The River is My Teacher

Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it. ~ Lao Tzu

Nanny1

Upper Nantahala at low flow.

Shari River 1

Virgin kayak paddle with my SCC Water Skills class. Fontana Reservoir.

Shari River 2

My daughter, Emily, worked as a river guide for Wildwater, LTD during the summer and took me down the lower Nantahala for my very first time. We loaded the raft on top of Clementine’s roof rack.

I have spent much of my time over the past months learning from the rivers and lakes in western North Carolina, getting wet, straining my muscles, humbling myself in front of young people a fraction of my age. I’m doing so not because I’ve always been a “river chick,” or because I want people to think I’m cool. That’s just not true.

PROMISES…

One of the two promises I made to myself when I started this journey was to, as best as I could, tell the truth. 

The second promise I made to myself was to listen and to follow in the direction my ancestors pointed me, follow them down rabbit holes, into forbidden places, seek answers to the questions they posed. 

I didn’t know when I embarked east across the Cherokee Trail of Tears  that I would be led to the rivers. I didn’t know that I would need to learn to paddle, swim rapids, learn to tie a bowline and set up a Z-Drag. I didn’t have any idea I would be planning the logistics of navigating 1,400 miles across five rivers. But, I am.

DON’T TRY SO HARD…

I sat across the table from Bo Taylor explaining the general nature of my project – to navigate the Cherokee Trail of Tears and to document it. I asked to spend time in the archives of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian for research. Bo put his big hands on the table and looked out the window. As the museum’s director, he’s seen a lot of “researchers” come and go. He doesn’t much care for those who come to “fix the Cherokee.” It was clear then that he didn’t much care for me. But, I’m persistent. I’m not leaving until I accomplish my goal. And I’m not trying to “fix” anyone or anything. I don’t much care if anyone “likes” me. I’m not in search of buddies. I’m in search of truth. Mostly, my own.

So, I sat and waited for Bo to speak.

Bo: “You know, you really shouldn’t try so hard.”

Me: “Try so hard…” (Hesitating… Thinking –>  Hmmm… Uh…Breathe… WTF? I’m offering to volunteer in the archives.)

Me: “Okay then, what would you suggest?”

Bo: “Do you know about ‘Going to Water’?”

Me: “No, tell me.”

Bo: “The Cherokee… in our ways, we ‘Go to Water’ to cleanse ourselves, to get rid of old stuff that we don’t need… to shed negativity.”

Me: “Okay, will you go with me?”

Bo: (Hesitating… turning to look me in the eye…) “Yea, maybe.”

Bo tells me there is a place where I can go – the confluence of two rivers – and to immerse myself there, releasing old wounds and unwanted negative energy. He tells me how to do this myself and why it is important. He tells me I don’t need anyone else to do it with or for me.

I went first to Mingus Mill and immersed myself under the water there. (Falling water is very heavy and makes it difficult to stand up gracefully, btw). I went next to the two-river confluence Bo mentioned.

Mingus II

Mingus Mill

THE UKTENA HOLE

Johnny is Cherokee, and he is my friend. Johnny agreed to show me where the river confluence was located. As we walked the trail, dodging tree roots, and holes in the dim morning light, Johnny taught me many things about Going to Water, including why we needed to go before the sun rose.

He spoke quietly and firmly. Johnny is neither flamboyant nor loud. Since the first moment I met Johnny, I believed and trusted him. Before leaving me at the river bank, he pointed into the murky water and said softly, “This is the Uktena Hole. That’s why it’s so powerful. What you do here is your business.” And then Johnny left, walking up river out of sight where he waited for me.”

I’ve been Going to Water often since then in various ways and with varying intention. But, I always learn, and walk away stronger, somehow more clear.

The river is not only a place to cleanse. The River is My Teacher and her lessons are legend for good reason. They are hard earned. They take time. When I am in search of answers, I begin first at the river.

But learning to navigate 1,400 miles of river is no small feat, especially for a neophyte. I’ve logged a lot of time on rivers in Idaho and Oregon on everything from an overinflated tractor tire tube to a 10-person whitewater raft, including inflatable Tahitis (the western version of the eastern Duckie) and as a passenger on a river Dorie. But, prior to the summer of 2014 I spent very little time paddling small hard boats like a river kayak or canoe where reading and maneuvering river features is crucial. Nor had I been forced to learn knots, self rescue and pinned boat extraction. I never before paid attention to river water flows and how river features can, and do, change quickly depending on the amount of water flow.

To stay alive, I enrolled in a Water Skills class offered through Southwestern Community College’s Outdoor Leadership Program, a semester-long course in learning to read and maneuver  bodies of water and how to navigate multiple types of boats. Oh, yeah, and did I mention… to stay alive? “Water safety” has become not only a common theme, but a harsh reality. My personal flotation devise (PFD) is now my closest friend…. often… and always. I’ve even gotten to the point where I think my NRS Ninja is pretty sexy.

Cherokee Trail of Tears Map

Initially, I had no idea that I would be navigating the Cherokee Trail of Tears Water Route. When I started my research on the Crying Back the Ocean documentary film project, I had no idea the TOT Water Route even existed, or that many Cherokee were loaded onto keelboats during the forced Indian Removal era (early 1800’s) in frigid temperatures and pulled down 1,400 miles of rivers from Tennessee to Oklahoma behind paddle boats, a journey where many of them died. Still, the TOT Water Route became my primary focus, and GOING TO WATER emerged as the first official phase of the overall CRYING BACK THE OCEAN documentary project.

Now, I need to learn to survive the same legendary waterways as the Cherokee, only I will be ready for it…

Meet the Hiwassee River

“If my ship sails from sight, it doesn’t mean my journey ends, it simply means the river bends.” ~ Enoch Powell

Every river has a personality. Every river has its story. Every river has its Special Spirits…

In the middle of the river there was a disturbance… I looked up to see a great rolling presence, a sliding wet bulk twirling back to the depths of the Hiwassee… When I gasped, the rest of my party looked out over the river and caught the sight of my awe… Some saw the waves of its disappearing body… the reverberations of current so strong they radiated toward us, lapping onto the shore at our feet. A Siren? A River Spirit? An Inland Mermaid? The Uktena? …

From then on I felt a powerful Spirit surrounding us. Often I felt my boat vibrate, as if I was passing close over a giant boulder, shoal or log… Something alive and powerful. I was not afraid. I felt protected and guided… ~ Trip Journal, November 2014

The Hiwassee is a sweetheart of a waterway beginning at its headwaters on the north slope of Rocky Mountain in northern Georgia, flowing north into North Carolina, then west through Tennessee, joining the Tennessee River not all that far from Calhoun. The river starts out as the Hiawassee and in Tennessee drops the “a,” evolving into the Hiwassee. I suppose there’s a reason behind it, but of all the things I need to know about the river, the missing “a” doesn’t seem all that important.

There are seemingly countless rivers flowing in, through and around the southern Appalachians. Their beauty and backstories could undoubtedly keep Steinbeck busy for decades. However, I am particularly interested in the Hiwassee solely for its role in a significant – and grisly – era in U.S. history, and in my own as a Cherokee/Choctaw descendent – the Cherokee Trail of Tears Indian Removal of the early 1800s.

Cherokee Trail of Tears Map

Image – Creative Commons

I was first introduced to the Hiwsassee by Billy Nichols, an interesting man who happens to love the river. Billy lives in Calhoun and grew up playing on and in the Hiwassee. Billy knows about everything there is to know about the river, from its river bed and the treasures half buried there, to the caves in its banks and nearby Mississippian Mounds. Listening to Billy’s lilting Tennessee stories mesmerizes me, makes me laugh and keeps me considering strange and foreign things for a long time after we part. I have this theory… I think that ancient Cherokee have come back to teach us. I think Billy is one of them…

Billy and Dell

Billy teaching me something important drifting along on the Hiwassee current. I listen closely to what he has to say. Everything he shares has a purpose. Photo by Dale Cody

Dale teaching

Environmental educator Dale Stewart presenting a session on “Talks from the Edge” discussing “Leadership Lessons From The Great Explorers.”

On my first visit to Calhoun in early summer, Billy stood beside me and pointed to where the first detachment of Cherokee had been loaded onto Keelboats to be taken down river to larger holding areas near Chattanooga, before being forced west across water and land to the desolate western plains of Oklahoma. I stared at the water where Billy pointed and stopped hearing anything else he said for a long time. Billy is a very perceptive man. He knows when to talk and when to not talk. I appreciate that.

I was introduced to Billy via Dale Stewart, an Asheville, NC based explorer and environmental educator who navigated the Cherokee Trail of Tears Water Route in 2012.  I’d located Dale during my research of the Trail of Tears, and specifically, the little known 1,400-mile water route. Dale’s early trek inspired me to make my own way across, starting at the Hiwassee, then navigating the Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi and finally, the Arkansas to Fort Smith.

Yes, I could have listened to Dale and others tell me about what this route was like. I could have retold their stories second hand, and spun a pretty good tale, I’m certain. I’ve done it before as a veteran newspaper reporter. But, I’ve also been a zealous student of Steinbeck’s “Journey School,” for some time. Steinbeck says the real lessons are learned by navigating a journey, not by talking about it. And I believed him. So, I journey…

“The teachings don’t come like some people think. You can’t just sit down and talk about the truth… You have to live it, and be part of it, and you might get to know it… And it’s slow and gradual and doesn’t come easy.” ~ Rolling Thunder, Cherokee medicine man

Billy and Misty 1

Bill Nichols & daughter, Misty Senters. Calhoun, Tennessee – Photo by Dell Hambleton

I’d first visited Billy and his daughter, Misty in Calhoun in early summer. They were kind enough to load me into their truck and take me far up the Hiwassee River Watershed, teaching me as we went about the history, archeology, geology and flora and fauna of the area. I was amazed and grateful for the generosity of their time. We explored dams, possible put ins and take out areas for boats. We talked at great length about everything related to the Hiwassee River, the Mississippian Mounds, the Cherokee tribal lands, Cherokee holding forts and their final removal by river keelboats to the west.


It wasn’t until November that I made it back.
November’s Hiwassee expedition involved seven paddlers, including Billy and Misty. It would be my first water scouting trip for the documentary film project I have been planning – Crying Back the Ocean. My trip would eventually retrace Dale Stewart’s journey, with the exception of adding the stretch of about 30 miles of the Hiwassee, and a stretch of the Tennessee above Chattanooga.

HiwasseeArmada

Our “Hiwassee Armada” was comprised of seven paddlers: Billy Nichols, Misty Senters, Dale Cody, Elizabeth Waight, Misty’s companion, Andy, son, Brent, and myself. – Photo by Misty Senters – Photo by Misty Senters

Misty's Boat

Misty (seated right) packed everything imaginable into her river boat, for which I was exceedingly happy as I dug into a ham and Provolone sandwich. – Photo by Dale Cody

I have to admit that I was more than a little anxious about the trip. Though I’d kept an eye on the weather, I knew conditions looked fine – cold, but fine. I probably over-planned and over-worried, but at least we were prepared. Even if I hadn’t, Misty’s boat turned out to be the carrier of much edible goodness, as well as about anything we might have unexpectedly needed on the river.

Elizabeth

Documentary Photographer Elizabeth Waight exploring the Upper Nantahala River, North Carolina. – Photo by Dell Hambleton

Our Hiwassee Armada included London-based documentary photojournalist Elizabeth Waight. Elizabeth had returned to the U.S. for a gallery showing of her Trail of Tears project “Ghost Paths.” I’d lured Elizabeth to come with us on our Hiwassee scouting trip. I wanted her company as a fellow photojournalist not to make images, but to brainstorm the overall CRYING BACK THE OCEAN project. As a matter of fact, we both decided to leave our camera equipment behind, and instead focus on the experience of being on the river. Shocking, but true. Often photographers end up missing the experience because they live with a camera in their face. At least on this trip that wasn’t the case.

Meet the Hiwassee River (Calhoun, Tennessee)

“If my ship sails from sight, it doesn’t mean my journey ends, it simply means the river bends.” ~ Enoch Powell

Every river has a personality. Every river has its story. Every river has its Special Spirits…

In the middle of the river there was a disturbance… I looked up to see a great rolling presence, a sliding wet bulk twirling back to the depths of the Hiwassee… When I gasped, the rest of my party looked out over the river and caught the sight of my awe… Some saw the waves of its disappearing body… the reverberations of current so strong they radiated toward us, lapping onto the shore at our feet. A Siren? A River Spirit? An Inland Mermaid? The Uktena? …

From then on I felt a powerful Spirit surrounding us. Often I felt my boat vibrate, as if I was passing close over a giant boulder, shoal or log… Something alive and powerful. I was not afraid. I felt protected and guided… ~ Trip Journal, November 2014

The Hiwassee is a sweetheart of a waterway beginning at its headwaters on the north slope of Rocky Mountain in northern Georgia, flowing north into North Carolina, then west through Tennessee, joining the Tennessee River not all that far from Calhoun. The river starts out as the Hiawassee and in Tennessee drops the “a,” evolving into the Hiwassee. I suppose there’s a reason behind it, but of all the things I need to know about the river, the missing “a” doesn’t seem all that important. 

There are seemingly countless rivers flowing in, through and around the southern Appalachians. Their beauty and backstories could undoubtedly keep Steinbeck busy for decades. However, I am particularly interested in the Hiwassee solely for its role in a significant – and grisly – era in U.S. history, and in my own as a Cherokee/Choctaw descendent – the Cherokee Trail of Tears Indian Removal of the early 1800s.

Cherokee Trail of Tears Map

Image – Creative Commons

I was first introduced to the Hiwsassee by Billy Nichols, an interesting man who happens to love the river. Billy lives in Calhoun and grew up playing on and in the Hiwassee. Billy knows about everything there is to know about the river, from its river bed and the treasures half buried there, to the caves in its banks and nearby Mississippian Mounds. Listening to Billy’s lilting Tennessee stories mesmerizes me, makes me laugh and keeps me considering strange and foreign things for a long time after we part. I have this theory… I think that ancient Cherokee have come back to teach us. I think Billy is one of them…

Billy and Dell

Billy teaching me something important drifting along on the Hiwassee current. I listen closely to what he has to say. Everything he shares has a purpose. Photo by Dale Cody

Dale teaching

Environmental educator Dale Stewart presenting a session on “Talks from the Edge” discussing “Leadership Lessons From The Great Explorers.”

On my first visit to Calhoun in early summer, Billy stood beside me and pointed to where the first detachment of Cherokee had been loaded onto Keelboats to be taken down river to larger holding areas near Chattanooga, before being forced west across water and land to the desolate western plains of Oklahoma. I stared at the water where Billy pointed and stopped hearing anything else he said for a long time. Billy is a very perceptive man. He knows when to talk and when to not talk. I appreciate that.

I was introduced to Billy via Dale Stewart, an Asheville, NC based explorer and environmental educator who navigated the Cherokee Trail of Tears Water Route in 2012.  I’d located Dale during my research of the Trail of Tears, and specifically, the little known 1,400-mile water route. Dale’s early trek inspired me to make my own way across, starting at the Hiwassee, then navigating the Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi and finally, the Arkansas to Fort Smith.

Yes, I could have listened to Dale and others tell me about what this route was like. I could have retold their stories second hand, and spun a pretty good tale, I’m certain. I’ve done it before as a veteran newspaper reporter. But, I’ve also been a zealous student of Steinbeck’s “Journey School,” for some time. Steinbeck says the real lessons are learned by navigating a journey, not by talking about it. And I believed him. So, I journey…

“The teachings don’t come like some people think. You can’t just sit down and talk about the truth… You have to live it, and be part of it, and you might get to know it… And it’s slow and gradual and doesn’t come easy.” ~ Rolling Thunder, Cherokee medicine man

Billy and Misty 1

Bill Nichols & daughter, Misty Senters. Calhoun, Tennessee – Photo by Dell Hambleton

I’d first visited Billy and his daughter, Misty in Calhoun in early summer. They were kind enough to load me into their truck and take me far up the Hiwassee River Watershed, teaching me as we went about the history, archeology, geology and flora and fauna of the area. I was amazed and grateful for the generosity of their time. We explored dams, possible put ins and take out areas for boats. We talked at great length about everything related to the Hiwassee River, the Mississippian Mounds, the Cherokee tribal lands, Cherokee holding forts and their final removal by river keelboats to the west.


It wasn’t until November that I made it back.
November’s Hiwassee expedition involved seven paddlers, including Billy and Misty. It would be my first water scouting trip for the documentary film project I have been planning – Crying Back the Ocean. My trip would eventually retrace Dale Stewart’s journey, with the exception of adding the stretch of about 30 miles of the Hiwassee, and a stretch of the Tennessee above Chattanooga.

HiwasseeArmada

Our “Hiwassee Armada” was comprised of seven paddlers: Billy Nichols, Misty Senters, Dale Cody, Elizabeth Waight, Misty’s companion, Andy, son, Brent, and myself. – Photo by Misty Senters – Photo by Misty Senters

Misty's Boat

Misty (seated right) packed everything imaginable into her river boat, for which I was exceedingly happy as I dug into a ham and Provolone sandwich. – Photo by Dale Cody

I have to admit that I was more than a little anxious about the trip. Though I’d kept an eye on the weather, I knew conditions looked fine – cold, but fine. I probably over-planned and over-worried, but at least we were prepared. Even if I hadn’t, Misty’s boat turned out to be the carrier of much edible goodness, as well as about anything we might have unexpectedly needed on the river.

Elizabeth

Documentary Photographer Elizabeth Waight exploring the Upper Nantahala River, North Carolina. – Photo by Dell Hambleton

Our Hiwassee Armada included London-based documentary photojournalist Elizabeth Waight. Elizabeth had returned to the U.S. for a gallery showing of her Trail of Tears project “Ghost Paths.” I’d lured Elizabeth to come with us on our Hiwassee scouting trip. I wanted her company as a fellow photojournalist not to make images, but to brainstorm the overall CRYING BACK THE OCEAN project. As a matter of fact, we both decided to leave our camera equipment behind, and instead focus on the experience of being on the river. Shocking, but true. Often photographers end up missing the experience because they live with a camera in their face. At least on this trip that wasn’t the case.

CRYING BACK THE OCEAN ~ The Project

WHY A DOCUMENTARY FILM?

The idea of producing a documentary film is daunting. It’s hard to explain, but CRYING BACK THE OCEAN…or the concept of it – the idea, the epiphany – birthed itself.

Let me explain…

Shari Shooting

Shooting on assignment in southern Oregon.

I began to move my creativity into video about three years before my youngest daughter, Emily, graduated from high school and left for college. It was Emily who nudged me into video as a creative platform with her own self-shot video projects showing her dirt bike stunts. Until then, I pretty much focused on still photography, particularly photojournalism. I’d been a working reporter for about 30 years.

I am also mixed blood (like every other person walking the planet… but there’s a lot more to that story…) I am Cherokee and Choctaw through my mother. European mixed “white bread” through my father.

The Indian Removal Period has always attracted my attention. It’s this horrid beacon of hate and greed that I’ve delved into. It really is complex and I’ve found in my research and reading that it literally elicits hatefulness and resentment. But, that’s where I stopped and took notice.

THE WEIGHT OF HATE

Hate and resentment are powerful, heavy and dark. I looked closer at what it has done to the various Cherokee sub-tribes. (Yes, sub-tribes… which will also be a focal point of the CBO project.) And I wondered, as a mixed blood, what I could do to help heal it.

Now, I do understand how pretentious this may sound. “Healing my people” is about as preposterous as claiming to be descended from a full blooded Cherokee Indian Princess. First, Cherokee women were not princesses. Second, as a mixed blood not recognized by any faction of the Cherokee tribe, I am viewed as a nosey interloper. But, anyone who really knows me, knows this means very little to me. Yeah, I’m over it. It actually frees me to tell the whole story as I experience it, without the anxiety of offending. If this project offends, so be it.

TWISTED HAIR

I am a Storyteller. In the Native American realm, we are called the Twisted Hair people. We belong to no particular tribe. Stories come through us. Stories tell themselves. A good storyteller becomes the vessel, a pipe, a portal – not a megaphone.

Crying Back the Ocean is the story of crossing the various Cherokee Trail(S) of Tears today. The initial concept was to cross each of the trail sections in REVERSE, hence “Crying BACK the Ocean,” documenting the experience as it happens.

The entire Indian Removal period was more than the U.S. government removal of indigenous tribes from their eastern tribal lands to the desolate western plains of Oklahoma. The Removal was genocide. The Spirit of the Offense still exists. It is embedded in the land and water routes where Indians suffered and died. The essence of this is illustrated effectively and elegantly in “Ghost Paths,” a documentary photography project by London based photographer, Elizabeth Waight.

Ghost Paths 1

London-based Documentary Photojournalist Elizabeth Waight embarked on a project to illustrate the Spirit of the People whose essence remain as part of the land. Ghost Paths includes images taken on sections of the Cherokee Trail of Tears.

The Trail of Tears was given the name because of the horrific loss of human life of many Native American people, not just the Cherokee. This is a part of the story, too.

HISTORY… ITS ALL IN THE PERSPECTIVE

As I started planning the CBO trek, I was often asked what, exactly I was doing and why. Fair question, really. I would talk about the Trail of Tears and often, younger people would look confused and stop me. This even happened with older people, as well – people in their 30s and 40s. They would say, “Now, what is that? The ‘Trail of Tears’”? That question literally would stop me mid-sentence. It made me realize how little many people know about the Indian Removal Period. And, admittedly, I started to boil inside. I often found it hard to go on with my explanation in a calm voice.

How could such a horrible period of history and human suffering in the United States fade from memory? I would say the same about the U.S. period of Slavery and Slave Trade. How CAN we forget these things? How can we NOT remember them, hopefully so the same genocide is not reenacted?

THE CBO PROJECT

As part of the CBO project, I’ll be creating middle- and high school multi-media curriculum modules that will be available online to both public school teachers and the homeschooling community.

The CRYING BACK THE OCEAN documentary film project will include various segments on each individual trail crossing. CBO – GOING TO WATER focuses on the little known Cherokee Trail of Tears water route – 1,400 miles across five rivers. I’ll be crossing the rivers via sea kayak. It’s the segment I’m currently training and preparing for.

HELP & SUPPORT

The CBO project is huge. In its entirety, I estimate that it will take from 3 to 5 years to complete. However, as the project evolves there will be milestones, with film segments, and curriculum modules created and released.

I have already received a great deal of support and advice from others – inside and outside of the Cherokee tribe. For that I am exceedingly grateful.

If you’d like to BE A PART OF MY TRIBE and support the CBO project financially, watch for the CBO KICKSTARTER and other crowd funding opportunities. I’ll post them and let you know what’s happening.

You can sign up via email for news of the journey, including dispatches from the field when I’m out there.

Let me know your thoughts! Do you have ideas about where I should go and who I should talk to? Let me know!!

ᏩᏙ (Wado)

Sometimes A Wild God…

Sometimes A Wild God

by Tom Hirons

Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.
He is awkward and does not know the ways
Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.
His voice makes vinegar from wine.

When the wild god arrives at the door,
You will probably fear him.
He reminds you of something dark
That you might have dreamt,
Or the secret you do not wish to be shared.

He will not ring the doorbell;
Instead he scrapes with his fingers
Leaving blood on the paintwork,
Though primroses grow
In circles round his feet.

You do not want to let him in.
You are very busy.
It is late, or early, and besides…
You cannot look at him straight
Because he makes you want to cry.

The dog barks.
The wild god smiles,
Holds out his hand.
The dog licks his wounds
And leads him inside.

The wild god stands in your kitchen.
Ivy is taking over your sideboard;
Mistletoe has moved into the lampshades
And wrens have begun to sing
An old song in the mouth of your kettle.

‘I haven’t much,’ you say
And give him the worst of your food.
He sits at the table, bleeding.
He coughs up foxes.
There are otters in his eyes.

When your wife calls down,
You close the door and
Tell her it’s fine.
You will not let her see
The strange guest at your table.

The wild god asks for whiskey
And you pour a glass for him,
Then a glass for yourself.
Three snakes are beginning to nest
In your voicebox. You cough.

Oh, limitless space.
Oh, eternal mystery.
Oh, endless cycles of death and birth.
Oh, miracle of life.
Oh, the wondrous dance of it all.

You cough again,
Expectorate the snakes and
Water down the whiskey,
Wondering how you got so old
And where your passion went.

The wild god reaches into a bag
Made of moles and nightingale-skin.
He pulls out a two-reeded pipe,
Raises an eyebrow
And all the birds begin to sing.

The fox leaps into your eyes.
Otters rush from the darkness.
The snakes pour through your body.
Your dog howls and upstairs
Your wife both exults and weeps at once.

The wild god dances with your dog.
You dance with the sparrows.
A white stag pulls up a stool
And bellows hymns to enchantments.
A pelican leaps from chair to chair.

In the distance, warriors pour from their tombs.
Ancient gold grows like grass in the fields.
Everyone dreams the words to long-forgotten songs.
The hills echo and the grey stones ring
With laughter and madness and pain.

In the middle of the dance,
The house takes off from the ground.
Clouds climb through the windows;
Lightning pounds its fists on the table.
The moon leans in through the window.

The wild god points to your side.
You are bleeding heavily.
You have been bleeding for a long time,
Possibly since you were born.
There is a bear in the wound.

‘Why did you leave me to die?’
Asks the wild god and you say:
‘I was busy surviving.
The shops were all closed;
I didn’t know how. I’m sorry.’

Listen to them:

The fox in your neck and
The snakes in your arms and
The wren and the sparrow and the deer…
The great un-nameable beasts
In your liver and your kidneys and your heart…

There is a symphony of howling.
A cacophony of dissent.
The wild god nods his head and
You wake on the floor holding a knife,
A bottle and a handful of black fur.

Your dog is asleep on the table.
Your wife is stirring, far above.
Your cheeks are wet with tears;
Your mouth aches from laughter or shouting.
A black bear is sitting by the fire.

Sometimes a wild god comes to the table.
He is awkward and does not know the ways
Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver.
His voice makes vinegar from wine
And brings the dead to life.

The Mother Files…

Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself. It is not far. It is within reach. Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.” ~ Walt Whitman

My name wasn’t always Dell. As a matter of fact, I changed it not that long ago. It still feels weird, but, like everything, its a story about becoming who I really am and laying down who I am not.

IMG_6652

Making my bucket list of how I would be living my life differently than my parents. Circa 1978 Berkeley, Ca. Yes, we were smoking cigars and I was cuddled up in my grandmother’s crocheted blanket.

My mother named me “Shari” after the puppeteer Shari Lewis. You know… Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, the fake lamb with a sock for a mouth? I never liked puppeteers and puppets always gave me the chills – especially Lamb Chop.

When I was 5 years old I asked my mother if I could change my name. She ignored my pleas, my tears and my rational. However, as life would have it (and always does) my mother died. And I changed my name to Dell, a combination of old family names that I’ll discuss in its own blog post. For now, I’ll just say, eventually, I always get my way.

My children will tell you that I am eccentric. And I will peek around from behind them and nod agreement… which will annoy them. And that’s the point. It admittedly has not been easy being my child. I never intended for it to be. I meant for growing up to be challenging…and interesting…and unconventional…and, okay, mind bending. I think I have succeeded.

I made a mental note as I grew up listing all of the things that I would do differently than my own parents had done. I’m pretty sure I succeeded with most of that bucket list. First, I felt that it was important for my children to always have sharp crayons and lots of paper. I believe I put that on the list when I was in about second grade. I never forgot… and they always had plenty of art supplies. I melted dull crayons into colored dipped candles. 

I also wanted to show my children who I was as a human being. I think that one came along when I was 17 and just out of high school. I thought they would like this thoughtful choice. I was wrong. Or, I should say… I was wrong to think they would like it. I wasn’t wrong about my choice. I still feel that way.

I have been working on a project that I hope to complete in a timely fashion (i.e. just before I die) that I am calling The Mother Files. It’s a compilation of essays and images about my life as a mother, about sharing my bubble space with six human beings who found their way into my world. (Yes, six… this also will take its own post…) And, the humbling, maddening, hilarious, blissful, messy experience of it all. It, no doubt, will also embarrass my children immensely. But, they’re used to that. I’ve been writing professionally for over three decades, and good writing fodder is precious and hard to come by.

I am also a professional newspaper journalist/photojournalist. I’ll be sharing some of my past writing and images for entertainment’s sake. And really, because a lot of it was damn good writing (even if I do say so myself). (This is also most likely where I’ll rail on past editors who, well, deserve it… SMT, I’m lookin’ at you, baby…) I do feel fortunate to have spent time in the the world of newspapers before they died a not so quiet or graceful death.

I’m an Idaho girl. And, though I now despise Idaho, I also love her. I’ll explain why later…

I grew up in a man’s world where being a girl headed up my unfortunate list of “shortcomings.” Running fast and being smart didn’t compensate for it, though that was my strategy for awhile. Being angry and throwing a good punch didn’t fix it either. Becoming a writer – now THAT has helped a great deal. Why? Because I say what I want, and newspaper editors publish it. And when something’s in print, it’s in print forever.

As a writer, it’s okay to be pissed off and talk about it. You don’t have to be “nice.” As a matter of fact, it’s better NOT to be. It’s more important to be real. People like real when it comes to writing. So, I write real stuff. Hence… why my children are used to being embarrassed. And unfortunately for them, it’s not easy to escape my honesty… Neither is it possible to escape my love.

I am currently living in western North Carolina, in the little mountain town of Bryson City. I came here to work on a documentary film project on the Cherokee Trail of Tears. I can assure you, it’s not what you might imagine it to be.

Roll the Bones…

 I am Cherokee and Chocktaw through my mother. I came here shortly after my youngest daughter departed for Oregon State University. The documentary project is called Crying Back the Ocean. It’s a contemporary story unveiling itself to me as I traverse the various trails, criss crossing the country from west to east and back again. I am currently preparing for a 1,400-mile expedition across the Cherokee Trail of Tears water route, which crosses five rivers from Tennessee to Oklahoma. I’ll talk more about that later. Promise.

I’ve been married three times. Unfortunately for my former husbands, I’ll be writing about that too. It’s good shit, folks. It really is…

I’m a really good cook… when I cook. I love food. All kinds of food. I imagine that will be on the writing agenda, as well.

I am straight, though I suppose I have plenty of reasons not to be. However, I will say that most of my friends are gay. I admit in retrospect that being raised in Idaho initially acculturated me to accept homophobia without even realizing it. This is a very sensitive subject with me. Getting my journalism degree at Humboldt State University (GO JACKS!) changed that forever.

I also believe marijuana should be legalized and that hemp should be grown commercially… even though I detest smoking it.

I believe education in the United States should be state funded. Yea, I just said that. Bring it…

My greatest hope is that my writing inspires those who read it to think and act passionately. And if that’s not in the cards, at least I want them to start WANTING a life of passion and authenticity. Fake sucks.

I want to inspire my world and affect change, even if its to help one person bust out into a spit spewing belly laugh at some point… in the sunshine… in front of someone else. (Witnesses are invaluable when humor is at stake…)

I hope you stick around. Subscribe! Comment! Come with me on my journeys!

This life is meant for sharing. It truly is.