White Pony Reflections

Carol A. Hand

Fall is really here. It was time to take my little “White Pony” in for a check-up and oil-change today. Yes, my 11-year old car has a name thanks to my granddaughter and an Ojibwe friend I haven’t seen in years. Here’s an excerpt from a poem that describes my car’s naming ceremony.

***

La Joie de la Vie

My Granddaughter Dancing in the Rain – July 2015

“What can we do that’s fun in the rain?
Do you think we should wash the car?”
“Oh yes, oh yes!,” you said.
So I grabbed a bucket and two new sponges,
yours orange and mine purple.

Carefully Washing “White Pony” – July 2015

“Does your car have a name?”
I thought quickly of one of your favorite toys – Pink Pony!
And I remembered an Ojibwe friend from long ago
who teased me about riding my White Pony
when I drove another white car
through the forests, past lakes and farmlands
to tribal communities and the State Capitol
in our work on tribal social justice issues.

So my car was given its predecessor’s name – White Pony.
But this White Pony mostly stays in the driveway now
even though it once climbed mountain passes
as it brought me, in a round-about way, to my new home.

***

I had time to read as I waited for my car to be serviced. The book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Kimmerer, 2013), is one of the most beautiful ones I have ever read. Perhaps it’s because Kimmerer blends science, poetry, and spirit from an indigenous perspective.

“A people’s story moves along like a canoe caught in the current, being carried closer and closer to where we had begun. As I grew up, my family found again the tribal connections that had been frayed, but never broken, by history. We found the people who knew our true names.” (Kimmerer, p. 36).

Decades ago, when I first entered college, my major was a blend of chemistry and biology. Nature has always fascinated me. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to be an ecologist, but that was not a subject the college I attended offered or even recognized. Nonetheless, my advisor and botany professor, Sister Lorita, offered me much more even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I described her lesson in a previous post

***

Teaching and the Wonder of Life…

Through example, she taught me what it means to teach. Students made fun of her because of her weight and because of her enthusiasm for her subject, a subject they found boring. One day when we were meeting, Sister Lorita looked at me and said, “I know students laugh at me, but I don’t care if people make fun of me. It’s worth it to me if they learn to see the wonder of life in a blade of grass.”

Wikimedia Commons

***

It would be many years before I would realize what a precious gift she gave me that day. Instead of becoming an ecologist or botanist who saw the wonder of life in plants, I ended up in social work, focusing on gerontology and organizational theory. I finally earned a Ph.D. in social welfare, although it took me an extra ten years. First, life led me “home” to my roots through a series of divergent events. It’s how my first white car ultimately got its name.

I was working as a teaching assistant and official note-taker for a diversity class at the university I attended. As I rushed up the hill to class one day in fall, I was contemplating a successful career in academia. I had just received notice that I was awarded a grant-funded position as a research assistant on a prestigious study. It was a fast track to likely success in the world of academia. Here’s an excerpt from an old post that describes the pivotal event.

***

You Need to Remember…

(There were no public domain photos of the plaque…)

As I crested the top of the hill, I neared the site of the last battle of the Black Hawk Wars. Just shy of the plaque commemorating the war, a tribal elder appeared dressed in an unlikely outfit – blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. He looked at me with severity and simply said, “You need to remember what is really important.” I didn’t have time to reflect on the message then, but in the decades since it is something I contemplate often, although this isn’t a story I share with others for obvious reasons. The challenge of walking in two worlds, one based on rationality and empirical evidence and the other based on a deeper spiritual awareness are not easily reconciled. It turns out that I didn’t finish my degree based on elder caregiver issues. It would take more than a decade and many experiences later to finally complete a study on Indian child welfare, but that’s another story.

***

Reading about Kimmerer’s experience with academia connected me with my own. I made a connection that I hadn’t even contemplated before. Perhaps I would have dismissed the elder’s appearance as too bizarre to consider. It would have been easier to simply ignore the message even though it made me feel a tinge of guilt.

In all likelihood, the study I would have been working on wouldn’t really have made a difference for people who were marginalized. It might, at best, have added to scientific knowledge about caregivers of adult children with mental retardation. But I doubt that I would have based a life-changing decision solely on a “vision” I couldn’t scientifically verify as “real.” At least at that point in my life. Fortunately, life had already set in motion a context that would lead me home in my yet-to-be named White Pony, both to seek refuge and to work on issues close to my heart. Tribal social justice issues. Following are excerpts from older posts that describe the context.

***

We’re Honoring Indians…

When my daughter was a senior in high school, she received a commendation notice from her French teacher. This was not the first or last, but it was the one I noticed on a different level. I remember “seeing red” when I noticed the logo on the top, yet I immediately reflected on the message – my daughter had demonstrated excellent work. So I complemented her. Then, I contacted the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) to explore what protections they had in place to prevent racial stereotyping of indigenous peoples. The response from WDPI changed my life.

A Mixed Message

At the time, I was working on a federal grant to address elder abuse in eight pilot counties in Wisconsin. In an effort to promote awareness about the project, I met with a reporter from a local paper. In the process of talking about the project, “Tools of the Trade for Men Who Care,” the reporter and I became friends. We were both outsiders in the largely white, Christian community. She was Jewish, and I was Ojibwe. I mentioned the appalling name and logo used by the local high school, and mentioned that I had been advised by WDPI to wait until my daughter graduated to pursue any action. But, I was told, there was a state statute, the Pupil Nondiscrimination Act that I could use as the basis of a complaint. The WPDI staff added that although the statute had never been tested for its relevance to discriminatory logos and team names, filing a complaint under this statute could set an important precedent. My friend asked me to let her know if I ever decided to pursue the issue.

The months passed and my daughter graduated and went off to a university. I stayed in touch with my friend at the newspaper as the project I was working on gained momentum. Then, I added another job. I was completing my doctorate in social welfare at the time, and began as a teaching assistant in a sociology class on diversity and discrimination. As I faced the 465 students, I realized that ethically I needed to walk the talk and address the discriminatory use of logos by public schools in the state.

My education thus far had taught me two things that appeared relevant to this issue. First, when approaching community change, it is always best to start on the assumption that others may easily agree if approached from a position of collaboration. So I drafted a letter to the superintendent of schools in the district. I asked my diplomatic and thoughtful university advisor to review the letter, and when he commented that it was well-reasoned and balanced, I sent it off. I also sent a copy to my friend at the newspaper.

Second, I expected a thoughtful diplomatic response from the superintendent of schools. If one believes the physics theory that every action results in an equal and opposite reaction, a well-reasoned letter calling attention to unintentional discrimination toward Native Americans should result in the willingness to dialogue, right? That was not the case. The response of the superintendent was to send a copy of my letter to the weekly newspaper in the local community. My friend also broke the story in a larger newspaper on a slow news day. Within a week, I was the topic of hundreds of letters to the editor in local and state newspapers, and featured on the nightly TV news. The community reaction included nasty, degrading personal attacks and threats.”

***

Memories and Prophesies

When my partner lost his job as an assistant manager of a lumber retail company, in all likelihood a response to my very public and unpopular advocacy, I was forced to withdraw from the university in the final stages of completing my doctorate in order to get a full-time job. I wanted to escape from the world of Euro-Americans for awhile and accepted a position as the deputy director of health and human services for an inter-tribal agency. I moved to the Ojibwe community where my mother was born and bought an off-the-grid cabin in the woods…

Amik Lake, Lac du Flambeau, WI – Early 1990s

***

Life circumstances led me to a place where I felt at home. The animals, trees and earth sometimes spoke to me. Although my job was not an easy, I had a clear sense that what I was learning and doing mattered. Perhaps the elder who visited me by Blackhawk’s memorial marker would agree.

“There was a time when I teetered precariously with an awkward foot in each of two worlds – the scientific and the indigenous. But then I learned to fly. Or at least try. It was the bees that showed me how to move between different flowers – to drink nectar and gather pollen from both. It is this dance of cross-pollination that can produce a new species of knowledge, a new way of being in the world. After all, there aren’t two worlds, there is just this one good green earth.” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 47)

My old White Pony drove so many miles she finally had to be replaced. These days, the White Pony I drive doesn’t travel far. I make sure she’s taken care of because I rely on her to get me to and from the tribal and community college where I teach research and co-teach social work macro practice. I often think of Sister Lorita’s example as I try to weave science and wonder together, encouraging students not only to count and measure, but also to see, feel, hear, and sense the wonder of life all around.

Hawk’s Ridge, Duluth, MN – October 13, 2017

 

I am grateful to Sister Lorita and thankful for the memories sparked by Kimmerer’s eloquent book today. I appreciate the opportunity to continue learning from yet another generation and the chance to share some of what I have learned in exchange. Ah. But that reminds me of the papers I have to grade today…

Work Cited

Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

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Hope-full Reflections

Carol A. Hand

Is hope fading with every wearing

or seeping inside concealed as deeper caring?

A question to ponder on laundry day

dressed in my secondhand clothes

Secondhand “hope”

***

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Remembering…

Carol A. Hand

Seven years ago, my mother passed away in the early morning. She was 89. During the last 13 years of her life, she gradually lost her memories and her abilities to care for herself and communicate. I was thinking of her yesterday at sunset and decided to repost the poem I wrote for her two years ago.

Sunset – October 9, 2017

Mother, I Remember

Dear Mother, I remember as a child
The trips to New York City and to the Jersey shore
Camping in Cape Cod, and the Adirondack Mountains
Trips on boats, splashing in the ocean
Picking berries in the woods and laughing
Only realizing later that we were spared by
the copperheads that called the woods home
I remember the many times you cried
because you couldn’t bear the loneliness and pain
from an abusive husband who knew the way to hurt you most deeply
was to hurt the daughter you loved
But we were both survivors, you and I

I remember watching you when I was a teen as you cared for elders
and dealt with cranky staff with such kindness and diplomacy
A gifted healer and peacemaker despite the abuse you couldn’t stop
I remember that I understood from a very early age
that you didn’t see your beauty or your worth

I didn’t know how to help you or myself for awhile

***

My Mother Sending me off to College after Spring Break – 1966

***

I remember there were many years when we didn’t meet often
You had your work to keep you busy and I had mine
Yet you always found time to send letters and cards
from Pennsylvania, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wisconsin
when you returned to the place where you were born
to use your skills to get federal funding for a health center
on the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation
I remember how frightened you were to testify before Congress
How proud you were of this accomplishment
and how disappointed when the center was named after the tribal leader
whose bitterness almost sabotaged the project

I remember when I was a little older
Driving this road to your northwoods home
so many times, from so many directions
in too many different cars to recall
Only this time, the drive is different
I’m crying so hard it’s hard to see the road ahead
I’m not coming with my family to celebrate a holiday,
or taking time away from work to answer your plea for help
because you’ve grown fearful and weary of Father’s abuse
I’m not coming to help you move to the elder apartment complex
or the assisted care facility because you can no longer remember
how to care for yourself, or even who I am
This time I’m coming to bid you farewell one last time

I will always remember the love and the laughter,
the tears and the pain as I hold your hand and
gently caress your cheek and smooth your silvered hair
as you lay in your hospital bed, struggling to breathe, dying.
I kiss your cheek and whisper.
I love you, Mother. I always have. I know I will miss you
But it’s okay to let go now Mother and go home.
You’ll finally be free from suffering.”

It’s been seven years since your death
But I still remember

***

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October Reflections

Carol A. Hand

As I greet the morning facing east
the rising sun is momentarily visible
between the tree-lined horizon
and the bank of clouds moving in
Multicolored leaves provide a filter
allowing light and shadow to dance
highlighting gardens and dew-laden grass
The cool pine-scented gentle breeze
kisses my face and graying hair
and sets the wind chimes singing
Rustling leaves on trees join with their own music
Wind-blown crispy fallen leaves clicking on pavement
add counterpoint to the murmur of city traffic
I wish I could share the moment with others
But of course my camera is inside

I stop to wonder
What is this perceived need to share really about?
It’s becoming more and more difficult to blog
Perhaps it’s because it’s harder and harder to hope
Perhaps it’s because my inner reserves are depleted
by so much suffering in the world
and the myopic selfishness so prevalent today
Perhaps it’s because I have too much to do
too many details that need attention
to allow me much time for poetry and music
Perhaps it’s because I know that silence
is often the wiser choice
Words carry power, conscious and unconscious intentions
to enlighten, to inspire, to entertain, to distract,
to wound, to heal, to repel, to attract

May these simple words inspire a moment of silence
to witness beauty with a deep sense of peace and gratitude

***

October Reflections – 2017

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September Reflections

Carol A. Hand

Morning on the Last Day of September, 2017

***

I’m grateful to be standing, here, witnessing autumn’s delight

long grass bending with the weight of sparkling dew, a welcome sight

the last of the clematis flowers colorfully translucent in the morning, bright

on our “pale blue dot” spinning and circling our sun, today sharing life-giving light

***

Autumn-Blooming Clematis

***

With deep gratitude to Carl Sagan.

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Simply Present

Carol A. Hand

Taking moments to simply breathe and observe

Another morning shrouded by clouds and mist

Misty September Morning – 2017

A drive to work fraught with potentially dangerous obstacles
that could easily trigger feelings of anger or fear
but choosing instead to marvel at nature
admiring the scarlet and green maple near
nestled amid towering sun-scented pine

Energized once again by the creativity and excitement
of students eager to explore life’s challenges and mysteries

Coming home from an evening walk with my dog
through the fog and drizzle at dusk, his pace increasingly brusque
called forward by lights glowing within our humble hobbit dwelling
illuminating an overgrown fairytale garden as we approach
somewhat out of time and of place, yet compelling
amid stuff-filled lawns on either side that continue to encroach

Drizzly September Dusk 2017

Gazing up at the darkening southwestern sky
As the waxing September moon momentarily appears
sharing its reflected light with all as night draws nigh

September Moon – 2017

Life’s simple blessings

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Mainstream Media Circus …

Carol A. Hand

Come one, come all!

Microsoft Word Clip Art

***

Step right up,
ladies and gentlemen
Welcome to the circus
Our main attraction
may appear to be
the orange clown
He will perform
astounding feats
of buffoonery

Microsoft WORD Clip Art

***

His act is intended
to distract your attention
Perhaps he will also be able
to divide you, the audience,
into illusory opponents
and maybe even provoke you
to fight with each other
But don’t be fooled

Microsoft WORD Clip Art

***
His main objective is
to keep you from noticing
the machinations of the puppeteers
who, behind the scenes,
are building structures that will
imprison you in joyless lives
of endless servitude to
feed their insatiable appetites
for yet more power.

***

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In The Moment

Carol A. Hand

Being in the moment for a moment
Simply observing
as a busy ladybug climbs a blade of grass

I smile as the grass bends to the ground
Undeterred, she climbs another
When it remains upright she flies off
finding another blade that bends to her will

A father and son come into view
talking excitedly as they pass by
on their way to the playground
enjoying the moment
on this rare sunny afternoon

The ladybug, undisturbed
continues to explore and experiment
but it’s time for me to leave her
and return to a different reality

***

Microsoft WORD Clip Art

***

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A Daytime Visitor

Carol A. Hand

Imagine, for a moment,
what it’s like to be born
to a life where one is prejudged
and regarded with fear or with scorn

Mid-morning visitor – September 1, 2017

I don’t smell like a flower
but I do have a scent
to protect me, a gentle creature
if healthy, with no malicious intent

I’m usually nocturnal
and not quite like any other
grazing now in the daytime
to feed my young, I’m a mother

A morning visitor getting closer

It’s true I’m an omnivore
I do eat eggs, berries and bees
but I eat beetles, grubs, grass hoppers
and your untended garbage if I please

I mean you no harm
but if you give me a wide berth
I’ll contribute my skills
working with you to care for our earth

Closer still – both thankful for the window between us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

Some facts about skunks:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skunk
http://www.wildskunkrescue.com/skunkbehaviors.htm
http://www.havahart.com/skunk-facts
http://www.wildskunkrescue.com/rabies.htm

***

Microsoft WORD Clip Art

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Reflections about Then and Now

Carol A. Hand

Let me take just a moment
to put aside the chaos of the world
seeping into my soul

Remembering
a recurring childhood dream
soaring above the earth
simply watching
with compassionate detachment
as people went about their busy lives

Remembering
my safe wooded place
sitting beneath a large maple
on a soft mossy knoll
by a little brook
sunlight and shadows shifting
joining my voice in song
with rustling leaves and birds
in harmony with the water
brushing over and around stones
in the small singing stream
wondering how many years
it would take for the rocks
to dissolve into rich soil

Breathing in
feeling the presence of peace and light
and sending out gratitude
for the beauty and wonder of life
then and now
even during days that seem darker

***

Lake Superior Shore – 2017

***

 

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