A Grandfather's Lament
By Charles Chandler
On Saturday September 23rd the Annual White Cloud Trail Town Celebration had wrapped up and it was time for a little down time and this aging author knew the perfect place for that to happen. After a lazy Sunday morning it was down the hill to Newaygo and Brooks Park for the “We Are Still Here” Native American gathering. As mentioned in a previous N3 article I had spent years down in Oklahoma among members of the various Nations and Tribes where I had developed a deep respect for Native Americans and had developed a manageable addiction to Powwows with drumming, singing, dancing in tribal regalia, traditional foods and my favorite, storytelling. This was also a mission of some importance because last fall I had momentarily let my fishing ego escape and made a grievous mistake that somehow needed to put right.
That Sunday afternoon in Brooks Park was just about Michigan perfect, cool, blue sky and as I walked to the Park I heard drumming and had that first faint delicious smell of fry bread. I saw an acquaintance Larry Gouine, Chippewa, and the Chair of the Native Circle of Newaygo County talking with friends. I am sure he saw me as well and I also knew not to rush over like some paparazzo because I had learned that in many Native American cultures that would be rude and disrespectful.
Larry is also a very talented artist and a storied steelhead fishing guide and I needed some fishing advice and some supplies for atonement for the previously mentioned grievous mistake. To digress for a moment to tell this cautionary tale: last year I had a most successful steelhead fishing season and the ole Muskegon had been so generous to the point that I had finally after about 20 years or so of steelhead fishing believed that I had finally broken the code on how to catch these beautiful and unpredictable “King of Trout”.
Needless to say this was fake news if there ever was because all who pursue these colorful and capricious fish know the advantage is always theirs and to land one of these beauties is most often pure unadulterated luck. However, being fishermen we are born to brag, make up stories and excuses, and on rare occasions tell outright lies about our experiences.
My reckless mistake happened last fall when I was in the Muskegon River Fly Shop buying yet another batch of unneeded tackle to hoard in various Tupperware boxes. I was looking through the new stock when I overhead this fishermen talking to shop owner Charlie Atkinson about his inability to catch steelhead using the traditional Center Pin method. Charlie is an expert in this methodology and has a good heart, a helping nature and gives advice with the best of intention and never presents himself as anything other than lucky. I momentarily lost my sense of self and my fishing mind and rudely interrupted Charlie’s conservation with his perspective customer presenting myself as a gifted center pin fisherman and telling what techniques I used and stating for all the world to hear how many fish I had recently caught and where. Both Charlie and the other fishermen stopped talking and stared at me for a long moment.
They knew and so did I as soon as I regained my senses that I had bragged about catching steelhead and committed the sin of sins, stating numbers caught. I apologized for the interruption and slunk out of the Fly Shop with a growing but unmistakable feeling of remorse and dread knowing that I had dire but yet to be determined consequences coming for that little tumble.
I knew the fishing deities were scowling and their gremlins were coming my way and I was heading for “the basement” ”the dreaded slump” that fearful fishing purgatory where the next catch never comes. Over the next few months I lost my ability to make good fishing decisions, I tried this or that, made one mistake after another, broke two of my favorite rods, my malfunction boat spent some much time in Tracy’s Custom Riverboat garage that he had to hire more help. I put so much money in truck repairs until I asked the guys at the dealership if they would like to buy it and they did. Maybe because it was is such great shape after all the new parts or maybe for mercy as one of the Owners was a steelhead fisherman. Needless to say the bad luck continued until the migratory steelhead had safely deposited their precious eggs in the Muskegon’s gravel nurseries and fled back downriver to the cool depths of Lake Michigan. The fishing truck replaced, the boat repaired and tackle finally put away for the season giving me time to find ways to makes amend for my carelessness.
Therefore one of my reasons for attending the “We Are Still Here” event was to see if one of the Native American vendors had some pungent sage and sweetgrass for sale. The plan was to turn my garage into a smoke house hoping to smudge the tenacious gremlins from my gear and bad luck from my fishing life in general.
My first stop was the booth of Ms. Christy Pollack (Sparkling Woman) a member of the Iroquois and Oneida tribes. She didn’t have the desired sage or sweetgrass but told me who did. As we chatted about the weather and how she was enjoying the event I also watched a young man behind her expertly knapping beautiful arrow and spear points, knives and other chert tools. After some small talk I asked about the items that were carefully arranged on her booth shelf. She picked up each one and in turn quietly told wonderful stories about how they were used in the traditional tribal way. Her last and most interesting story was how Turtle helped create earth therefore making a home for humans and all the other inhabitants. I thanked Ms Pollack for patiently answering my questions and for the wonderful stories and headed over to purchase my smudging supplies and a round of fry bread and wild rice soup.
It was a little before 3:00 PM and according the day’s agenda Ms. Beth Moody a member of the Potawatomi and Shawnee tribe was going to be the next speaker. I took a front row seat and ate my soul satisfying lunch and listened to Ms. Moody tell about the sacredness of water to women and the First Nations Peoples of Turtle Island. By the way that wild rice soup was the best that I have ever had even when served in a Styrofoam cup and eaten with a plastic spoon. The nutty taste of the wild rice, the creamy texture of the potatoes seasoned with a pinch of salt was perfect with the greasy, crusty fry bread, all paired with a big off brand orange soda. Oh my, just take me back to Oklahoma.
Ms. Moody was a great story teller and in my opinion a strong, unabashed feminist and political activist who wove those themes expertly and with passion into her presentation. Her stories were informative and entertaining. For example I learned that Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 gave her the right to free speech, press, and assembly and that many aspects of various Native American religions had been prohibited by law until Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978. All in all I guess it took an act of congress in order for her to have the freedom to stand up in Brooks Park and tell a story about the special relationship between Native American Women and water. I was good with the veracity of her story as Ms. Moody was for all to see a Native American Women as well as a professional midwife that by her count had delivered about 1,320 babies. I thought this would certainly qualify her to talk a little about the sacredness of water. The perfect afternoon was soon over was restful and happily spent among some wonderful people and great storytellers.
On the way back up the hill to White Cloud I was listening to the latest news and of course the primary topic was about the most recent tweet from our Commander and Chief. I could not help but compare the current forms and content of public and social media to the wonderful oral history and storytelling art that I had just enjoyed for a few short hours. Most of us now use smartphones and emojis, emoticons, symbols of all kinds, selfies and short tweets to convey content and personal and public information. Not saying this method of communication is wrong or not effective, I use it myself, however I am saying that it should not replace a good story.
A lot of Anthropologists and others smart folks will tell you that we humankind evolved in some large part by constructing, using and enjoying stories; it was the way we developed our language, literature art, music, material culture and transported all across time and space. From first fire side to Disneyland, we use stories in books, movies, television programs, operas, classroom curriculums, business boardrooms, in traditional Christmas plays and in our Michigan deer camps. We teach our children about the world with bedtime stories that help explain the unexplainable and they help define us, our country, our family and we as individuals. Telling and retelling our stories validates us and our lives.
Never ever be afraid to tell a good story especially about one of your or family experiences. It is an innate human form of communication; stories usually have a recognizable beginning, middle or explication, and an ending. They can vary in length, be about any subject, and usually have a valuable lesson to be learned, important information to be given about cultural values and mores or as a cautionary note with justice served for some transgression of same. Good stories travel well and withstand the test of time; some examples are the Epic of Gilgamesh, Murder on the Orient Express now appearing in theaters near you, Green Eggs and Ham, Cinderella and one of my favorite that appeared in N3. A great short about a lucky kitten named Zippy. Children are wonderful storytellers and our seniors have great life stories that can fill the blanks in our family history and so often never get told or repeated. Sometimes ask them to tell you a story and deal with the digressions or the forgotten names or dates and this story being the perfect example of digressions.
Storytelling is a timeless human tradition and must be practiced and perpetuated and holidays and family gatherings are a great time and place to tell stories. Storytelling is one of the ways that we bond to the folks in our families and other social groups. Here are a couple of challenges, first please don’t let your personal or family stories become tweets, blogs or Facebook posts. Next during the Thanksgiving dinner when the clan is gathered around the sacrificial turkey and along toward the end of the meal clink your glass asking for a moment of quiet and attention then announce that you would like to tell a family story. Then do it and then ask someone else if they would like to tell one of their favorite family stories. I bet you will be pleased with the results. There is no greater gift or something so long remembered as a story well told.
And by the way did I ever tell you that story about the time I met this unusually attractive lady from Texas that had this ostentatious gulf side Condo on Padre Island? Well this one weekend we had arranged for me to come down to Padre for a visit and I wound up in Oregon standing on top of Mt Hood with an Ice Axe in my hand, now that was a story.
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