Some Things I Learned This Week


A lovely autumn day with a few flowers still in full bloom.  Snow starts at ten tonight they predict.

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In spite of this loveliness, I keep thinking about a few sad facts I learned this past week.

On June 2, 1924, Congress granted citizenship to Native Americans born in the US and finally, the original inhabitants of the USA could actually vote.  Well, some of them.  Certain states still barred them from voting until 1957.

More tigers live in captivity in the United States than in the wild worldwide.  95% of wild tigers gone in just one century.

More people have died from opioid addiction in the US in the last few years than from Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars combined.

 

 

 

 

 

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Taking a Knee?


When I read this post, I kept think the other times in life when people as he puts it, “take the knee”: when men propose, when people pray. No one see those as signs of disrespect or do they? For all those who think it is disrespectful, try reading every verse of the national anthem. Hint: the author was a pro-slavery slave owner.

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Institute of American Indian Arts (Photo compliments of Moni)

Not everyone really appreciates just how powerful the ritual of standing for the National Anthem really can be. I got a real sense of this when I was 14. My Jr. rifle team won the Wyoming-state BB-Gun finals, which earned our way to the International BB-Gun Championship in Bowling Green, Kentucky. …on July 4th. As the child of a career military officer, I was always happy to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner or to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but standing there during the final ceremonies, the whole thing took on a whole new layer of meaning for me. That time, I had my heart in my throat. That time, the whole ritual moved me nearly to tears. I loved my country so much, and at that moment, putting my hand over my heart for that beautiful song was absolutely the…

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Quote for the day


Sadly, this quote seems appropriate given the events in Virginia.  I had hoped we were beyond this but apparently not.

 

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you picking his pockets.  Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you”.  Lyndon Johnson, 1970.

Whitney Plantation Visit


Whitney Plantation resides on the River Road about one hours drive from New Orleans.  A recent visit there provided much enlightening information about the slave trade, crops grown near New Orleans, and the history of this area. Tours can be scheduled all days of the week except Tuesday.  It is unique in that many different types of plantation buildings still exist there, including old slave cabins, a foundry,  and the outside kitchen.

A German immigrant started the plantation in the late 1700s.  At Habitation Haydel, its original name, he grew indigo.  After his death, his youngest son converted the main crop grown to sugar cane, which is still grown there today.  Both indigo and sugar cane required intensive labor for profitability.

Although, according to population data, only ten blacks lived in Louisiana in 1712, by the end of the century slavery was the main source of labor.  In 1795, there were 19,926 slaves in Louisiana.  Under Spanish rule the slave population steadily increased.  Although many were imported from Haiti, those from Africa came from what are now the countries of Senegal, Bissau, and Guinea.  After the initial importation of slaves, the United States imported few compared to islands in the West Indies and Latin America, e.g. Brazil.  The preferred method in the United States to obtain slaves was breeding.  Women and men were forced to breed.  Their owners specifically chose certain people to produce certain types of progeny just like in breeding livestock.  One woman complained of having 16 children by 16 different men.

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After leaving the visitor center, the first building on the tour is the church.  Inside the church are statues of various children who were the products of the breeding program at the plantation.

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The artist created these statues from specific information about the children.  The plantation owners maintained detailed inventories of all slaves and their value.  This particular plantation often owned as many as 100 slaves.

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From this inventory a memorial has been created with the names of the slaves.  Included are various statements made by the slaves themselves as recorded in slave narratives.

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The above tells the story of a child fathered by his owner and one of the slave women and how his father treated him.

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Even pregnant women could not escape beatings.

IMG_2735Because the area around New Orleans receives 60 inches of rain a year, the landscape everywhere is lush.  This is one of several pools at the plantation.

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These containers cooked the sugar cane.  Starting with the largest, the cane was boiled repeatedly until it cooked down and poured into increasingly smaller containers.  This was especially dangerous work due to the fires, the heat, and the boiling sugar cane. Sugar cane production was much more dangerous than cotton which was grown farther north in Louisiana.  The cane itself was cut with large machetes and the edges of the cane are also sharp.  Many people were severely injured.  The life expectancy of a sugar cane slave who worked in the fields or cooking the cane was approximately ten years from the time he or she went to work, often as young as ten. Although field slaves had a much harder life in terms of labor, they had less exposure to their owners and their families and therefore, in some ways, more freedom to talk and interact. House slaves were constantly watched and the women especially subject to sexual abuse.

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Slave cabins like this one contained four rooms.  Like the main plantation house, most buildings were built off the ground.  No levees existed then and the largest plantations were often built within sight of the Mississippi River and thus prone to flooding.

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This building housed the foundry.  Skilled slaves, like blacksmiths, were very valuable and received better treatment, e.g. enough food.  When the movie, “Django Unchained” was filmed, part of the movie was filmed here because the adjoining plantation did not have a blacksmith shop.  The branding portion was filmed at Whitney Plantation.

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The walkway, looking from the front of the main plantation house, is lined with giant oak trees.  Before the levees were built, the Mississippi River could be seen from the house.

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Originally, there was no first floor due to the flooding.  Later, after it will built and used for dining, an office, and a living area, whenever the floods came, the slaves were required to carry everything to the second floor until the water subsided. Then they would clean the first floor of mud and debris and return the furniture there.  Whitney Plantation possesses some unique characteristics, e.g. finely painted European style ceilings.

Cooking was not done inside the main house at any of the plantations due to the heat and fire danger. The cook, another skilled and valuable slave, was required to know how to cook various popular cuisines typical of the area, e.g. creole, European–French, Spanish.

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The various ferns and mosses growing from the limb of this large oak trees demonstrates the lushness and humidity typical of this area and why it is still used for sugar cane production.

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A short distance down the road is Evergreen Plantation where the main portion of “Django Unchained” was filmed.  It, too, still produces sugar cane and a family lives here.  Tours are available as well.

 

 

 

 

I Have a Dream


Fifth-three years ago today Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of the most inspiring and telling speeches ever given by a person from this country.  Today I listened to a young man, Patrick Miller, a middle school teacher here in Amarillo, give this same speech totally from memory with no notes.  I feel saddened at the extent to which King’s speech still rings true, that although we have progressed tremendously, people of African descent and others of color still experience prejudice at so many levels in their lives, frequently on a daily basis.

Here I offer other quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Life’s most persistent and urgent questions is, “What are you doing for others?”

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.  He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.  There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.  When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.  

Amazon


His milk chocolate, heavy lidded eyes stare at me from the

front of the magazine.

His cheeks display charcoal tattoos, a criss cross

design, tiny Xs on top, stopping where his nostrils flare.

His straight hair barely touches his shoulders.

not the black I expected, but the color of mahogany.

His eyebrows grow thin and wide,

no visible eyelashes.

His skin, color of morning coffee with two teaspoons of milk,

looks clear, smooth.

His full lips only slightly darker than his skin

do not smile.

He, a Kayapo Indian, continues staring.

He lives in Kayapo Territory, Brazil, land the size of

Great Britain and Ireland.

He plans to save it from the rest of us.

He plans to save us from our own worst selves.

 

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The Kayapo and other indigenous Amerindians have lived in the rainforest for millennia.  They and most environmentalists view their rainforest as a priceless haven for biodiversity.  Their Amazon remains a major defense in the fight against global warming and habitat destruction.  Fifteen per cent of greenhouse emissions, more than all the trucks, cars, buses, and planes combined, come from deforestation.  Although Brazil has slowed the deforestation rate by 70 per cent in the last nine years, last year saw a reversal with an sudden increase of 30 per cent.  Brazil also began construction of a network of canals, dams, and a huge hydroelectric project on the Xingu River in the middle of Kayapo territory.  The Kayapo and other Amerindians defeated a larger project in the 1990s. They intend to defeat this one.

The chief of the Kayapo, Megaron, knows what is at stake, not only for his tribe, but also for the rest of us, long term survival.  One  National Geographic article noted, “It is one of the richest ironies of the Amazon that the supposedly civilized outsiders who spent five centuries evangelizing, exploiting, and exterminating aboriginal people are now turning to them to save ecosystems recognized as critical to the health of the planet–to defend essential tracts of land from the outside world’s insatiable appetite.”

Kayapo success can be attributed to their ability to embrace some of the best of the modern world while retaining a strong sense of identity, culture, and traditions, all of which come from the forest.  As Megaron notes, “Before the white man, we were always fighting other tribes.  Not anymore.  We stopped hitting each other over the head and united against a bigger threat.”  For our own long term health and success, we can support them and hope they succeed.

 

Delighted to Support Desmond Tutu’s Forgiveness Challenge


We need so much more of this in the world in so many places like Ukraine, South Sudan, Iraq, and Syria for starters. When individuals learn to forgive and realize their sameness far outweighs their differences, perhaps we can have peace.

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We’re humbled to bring you this interview with Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu about their new Global Forgiveness Challenge as well as HumanJourney.com, a platform for transformational ideas that Archbishop Tutu is co-founding with book and media creator Doug Abrams. WordPress.com is delighted to be a partner in this initiative.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho Tutu are trying to change the world with the Forgiveness Challenge. Get involved! Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho Tutu are trying to change the world with the Forgiveness Challenge. Get involved!

What is the Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge?

The Forgiveness Challenge is a free 30-day online program developed to help people learn the practical steps to forgiveness so they can live with greater love and joy in their life.

How does the Forgiveness Challenge work?

Each day, participants receive an email from us that directs them to a new post on the website that presents an important insight into forgiveness and that offers them…

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Day Trip to Marvin Lake and Canadian, Texas–Part One


Two weeks ago, I joined the local Native Plant Society group for a trip to Lake Marvin east of Canadian, Texas, near the Oklahoma border.  Lake Marvin is located in the Black  Kettle National Grassland  which includes land in both Texas and Oklahoma. This national grassland’s name comes from the Southern Cheyenne Chief by the same name.  An aging chief, he had attempted to make peace with whites and had been guaranteed protection by the head officer at a nearby US Army Fort.  He, along with old men, children, and women was massacred by Lt. Colonel Armstrong Custer and his troops in Custer’s first great “success” as an Indian fighter.  It was an easy battle; the Indians had been assured their safety at this encampment.  They were totally unprepared.  Black Kettle attempted to meet the soldiers and flew a white peace flag as well as a US flag over his teepee. He and his wife were mowed down in a barrage of bullets.  The massacre is called the Battle of the Washita because the Indian encampment was on the Washita River which flows through the grassland.

Those of us who live in the Panhandle of Texas become accustomed to the lack of trees and semi arid climate.  It is always a huge surprise to find those rare spots with numerous trees, water, and thick vegetation. Lake Marvin and much of the area near Canadian provide a total contrast to what we usually see.  JR  Bell, an expert on native grasses and plants, lead the hike around Lake Marvin, a manmade lake constructed for conservation purposes in the 1930’s on Boggy Creek.   Regretfully, I failed to carry a pen and pad to write down the name of all the grasses, some of which exist in the area where I live and others I had never seen before.  Perhaps some of you who read this will be able to identify the various grasses which include blue grama, side oats grama–the state grass of Texas, little blue stem, and two other species of blue stem, switch grass, buffalo grass, and wheat grass.  Unfortunately, Johnson grass, a non-native,  invasive species, also grows near the edges of the lake.

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The hike began near what was once the water’s edge before silt and drought made the lake half its original size.  Johnson grass, the outsider, is not too difficult to identify because of the bright maroony red on the leaves.  This enables an non-expert like me to differentiate among Johnson grass and a few other similar looking species.  While I tried to listen and watch grass identification, rather quickly I realized that without pen and paper remembering all of them would be impossible so I focused on photographing the natural beauty surrounding me.

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No one told me the origin or purpose of the abandoned buildings up the hill from the lake.  The change in flora one sees by facing the hill rather than toward the lake is amazing.  One could almost draw an imaginary line with certain grasses and shrubs on one side and totally different ones on the other.  The magic key, as always, is water.  Where I live, two hours away, no sage brush grows.  Here on the hillside, it grows everywhere with various grasses, some rather small and semi hidden, interspersed.

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I learned several keys to identifying grasses:  seed heads, texture of leaves and stems–some rough and others smooth, size of leaves and stems, some variations in color.  Height helps but does not necessarily determine differences because the same grass species can vary depending on amount of water and type of soil.  The amount and size of the trees continually astonished me, like this tunnel through the trees, something I never expected to see in the Panhandle.

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Where I grew up in northwestern Missouri, huge black walnut trees grow everywhere.  I recall exploring the walnut grove on the farm repeatedly as a child.  I certainly never expected to see them on this little trip.  Suddenly, astonished me stood there surrounded.

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While these trees never reach the size of the ones where I grew up and the nuts remain considerably smaller, here they stood, their distinctive leaves giving them away.  Before I went away to college, every autumn, we picked up the nuts, cleaned them–while the outside is a lovely lime green, the area between the seed and outside, is a sticky, dark brown mess which makes excellent natural dark brown dye, and cracked them to retrieve the meat inside.  Black walnut nuts are much harder than English walnuts and cracking them requires a hammer and something really hard on which to place the nut. After I left home, every year Mom spent hours working on these nuts and brought me at least a pound at Christmas, a true labor of love.  They are especially tasty with in recipes with chocolate or bananas.

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The hike provided continual surprises, a boggy pool, persimmon trees, a plant whose leaves resembled miniature spectacles, a grass so fine and thick in a glade between the trees that it looked like a tiny patch of fog on the ground, and poison ivy.

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Persimmons.

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This particular tree was loaded with persimmons.

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Cattails in the background.

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When I first walked up to this spot, the fine grass toward the back of the photo looked exactly like a tiny patch of fog nestled in a miniature glade among the trees.

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We took off from the main trail especially to come to this cottonwood tree, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in the Panhandle. Over a hundred years ago this tree stood as the sentinel for the overland trail that went through this area.  The military, ranchers, and Native Americans all used the trail across this area of the plains.  The tree’s height enabled it to be seen for miles and helped travelers keep on their way with accuracy.  Once we reached the end of the main trail, some of the group took off in their vehicles while a few went on around the lake.  It saddened me to see so much of it dried up and old tires sticking out of the dried mud.  However, along the way, we saw numerous trees I could not identify.  The bark of this tree is particularly distinctive.

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This field trip coincided with the fall festival held annually in the small town of Canadian which gets its name from the Canadian River which flows beside the town.  The town is unique in the number of large, elaborate Victorian houses there.  Several of us ended the trip at the local elementary school with a big craft fair and a barbecue lunch.

Marriage


ONE

Afraid of revealing me       the Essence of Me

Mother told me                  Boys won’t like it

Too smart                     Too aggressive

Too full of              Myself

Too serious             Too intense

Too adventuresome

Too nasty a temper

Too in love with Possibility

Too             Too         Too        Too       Too       Too

I took her advice

Married  a Genius Scientist

Safe                    Timid                 Disadventurous

He liked me because I could Shoot a

Bird off a Wire

a hundred feet away.

In time We All Died

Him             Me            the Bird

TWO

Last night I dreamed of him

Black velvet, young, strong, sexy, arrogant.

I had to have him!

This morning

I almost told our daughter.

Then I Remembered

It took nearly 31 years for me

to Learn

She has a sister only 3 months younger.

She told me.

He has never said a word.

THREE

I remember the time he touched my face, melting me.

I married him;

My face slowly, inexorably froze.

FOUR

I was a very good investment.

He consistently insulted my daughter.

We are ALIVE and HAPPY.

He’s DEAD.

Ten Little White Indians, Final Volume! (Spoilers Already Spoiled!)


This post by a fellow blogger says a lot about what I think regarding certain movies in which American Indians are portrayed or in which they act. It also relates in some ways to my own previous posted poem, “Blood Quanturm”.

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Bet y’all didn’t notice!

I am one short on my promise of 10 Little White Indians. Well, it turns out that my three-part series on White Indians has four parts, and there is surely a good Monty Python reference in there somewhere, but maybe we’ll save that for another day

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Let us start with a brief consideration of the near misses.

WIND TALKERS (2002): I remember when this movie was on its way to the theaters, rumor had it that the flick was about the Navajo Code Talkers. Working as I did then on the Navajo Nation, I was (like a lot of my students and colleagues) really excited to see this part of American history portrayed on screen. My enthusiasm waned considerably when I realized it wasn’t about a Code Talker so much as a white guy who might have to kill a Code Talker if things took…

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