Frogs are ubiquitous around here, but rarely hold still enough for me to get a good photo.

I continue to spot new critters at my place. July 4th this year was my second anniversary at this home, and even after two years I am pretty sure I haven’t seen them all. Last year my favourite animal sightings included vultures outside my office window, a coyote circling the chicken pen, and a small herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Here are some of my photo captures from year two.

I spotted this handsome boy sitting in my driveway one morning.

Who me? Yes you. I watched him several mornings in a row, hopping around, tasting things from my garden.

It occurred to me that this rabbit probably looked like a tasty morsel to someone in the forest, and I began making plans to trap it and keep it. I was too late and never saw him again.

In early summer I spotted a flash of colour in my new peach tree.

It is difficult to focus on an object on the far side of a bunch of branches. But I got a photo clear enough to identify him as a Western Tanager. I’ve seen one before, but not this close.

If my quick internet search is right, this is a male praying mantis, making his way up the side of my house.

This photo was taken through rippling water with my phone camera, but I hope you can still make out the crawdad. Yes! There are crawdads in my creek!

The hooded mergansers have returned to my pond. They must be winter visitors, since I haven’t seen them all summer.

I love their goofy-shaped heads and red eyes. These ducks are a delight to me.

This chestnut-backed chickadee had no choice but to hold still for a photo, after flying headfirst into my window. I carried the little dude to a sheltered spot under a fern so he could wait for the stars to clear from his head and fly off.

I’ve been watching these tiny bark-loving birds for a long time but didn’t get a photo till now.

In this photo I was finally able to capture enough detail to identify a Brown Creeper as it whips around and around the tree, gouging the bark and looking for tasty things.

While mowing the lawn I spotted a turtle on the tiny island in my pond. I snapped a quick, blurry shot with my phone.

A couple days later I spotted it again, and brought my real camera. But the turtle was wise to me and hopped right into the water. And you thought YOU didn’t like photos taken of you…look at this grumpy face!

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Skin colour is part of what makes us beautiful as human beings, and also part of what makes us ugly.

Why is this the moment of truth? Why is the fallout from the most recent accusations against Harvey Weinstein finally what is getting us to talk about our culture of accepting inappropriate sexual behavior from people who are in power against people who are not in power?

What are your thoughts about it? I’d love to know your opinion for why the public reaction to this rape scandal is different than the ones before.

As a woman who has been raped, as a woman who has suffered repeated sexual harassment by people of power in the workplace (this was long ago; it is no implication against my current employer), I am particularly sensitive to this topic. It puts my whole body on edge every time I hear a public accusation of sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment. I understand too much about the unspoken details. I’ve paid attention when it’s in the news – I can’t help it – I remember the cases.

Till now the common undertone that I’ve sensed is that of not believing the victim. As in, “That person is probably exaggerating,” or “That person is probably trying to get attention,” or “The person they accused is famous so maybe they want a settlement.” Me included! I am complicit! It seems like the main social response in the past was *not* instantly that they are telling the truth and that we need to stop everything and listen and believe it. That tends to come along a little later.

It’s different this time. We are believing, and it feels so good – as another victim – it feels so good to know that a victim is being listened to, and believed. We need to be believed or else we’re never going to start telling these stories.

But I keep asking myself why. I mean, what is it this time? I don’t understand what’s different. Why didn’t this happen during the recent accusations surrounding Bill Cosby? The similarities: they’re both famous people, they’re both of Hollywood, they both have a decades-long history of accusations of sexual assault, unfortunately in both of their cases the number of victims is high. So why has a case against Henry Weinstein resulted in an outpouring of “Me Too” stories and social pressure for the accused to take the charges seriously. Suddenly I’m hearing reports of sexual assault by a different famous person every day. Kevin Spacey. Dustin Hoffman. Others can feel the change, too, and have realized that now they can give voice to their trauma.

With the case against Cosby, discourse didn’t happen. We just all …groaned, because it was such an ugly horrible story.

So I’ve been thinking about that for a couple weeks. I’ve been trying, but couldn’t figure out what the trigger was. This morning the news coming out of Washington, D.C. was about people coming forward to talk about sexual harassment in the workplace among politicians. And again this morning I asked myself what is different now. If we’re talking politics, why not when Clarence Thomas was accused publicly? When Anita Hill had to fight so hard to get people to believe her? It was an ugly, high-profile story, but it didn’t change the national conversation. And Thomas was implicitly forgiven for his heinous crimes when he was confirmed to the US Supreme Court, where he continues today. I’m comparing the facts: it’s politics, it’s a man in power abusing a woman with less power in the workplace. If it’s as similar as it seems, then why are people in Washington, D.C. being listened to now but not then? What is going on?

I can’t take credit for the uncomfortable conclusion I came to because I arrived here after talking with someone else and comparing notes. If I continue to compare the general circumstances of today’s accusations against the general circumstances of historic accusations, I might not ever find an answer. But instead, if I ask what those past accusations have in common with each other, I find a potential answer.

What do the cases against Bill Cosby and Clarence Thomas have in common with each other that is not the case with Weinstein? Race.

If it’s true that our public reactions are based on faulty racial assumptions, the implication is brutal. It’s as ugly as the crimes themselves. It means we heard those other stories and at some deep subconscious place concluded to ourselves: well, that’s what they do. And I don’t want to believe this is what happened. I do not want to admit I’m part of this system, that I’m a collaborator in it. By collaborator, I’m not saying I’m out there actively promoting racism. Rather, I’ve been raised in a world where the norm is to make assumptions about people based on skin colour.

I loathe racism. Anyone who knows me personally figures it out pretty damned quickly. I refuse to accept outward signs of prejudice against any group for their lifestyle choice, their differing physical or mental abilities, the colour of their skin, their faith or lack of faith, you name it. But what I’m talking about here is stuff that I’m doing to contribute to the system of intolerance simply because it’s so ingrained in me that I don’t even notice it. It’s not my fault. It’s not your fault. We are a product of our world. And I hhhaaaatttttee knowing that I am probably unintentionally adding insult to injury.

In the beautiful song Stereotypes by Black Violin, Kev Marcus says when people ride with him in an elevator: “Maybe they’re not afraid, but they’re on notice.”

I tried to test my theory by recalling media storms over public figures accused of sexual assault, in order to prove myself wrong. Let’s see, there was Michael Jackson. Who was that guy who assaulted his fiancée? Oh yeah, Ray Rice. There was Mike Tyson. All of them black. I was scaring myself. But then I recalled President Clinton, Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes, all white men.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be the case – and it would be hard to prove – that what’s different now is race-based, but I want to resist performing too many contortions in order to argue in favor of another explanation. I want to be open to this one. Maybe what’s different this time *is* the obvious thing.

I believe in life’s subtleties. I do not intend to state that racial prejudice is the sole reason for my country’s slow awakening to the rampant scourge of sexual assault among us. I just want to make sure this one isn’t left out of the discussion.

We are talking about this crime everywhere today because 1) Weinstein was already so famous for rape that it wasn’t a shocker when the latest case was made against him, and thus we were primed to believe the victim. 2) Because of the tireless efforts of activists all over the globe who have been laser-focused on de-criminalizing victims. The people who are making it ok to be a man and admit to being a victim of sexual assault. The people who are saying there is no shame in being an unmarried woman who is raped. 3) Because social consciousness (at least in the country where I live) is getting better at admitting fault even when it’s uncomfortable. 4) Because the perpetrators right now are white.

Josh and I stop for a break in the neverending switchbacks at the beginning of the trail.

Slopes dressed up for Autumn.

Switchbacks and foliage.

I used to joke that the only reason I worked was to earn the money and vacation time I needed to get out and hike. I hiked much of the year, with multiple big trips. These days I am grateful to get out once a year. My annual hike is worth celebrating though. What joy to be on a trail again.

The Enchantments Area in northern Washington state is so popular that people can only get hiking permits by lottery. I did not win the lottery this year (again), so I had to purchase outside the peak season, which ends October 15th. The earliest permit available was this past week, October 24th-27th. That’s pretty late. I paid my fee and told myself that if the winter snows had not begun in earnest, I would hike. If they had, I would consider it a donation to Recreation.gov. (That’s a marvelous website, by the way. Please check it out.)

The Snow Lakes trailhead begins just outside of town on Icicle Road heading out of Leavenworth, WA. Hit the link there and just look at a couple of photos to get a sense of the town. It is totally kitschy and totally touristy but oh, so, beautiful that it’s worth every potential drawback. I reserved a room at the Leavenworth Village Inn, where I have stayed before, and was equally pleased. They offer a military discount, which I used. This lovely little Bavarian-styled town is smack in the middle of Oktoberfest. So Plan B was that if the trail was snowed out, I would drink some ale. Admit it, you love my Plan B.

Prior to the trip it rained and rained and rained and then! Tuesday morning was spectacular.

Sun lights up a lingering thimbleberry leaf.

Because it was so late in the season, and also because I don’t have my mountain legs anymore (spending most of my life decomposing in front of a computer screen all day long), I invited a friend along. As you may recall, this is not my usual approach as I really do prefer hiking alone. However, I am also smart! And hiking in the mountains potentially in snow, for days on end, alone… Well, let’s just say I was relieved when Josh said, “Sure, I’ll go.” (of course, I am stubborn enough that I would have gone on alone anyway if he was not interested…but that’s a psychology session for another day)

Sunrise hits the peaks over Nada Lake.

The trail begins with a shameful number of brutal switchbacks. Up, up, up. I am a good hiker when it comes to “up.” I complain, but my trusty little legs just keep going. Josh (big tough guy) was feeling strong that morning and teasing that we should do the whole 18-mile loop in a day, then do it again the second day. It was his first backpacking trip ever. So I just smiled and kept plodding along. After 1000 feet or so, he was humbled. I offered to let him go ahead and set the pace. Gasping on breaks he insisted that I had to be in front of him for motivation. “I can’t let you beat me at this!”

Trail descriptions really downplay this part of the trail, recommending to start at the other end because there isn’t much to look at on this side. I beg to differ. It’s truly magnificent, and especially so in October, where yellow trees pour down mountain valleys like molten gold. The air was crisp and hinting at afternoon warmth. The sky blue as only October blue can be.

Morning sun on Nada Lake.

The sun drops early in the evening these days, but we made it to the first lake before it got dark and set up the tent while it was still light. It got really cold, really quick, and soon we escaped into the tent for shelter.

Wednesday morning was beautiful and I was energized as I boiled up water for coffee and made breakfast. It was the debut of my new MSR Whisperlite stove. My old whisperlite had been a solid and reliable companion ever since I bought it in 2000. This last camping trip, when I watched the eclipse, it stopped working. I suspected the lines were clogged. Prior to this trip then, I took my little stove out on the deck and pulled it into all its pieces and began cleaning the fuel line. I went into the house to grab some steel wool for scrubbing the soot, and when I came back out I saw that a gust of wind had come up and the teeniest little stove piece had bounced away, off the deck, and likely through a crack and into the weeds underneath. I hunted on my hands and knees under the deck with the slugs and spiders that day for approximately 4 hours (remember how I said I am stubborn?). And then I went on Amazon and bought a new stove. Whatever I paid for that last one, 17 years is a good run and I did not feel bitter about the purchase of a replacement. The brand new stove worked great (of course I had tested it before we left).

Here I am resting during the hike up from Nada Lake, where we camped the first night. Look at that slope! Wicked steep.

Then we loaded everything up and went uphill again. This was a short hike, only a few miles and 1000 more feet. It wasn’t as pleasant as the first day because we were tired, but also because the clouds rolled in while it was still morning, and a light rain began to fall. It rained all day long, but luckily just a light rain that frizzed my hair but didn’t soak through anything. We found a spot to camp at Upper Snow Lake at about 5400′ elevation. As we were looking for a place to camp, we met two hikers that had just descended from the next lake up. They said to be sure and use our ice cleats and snowshoes because of all the ice and snow on the trail. Well, we didn’t have either. Most of my hike life I’ve been a fair-weather backpacker and only recently learned that camping is fun when it’s cold, too. But I won’t go so far as to invest in snow hiking gear. I’m not crazy.

Enormous granite boulders were strewn about, making us feel small in comparison.

You know I love to eat good food in the mountains!

We spent the remains of the day running around in the forest and climbing on rocks. You can act like you’re 10 years old when you camp in the mountains. In fact, it’s pretty much expected.

It rained harder in the evening, and rained during the night. Thursday, to my delight, it dawned spectacularly clear again. It was the warmest day so far and after the fog burned off, not a cloud to be seen. We were still chilled from the wet night and took a long time to get moving. I was trying to decide whether to do a day hike up to Lake Viviane without snow climbing gear. It must have been noon before we were finally packed up. Didn’t even try to dry the tent out. Everything was just going to have to be wet. I was tired and after a tentative query to Josh, who didn’t really warm up to the idea of a few more thousand feet, I committed to heading back down the mountain.

Morning on the shady side of the lake. Still trying to thaw out so I can pack up my gear.

A mountain called The Temple rises above a little peninsula in Upper Snow Lake.

Sand formations in Upper Snow Lake, which is also a reservoir, as you may have guessed, as part of the water district for the city below.

I was intrigued by the patterns and shadows in the sand.

McClellan Peak commands the view of Upper Snow Lake.

This was the hare’s turn to shine. After the stolid and steadfast tortoise was a clear victor in going uphill, the hare practically caught the trail on fire going back down. We went down all 4000 feet in just a few hours – a record for me. He was very patient at first, because we found a couple of places awash in sunshine and I wanted to do nothing but lounge. I wet and re-braided my ratty hair. I climbed up and down hills and boulders and over logs with my camera. I snacked. I smiled. Josh laid on a rock in the sun and didn’t say a word. But when I finally gave the green light and we hefted our packs and buckled in….whoosh! He was gone.

The rest of the day I barely saw my traveling companion.

Sunshine and blue skies make a paradise at Lower Snow Lake.

And hiking alone is my comfort zone, so it was no big deal. But I did get very tired. And my feet were aching. And then my knees started to hurt, and still I had not caught up. Sometimes he would spot me from hundreds of feet below and holler up, “Everything ok? You taking a nap up there or what?” I would signal a thumbs up and voom, off he’d go again.

At one point as I was about to step over a pile of bark from a tree that had fallen over the trail, I noticed that some of the pieces of bark had been shaped into an arc. Only the curve was sideways, making it look like the letter “C.” And I laughed out loud. Yes, that is something he would do: leave me a message to let me know I was not forgotten. What a sweet gesture. It kept me going for another 15 minutes and then I was just about to despair in pain again, but I came across more bark that was indisputably an “R.” And that time I really laughed! That crazy guy was going to spell my whole name! Sure enough, 20 minutes later I found a “Y.” And it wasn’t until “S” that I finally had the sense to take a photo.

T in red needles was my fave.

Camera hanging around my neck and still I didn’t take a photo until I got to the S.

After T and then A, I spotted him waiting for me at a great place beside Snow Creek where we had stopped to eat something on the way up two days before. He asked how I was doing and I said, “I want my L!” I told him I was in pain and was about to suggest a longer break, but he took off my pack and proceeded to transfer about 15 pounds from my pack to his. Well, he did need a little slowing down, so I let him. I am proud and stubborn, but…

It didn’t slow him down at all. Zoom! Gone again. I found my L. And you would not believe this, but he did my last name too.

Berries hanging over the trail were begging for a photo.

Don’t you just love the fire colours of the season?

The lovely day and the lovely foliage did as much to cheer me as the letters on the trail. I kept plodding along, but tortoises apparently are not made for rapid down hill trekking with no breaks and no meals – just snacks on the go. My feet were killing me and I had to stop a lot to sit down and get the weight off my soles. Josh hit the parking lot, ditched his pack, ran back up the hill to where I was, teased me for napping, then took my pack and went back down again. It was still daylight when I finally hit bottom. Well, you know, “finally” as in finally caught up to Josh. But in terms of backpacking down a mountainside, we really smoked.

I’m glad I took the chance on the late season pass. Everything worked out perfectly. It didn’t snow too much before last week, and the weather was splendid for two of the three days. On the trail is where I find my bliss.

Trail heads into Blue Basin

After the cheers died down and a few vehicles sped off to beat the post-eclipse crowds, I said goodbye to all my brand-new eclipse friends and wished them a safe trip home to Seattle, and Portland, and Calgary, and Providence, Hartford, and Albany. (See my eclipse  2017 post here.) Curiously, of all the people I met, they seemed to mostly hail from either the Pacific Northwest, or New England – opposite sides of the continent.

I had been out of cell range since the previous afternoon, and had merely a sense of where I was headed, based on a map in a newspaper that a woman in a museum had shown me the day before. I had the south-bound road to myself. “Yes! All you eclipse tourists just head on home and clear the roads for me, will you?” I thought as they passed me, heading north. There are few roads and I was not concerned about getting lost.

The eclipse-altered temperature continued to drop as I drove, and could see the temperature display in the Jeep. It dropped from 78 degrees at 10am to 64 degrees by about 11am before it began quickly warming again. I didn’t believe the readout at first, but realized that also happens at dawn: though the sun has finally come up, the morning temperatures will continue to fall until the power of the sun finally overrides the cooling.

I stopped along the way to take a photo of a bluff with striations of different colours, showing up brightly in the strengthening sunlight.

Colourful stripes of earth exposed in the side of a bluff above the John Day River.

Feeling the welding glass still in my pocket, I pulled it out and took another look at the sun. True, it had not been that long since I had stood on the side of the road and watched the eclipse, but it was still surprising to see the sun only 2/3 visible. People were driving, or still on the side of the road, chatting. It was hard to believe how calm we all were, considering the scientific marvel going on right above our heads. I gaped at it a little more, then got back into the Jeep.

In no time I found the parking lot for the Blue Basin trails. It was full of cars and after I parked, I joined a few others who continued to steal glances at our partially obscured sun. Then, in the swelling heat of late morning, I grabbed a water bottle and began hiking the Overlook trail.

Sights along the Blue Basin Overlook Trail.

A mostly dry creek bed wound through the bottom of the canyon, wet here and there where weak springs surfaced.

Fossils found in the area were displayed to help us imagine what they were like when found.

The draw here is the blue-green clay and weathered formations that tower up from the trail. As we were near the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, it was not surprising but still delightful to find fossils installed along the trail to help us imagine the canyon in a different time. The fossils were only replicas of what had been found there.

A layer of the blue-green clay soil.

Earth and sky

The shapes of eroded soils were also fascinating.

My Brandeis T-shirt drew an unexpectedly high number of conversations with people who were also Alumni of the school, or had connections to the school.

The blue and green colours showed everywhere, and were most noticeable when I could contrast them with more familiar colours like the golden grasses and rust of mineral-rich soils. I tried to find brighter blues in the few damp areas of the small springs there, but there were no clear examples. My guess is that this canyon is even more remarkable in the rain, which would likely bring out those unexpected hues.

I imagined that sufficient time had passed to allow people to get on their way toward home, and decided I could begin my trip back. I knew the traffic would be worse Monday afternoon than it had been on Sunday, and I wanted to allow myself enough time to get home at a reasonable hour for a full night’s sleep.

Making my slow trip home with all the other eclipse-viewers.

I stopped beside the John Day River (you can see it’s larger here, farther down stream) for a leisurely lunch with my feet in the water. It was 100 degrees.

In an hour or so, I was crawling along the road at 8 miles per hour with hundreds of others who had delayed their return, just like me. My attempts at being uniquely clever were dismayed every time on this eclipse trip. I guess the odds of coming up with an original idea are reduced when there are thousands of others seeking eclipse totality with you! 😉

I did finally make it home by 9pm, which was acceptable. Interstate 5 was still pretty crowded when I got to it, so I took the smaller Highway 30 to get home to Rainier and avoided all the Seattle eclipse-viewers who were heading north still, 10 hours after the eclipse. I heard horror stories of missed flights and 2-hour journeys taking 8 hours instead. So I missed the worst of it, and remained in high spirits all day long.

Twilight at 10:30am on Monday.

I drove into the path of totality on Monday, to experience the much-advertised total solar eclipse. The eclipse was remarkable in that it passed from the west coast of the US to the east coast, though the fervor of the buildup to Eclipse Day 2017 was unparalleled to any space/stars/meteor shower I  have yet seen. The result of said fervor is that everybody and their dog was headed either south, or north, on Interstate-5, to get to the area around Salem, the capitol city of the state of Oregon. Salem was smack in middle of the path of totality, and one of the first places on the continent to see the eclipse.

Thus, I chose a different route.

I gauged that central Oregon – typically some of the most desolate landscape of the country – would be less of a destination. I was right to some degree, having to share that part of the world only with other people who had chosen it for the same reason. Because let’s face it: people were everywhere within the path of totality on Monday.

A Canadian eclipse-viewer stops for gas and cleans the windshield. His pup was along for the ride.

I passed through vast areas of wind farms. These things always make me think of a science fiction story.

As I have told you a hundred times, I’m a very busy person. The result in this case was that I had not made time to plan other than to get approval to take the day off from work. I had no eclipse glasses, no hotel or campground reservations, no destination in mind, and only a rough idea of where the path of totality would be.

Friday before the eclipse, as my workday was winding down, I started searching on the Internet for where to get those coveted glasses. And they were nowhere!! Everyone sold out & Ebay filled with $200 glasses that their owners had purchased for $12 a month earlier. I gave up and decided just being in the area would be wonderful enough. Fortunately, a friend was thinking of me, and while he couldn’t find eclipse glasses either, bought welding glass for himself and his friends.

Sunday morning I was delighted to find that traffic was a breeze. I was expecting Eclipsageddon on the highways. As I drew closer to the path of totality, the traffic picked up enough that I was certain it was eclipse-related. I could not stop myself from thinking that every time I had been in this region before, I felt like I was the only person in the world. It is that desolate. But that weekend was different.

Heading south. Clearly we all have the same thing in mind. I giggled to myself about the famous Oregon driver politeness. Look at how courteous we all are here, giving plenty of space between each vehicle. This behavior makes East Coast visitors go friggin mad with frustration.

Further south the views became more beautiful to me.

Oregon’s path of totality. (image courtesy NASA) The star is where I live. The arrow points to my campsite.

OK, quick refresher for anyone who wants it: the “path of totality” is the path in which the eclipse is total. That means the moon fits perfectly in front of the sun for at least a few seconds. I guess the path is 70-80 miles across. At the center of that swath, the length of totality was 2 1/2 minutes long, and shorter as you moved toward the outside edge of it. I snagged a map (shown above) from the NASA website, and chose a place to head for.

I stopped in the adorable town of Condon, just outside the path, and I relaxed. It’s amusing in retrospect, but after a month of run-for-your-lives! warnings on every media source, including my employer’s mandate that all employees must work at home on Monday, to avoid driving, I was filled with anxiety. In reality, I made it with no hiccups whatsoever. I chalk it up to 1) heading for a typically desolate area, 2) heading in Sunday instead of Monday, and 3) the fact that eclipse viewers had been trickling in for the past week, so the full population was not impacting the highways on the way in.

Mainstreet of Condon, Oregon

Museum inside the Veteran’s building in Condon

Condon was well-prepared for the eclipse tourists. The tiny town looked like it had been scrubbed from top to bottom. Buildings painted, streets swept, flower baskets out, windows washed, colorful banners up and welcome signs everywhere. I pulled to a stop across from a Veterans Memorial building, and thought I would stretch my legs in there, and see what was inside. To my delight, the space was being used as an art museum, displaying works from local painters and photographers. It was quiet and cool and had a bathroom! I lingered in front of one collection from a single artist, and the woman managing the place came up behind me and asked if I had ever been there: the canyon depicted in the paintings. I had not. She introduced herself as the artist and said that Blue Basin, within the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument was her favourite place in the region. As long as I was there anyway, she insisted I try to walk the trails there. Just as I was about to ask about potential for camping, she noted that all the public trails would be closed for the eclipse.

I went directly south, through Fossil, Oregon and then east. I discovered that I had left the Internet and cell service behind in Condon, so I was on my own out there in the wild. Remarkably, my GPS sort of worked, and I found a National Forest nearby. I thought, “I’m a taxpayer; it’s my forest too!” And drove up into the hills and found a flat spot and pitched my tent. Throughout the evening, more people trickled in, clearly others as brilliant (and procrastinating) as myself!

Some entrepreneurs thought to rent out space in their fields after getting the hay in. This farm was charging people to set up tents and trailers. If you click the image, you’ll be able to see them in the distance.

Closer shot. There were already hundreds of campers by mid-afternoon. I’ll bet the population was enormous by midnight. I hope the ranchers made a mint!!

National Forests are for everyone!

Watching the sun go down from inside my tent. The murky skies eventually turned into a spectacular sunset.

All day long the skies were worrisome. We’ve had a record-breaking wildfire season (every new summer breaks a new record…sigh.) and smoke was blowing in from fires in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The orange-brown particles obscured the views in every direction. Even more distressing were the cirrus clouds that heralded a change in weather (remember I was a forecaster in my former life). As evening drew nigh, low-level grey clouds thickened and spread across the sky. It began to look like rain.

Miraculously, the sky was spotless blue in the morning. Even the smoke from the fires had cooled and settled into the valleys, leaving the sky above as perfect as any of us could have wished for.

On the way in I had spied a promising high point along the road, with views in all directions. Wide open, beautiful, accessible. In the morning, I packed everything up, and headed back the way I had come, in order to put myself at that spot at about 9:30am. I worried about police coming along and telling me not to park on the side of the road, but I was determined to do it anyway. Imagine my surprise when I found dozens of vehicles already parked where I was headed. I merely found a spot in the midst of the crowd. Again, my bewildered brain recalled that I had been on this road before, and it was not unusual to drive an hour and not see another vehicle.

Eclipse-gazers line both sides of the highway on this curve in the road. If I showed you the view to my right, you would see an equal number of cars in that direction. The hills you see are where I camped.

I walked around taking photos to kill time. I met a photographer who had drool-worthy equipment and had thought to purchase a sun filter so she could photograph the sun safely. I met families with bouncy squealing children, and aging hippies, and science nerds and adventurous twenty-somethings. We all loved each other for being excited about the same event. We were all instantly friendly, trusting, generous. No vehicles were locked, and many doors were wide open with expensive camera equipment and wallets and sunglasses on the seats, available for the taking if any of us wasn’t so filled with joy and love. One family asked if I had eclipse glasses, and I said I did not, and they instantly brought me a spare pair from the truck.

“What were you going to do without glasses?” they asked with genuine concern.

“I have welding glass. Shade 13. It’ll be just fine.” I said to their skeptical faces.

To back up my confident statement, I pulled out my glass and held it in front of my eyes and turned to the sun. And gasped! There was a black disc obscuring 1/4 of the sun. “IT’S ALREADY STARTED!!!!” I yelped. And others, who had calmly discovered this before me, smiled and agreed that it had already started.

Totality was scheduled to begin at 10:22 am, and until then we kept our bubbling enthusiasm under control. I was wearing a Brandeis T-shirt, and was approached by multiple people with affiliations with the school, or who were alumni. That was fun. A couple from Rhode Island complained about the slow and polite Oregon drivers. I spent most of my time with one family from Seattle. Mom chatting with me and Dad constantly hollering at his little girls to put their eclipse glasses back on. They had a white sheet on the ground to capture some mystical phenomena they had heard about. The photographer lady from earlier discovered that she could make a pinhole viewer with her hand, and came over to ask if she and her husband could use the sheet. Once the kids spotted that, everyone wanted to make tiny eclipses with their hands. All the adults tried it too. A woman passing by saw what we were doing and said that she had just passed a tree, and there were a thousand tiny pinhole eclipses cast across the ground by the leaf shadows.

The gorgeous farm next to where I parked.

Playing with different views of thistles and fields. You can see the wildfire smoke beginning to rise with the heat of the day, in the background.

Seattle dad and one of the kids on her back – yes, with her glasses in place.

Making pinhole eclipse-viewers on a sheet.

Here, this one is easier to see. Cool, huh?

And then it became evident that something was happening. The temperature dropped and the light became….odd. It felt like sunset, but my body and brain knew it was morning. I didn’t notice any changes in animals, but had not noticed any animals earlier either. There were no cows or horses close enough to watch, and no crickets. So all we had to notice was the light. And each other. We constantly looked at the sun, then looked at the land. It is truly astonishing how bright it is outside with only a sliver of sun left. All it takes is one tiny bit of that orb to light up our entire world. I snapped a few photos.

Almost totality. What a curious light.

Photographer and her husband.

And then, blam! A distinct change in light and temperature. One man said he was hoping to watch the shadow fly across the land, and I think that would have been cool to see. But it happened too fast. In an instant, we were in totality.

The place we stood probably afforded us only 1 1/2 minutes of the darkest skies. I have to admit: I was envisioning complete blackness; the Milky Way and everything. But no it was not that. It got dark though. We saw stars – or more likely, planets – but only the brightest of them. The light was indescribable, and my photos do not capture it, as my camera is brilliant at sucking in all available light and making things show up better in the photo than in real life.

I think this photo best shows the quality of the light. It was darker than this, but I think you can tell by looking at this that it was an odd light.

My only heartbreak of the day: I did not know you could look at the sun during totality. No one had said this in any of the videos or articles I read beforehand. During totality, the light was too dim to show up through the glass or the eclipse glasses, so with nothing to look at, I dropped my gaze to the ground, and pretty much stared at the ground for the entire period, trying to protect my eyes from instant vaporization – or whatever the fanatical warnings were all about. NEVER NEVER LOOK AT THE SUN DURING AN ECLIPSE! OR YOU WILL DIE! Thankfully, as I moved my gaze away, I accidentally caught a split-second glimpse of it. And it was AWESOME. It was everything you could ever imagine. So unreal, and even in that brief amount of time, burned into my memory clearly.

As the period of darkness ended, and the world lit up again, all the people cheered and clapped. That was fun. The kids squealed about the waves of light shimmering across the sheet, as we had also seen at the very beginning of totality. I was still exhaling and letting some of the awe and astonishment fade, when a couple of cars zoomed off along the highway. They were getting out ahead of the crowds.

I had the opposite plan. My plan was to dally. Rather than head north like everyone else, I decided to head south and see if I could find that canyon that the museum lady talked about.

{This got really long. Sorry about that. I’ll post a part II so I can tell you about Blue Basin and the trip home.}

My apologies. The writerly in me has gone to sleep. The engine sputtered and coughed and sighed then went quiet in the middle of July and I was only halfway done with telling you all about my Oklahoma trip!! I don’t know what’s going on. I’ll just wait it out because there is no doubt the engine will chug back to life. In the meantime: How lucky are we?! I wrote a post in the Spring that I never published. You can have it now.

On a May visit to Seattle, my brother and his girlfriend took me to see the Ballard Locks for the first time. The official name is the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, but so far I have not heard anyone call it that. Rather, the locals have named the locks for the Seattle neighborhood where they are found, and it’s the title of my post.

Completed in 1917, the locks link the Puget Sound with Lake Union and Lake Washington. Parking is a bear, but we finally found a spot, and made our way to the locks. Unexpectedly, visitors pass through the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden. I would have been happy to spend more time exploring, but that particular day was too cold and rainy to encourage garden exploration.

Gardens tend to be lovely in the rain as well as in the sunshine.

Past the gardens, and an information center that includes a souvenir shop, we reached the water. There are two parallel channels for boats to travel through. The first one we came to was rather large, capable of containing a large ship, or many small boats. It was not in use, so we crossed the catwalk to the second and much narrower channel. I was distracted on the way by the lovely old concrete architecture.

An office building for staff, I assume. I instantly had visions of Monty Python. Sorry. Can’t help myself.

It was a delight to discover that watching boats go through locks is interesting to a bunch of other people. Many tourists and locals stood out there in the rain, watching the process. There were also cyclists waiting for the gates to open up, since apparently it’s part of a bicycle route to cross the locks.

Looking West toward the Sound, a small boat moves ahead into the lock. You can see several others waiting their turn.

People watch with surprising enthusiasm as the boat enters the lock. A second boat is allowed to join the first.

The first boat heads all the way in, and ties off. Note how deeply they sit.

The gates close.

Two boats in together, as the water level rises.

…and before you can say Bob’s your uncle, the boats are eye level and ready to move into the lake.

We watched the process of moving boats through twice. The locks can elevate a vessel 26 feet from the level of Puget Sound at a very low tide to the level of freshwater Salmon Bay, in 10–15 minutes. It’s fast enough to be entertaining, and crowds grew more dense the longer we stood there. Finally we had seen enough and we walked across the spillway dam to the other side of the water. There is a fish ladder there I would have like to see, but it was temporarily closed. The trip was not in vain, though, because I was captivated by some artwork on the other side.

These spirals, clearly reminiscent of waves, were lit with tiny blue lights. I’ll bet it’s wonderful at night.

On the way back to the locks, we saw a train crossing the bridge. From the look of the cars, this one could be carrying oil.

When we reached the locks again, so many boats had stacked up, waiting to go through, that the large lock had been opened, and they brought in everyone who was waiting. That time, there were about 8 boats in the lock. It took longer to fill, and we tired of waiting and left.

US Army Corps of Engineers manages the locks.

In Ballard we also spent time at the Farmer’s Market and visited an apothecary. I recommend the Ballard neighborhood to any Seattle visitors. And do walk out to see the locks. It’s free, and surprisingly interesting.

Saline Courthouse in Rose, Oklahoma

Looking along the porch.

In 1841, two years after the Cherokee in Oklahoma had adopted a new constitution, they organized into eight districts, and in 1856 a ninth was added. One of these was the Saline district, the center of which today is in Rose, Oklahoma: due east of Tulsa and north of Tahlequah. In 1883, the Cherokee government voted to build courthouses for all of its districts. Of the nine courthouses built, only the Saline district courthouse survives.

The Saline Courthouse closed in 1898 and passed into private ownership. It remained a private home (and sometimes a party pad) until the Cherokee Nation was able to purchase the structure and surrounding property sometime in the 1980s. The building was in serious disrepair at the time, and required some major rescue efforts from the Saline Preservation Association, Preservation Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Parks Department. Today the site is the Saline National Park.

I can’t think of a historical building in the country in a lovelier setting, though with all the gorgeous places in our amazing country, maybe there is a place that will give Saline a run for the title.

The spring house, just down the slope from the courthouse.

Beneath the front awning of the spring house, this inviting structure is built, to encourage you to take the water. It’s hard to tell, but the dark hole opens to two feet of crystal clear, cold springwater bubbling up.

The creek as it continues down the slope from the spring house.

A different view of the creek, as I made my way to the cemetery. One of our group pointed to the rocks and said, “This is limestone, and” he pointed out several spots revealing water bubbling right out of the rock on all sides of us, “This is limestone-filtered water. Any real Kentucky bourbon uses limestone-filtered water, just like this.” Since I’m a bourbon fan, this was of particular interest.

The courthouse, while not necessarily beautiful – since it was built for function not form – occupies an irresistibly green, sun-dappled place. It sits on a sloping hill above a generous spring that bursts from the ground nearby. There is a stone building built atop the spring, with sheltered access to the pristine and sparkling pure water from inside and outside the building. So much water gushes from the spring that it’s instantly a creek, that winds its way through trees, rock outcroppings, and the lovely Oklahoma hills till it reaches Snake Creek nearby.

The preservationists have addressed the courthouse itself, attending to the outside preservation first, by restoring the siding the roof and the vandalized window glass. Inside is gutted, but dry and clear and ready for the next step.

The kitchen area inside the courthouse.

Upstairs chimney restored.

At the top of the stairs.

Me, on the stairs in the courthouse.

There was no jail at the time this was used as a courthouse. None of them had a place to lock up criminals except the Tahlequah district, which had a jail. When criminals were on hand, they were chained to a tree or a wall and guarded until they could be taken to Tahlequah. Unfortunately, this is exactly what was occupying Sheriff Jesse Sunday when a storekeeper was shot September 20, 1897. He was far away, guarding prisoners when he got the news, and deputized someone nearby to take his place and headed back to Saline to see what was going on. By the end of the day Sheriff Sunday and the newly elected Sheriff Ridge had also been shot, in what people now call the Saline Courthouse Massacre. The murderer escaped from prison, but then then served a short tour in the Army and came back to Saline and lived the rest of his life in the community. Talk about a get out of jail free card.

I wandered in a wide arc around the area, along the creek, through the trees, and found myself at a cemetery. From the dates, you can see that these people lived here during the time this place was used as a courthouse, and was actually the center of a community.

A small cemetery sits beside the road, not far from the courthouse.

Next we went to see the Cherokee Nation Buffalo Herd. Our Chief is very excited about the buffalo and proud to tell us while we were in Tulsa that we would soon be able to see them. His excitement was contagious for many of the people attending the conference in Tulsa.

I was not appropriately impressed because buffalo herds are not that uncommon in the West. It seems like they would not be that uncommon in Oklahoma too, but perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve grown up seeing buffalo herds here and there, raised like cattle, and I’ve seen buffalo on the menu and in the meat counter. I’ve been close to buffalo herds multiple times in Yellowstone NP.

But still….buffalo are cool. And maybe here’s the difference: the Cherokee buffalo herd is out there just being buffalo. Not being fattened for market.

The sight was pretty spectacular, and I think you’ll agree.

One of the TV buffalo poses for me.

I wouldn’t mind being one of the Cherokee buffalo herd, if it meant living here.

Cherokee tourists.

On our way to the caretaker buildings, we spotted them from the road. The vans stopped and people exploded out into the gravel road with glee, stepping through thistles and nettles and cockleburs to lean up against the barbed wire fence to snap shots. The buffalo ignored us and we soon moved on.

When we arrived, we consolidated into only two vehicles and followed the caretaker (who lugged his year-old grandson on his hip the entire time – adorbs) as he drove us in a careful trek in a road defined only by the fact that you could tell cars had driven that route before. We crossed hills, forged valleys, and finally came out: on the other side of the buffalo! I was puzzled and frustrated about this. We weren’t allowed out of the vans and since I was squished in the back, and on the wrong side, I was not able to use my camera most of the time.

There are 92 buffalo in this herd, and they are living the life. I was glad to have seen them, their massive, massive bodies lumbering to get away from our vans, flowing over landscape changes like you see in movies. You know, that surge of giant bodies moving like a brown liquid into dry creekbeds and then up over mounds and splitting to flow around a tree.

Cherokee tourists now trapped in a van.

The “wild” buffalo. You can tell. Can’t you.

Looking back, as they make their escape from us.

Cherokee tourist beside buffalo sign.

Finally, when we had all returned and were talking in the shade, the caretaker explained that our buffalo have segregated themselves into two smaller herds. “The TV buffalo – those are the ones you saw when you came in,” he said, “and the others are what I call the wild buffalo.” The TV buffalo? Turns out, the group we saw beside the road don’t mind people, and tend to hang out by the road. When Oklahoma television crews come out to do a story on the buffalo, those are the ones they shoot because it’s such an easy shot. The other buffalo don’t like people, don’t go near the road, and don’t even mix with the TV buffalo. “I wanted you to see the wild buffalo,” he explained. “That’s why I took you out so far to see them.” Ok. All is forgiven.

A gorgeous man’s shirt on display at the Gilcrease Museum.

The CCO Conference was open to all Cherokees, but there was a special trip planned afterward for At Large Cherokees. These are the Cherokees who live outside “the 14 counties” considered to be Cherokee country in Oklahoma.*

First thing Sunday morning we piled into vans and went to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, and arrived before they were open. This was because the Universe wanted to feed my soul. I had been inside a hotel for the greater part of three days and my nature-spirit was dying. The only thing to do while waiting for the doors to open was to visit the adjacent garden. I was also cold and needed to thaw out.

One thing I can never figure out about desert-dwellers is their love affair with air conditioning. And I’m not talking cool-things-off-a-bit AC, what I mean is let’s-recreate-the-arctic AC. If it’s 90 degrees outside, I think cooling things off to 70, maybe 68 is appropriate. But instead we get 54 degrees (maybe I’m exaggerating) and I need to wear boots and a jacket indoors when it’s summer. What a waste of resources. Anyhow, what I’m getting to is that my body needed some warmth. I flew in from a region with a heat deficit to begin with, and then was in a climate-controlled building. I was ready for summer weather!

Let me assure you, after 30 minutes of waiting for the museum to open, I turned into a much happier Crystal. Warm and filled with the quiet sounds and scenes of nature.

The garden has a walking path around a pond, where I tried to identify plants. Luckily I spotted the poison ivy before I walked through it, and also luckily another Cherokee near me pointed to a tree and named it. It was probably the first Redbud I have seen, and I thought of Laurie who is not shy about her love of the tree. The trail passed a demonstration Pre-Columbian garden with plants known to have been in those earliest gardens. Near that was a demonstration pioneer garden. I watched red birds flash through and could not get a photo. Then I listened to the most astonishing bird call that never repeated itself. Cheeps, trills, clicks, warbles – this bird had it all. I was in awe! I think it was a scissor-tailed flycatcher. Oh how I wish I could hear this Maestro every day. I spotted a frog and a turtle too. I’ve had a knack for seeing turtles lately. I didn’t tell you that I found one on my island in the pond at home before I left. But I did tell you about the turtle on the walking trail in Tulsa, and now a turtle at the Museum garden. Pretty good for a girl who has to wear glasses.

The museum has developed 23 acres into themed gardens. I walked through Stuart Park, which holds the Pre-Columbian and Pioneer Gardens.

Statue beside the pond in Stuart Park.

A turtle! One thing I did not expect to find in Oklahoma was so much water: streams, rivers, lakes, ponds…water is everywhere in this part of the state.

After my soul was filled up, I hiked back up the hill to the museum. I was in for a treat. The long name for the Gilcrease Museum is Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. It was founded by Gilcrease, a member of the Creek Nation. The collection today holds paintings and sculptures from famous artists of the American West, like Charles M Russell, Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Remington, Thomas Moran, Georgia O’Keeffe and John James Audubon. Our guide told us that the museum is famous for Southwestern Art, and since I’m from the West, that brings to mind a particular style of art. I was soon delighted to find that my assumption was wrong, and while the collection includes faves like original CM Russells (I’ve got a print on my wall at home), most of the art draws from creators across the Americas. Indigenous carvings and masks from Central and South America, a Tlingit totem pole from Alaska, a photographic collection of Indigenous people of the West, and another of landscapes. What I love the most, at nearly every museum, is the classic style of oil paintings of real world scenes that tell a story or beg me to escape into them. And portraits by masters. I could stare for hours at portraits.

The Gilcrease Museum leans heavily on Indian artists and Indian themes and Indian influence. It felt warm and validating to be there surrounded by Cherokee people, in a Cherokee part of the country, with Cherokee art on every side of me. I noticed the unfamiliar feeling of validation regarding this weak little Indian vein flowing through me and trying to get bigger. Wanting validation for being Indian is not something I think much about and did not realize I was craving it. Maybe it’s harder to be Indian when there is nothing Indian around me. But there in the museum, being Indian was practically cheered at me. It felt so good.

I think my jabbering will not add much to the experience, so I’ll just fill the rest with photos and captions. Please enjoy the ones I’ve chosen for you.

The Mourners by Joseph Henry

If I could hang Sierra Nevada Morning by Albert Bierstadt on a wall in my home, I’d never have to rent movies. I could just sit in front of this painting and disappear into it.

Blackhawk and His Son Whirling Thunder by John Wesley Jarvis

A painting of Mt. Hood! It was pretty fun to discover this one, while visiting as a representative of the Mt. Hood Cherokees.

I tend to love the paintings best in any museum, but this one had many other impressive displays, that were not of oil and canvas. Though we were not able to see it, there are documents here like an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. We saw less valuable but still exciting documents.

An actual cast of Abraham Lincoln’s face hovers above casts of his hands.

Our van driver, Kevin, gets a close-up shot of this amazing story created from string glued in place.

Close up

We spent a lot of time OOooo-ing and AAhhhh-ing over the Plains Indians displays of clothing, moccasins, and bags, with beadwork on everything. Some of the stitching and beading too intricate to be believed without seeing it yourself.

So many beautiful moccasins.

Dresses I would be proud to wear.

Indian toys.

Beaded tobacco bag.

Sequoyah

Plaque beneath the Sequoyah statue. Please click the image to be able to read it. Seqyoyah is the most famous Cherokee because, among other things, he invented our written language.

One of the At Large Cherokees gets a photo of the famous statue, found on many Oklahoma license plates.

*If you’re curious, this is from the Cherokee Nation website: The Cherokee Nation is not a reservation; it is a 7,000 square mile jurisdictional area covering all of eight counties and portions of six additional counties in Northeastern Oklahoma. As a federally-recognized Indian tribe, the Cherokee Nation has both the opportunity and the sovereign right to exercise control and development over tribal assets which include 66,000 acres of land as well as 96 miles of the Arkansas Riverbed.

Back entrance to Tulsa’s Hard Rock Cherokee casino.

My feelings about casinos and American Indians are much like my feelings about potatoes and Idaho (I grew up in Idaho). With the numbers of truly remarkable, classy, academic, artistic, historic, record-breaking things to know about Idaho, not to mention the jaw-dropping natural wonders, it is sad and frustrating that people only know us for the potatoes. But then… if it weren’t for the potatoes, I think there are people who would forget Idaho exists.

Likewise casinos and Indians.

A few friends saw my trip to Cherokee country in terms of casinos. Before and during the trip, they asked if I went to a casino, or how many casinos, or recommended a casino. I debated whether I should intentionally avoid mentioning casinos in my blog and on facebook, in case I contribute to this skewed perception of Indians. I decided that I can’t change anyone’s perception. I’ll just write my blog for me. That’s how I usually do it.

Inside the casino.

I brought Bone with me, and you can see him as he contemplates his odds here at the slots on the left of the photo.

A fellow blogger at Wandering Through Time and Place introduced me to Bone, the travelling bone, who hitched a ride to Oklahoma with me.

I’ve got some neat stuff to share in the next several posts. The first half of the week was a conference at a hotel in Tulsa. You can get a snapshot of it if you read my previous blog post. The second half of the week was touring Cherokee historical sites, landmarks, museums, memorials, and administrative centers. We also had a class to learn some of the Cherokee language.

The Mt. Hood Cherokees in Portland have a sister community in Stilwell, Oklahoma. Our two groups were paired with each other by the Cherokee Nation in hopes that it would foster relationships and improve shared resources and ideas among regular people. This is to teach us to rely on each other as well as on our government because a critical part of Cherokee tradition is community, shared resources, and gadugi – working together for the common good. A few members of my sister group, Stilwell Public Library Friends were at the conference and they actively sought me out and made it a point to be at my service.

Dennis, me, and Regina

An 80s cover band, sorry I didn’t catch their name.

Even though a casino trip was not a part of the conference, a couple of the locals I spoke with told me that the nearby Hard Rock casino in Tulsa is a beautiful Cherokee facility with Indian arts and artifacts displayed and definitely worth seeing. I mentioned casually to Regina and Dennis from Stilwell that I tried to get a hotel shuttle to see the casino my first day here, but the hotel shuttle was booked. I was not asking for a ride, but they were powerless to resist the urge to help a nice lady stranded at the hotel. Saturday night after the awards ceremony, we headed right over.

A Dave Matthews display

Saxophone chandelier

Agreed: it’s worth a visit, and I used to live in Nevada, so I’d like to believe I can recognize a quality casino. The place is beautifully designed inside and since it’s a Hard Rock facility, there is wonderful music memorabilia on display. We took the time to wander throughout the entire casino and look at every display we could find. There were guitars and performance costumes and records of famous musicians. There were large collections of Elvis and Beatles memorabilia (Beatles shampoo – who knew?) The second floor holds some exceptional and tastefully displayed artifacts and sculpture. It was sort of a punch in the gut to see that the information plates do not advertise the artist’s name, but instead say something like, “Cherokee woven basket,” or “Cherokee Native beadwork.” Imagine going to a museum and reading the information plate and it says, “Oregonian oil painting.” It homogenizes anyone who lives in Oregon, and it diminishes the piece itself, and the artist. Clever artists put their names where the curious could find them. A couple pieces were signed. Dennis discovered that if you stand on tiptoes and look inside a clay bowl, for example, you will find the artist’s business card. Regina and Dennis recognized the style of several pieces, and guessed the artist for me. More than once, Regina sighed with disappointment, “But I want to know who made this.”

Detail from the Dave Matthews guitar. It looks like a friend probably took a sharpie to his guitar one night…

One of the displays is turtle shell rattles that women wear on their legs in a stomp dance. I have been told they’re quite heavy and it takes some strength and stamina to keep time with the dancers all night long.

In the conference room area, the hallways are adorned with some stunning pieces, and in this section, the artists are all properly identified. There is a satisfying variety of mediums, subjects, and styles. My favourite piece was Uktena with Crystal, by Jane Osti. I collect dragons and Uktena is the closest thing to a dragon I can find in Cherokee tradition. Cherokees know that Uktena’s power is in the crystal on it’s head, so that’s what the title refers to. But for a few minutes, Uktena was with another Crystal. I encourage you to do what we did if you find yourself in this casino: wander and soak it up!

And the place is a casino, too! What fun it was to walk through the jingling sounds, the machine noises so familiar to me from years ago and spending a lot of time in casinos. The lights are a riot of colours, blinking, strobes and mood-inducing illumination. The carpets are wild! The chrome polished slot machines and golden chandeliers reflected everything back at itself. People laughed, groaned, and whooped! We passed a live band, and each time they launched into a new cover of an 80s hit, the audience gleefully cheered. Gamblers, dancers, and nearby employees were all singing along and grinning.

Conjuration, by Fishinghawk

By this time it was too late to gamble, though we all would have been game for it if it was not so late and/or I did not have to get up at 6am (Regina and Dennis were driving home the next day and could set their own schedule). So after we had seen all that we could see, we left and went back to the hotel.

The next day I was surprised to find that our Cherokee group did go on a planned trip to the Hard Rock casino. Our itinerary just said “lunch,” so that’s how I missed the news. No time to gamble though, which is good, because I had not purchased any gifts yet and needed to save my money. We stopped by for lunch, and so we hit the one thing I had missed the night before: sampling the restaurants. We ate at the buffet and it was excellent! One of the best meals of the entire trip. It is often the case that casino food is out of this world, and I was absolutely satisfied with this meal. More than satisfied. By the time I got to pecan pie with whipped cream and ice cream, I was pushing maximum density.

Then we hit the highway and headed out of Tulsa on our way to Tahlequah.

The name of this piece is Uktena with Crystal, by Jane Osti, Cherokee National Treasure. Bone likes this one.

This scene is familiar to many of you, I’m sure. An expert speaker, a slideshow, a conference room. But the topics… now that is what made this weekend exceptional. Here, Scott McLeroy talks about humility’s role in leadership.

I have spent entirely enough time in conference rooms lately. A Cherokee Leadership conference (CCO=Community & Cultural Outreach) is exciting, yes, but also such a change from my regular life. Those clucking hussies, the hummingbirds, and my evening deer and coyotes seem so far away from me right now. And what I wouldn’t give to have my kitty curl up on me at night in this hotel bed.

Janelle Adair’s storytelling had me in tears. This is an ancient form of leadership teaching, and the effect, perfected over thousands of years, has an undeniable impact on the audience. I think all corporations should bring in storytellers.

The exchange is worth it, however. I am learning as much in this weekend of workshops about my Cherokee people than in the years I’ve been attending Cherokee meetings.  I was hoping this would happen when I had some immersion. For example, I walk the hallways between breakout sessions, and overhear groups of people talking in Cherokee. An unhesitating give-and-take the way people really speak a language (not the way they demonstrate, or practice a language, if that makes sense), with building or falling intensities and spontaneous laughter from everyone listening. (We’re Cherokee, and that means there are jokes being told.) It’s precious, you know, being able to hear your language spoken. I only realized that truth once I spent time in other countries, and then felt the relief of hearing recognizable sounds again, once I came back. Just imagine being a people whose language was dying out. It’s a scary thought. Luckily, the Cherokees are aggressively working to keep the language viable.

It’s hard to summarize what I’ve learned in a single blog post, because I’ve attended so many sessions on so many topics. What I have noticed, however, is that there are common lessons that come through over and over. That’s how I’m learning this culture. (My degrees are in anthropology, so that’s how I frame things in my mind.)

Dr. Tiffanie Harbarger talks about Cherokee relationships to land and water.

Every speaker is a Cherokee and/or Cherokee expert, and they keep saying things to reinforce our culture. Like I said above, “We’re Cherokee, and that means there are jokes being told.” I learned this to be true by spending time with Cherokees, and seeing it demonstrated, but also hearing people tell me the lesson over and over: Cherokees are always kidding around.

Earnie Frost told us about his journey to self-awareness, and how he turned his lessons into ideas for how to revitalize the Cherokee community.

In this way, I’m also learning what a matriarchal society is. Of course, I studied it in my anthropology classes, so I know what it is. But book learning doesn’t lay out in real-world examples what it actually means to be a matriarchal culture. Traditionally Cherokee men moved in with their wives’ families, and the children and possessions and home belonged to  the wife. At any point, for any reason, the wife could divorce the man by placing his belongings outside the home. Women had a lot of power, but a lot of responsibility, and the weight of keeping the family together rested on the shoulders of the women. One man told a story about trying to build a re-integration program for Arizona Indians, and met with failure until his female secretary berated him for not involving the women, and following their direction. Several people talked about going to Standing Rock, and talked about how women were/are instrumental in that movement. I hadn’t even thought of it before, unconsciously mentally erasing women from power and action, when it turns out they were the source of power.

cultures confusing each other

One speaker explained that when treaties were being discussed, the Europeans didn’t trust the Cherokees who included women in their business talks, and the Cherokees didn’t trust the Europeans who never brought their women. They didn’t bring their women, they wondered, what are they trying to hide from us? I heard about the pensions offered to wounded Indians who fought in battles for the US Government, and how the Indians were confused about the idea of widows and orphans being offered pensions for men who died in battle. They did not grasp the concept of women being victims when a man died. They did not understand the concept of orphan, because the children belong to the mother’s clan. Even if both parents were not living, the child belonged to the clan, and was not an orphan. Thus, when the pensions were offered anyway, and women went to collect for themselves and the children of their clan, their petitions were often denied. US officials sometimes knew very well that the woman herself did not birth a particular child, so how could she be so audacious as to try and claim a pension for the child’s fallen father, a member of the clan? Likewise, a man would go to do his duty to his wife’s clan, and seek to collect a pension for a fallen brother, related by clan, not by blood, and the federal officials were again confused.

My favourite speaker of them all was Anita Finger-Smith, who talked in great detail about the circumstances that resulted in the Eastern Band Cherokees remaining in their homeland when so many others were removed to Oklahoma.

I am learning this culture through the repetition of so many speakers saying things like, “As Cherokees, we understand community ownership, not individual ownership. When my mother used to make dinner, she would cook enough for an army. I’d ask, ‘Why are you making so much food?’ and she would say, ‘Maybe someone will show up.’ And sure enough, by suppertime, the house would be full.”

Many speakers talk about water. “As Cherokees, we consider our water to be sacred. It’s not just what we use to clean ourselves, but we drink it, we grow crops with it, we cook with it. Water is in every part of our life and makes up who we are.” Now, these things are true for every human. But when it’s said to you like that: “As Cherokees, we value water…” then you can’t help but assign a greater significance to the things you’ve been doing with water since you were born.

Joseph Erb, my new favourite Indian artist.

Rob Daugherty introduces Chris Welch.

Our keynote presenter was Tracy Spears, author, co-founder of a leadership organization, and softball player.

I don’t think I’ve made my point as clearly as I wanted to, but I hope with these examples you get the idea. I am learning so much good stuff about this important part of who I am. I am sad that I wasn’t raised with this teaching, but I am so grateful to belong to a Nation that works so hard to provide me the opportunity to learn, now that I have decided to educate myself.

Today we are leaving Tulsa and heading off for some touring! We’ll visit museums, cultural centers, and points of significance for Cherokees. We’re finally heading to Tahlequah, and the center of Cherokee government. I finally get to see some of Oklahoma besides this city block in Tulsa. I promise to take photos and post when I can.

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