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.

On the way into Denver, my view looked like this.

On my way into Tulsa, my view looked like this.

I’m in Oklahoma. Before today I had never been here on purpose, though I did drive through a few times on the Interstate.

Monday, a co-worker asked me the purpose for the visit. “Dream vacation!” I quipped. He replied, “Your idea of a dream vacation is different than mine.”

My little joke sat in my head that day.  Oklahoma seems to be perpetually the butt of jokes. Another co-worker recommended I watch a stand-up comedy routine disparaging Oklahoma. My dental hygienist remarked that her father was from Oklahoma, and someone asked once if he ever missed it, after he moved to Oregon. The man laughed.

And isn’t that exactly the point? In fact, it’s uncomfortable for me to think about it. The terminus of the Trail of Tears continues to this day a place that many people don’t value. It is the reason why east-coast Indians are here. I am hoping to improve my perception of Oklahoma before I go.

I have mentioned before that I belong to an Oregon group called the Mt. Hood Cherokees. We are one of 22 official satellite groups recognized by the Cherokee Nation. We call ourselves “At Large” Cherokees.

Years ago, our modern Cherokee Nation became concerned at the large number of individuals and groups with very little real training or experience who were claiming to be able to pass on genuine Cherokee knowledge and traditions. At the same time, many Cherokees, or people believing themselves to be Cherokees, sought out these groups and the information they held, sometimes even paying for the erroneous information, hoping to make a better connection to their ancestry. Unfortunately, wrong information was widely spread as genuine Cherokee knowledge.

The losers in this scenario were not just the duped hopefuls, but also the Cherokee Nation, already a fringe society in the United States, but now actively undermined as people began studying information that was not authentic to the Cherokee way of life. The Cherokee Nation, based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, created Community & Cultural Outreach (CCO) and Community Organizing Training and Technical Assistance (COTTA). From the Nation’s website: “The CCO-COTTA program’s mission is to assist community organizations ability to increase their effectiveness; enhance essential services to those most in need, and build upon the organizational capacity of each community, diversify resources, and create collaborations to serve those in Cherokee Communities.”

When an At Large group meets the Nation’s requirements, it is officially recognized. Once recognized, the Nation then proactively supports the group by periodically sending employees who are experts in different fields of the arts, histories, language, government, and traditions.

Another step the Nation took was to create an Annual Conference of Community Leaders that is designed to teach visiting At Large Cherokees more about life close to the heart of the Cherokee Nation. The conference also provides workshops with tools the satellite groups can use, like how to manage (or get!) donations or how to manage our social media presence. The At Large groups each have a council, and the council votes on a representative. Once the selection is approved, the Nation provides resources to assist the traveler.

In 2017, the council selected ME! I am so excited.

Canada Geese mildly annoyed by my interest.

Yellow-crowned night herons equally tolerant as I approached, pointing my phone at them.

I started this post talking about how Oklahoma gets picked on. Through the Cherokee Nation visitors I’ve met over the years, I’ve come to see there is a great love of the land of Oklahoma among Cherokee people. I’m hoping to learn more about that love.

I did not expect to find a trail within easy walking distance of my hotel.

Stuck for hours in a slow part of Tulsa with no car, I went for a walk and stumbled quite unexpectedly upon a path beside Mingo Creek that begins about two blocks from my hotel. I followed the path, sharing it with a fisherman, some joggers, some dog walkers, some kids, and eventually came to a park. I explored the park, then wandered back, admiring the homes that some people are lucky enough to have right on the edge of this green space. The entire walk was through green grassy fields with huge trees all around me. I found birds and a turtle!

I have only been in Oklahoma a few hours, but I think I’m already on the right track.

Bees swirl above their hives in the morning sunlight.

A neighbor told me about a local bee company that will pay people in honey for the use of their land. Liquid gold.

I spoke with Yelena a few times and arranged a meeting with Pavel Martynov, patriarch of a friendly Kazakhstani family in Battle Ground, Washington. He showed up with his daughter Anastasia to translate, and we all walked around the property to choose a good location for the hives. Bees need water and they like the sun. Pavel chose a spot that was the exact place I had been hoping he would like. Translation: a part of the property I spend very little time on, and thus am more than generous in sacrificing for bees.

Now I am doing my small part for the bees, the fuzzy buzzing critters upon whom so much of the world’s health and wealth depends.

I’m sure you have all heard about bee population decline. A 2015 report from a United Nations group found that populations are declining for 37% of bee species, with 9% of butterfly and bee populations facing extinction. I’ve been worrying about bee populations for years, and that is amplified by my bee-adoring child, who took an apiary class at Oregon State University last year. Come on, how many of you have offspring who did this to their leg:

Tara’s first tattoo

Despite the news about efforts to curb bee decline, according to the UN, the world’s beehive stock rose from around 50 million in 1961 to around 83 million in 2014. Average annual growth has accelerated to 1.9% since 2009. Worldwide, Argentina produced the most honey of any country in the world in 2005, followed by the Ukraine, the United States, and then Russia. It’s no wonder my new Kazakhstani-American friends chose this business, with a rich history of beekeeping in their ancestral land as well as their new land.

WA BEE Company, LLC (sorry, no website, or I’d link you) showed up Sunday morning with a truck loaded down with hives of sleepy bees. The previous day I talked with Yelena who said to expect them between 7am and 8am. At 6:15am I realized that the mechanical noise I heard was not my usual dream about forklifts (kidding!), but a real forklift outside my bedroom window. I bounced out of bed and threw on some warm clothes to go outside into the chilly morning and watch. (Yes, I’m one of *those* people, who wakes up and is ready to take on the world in five minutes.) (…just don’t try to get me to do anything productive after 6pm)

Bee truck loaded with hives to be delivered.

Pavel trying to keep the hives level while he transports them.

Driving down the slope at an angle, while still trying to keep the bees steady on the forklift.

Only a few more feet and the bees get a little peace.

Pavel and his son (can’t remember his name) unloaded pallets of bees and drove them down the hill to a flat spot next to the creek. His son chatted away to me while his father worked fast, trying to get the bees all settled while they remained cold and still. They unloaded 8 pallets, or 32 hives of bees. By 7am, the whole operation was done, and Pavel backed the forklift back onto the trailer and off they went, a quarter mile down the road, to unload a bunch more at my neighbor’s house. This is his 4th year my neighbor has worked with the WA BEE company.

Since Sunday, I have been wandering down to gaze at the bees when I get a chance. The first beams of morning sun hit the hives directly, and they are bathed in sun for at least 2 hours in the morning (that is, if it’s a sunny day) before the sun moves behind trees. This warms them up and they go from deathly still to cacophony in minutes. It is fascinating to watch them, and I do not tire of it. I get pretty close, because they have an air highway of sorts, and while the middle of the highway is crammed with bees flying directly away from, or back to their hive, if I stand just to the side of the highway, there are very few bees.

Hives in a flat spot down by the creek. They are going to wake up soon, look outside, and say, “Whaaaat just happened?!”

The bee highway goes from the bottom right corner of the image to the top left corner.

I can use the expression accurately: buzzing with activity.

So many trying to get in and out at once, and not a single punch thrown!

They hit the sack pretty early, just like me. Even if it’s a warm evening, and even if there are still late rays of sunshine on the hives, they wrap it up in the early evening. When I go down for a visit I can only see a few dazed and sluggish fuzzy bodies crawling around the holes that are the entrances to their hives. One evening I was inspecting the hives pretty close, walking between them, getting a good look at the little bodies getting ready for bed. A half-hour later I was in the house at the computer and something tickled my leg beneath my loose pants. I shook my leg a couple times, grabbed my pants with one hand to shake out the bug, absentmindedly playing solitaire. I pulled up the pants leg and didn’t see anything, and went back to my game. After a few minutes, the tickle began again, at a different spot.

I methodically turned my pant leg inside-out, looking for the persistent crawly thing. Reached up into the folds and couldn’t feel anything. Shook the material, stomped my foot to shake it out, and finally, out popped a small yellow dazed honey bee. It must have crawled onto my foot and rode all the way from the hives back to the house with me.

My POINT is… they aren’t vicious.

I carefully carried it outside and wished it good luck surviving the cold night, 100 yards from the hive. Tara says it’s unlikely it survived the night, but if it did survive, there is no doubt it would find its hive in the morning.

So wish us luck in learning to thrive together.

I’ll leave you with a fun photo of a visitor who went to see the bees with me this morning. If you read some of the other blogs that I read, you may recognize Bone, a travelling bone, wearing a rather flattering leather vest while visiting me in Rainier. I’ll write more about Bone later.

Bone usually lives with Curt at Wandering Through Time and Place.

This hummer is coppery rust-coloured, just like the feeder.

Hummingbirds have discovered my feeder. It’s clear they migrated in, because one day there were none, and the next day there were dozens.

I am fascinated when these speedy little rockets perch and hold still.

I watch them from my home office window and marvel at their antics. Part of the appeal is that they are so remarkably tiny, as if being small should make it harder to perform their tricks. I watch them zoom in so quickly it’s a wonder they don’t bonk into something. In fact, I hung up a stained glass dragon (yes, I have dragons of all kinds in my house) right in the middle of the big window, to help them see the glass barrier. I’ve seen one hummer bump the glass so far, but no stunned birds yet this season.

They barrel around the big trunk of the tree that holds their feeder, always avoiding collision with each other, though sometimes only by millimeters. They perch on small branches nearby and guard the feeder, chasing off any other hummingbirds that try to sip. But sometimes I’ve seen three at a time, resting on the wire ring and taking leisurely sips every so often. One of their favourite places to sit is upon the Japanese maple that you see above. They sit there for a minute at a time, looking around, occasionally buzzing their wings.

This one’s a bit chubby. Is she a new momma? Or has he had too much at the feeder?

They certainly find the Japanese Maple a satisfactory perch.

Then zoom! Off they go! First up, then around, then hovering in place without a waver or drift. Two blast through, chasing each other, while two aim for the same spot on the feeder and explode in a burst of angry cheeps when they arrive at the same place at the same time. I have to tell you, angry hummingbird cheeps are the cutest thing ever.  They spiral all around my office garden (the garden I tend specifically so that I have something beautiful to look at while I work), hovering near the seed feeder, to see if cracked corn and sunflower seeds are of any interest, then they methodically check each of the other colorful plants, just in case.

I like this hummingbird feeder because it is metal and glass instead of plastic. It’s supposed to have an ocean theme, and instead of flowers, the birds suck from holes in seashells and starfish.

My rusted hummingbird feeder seems to get prettier every year. It’s topped with a beach umbrella that was a bit obnoxiously red and white when it was new, but is faded to perfection now. And the rusted metal doesn’t touch any of the sugar-water inside, so I don’t mind it a bit. And the birds don’t seem to mind.

Can you believe they’re birds? So very very tiny.

Evening sunshine makes the green feathers gorgeous.

Don’t bother me, I’m eating.

Jeff Pevar on electric guitar and David Crosby on acoustic.

Lucky for me, a person can love music even when she has pretty much zero ability to create it. Oh sure, I was assigned French Horn in gradeschool mandatory music class, and played guitar from age 6 to about age 30, and learned about 9 chords and a few folk songs. Sure I sing along to Ed Sheeran when I’m driving home from work. But I truly admire the people who can *really* make music. So when I’ve got the time and the energy, I hit a concert.

You’ve already heard me rave about Black Violin – a duet of classically trained violinists who build their own irresistibly compelling brand of hip hop. They came to Portland again, so I grabbed a friend who had not yet seen them in person and saw their latest show.

The iconic Portland sign at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Black Violin can’t stand it when their audience sits still.

Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste are Black Violin.

To avoid the hassle of carrying a quality camera, I relied on my phone. So… as you can see, the images are poor quality. But you get a sense of what I saw.

My good deed was confirmed accomplished, when my friend just exploded with excitement over the performance, and had purchased some of their music by the next day. Just doing my part…

Last week I saw David Crosby. You’ll know him as the “C” in CSN (and sometimes Y).

I’m not actually a Crosby fan, though his music is good. My favourite musician of all, Marcus Eaton, is also a dear friend of mine. Marcus toured with Crozby for his last album, CROZ, and so…I don’t know…I guess an affinity came of that. David Crosby has been making music – good music – for so many decades that I can’t deny his professionalism and relevance. And I had never seen him before in concert, or even Crosby, Stills, and Nash. (I did see Steven Stills play halftime at a Colorado Rockies game, but I digress…) And finally, his show would be at the Aladdin Theatre in Portland. It’s a venue that can’t be beat if you’re looking for intimacy and atmosphere.

A string of great acts coming up at The Aladdin.

I arrived in time to buy a beer before the show, and while I was standing in line, got to talking to the man in line ahead of me. I mentioned that I love seeing concerts at the Aladdin.

“Did you know that this theatre had the longest running of the film Deep Throat of any theatre in America?” he asked. (I researched later, and sure enough, during the 70s and 80s the Aladdin was a movie theatre, and the premiere exhibitor of the X-rated classic, Deep Throat)

“Uh, I did not know that,” I answered.

“I love this theatre!” agreed the woman in line behind me.

“Have you seen performances here before?” asked the man.

“Only Deep Throat,” she answered, straight-faced. Then we all burst out laughing.

Pevar, DiStanislao, Crosby, Agan, Willis, Raymond

I was not familiar with most of the musicians on stage, only James Raymond the keyboard player. Raymond is Crosby’s son, and an accomplished musician in his own right. Raymond was adopted, and did not know his father until he was an adult. What fun to find your dad, then find out you had music in common? I just love that story.

His tour is David Crosby & Friends, and there was a great collection of artists on stage: Jeff Pevar the guitarist who was jammed full of energy, Steve DiStanislao the drummer who was spot on, Raymond at keyboards, Michelle Willis from Canada who also played keyboard and provided some solid vocals, and tiny Mai Agan from Estonia, in the background, playing the heck out of a bass guitar in a short skirt and boots. Pevar and DiStanislao hardly stopped grinning, which added a happy vibe to everything.

Crosby is well beyond putting on airs at this point. Or, since I’m such a newcomer, maybe he never did. He greeted us with warmth, as though we were all hanging out on a mellow Tuesday evening in a really big living room. The venue is small, and can hold only a few hundred people, so the sense of being intimate was easy for Crosby to achieve. He chattered just a little between songs, but made an impact, getting in some digs about the ineffectiveness of Congress, his criticism of politicians in general, the need to take action on important issues, to critique the media, to remember to love one another. He also spent a few minutes teaching us to howl like the Na’vi from the movie Avatar.

He talked fondly of each of his musician friends on stage, gushing over each one and affirming their skill and practically declaring each one the best he’d ever known. Maybe they are. Maybe when you’re a rock icon you naturally have the best of the best on stage with you. Most touching was when he talked about his son.

“I’d say some of the best work I’ve ever created is in collaboration with James. Wait, what am I saying? THE BEST work I have done is since I started working with James.” At this, Raymond put his hand over his heart in a gesture of humility and appreciation. Crosby talked about working with Raymond for years, and about appreciating every moment of it. He talked about how Raymond was adding a jazz influence to their work. A few people clapped. “It’s ok!” he said to the audience. “You can like jazz!”

And then they got back to making music.

A view of the stage during a break.

Pevar and Crosby

Crosby, Willis, Raymond (and Agan, if you look carefully)

Since I am not a fan of the music, and since it was really good music anyway, I sat back in my seat in pure pleasure and let my eyes rove over the faces of the crowd. During the evening I had spotted about 5 people in their 20s, about 5 in their 30s and 40s like me. But everyone else was from a different generation. Most in their 60s.

I distinctly noticed that no one was old. You know how people can be young or old, regardless of their years? It was like the people who showed up were still tapped into their youth. Everyone smiled. There was so much grey hair and so many wrinkles and so many smiles. The energy was generous and warm and enveloping and oh, so glad to be there. The songs clearly took many people back in time. People remembered a time when their bodies didn’t require so much thought, and they swayed in their seats and some held a cane, and some just beamed. There were whoops, and howls, and fists in the air.

It was a beautiful environment, and I was delighted to be there with them. I felt like a visitor to another culture, and it was a culture of love and generosity and acceptance.

Earth Day is celebrated in Longview, Washington on grocery bags. Jillian Carter from Rose Valley Elementary created this beautiful work of art. Jillian is in the 4th grade. Her teacher’s name is Mrs. Bush.

I needed a wider variety of things than usual on my shopping list, and went to a different grocery store than usual. I don’t know what your local store is, the one that carries milk, avocados, rice, fresh salmon, summer dresses, screwdrivers, packaging tape, hibachis, shower curtains, potting soil, fishing poles, and greeting cards, but the one I use is called Fred Meyer.

The cashier was loading stuff into plastic bags before I noticed. “May I have paper for the rest?” I asked. 1) I grew up in timber families, and that’s a way to show your support for the timber industry, 2) I try to avoid plastic consumption when I can, and 3) ok the real reason: I use paper bags to start the fire in my wood stove.

Portland, Oregon is the nearest big city, and that city has banned the use of plastic bags by retailers. From the City of Portland website on Planning and Sustainability: “Plastic bags are extremely lightweight and can act like balloons blowing out of garbage trucks and landfills. These flyaway bags litter our parks and trees, enter storm drains and can eventually end up in rivers and oceans where they break into small, toxic pieces.  Plastics have found their way into all five of the world’s major ocean current systems and are one of the most common types of litter found in Portland’s rivers and on Oregon’s beaches. Sea animals often mistake plastic particles for food, causing harm to the animals and potentially affecting the seafood we eat.”

Longview, Washington has not banned them, and most cashiers at grocery stores default to them. Perhaps they are more convenient to fill? I do get the sense that customers ask for the plastic bags because they are easier to carry. But I always ask for paper, and the staff is always pleasant about complying. Longview is, after all, a lumber town.

My cashier grabbed a bag with a giant multicoloured Earth on it. I am used to seeing a variety of advertisement and art projects printed onto paper grocery bags for one promotion or another. On this one, I admired the quality of the printing, that made it look like real crayon, right on the side of the bag. The next bag she picked up was also decorated, with a sharp, bold image that was obviously magic marker and not crayon. My eyes followed the bag as she moved it into position to begin filling it. She noticed.

“I like when they do this,” she said, gesturing the bag. “The kids do art work for Earth Day.”

“Are those originals?” I asked, possibly sounding a bit over the top, gushing about original artwork on a paper grocery bag. “Is that real crayon and ink?”

“Yep! The local kids do it in school.”

Oh dear, my face registered. I explained to the cashier that the whole reason I asked for paper is so that I can use the bags to start fires. Now there is all this beautiful artwork on them, and I’ll feel terrible for burning them up. She nodded. I brooded. The counter between us continued to beep! as she scanned my items and filled more bags. Then I had it.

“I’ll blog them!” I told her, triumphantly. “I keep a blog, and I’ll post photos of these bags. That way they will be preserved, and I can then burn them when I need to.”

“That’s a great idea!” she said, obviously impressed with my social standing in the world: A Blogger. (Ok, I’m just wishing she was impressed.)

I got the bags home and emptied them. Inside each, and adding to the treasure of four bags covered in original artwork was the dutiful inclusion of each artist’s name and school on a slip of paper in the bottom of the bag. Fodder for a fitting tribute.

Marie Smith made this one. Marie is in the 2nd grade at Northlake Elementary. Her teacher is Ms. Magnuson.

This piece was done by future typeface designer, Shailia Wild, a Kindergartner at Robert Gray School. Her teacher is Jodi Hanson.

I found this on the back. I would like to believe this piece belongs to Shailia’s little brother Jordi, who wrote “Help Our Earth!”

One bag had a full sheet of paper with lots of information. The Earth Day grocery bag art contest is held in all Kelso and Longview classrooms. During the month of March, they pick up over 5,000 brand new grocery bags from Fred Meyer and decorate them in anticipation of Earth Day in April.

There is an art contest and the winning school districts win $250, which goes to the classroom with the winning artist. This year they have also partnered with City of Longview Parks Department and the Arbor Day Foundation, so the winning classroom from Longview will also have an Arbor Day tree planted on their school grounds the end of April.

The winning bags are kept aside for honors. See the winners on the Longview Parks and Recreation facebook page. The rest are returned to Fred Meyer to be used for bagging groceries for shoppers. Like me.

Jasmine Christopher made this Earth with a knowing smile. Jasmine is a Kindergartner at Robert Gray school, and her teacher is Mrs. Box.

Hey, Jasmine, Shailia, Jordi (I just made him up, by the way), Marie, and Jillian, your Earth Day art is beautiful original art work that inspired me to learn about your communities, your schools, your teachers, your hopes for prizes. I learned more about Earth Day celebrations, Arbor Day Foundation activities, and Fred Meyer. I thought about my personal consumption and the impact it has on the planet. You made me smile and you made the cashier smile. My wood stove fires are ever so much classier now. You gave me a great blog post.

If that isn’t winning, I don’t know what is. Thank you! And congratulations.

A chipmunk feeding on the seeds I leave about for them.

Life springs forth in Spring. It’s irresistible.

I have chosen my home office location well, and have the welcome distractions of birds, squirrels, and chipmunks outside my window. This time of year I am also finding delight in Springtime blossoms.

Daffodil or narcissus?

Pacific Bleeding Heart.

I love the deep purple of the vinca.

Tulips live a short life but give such pleasure during that time. I don’t think there is such a thing as too many tulips.

Friday (yesterday) I worked a typical 10-hour workday (I work a compressed schedule), and the weather was spectacular! It reached 69 degrees here, and for much of the day there was not a cloud in the sky. I work at home most days, including yesterday, and racked my brain all day long for reasons to leave my desk and go outside. I really wanted to develop some kind of mild sickness that prevented me from working, but I couldn’t dredge up a sufficient illness. Sadly, I was well enough to stick it out all day long at my desk with my computer screens.

But I did grab my camera and run around during breaks and capture some of the blossoms in sunlight.

Oregon grape bursting with yellow flowers.

Narcissus along the driveway.

A closer shot of the narcissus.

Research shows me that all of the blossoms I call both narcissus and daffodil are under the category of narcissus. I grew up calling the flowers with a large trumpet daffodil. Those bloomed and passed already. The daffodils on my property are all a deep, sunshine yellow. Now I have new blossoms of white petals with yellow or orange trumpets that are very short. I call these narcissus.

I mentioned recently to fellow blogger Derrick J Knight that the deer ate my camellias over the winter. I included a photo below. Luckily they only ate the leaves off, and left the plant to try and recover. I see small buds of regeneration already, and I have learned the important lesson that some plants need to be covered in the winter. At my place, this includes camellias, azaleas, hydrangeas, honeysuckle, and hellebore. I believe all of them are still alive, but rather decimated. I will be a better steward from now on.

Volunteer grape hyacinths add colour along the path.

Pitiful camellia after the deer ate it this winter.

Peony looks very healthy.

This morning, chilly and wet, the scenes from the same window were still captivating, as I caught hummingbirds and a chipmunk going about their days, much less concerned about the rain than this fair-weather human.

In my last post I commented concern that sugar water would not be enough to provide a balanced diet for hummingbirds. So I looked it up and discovered that sugar water is a supplement to a hummingbird’s diet that includes small insects and spiders. Multiple organizations that profess to have a hummingbird’s best interests in mind assure me that the sugar water is a good thing for them. Just no food coloring.

Sugar-loving hummingbird, returned from her winter playground.

The chipmunk seems unconcerned that I loom at the window with an enormous lens pointed at her.

I did glance out the back window and spot another heron. I have poor eyesight, so I spotted only a great grey blur out in the grass. It is rather exciting to train the camera out there, focus, and see this enormous, elegant bird, on his way to eat some of my fish or frogs from the pond. They move quickly, and I am slow with the manual focus, so… I apologize that the image is blurry.

You may recall that I can never get a great shot of the Great Blue Herons who fish in my pond. This photo proves nothing has changed.

One of the pieces of my character is that a sense of beauty always gets through the static and fog of whatever else is going on. If I am consumed by a particular veteran’s case at work, if I am worried about my Tara making their way through the world  away from home at college, if I can’t make a reassuring plan for how to pay all the bills, if I remember that I am lonely, or that I miss my mother, or that refugees are suffering, or women still do not have their rights protected… no matter how powerful the dark thoughts, beauty pierces the cloud and makes me smile. How grateful I am to be human and to be able to comprehend beauty.

One of my many guises

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