharmed and alive.  Then get each ant into a transportable container without letting any of the others out.

It would take me at least an hour of ant-catching every day to keep the horned toads fed.  Then one day my mother suggested that I find an anthill and use bait, like honey in a jar, to get them. It was with a combined relief and Homer Simpson-like “D’oh!” that I switched to the honey trick. It worked!  Now, as the horned toads hid burrowed in the sand with only their heads peering out, they had scores of ants running all over their camouflaged backs, and I enjoyed many gruesomely fascinating moments watching them silently waiting… waiting… and then suddenly snapping up their unsuspecting victims.

Like many kids with pets, while I enjoyed the horned toads’ presence, I didn’t always pay enough attention to them.  It snowed quite a bit during Reno winters, and on one such day I remember feeling elated and blessed with a visit from a glorious sun.  Certainly, I thought, the current batch of horned toads must be homesick for the desert; they would no doubt enjoy a bit of warming up after a bleak few days trapped in the gloomy house (a bit of projection on my part, perhaps).  So I placed their terrarium on the front porch, where they could bask in direct sun light to their hearts’ content.  I went back in to read, or play, or draw.  And I promptly forgot about them.

When it began to get dark, my mother reminded me to bring the horned toads inside for the night.  I went out to get them, but to my horror, I found they were not the same. The sun’s rays had become super magnified by the Plexiglas lid, causing the temperature in the terrarium to rise to an intolerable level. The baby lizard had baked to death.  I buried his stiff, dried-out little body in our yard, weeping through the entire ceremony.  Guilt and grief co-mingled.  The older one was still alive, but barely. We gently placed her in cool water and left the hotel lid open to the sheltered indoor air.

My father barely met my eyes. “That’s the last of the horned toads,” he said through a tight, set jaw. “If you don’t take care of them, you don’t deserve to have them.”  I pleaded, “But it was only this once, and it was a mistake!”  I felt terrible. Was my act so awful? It was an accident. I truly hadn’t meant harm to come to them; didn’t that count? Was this ban really to last forever?  Thankfully, the large one grew stronger again, and my dad took her back home in his lunchbox the very next day.  But he never brought another horned toad home.

My eyes opened to the fragility of life on that winter day, and the impact I, and my species as a whole, can have on these, our ancient relatives. They have lived as a species so much longer than we, and under extreme desert conditions of weather and water deprivation that would do most humans in; yet they are individually so soft, small and vulnerable. My one small act of unintentional negligence led to their torture and swift death. I felt guilty not only because of what happened, but also because I had caused it in the misguided name of love. Further, the mistake resulted in dire consequences for the perpetrator, too – no more horned toads for me, ever again. And I began to realize how we humans need to maintain a high level of observant vigilance about the effects of our actions.

The Northern Desert Horned Lizards that live in Nevada, Idaho, Utah, and southeastern Oregon are still pretty well-off.  However, two of their southern cousins have state protection as ‘threatened’ species, largely due to loss of their primary food, the Harvester Ant.  Increasing development reduces ant habitat, non-native ants moving in from South America make war on them and eat their queens, and overuse of agricultural pesticides kills them en masse.  All of these factors combine to make the horned lizards’ primary food source very hard to come by.

Perhaps I want my entire species to help me atone for the pain I caused that one young horned toad.  I want us to gain enough consciousness to stop causing this sort of agony on purpose, to stop sanctioning horrific deaths as ‘collateral damage’, and to stop destroying the homes of our other-than-human relatives for our own selfish purposes without batting an eyelash.

The history of colonization is replete with unconscious violence: theft of native peoples’ homelands, forbidding Paiutes, Aborigines, Hawaiians, and Irish to speak their own languages, and kidnapping Africans to toil as slaves on an faraway continent.  We look upon these events with horror now, yet we are still perpetrating such crimes of the soul today, in an equally unthinking ways, against our non-human relatives. We capture wild birds such as parrots, some of whom live over 80 years and range for hundreds of miles of territory, to keep in sedentary cages as wing-clipped pets. We vacuum tropical fish up from their vast home in the coral reefs to languish and die in our tiny home aquariums. And we consider land to be ‘our property’, sellable and ‘uninhabited’ if it doesn’t have a human-built structure on it, giving us free rein to bulldoze it, pave it over, drop toxic wastes on it, and evict or murder the existing denizens, who now are considered ‘pests.’

Since the horned toad incident, I’ve pondered this question many times: “How do we foster respect for the other-than-human world?”

The lesson I learned when I inadvertently killed the baby horned toad was a strong one for a girl of eight, and I’ve never forgotten it: Care for the other-than-humans daily, and do it well and right, with proper attention and love, for you only get one chance.  They’re in our lives now, but if we blow it, they’ll be gone.  Whether as individuals, entire species, or even ecosystems, once these treasured elder relatives are gone, they’re gone for good.  Consequently, an important human connection will be severed – severed far worse, and for much longer, than any phone line in the Sierras.

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Amazon link - Courting the Wild: Love Affairs with Reptiles and      Amphibians

This essay by Tina R. Fields was first published in

Courting the Wild: Love Affairs with Reptiles and Amphibians

ed. Jamie K. Reaser, Hiraeth Press, 2009, pp. 67-74.

(Click the picture to see more or to purchase.)


 

Square Dances of the 1950s Rural West February 26, 2010

Filed under: Announcements,Arts,Dance — BrujaHa @ 5:17 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The book of my father’s square dance calls that I’ve been working on for the last six years or so is coming together. I suppose I really should wait till it’s actually out to talk about it, but I just finished the cover mockup and am excited now!

Hank Fields taught hundreds of people to square dance in rural Modoc County, CA in the 1950s, the heyday of western square dance. The book’s main purpose is to share the calls he did (including breaks, patter, and singing squares. It also includes stories gleaned from numerous interviews with Hank and other dancers from the time about their experiences.

One of my favorites, told by an older cousin, is about winter dancing in Idaho. Folks would sometimes get snowed in while on their way to a dance, but would that stop them? No! They’d just stop, set up sawdust fires, and dance anyway – right in the middle of the road!

I hope this book will be of interest to modern western square dancers and others interested in how dance can forge community, and that it will help contemporary callers keep these old dances alive. It ends with the exhortation to “Please use these good old dances to make good new memories.”

This book is not done yet, but please let me know if you’re interested in getting a copy when it is! Inspired by my friend Birrell Walsh’s delight with his poetry book, I plan to self-publish it through Lulu.com.