When I was a child, my father sometimes loaded my little brother and me into our 57 Chevy Carryall and took us up into the Jemez Mountains, west of where we lived in Northern New Mexico. The road to our favorite picnic spot skirted the southern edge of the Valle Grande, part of the Valles Caldera, the collapsed remnants of a volcano Wikipedia informs me is a small supervolcano. I used to press my nose against the window of the Carryall, squint at the brown specks that I knew were distant cows, and imagine that the family which owned the vast meadow rimmed with distant mountains had a son, a boy about my age. I wanted to marry this imaginary boy, just so I could spend my life in the center of that great beauty.
The Jemez Mountains will always be – in the words of my daughter who feels the same way – the place where my soul lives. Returning to this place, as I do briefly at the end of every summer is both an interesting and a bittersweet experience. Thanks to forest fires, pine beetles, and the passage of time everything, even the skyline has changed. The overgrown ponderosas of my childhood and youth have become stark burned skeletons standing guard over thickets of new growth. The people who were so important during that same time are mostly gone. As a storyteller, I am achingly aware of the stories that have been lost to time.
This has been a wet year, and lush new growth covers the mountains. The Valles Caldera is becoming part of the National Park system. Now, almost sixty years later, my brother and I loaded our father into a SUV even larger than the old Carryall and drove him – thanks to a backcountry driving permit – into the Valle itself where we discovered a new story, that of more interlocking bowls and mountains, more dark forests and tiny streams almost hidden in the tall grasses, than any of us had ever imagined possible.
New growth covers the mountains and new people with new stories fill the town where I grew up. Since I am still part of the community, even though I am rarely present, I see it as my job to help the new stories emerge, even as I remember the old ones.
Thus I will be working to find a time, a place, a way to offer the people who are now living their stories where I once lived mine, to share those stories – with me and with each other.
Sheep in strange places and other adventures: the reflections of a girl reporter
First a clarification – this “girl reporter” thing is more than half a joke. There was a time, long ago, when I was a reporter, though one a bit older than a “girl.” I covered County Council, School Board, and Department of Public Utilities Board meetings for a weekly paper. When Sean Buvala asked me to share my observations at the recent National Storytelling Network Conference on the Storyteller.net Amphitheater I happily returned to my roots, bought a reporting notebook, and got myself to Kansas City.
Covering the NSN Conference was vastly more educational, inspiring, and entertaining than covering any kind of board meeting. Now that I am back in the “normal” world, I’m posting a few written reflections about my experience, to supplement, not replace what you hear on the Amphitheater.
Storytellers, as Donna Washington pointed out during her keynote address, often work by themselves. When they get together, they get a little crazy. The audience participation in her “scarry story” (tell a brief story about one of your scars to as many people as possible in a very short time) echoed through the ballroom like a cocktail party on steroids.
There are storytellers who express their joy in life by ululating. Kind of like this but a whole lot louder! (I wish I could do that.) They are given to spontaneous singing and dancing. And they tell each other stories! Walking into the hallway outside the ballroom in the Marriott Hotel was like walking into a wall of sound – excited voices exchanging memories, ideas, plans, dreams.
And those dreams – each workshop I attended pointed a way to a dream. Kevin Cordi shared ways to craft story by being brave enough to tell an oral rough draft to what he called a “deep listener,” one who helps the teller unfold the images. I, who don’t like to even talk about a story that is under construction until I have gone as far with it as I can inside my head, was challenged by this process to work in an entirely different way. It’s called playing out loud!
The workshop Children at the Well woke me up in a different way. Paula Weiss and Ben Russell not only talked about their ten years of interfaith intercultural youth telling, they invited their listeners to explore the same path. I brought a tiny idea of something I hope to pursue into this workshop and walked out with ideas and access to tools I can use to make it real.
There was, of course, so much more during the weekend. The comments during the Oracle Awards made it clear that the weekend was a family reunion, with gifts and thank-yous, old jokes and stories that only need to be half-told because everybody already knows the story.
As for those sheep? I found them in front of an historic high-rise condo building called the Ponce de Leon, just down the street from the Marriott. Why sheep, why there? We all get to create our own story about that one!
Harriet has told stories at the Phoenix Fringe and at the Gila Bend Shrimp Festivals. She’s taken part in the AZStorytellers Project and in StoryRise events. As an instructor at the South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute, she has performed in many events including the La Lloronathon and a number of Myth Informed concerts.