Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Staring Down a Hole

There is something very humbling about sitting at the top of a very big hole and looking into it, especially when the hole is the Grand Canyon. This was not my first trip to the Canyon, but this was the first time we went as a family. As I sat there, half way down and half way up, just like the Grand Ole Duke of York, I felt so small in the vastness of the Grand Canyon. I used my camera to zoom in on the river and some plants so far below and looked up to where we had hiked from, then looked back into the 'hole.' "What can I do in this life?" I thought. What have done with my life, so far?

It is one of the most spectacular places I have been to. Ever. It is one of the most inspiring places. As I spoke with my son we talked about how it would have been for the first person to come through the trees and shrubs and see 'the hole' and be left thinking, 'how the heck am I going to get over that?' It seems to me that life is like that. But there are ways across if we persevere and look for them. But the main thought in my mind was who the heck am I? There I was on the edge of a huge drop down into this monumental canyon and I felt so small. But this is just one tiny part of America; a minuscule speck on the plant. What can I offer? What good can I do to make it worth me being here - not for me, but for others.

My stories. My storytelling. This might sound flippant, or tripe, but really it is not. We later went to Canyon De Chelly. We took a 'shake and bake' tour into Canyon De Chelly and were guided by a guy who had grown up in the Canyon, a native Dine. He now lives up on the top. He showed us 'rock art' depicting the tales of the lives of the people who lived there hundreds and thousands of years ago. As we were driven deeper into the Canyon, we were shown ancient dwellings. These buildings were constructed up on the cliff walls. People lived there and some still do, although not in the rock dwellings, but in small houses at the base of the walls. Although the land is fertile at the canyon base, there is little to no water for most of the year. Today people have to truck in their water. There is no electricity. Our guide told us about massacres that occurred there, yet the people, the Dine returned. One home had a loom outside. He told us that the woman who used the loom to make blankets had passed away, but the loom will be left there to show her story: a sign of respect; it would never be taken down. To me, all of this was inspiring.

And why would people live down on the Canyon floor when they could live up top with running water (maybe) and electricity? To preserve their culture and way of life. It was the same for the First, Second and Third Mesa's when we entered Hopi land. I met Marlon Huma, a kachina carver who told the story of one of his kachinas. It told of his family, the sun, the corn, the water, the children, the clans, the future. His words held me as he shared his life with me through his sacred art.

We got back to New Hampshire and rain on Tuesday, followed by snow on Wednesday! At one of the libraries I work at there was an evening of Celtic music - my culture - on Saturday. One of the two young musicians played a tune that was a song his mother used to sing to him to get him to sleep at night. He is of 'distant' Scottish descent, but this song and tune have been passed down mother to child for countless generations.

Stories are the same. They are our culture. If we do not share the stories and the songs with those who come after us, there will be nothing left. What sort of culture would we leave behind if all we did was play on-line/video games and chatted on various social networks and texted each other? How could Marlon possibly have told me the story of his kachina by texting? What are we going to leave future generations if we do not share our songs and stories? I am not saying that these devises are all bad, I am saying we need to leave more than technology and use technology to do this.

Already we are going to see our current 'history' written with no original notes. We look, today at letters hand-written by passed leaders, writers, scientists, researchers and artists, but now everything is disposable. Who keeps an email sent from a friend? Where are the hand-written notes on a mss? Where will the letters of the past come from in 100 years from today? Will we be able to trust the documents with the technology of today when it is so easy to fake identities? How will the future generations know the truth when everything is sensationalized and cut down to sound bites?

I looked over a great hole and wondered about the other side. To keep minds open, to encourage creative thinking, to encourage honest discourse, to help people realize there is much to be learned from our elders, from our old books, we need to tell our old stories and sing our old songs and maybe throw in a few new ones of our own. I am a storyteller.

2 comments:

Karen Chace said...

Wonderful post Simon. I have been to the Grand Canyon as well and it is indeed awe inspiring.

I love the note about the woman's loom being left to tell her story. Touching and beautiful. Thanks for taking us there.

Welcome home!

Sean said...

Holy Cow! You were in my home state! You were a good five hours north- did you get down here towards Phoenix at all? Next time you come through here, let me know.

All of the major canyons up north can really make you feel tiny, but we're not actually. I think we just keep plugging away with our stories and our books and do the best we can with the gifts we have been given.