August 2, 2014

Dear Friends and Relations;

I’m not even sure where to begin to share the events of the past week. Teac her orientation began July 23, with a Monday, July 28 start. My classes are decidedly small compared to where I’ve taught before. Sometimes only one or two student are registered. Of these, sometimes only one shows up. Apparently, I am to expect students to come and go as they need to, while they sort out their school of choice. Students have their options of other rez schools, public school in nearby towns, and/or BIA boarding schools in Oklahoma, California, and Oregon (to highlight a few). Choices are made for various reasons, many times political.

I work for an administration who really love their kids. The staff are instructed to be sensitive to the needs and realities of the lives of our students, and at the same time, set attainable high standards – and they’re not kidding. Some of my colleagues have done some amazing work. I feel like a slacker compared to them. I didn’t hear one of them complain, nor did I see them roll their eyes –actions which have always accompanied other school orientations. They teach. I am looking forward to honing my skills, and learning a whole lot about White Mountain Apache Tribe.

Speaking of which…. I have had now four Apache language classes. The sentence structure, and some of the sounds are reminiscent of German, so I think there’s hope. I sit in with the 8th graders – which is a riot, if you ask me. I have so much to study…. We had a test, but since I missed the lesson on numbers, rather than draw two chickens, I drew a roasted one. I knew the term wasn’t just “chicken”, but had no idea it included a number, so I guessed. Who knew? What can I say? I can tell you: “Mother is eating turkey and bread” in Apache. And I know the word for water… but I learned that before coming here by reading Keith Basso’s books.

There is a term I haven’t yet managed that defines the speaker as someone who knows the language and therefore they know themselves.  This use of language to define people and place is part of the reason I was excited to come here. Keith Basso, a “white man who spoke Apache” wrote several books about the People. I read several of them before coming away, and they made the place sound like somewhere I’d be happy, and I’d learn something. So far, this is true.

Today the community celebrated a memorial service for Keith. About a hundred people gathered together to share music, stories, and a meal in honor of a man they knew and loved. I was invited to attend by community members, our principal, and by one of the organizers. I must say, it’s something to read a person’s work, feel connected to what he has to say, and then meet his wife, in-laws, Apache family, and friends. I am comfortably here because of what this man wrote. I am sorry I never knew him;  from the stories I heard today, it would have been an honor.

For those of you who are counting…. I now have another dog. This one is a pup, who is sometimes Abernathy/Abbi, and sometime Smidge (short for smidgen, as in, small). Sadie and Macbeth are still around, but they have serious problems with confinement, and occasionally, behavior. They will probably end up at the Humane Society. They would do well on an open-range without leashes or closed doors, and someone other than Nala as a housemate. Any takers out there????

The addition of Smidge is a story in itself, and not always a pretty one.

Last weekend, I was feeling like I really needed a hike in familiar woods with just my dogs. Since western Massachusetts is a couple thousand miles east of Arizona, that wasn’t going to happen. I got awake Sunday, thinking I’d be ok if we could just go for a hike Somewhere. But it was raining. And when the monsoon  rains come, they do not fool around. Flash floods. Lightning so close your whiskers rise. Thunder that rattles rocks off the mountains. Thanks, but no thanks. Hiking was out of the question.
I decided I’d just take myself for a ride instead, so I drove the 12 miles out to the road that leads to the road. I pulled into the gravel parking lot, and tried to get myself to calm down. In the cedar on the other side of the road was a bird. A big bird. In fact, it was the first Golden Eagle I’ve ever seen that wasn’t part of a raptor recovery program.

Ah ha, I thought. Something’s afoot. Eagles and crows have long been harbingers of lessons for me, and this one surely was.

I waited a while. Then, a car pulled over, and let out two young mothers and a small child, who were planning to walk in the rain the 12 miles into town. I drove them instead. We went to a run-down house with broken windows, a lot of clutter on a heap in front, and some ramshackle adjacent buildings. They were planning to get a few things, including two more toddlers, then hitchhike to the next town over, about 50 miles away. They had spent the night in the hospital. The story was kind of confusing, but it involved someone getting beat, and someone else getting knifed.

The kids ate the peanuts I usually keep in the car. We stopped for apple juice at the gas station, and then we headed to the trailer park on the other side of the rez. A security car was parked at the end of a street of trailers that were boarded as if empty. Apparently they are not.

I left the family, their gear, and two gallons of water, with someone they knew, and headed back out of town. Along the way, I lifted the body of a dog who looked a lot like Maeda, my husky/shepherd, off the road.

I stopped to attend church. I’ve been to this church before; I like it there, and don’t know why. Anyway, I sat in on the adult Sunday School class. The teacher is probably God’s sister, and she directed her lesson at me. Afterward, I was invited to come again, only next time, I should call first, so I can be the teacher. She wanted to “honor my gift”. No shirking my duties, I suppose. I had been thinking how it would be nice to go to CC as a get-away from the realities of where I work. Guess not.

Afterward, I did truly head back to the house. There is a stretch along the 12 miles where there is little evidence of human existence. On this stretch, in the middle of the middle of the middle of nowhere, I noticed a puppy panting along the road, heading out of town. (Just where do dogs go when they’re on their own?) I passed her by, all the while remembering the other dog I had just cleared from the roadway. So, I turned around, and went and picked her up.

Now Nala has a job, which she sorely needed. Auntie Nala has been giving the new one very good instruction, and the occasional swat. They play together, and sleep together (this usually involves me, too). Mae is now a ‘grandma’, and seems to appreciate the role. Freckles is small, and still likes to chew things, so we’re stocking up on toys. Otherwise, my toes, nose, and fingers get gnawed on until she falls asleep. This is not exactly relaxing, but I do kind of like it.

All in all, it’s been a very busy week. The Community is teaching me many things. The stereotype of drunken Indians is a lie. These are hard-working folk with a hard lot in life. They love their children, love their land, love their traditions. There is pride in the Apache language, and history. There is the beginning of forgiveness between Apache and the Enemy, White Man. There is strength, passion, grace. And very little money, or trappings of material wealth. Almost every night, though, I hear the music from a house concert, celebrating life, singing praise songs and ballads.

Going into Show Low is weird. It’s a city, full of people, a commercial district, theaters, etc. But I don’t want to stay there. It’s too noisy, and it seems strange to see women with dyed hair (we’re talking middle age women with orange hair), and makeup. I prefer the neighborhood where I live.

These mountains are old. And I live here. It’s totally trippy.

Thanks for sharing. Sleep well,



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