Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What's the story?

Do you find your hopes rising as we near a New Year? We're once again presented with a fresh start, if not a blank slate. Rather than an entirely new novel, each of us gets to start a new chapter in the story of our life, hoping that next year will be better; that unfulfilled dreams may finally come true; that the puzzle's pieces will fit together into a beautiful picture; that the narrative will lead closer to a "happily ever after." A new year brings the freshness of the North Country under a new covering of snow.

fresh, untracked snow
fresh, untracked snow
Photo by J. Harrington

Barry Lopez, in the current issue of Poets and Writers magazine, shares some perspectives worth considering as we approach New Year's Eve.
"The reason we tell stories, to judge from what I have seen among traditional people, and what I believe was already well worked out by Cro-Magnon people, is to keep each other from being afraid. We tell stories and write poems, historically, to keep awe and aspiration and comprehension and the other components of hopeful lives bright in each other's hearts. Storytelling is how we're moved to take care of each other when we recognize how extremely thin the veneer of civilization we cherish is, and how very hard it is to keep that veneer from shredding in the wind."
Lopez' perspective seems to me very different than my recollection of the stories found in Grimm's fairy tales, which tell of the bad things that can and do happen to those who don't obey their parents or follow the rules. An antithesis to Grimm's stories can be found in A. A. Milne's descriptions of the  adventures of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and their friends. Most of the Native American stories I've read also seemed more aligned with Lopez' and Milne's view of stories (and people) than those collected by the brothers Grimm.

My experience has been that people change to move away from pain and / or toward pleasure. Most of us need to change to keep our veneer of civilization from shredding due to things like climate change, systemic racism, and police who see to many citizens as "perps". Maybe if more of us, and that includes My Minnesota, told more stories that triggered awe and apprehension rather than fear and loathing, we would see more of what we hopefully look to as progress. That's not something that fits neatly into a New Year's resolution like "eat healthy" or "be happy," but perhaps we can resolve to be aware of the stories we're telling and living. Here's an example of a a quick story that helped me rekindle my awe and aspiration: VIDEO: A White Namekagon Christmas. See if you can find at least one more story every day of 2016 that reminds you of the awe and other components of a hopeful life. You could even practice during what's left of 2015.

Stories Are Made of Mistakes

By James Galvin 

Even the pole bean tendrils sought out and gripped their
frames within six hours of my setting them.
                                                               One of the things
that is breaking my heart is that I can’t trust language to
express any thanks.
                            My pole beans, my honeybees, my coyotes,
my dog, all my good horses.


The black mare I shouldn’t have bought and bought, and once
I had, should have shipped, bucked me, too, the first time
I got up.
            But God she was a beauty.
                                                 I thought if I just rode her
I could ride her down.
                               Her name was Sara and we kept it at that.

All she wanted to do was run.
                                          Ears back, flat out, nose pushed
into the next life.
                         I wanted her to learn to walk.


After about a year of chop I turned her uphill on a good gravel
road and said, “OK, you bitch, you want to run?”
                                                                      I let go
her head and gave her the steel.
                                                I’d never been on a horse so
      I’ve never been on one since.
                                                So fast you couldn’t
count the beats in the rhythm of her gait.
                                                                         But when,
after some miles, she started to flag, I said, “I thought you
wanted to run,” and dug her out again.


The pole bean tendrils sought their frames within six hours
of my setting them.
                           They broke my heart.
                                                            They gripped.


A patch of sunlight mottled the shade.
                                                       Whether she never
saw the root that snaked through the shadow or was just too
far in front of herself, I’ll never know.
                                                      She stumbled
and fell.
            First on her knees then over.
                                                      We rasped together
down the gravel road, black mare on top of me.
                                                                     We rasped
to a halt.
             She jumped to her feet.
                                                She stared at me.
could see the bone in both her knees.
                                                      Ribbons of hide hanging.

Blood like volunteer firemen beginning to rise to the occasion.


Ten years later, today, I’m riding her.
                                                       I keep her reined
in most of the time.
                            She tosses her head, snaps tie-downs.

She dances and whirls, doubles under and rears incessantly.

She makes me the butt of ridicule:
                                                 “So, uh, Jim, how old
is that mare?”
                     “She must be twenty now.”
                                                             “Don’t you think
it’s time she was broke?”
                                    Every once in a while I let her
run and break my heart.
                                    Anyone watching stops breathing.


If I ever get to heaven and know who I am, I’d like to over-
hear my daughter tell a story to her children.
my dad used to ride this black mare...”

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Please be kind to each other while you can.