Home » Posts tagged 'history'
Tag Archives: history
When Americans like me think of famous female rulers, we tend to imagine the queens of England: either of the Elizabeths, perhaps Victoria. Elizabeth I, especially, holds a place in people’s hearts because of her speech to the soldiers when facing the Spanish Armada.
Of similar hardcoreness, though for very different reasons, is a female monarch from a world and a millennia away: Wu Zetian (武则天) (or other names such as Wu Hou, depending on what time period of her life you’re talking about). Empress Wu was the only female ruler of China in the recorded 3000 years of its dynasties, from the first Emporer Qin to Emperor Puyi. Sure, some women were powers behind the throne and used puppet Emporers to perform their schemes, but Wu was the only one to do it outright.
And, if the non-contemporary tales about her are to be believed, she did it with a trail of blood. Writers said she killed her infant daughter in a ploy to gain leverage over the previous empress and have her executed. They claimed she poisoned people, some of them her own family members, and had many people executed in order to have her way. By a combination of scheming, murder, and religion, Wu Zetian took the throne for herself.
That trail of blood story, however, is a little strange. Some scholars, as mentioned in this Smithsonian article, mention the suspiciously similar tales between Wu Zetian’s rise to the throne and what a genuinely horrible woman did many years earlier. There are no contemporary records of the murders, but no one can say whether it was because Wu had them all destroyed or (my personal opinion) they were fabricated later.
Why make up these lies, though? After Wu Zetian’s son, the “true heir” as son of the last male emperor, rose to the throne, it became important for him to quash chances of rebellion. In order to prevent rebellion, emperors and their bureaucrats would need to malign any usurpers, of which Wu Zetian obviously was one.
Not only that, but life in China’s royal courts was already volatile at best. With empresses, concubines, eunuchs, brothers, uncles, and other schemers skulking about, the emperor had to be vigilant. Backstabbing was the norm, and executions to stay in power or gain power were commonplace. Emperors not only quashed rebellion by stifling positive memories of Wu Zetian, they reduced the chances of women “stealing” power from the man they considered the rightful ruler.
Whether for good or ill, recent interest in Wu Zetian has prompted research into her reign and a new look at who she was and what she accomplished. These efforts, of course, are told through a modern lens and can see Wu Zetian without the lens of monarchical maintenance getting in the way. One of her most lasting contributions was her establishment of China’s famous meritocracy, wherein especially talented people – even those not of the noble class – could take an examination and rise high within the power structure. This test, or at least one similar to it, was used to recruit bureaucrats and ministers until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912.
Wu Zetian peacefully (on a large scale if not on the small, imperial family scale) held together a huge nation, passed policies to increase agricultural output, and contributed to the arts by commissioning works such as biographies of famous women and books of poetry. It is possible that these biographies and poetry were intended to compliment her order that children lament the deaths of their mothers just as they lament the deaths of their fathers. While it could be seen as a move against sexism, others have seen these efforts as ways to legitimize her reign, since women were considered deontologically incapable of reign prior to her.
It’s quite possible we’ll never be able to really know whether or not Wu Zetian floated to the throne on a veritable river of blood, or if she used her pen and quick wit to get there. The records of her time period are plentiful enough that she couldn’t be erased, but sparse enough that exactitude cannot be expected. In all likelihood, it was a combination of the two. However it happened, Wu Zetian has something on that aforementioned Queen Elizabeth I: she didn’t just fall into power on accident.
She owned it.
For more information, there are several articles available online. Here’s a few free-to-access articles I found interesting and on semi-trustworthy sites.
Smithsonian Article – Caution: this site has a ton of pics, so it loads SLOW
BBC Article – Short, but interesting
China Culture – A random site out there, but it fits a lot of what I already know about Wu Zetian
About the Author: H.R.R. Gorman is a PhD chemical engineer with expertise in biotechnology and making drugs. Following science, H’s greatest passions are writing and history. 她也正在学习中文. If you want to know more about this white-trash-turned-excessively-bourgeois maniac, you can go to https://hrrgorman.wordpress.com/.
The English language: we all know our writing system isn’t perfect because, if it were, I wouldn’t have to spell “rhythm” so many different ways before spellcheck finally tells me it’s right. It takes a child years to learn to read and write English for this very reason. And all of this effort, wasted on the young, is because the English alphabet was borrowed from the Romans, and the Romans never toyed with the foolish idea of an alphabet for anything other than Latin (for which their alphabet was pretty much perfect).
That’s right. No English person invented their own writing system. We just stole a different system that was very much imperfect for a language with a ton of different vowel sounds. Then we proceeded to invent things like “dumb” with a b on the end because… just because we needed to make it worse.
Very few pre-literate societies are able to come up with their own writing systems, and those that do often rely on logograms (where one symbol is one word). Foreigners, usually missionaries, have invented writing systems for previously illiterate societies.
And one of the main inspirations for missionaries to invent writing systems for other languages is the efforts of one Cherokee silversmith: Sequoyah.
Sequoyah was born in the 1770’s (though some believe it was earlier) to a Cherokee woman and a white father, theoretically Nathaniel Gist, a fur trader. His name, Sequoya, means “pig’s foot,” which led some historians to believe he had a physical disability, perhaps a club foot. As a result, he learned to be a silversmith, which wouldn’t require him to leave his native town of Tuskigi.
Sequoyah sold his silver to people of many diverse backgrounds, and one day a white man admired his work and said, “I’d like you to sign this.”
But Sequoyah didn’t know how. He went on a journey to get someone to show him a way to spell his name, and he thought the “talking leaves” of the white Americans were interesting. He didn’t understand how the Latin alphabet worked, and he couldn’t read – he just knew it was interesting.
Then, when he participated in the War of 1812 for the Americans, he noticed that the white men could send and receive letters from home. His people, unable to do so, were missing a vital element that boosted the morale of the English-speakers. He wanted to communicate with those back home.
And so he set his mind to inventing a Cherokee writing system despite being completely illiterate, no one having ever studied the nuances of Cherokee speech, and not understanding the basics of how different alphabets, logographic systems, or syllabaries worked. He experimented with logograms, but quickly realized that a one-symbol-one-word system would take him forever to invent, learn, and teach, and it would likely never be complete.
Then – and remember, he couldn’t read, didn’t even know that English writing was based on sounds – he invented a script based off the sounds in his language. By himself, and against people burning his work because they thought it was witchcraft, he created a complete system by which his language could be written. After proving the system wasn’t witchcraft (and that his young daughter, Ayoka, wasn’t a witch for being able to read), Sequoyah then proved the usefulness of a writing system to the tribal council.
And boy did they pick it up.
Unlike English, the Cherokee syllabary actually matched their language and did not need to be slaved at for years in order to understand the mind-boggling mess of spelling. It took Cherokee mere weeks to learn to read their language rather than the years it takes us. Before long, the Cherokee literacy rate matched and surpassed that of the white Americans. They established the first Indian* writing system on their own, without foreign intervention, from scratch.
Because American missionaries saw the use of a written language and translations of the bible into a people’s native tongue, many people went to foreign lands or started making syllabaries and alphabets for other people. Though Sequoyah probably isn’t well known outside of America, his genius reaches to the far corners of the earth and has made the world a better place.
So, take a moment, today, to think about your English writing system. Even though it’s not perfect, it’s yours, and you put in the effort to learn and use it. We can be thankful for our form of communication and appreciate the struggle of creating a written system at all.
For more information on the Cherokee Syllabary, there’s plenty of online resources. Several travel and museum sites have detailed information (Northern Georgia travel site, Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, Cherokee NC museum) in addition to those sites mentioned in the image blocks.
I discovered a book during my research (Seqoyah: The Cherokee Genius), but I’ll admit it was very expensive and I didn’t want to purchase it because I didn’t have $70 lying around to buy a copy from a reliable seller.
Wikipedia is very helpful for white people who want to know how the syllabary works.
*I use the term Indian here because many – if not most – native works indicate that Indian is the preferred term for their people. The term “Native American” or “Native” seems to have been invented by whites and implemented as PC without consulting the people they’re referring to. Check out this article and this YouTube video to learn more about why I made this choice.
About the Author: H.R.R. Gorman is a PhD chemical engineer with expertise in biotechnology and making drugs. Following science, H’s greatest passions are writing and history (especially the Age of Jackson – which, coincidentally, is relevant to this article). If you want to know more about this white-trash-turned-excessively-bourgeois maniac, you can go to https://hrrgorman.wordpress.com/.
I find it unfortunate that so many people in today’s world are not interested in their heritage. Traditions and knowledge passed down through generations, face a continual demise because of them.
Events, people, stories, and personal memories, whether good or bad, are all triggers. Ramblings of the old ways and days somehow are encouraged to leap to the surface from a hidden memory vault. A pilgrimage to where? Bits and pieces rendered together by a thread of coherent thoughts.
Perhaps just logical arguments between possible misconstrued imagination and the actual archived knowledge.
I am passionate about preserving western lifestyles and traditions. What is it I do to ensure the information passes to the next generation, and beyond?
You can often find me traveling gravel roads and wandering the land, stopping to take pictures as I go, and capturing moments others may never get to experience. When I come across a familiar scene that evokes an image of yesteryear it’s easy for me to slip back in time and write
Finding the unexpected sends a slight shiver that pulses through the body and mind. Words resonate with a visual scene telling of a life that still exists from another era, a reminder of stories told by old-timers and elders in an attempt to keep traditions alive. It was a way for them to teach about their lifestyle while sharing a connection to their past.
Personal experiences and the recollections of our family’s stories make for excellent research data, and I rely on both when I write.
What can I suggest to you about keeping your traditions from evaporating into hearsay?
The process has no need to be elaborate. A simple trek into genealogy will provide a lot of information. It’s as easy as paying attention to the stories your elders tell. Make a habit of recording names, dates, and anecdotes. Their age and mental health might cause some skepticism in their tales, but don’t let that deter you. Take pictures. Ask about people in old pictures. Nothing has to be carved in stone. For now, it only needs to be documented
Now for some fun…
I encourage you to write about a tradition from your heritage. It can be one your family follows with a modern twist. It can be one you would like resurrected. It can be one you have used for research in something you have written. The only rule…go where ever the quiet spirit within takes you.
Keeping the fast disappearing western heritage and traditions alive, in case you haven’t guessed, is one of my passions. And like everything else in life, it isn’t until you can see it sliding away, that you start hanging on for dear life.
The taking pictures thing started forever ago, and when I found I could marry them to the material I have written, and am writing, well, to put it mildly, I think I have a bit of a runaway going on.
I am a lover of life and all things that make us smile. I write and take pictures for the pleasure of being able to share at Morning Muse, HorseWest, and my Blog at AnnEdallRobson.com where you can also contact me.
With Coronavirus/Covid-19 currently raging across the globe, many people are looking to the past for comparisons. Since recurrent diseases such as yellow fever, smallpox, and others feel too far in the past to really compare with, many have chosen a deadly pandemic for inspiration:
The century-old outbreak of the Spanish Flu.
The Spanish Flu, like most strains of influenza, tended to attack the respiratory system and often made the body vulnerable to pneumonia which only further complicated a patient’s prognosis. With no ventilators (the first negative pressure ventilator used on humans – the “iron lung” – wasn’t tested until 1928), no antivirals such as Tamiflu (generic name oseltamivir phosphate; look for “vir” at the end of drugs to identify an antiviral), and widespread misinformation campaigns, those who lived in 1918 were facing a grimmer outlook than we can expect here in 2020. But, lo, did I mention above “misinformation campaigns”? How could this possibly be in the glorious past?!
The news industry in the 1910s was quickly learning from the skillbook of Nelly Bly, who pioneered investigative journalism. These new techniques, wherein journalists dove into the action, led to exposes on corrupt politicians, business owners, and social issues, but they were not the only types of journalists out there. Sensationalist journalism, perfected by Hearst and Pulitzer at the turn of the century, was about to be hijacked for clearly nationalistic causes. Benito Mussolini of World War II fame, for example, honed his political ideologies espousing extreme authoritarianism and an Italian ethno-state.
More broadly, however, nations found themselves in the need of propaganda when facing the meat grinder of World War I. If you were German, your newspapers needed to be pro-German, otherwise the kaiser wouldn’t be able to recruit enough fresh bodies to turn into corpses. If you’re English, the stories need to be pro-England, otherwise Parliament couldn’t shame enough boys into accepting destruction in the trenches.
And, in America, President Woodrow Wilson needed you to shut up about the flu.
Patient zero of the 1918 Flu Pandemic was a farmer in Kansas. The flu spread in the small town of Haskell and later, due to sons being called to the draft and going to large training camps, military installations such as Camp Funston in Kansas. The flu rampaged through the camp, but luckily the doctors realized something was afoot and did their best to quarantine the sick. Though they eventually calmed the virus in the camp using isolation measures, it wasn’t completely effective, and the sick were shipped off to fight in Europe where the virus spread.
At the same time, Wilson was apprised of the situation. He knew there was a virulent strain of flu – or something else just as devastating – destroying lives in Kansas. With his war efforts finally underway, he worried the risk of squelching American morale with news of a rapidly-spreading plague would dampen draft and training enthusiasm or compliance. The nation had been deeply divided about joining the war just a year ago, and now (Wilson believed) was not the time to make the populace back out of supporting the war efforts.
So he straight up banned reporting on the virus.
Once in Europe, the virus quickly spread among the ranks of both sides of the fight. Most European nations’ journalism was similarly stunted as America’s had been, what with the need to recruit more people to die. Despite the toll of the disease eventually matching or and eclipsing the number of deaths caused by the war itself, nations such as Britain, Germany, and France all refused to admit the virus was spreading in their ranks. They covered it up.
The only Western nation that didn’t inhibit coverage of the pandemic was Spain.
And boy, did American news latch the heck onto that. With the ability to point to Spanish newspapers as the first publications about the flu, and thus by calling it “Spanish Flu,” American newspapers were finally able to report as the second wave of the virus ravaged places like Camp Devens near Boston, followed soon after by east-coast metropolises. Politicians and military men still tried to downplay the fatality of the virus, which led to the mayor of Philadelphia allowing a massive parade that caused an enormous spread of death and destruction throughout the US, just as the virus – now permanently deemed “Spanish Flu” thanks to misinformation campaigns – continued to rage throughout Europe and Asia.
But misinformation didn’t stop those people who could be called the heroes of the Spanish Flu. In the effort to stop the flu, many doctors found difficulties in isolating the pathogen and, thus, determining a method to develop a vaccine against the disease. Because of the weakened immune systems of the sick, secondary illnesses such as bacterial pneumonia complicated this search. The haste to find a cure often led to sloppy lab work, and many worried that quarantine would be the only effective measure.
Though this did, sadly, end up being the case since the flu mutated into a less pathogenic form by the next year (as flu tends to do), some doctors did amazing work to discover the flu as a “filterable virus”. Anna Williams, one of the few women in the medical research field at the time, was the first to make this distinction while many others insisted the disease was a resurgence of the bubonic plague. Her efforts with the 1918 flu pandemic eventually led to better understanding and our ability to combat the flu and other viral diseases. Other doctors, especially military doctors at camps, were the first to prove the disease could be limited by quarantine.
All of them, however, were instrumental in establishing public health departments and efforts across the nation.
And, here in 2020, someone will be a new hero we should appreciate. Already, Chinese doctors (many of whom sadly fell to the disease) could be considered heroes for their efforts to sound the whistle and treat early patients. Smaller heroes, such as bloggers like us, can make sure to provide only accurate information while others (resisting… urge… to… start internet fights) may spread misinformation.
Into the Past Prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about people who tell the truth in the face of many lies. Don’t feel constricted to coronavirus or the 1918 flu pandemic, but feel free to use any of the information presented here.
There won’t be a roundup, but you are encouraged to share your work in the comments.
For more information on the Spanish Flu, I encourage you to read The Great Influenza by John M. Barry. You can find a quicker overview posted by the CDC. If you’re into podcasts, the American History Tellers episode “What We Learned from Fighting the Spanish Flu” can be found on Stitcher or on your favorite podcast app (I use Podcast Republic, available on Google Play).
About the Author: H.R.R. Gorman is a PhD chemical engineer with expertise in biotechnology and making drugs. Following science, H’s greatest passions are writing and history (especially the Age of Jackson). If you want to know more about this white-trash-turned-excessively-bourgeois maniac, you can go to https://hrrgorman.wordpress.com/.
Wind howls across the high mountain desert of Gallup and rocks my RV with a steady wave-like rhythm. I’ve heard the joke several times already from locals: spring arrives, depositing Arizona in New Mexico. With the airborne sand, I do believe it’s from across the state-line to the west. It’s so gusty here, highways post windsocks to warn of cross-winds that can tumble a semi or RV. For now, we’re rocking while stationary.
It’s more than windy today at the ranch. I thought I scheduled a guest for the series Raw Literature, checked the calendar and see that I scheduled next week! In the midst of a move and a break-down, it’s just another hiccup. I’m fond of lemonade so today’s scheduling lemons gave me opportunity to participate in Irene Water’s fascinating memoir prompt, Weather: Times Past. What’s unique about her prompt is the collection of data based on memory, generation, region and urban or rural proximity. Participants and readers get to compare experiences. It’s open to anyone, and as is the case with most responses to prompts, this is a piece of raw writing.
Memory of a Gen X Buckaroo, Weather in Rural North California
The old Californios Ranchos sat inland from the coast where fog creeps in by night and burns off by mid-morning. This region is home to cattle ranching, centuries old. Before there was California, there were the Land Grant holdings of Mexico and the original Missions of Spain. Weather didn’t change ownership; gold did. When Sutter discovered a gold nugget at his lumber mill, the (18)49ers poured into the region, and the US claimed it as a state: California.
To the ranchos, a change of hands didn’t mean a change in work. The miners needed to eat, and the ranches provided beef.
Some men came to mine, others to set up businesses. My family came to ranch, raising cattle, apricots, turkeys, hay or managing ranches. One grandfather was the foreman for an original rancho and another bought it after making his wealth by turning his ranch into a golf course. For generations, both the men and women in my family rode in the San Benito Horse Show & Rodeo. I even won several trophies for horse showing and one for goat tying, all before I was of an age to go to school.
This is buckaroo country — a culture unique to the Californios influence of the Ranchos style of ranching and horsemanship. And like any agricultural community, it’s always focused on the weather. In rural California, dry spells could turn into years long droughts, and rain could flood the dry river beds. It was a deluge-fueled flood that first caught my attention in regards to weather, and it was so severe, it cut off ranches from communities. One of my earliest recollections is standing with my parents on one side of a raging torrent of water as my grandparents stood on the other side. That memory has transfixed a fascination and horror of floods.
Many more times I would stand over flooded rivers in other states, drawn to relive the earliest memory of how water could swell so vast and swift, muddy and full of churning debris. Such has been the weather cycle in California and I wonder how the earliest ranchos managed. And that is how I begin raw thoughts for historical fiction. The confluence of memory and history and curiosity.
So I will end with a trio of flash fiction (at this rancho, its always 99 words, no more, no less) based on where my thoughts led me.
The Bad Dream of a Californios Girl
Maria shouted across the arroyo swelled with frothing mud. “Papa! Vaya con Dios! Papa! Mama!”
“Maria! Maria! Wake up. You’re dreaming the bad dream.”
Maria gasped in the dark, feeling her Aunt Tessa’s hands. “I’m awake, Tia.” Outside, she heard rain splatter against the hacienda’s shutters. She shivered.
“Maria, I’ve fixed of a cup of cocoa.” Her aunt lit the hurricane lamp and Maria saw the steaming cup sitting on the small table by the window. Her aunt had fixed her cocoa five years ago when she escaped across the flooded arroyo. The flood that swept away her parents.
The Only Path Left
Father Sean Kincaid, nudged the mare to press forward in the rain and sopping ground. He’d experienced thunderstorms back in Missouri, but this was different. God Almighty had forged a sky river the first 12 days of 1851. Hadn’t scripture promised an end to God’s flooding wrath?
The bridge he’d crossed earlier was gone. Not a splinter remained. Sean’s chest tightened. On the other side was his parish church. Behind him was Rancho Santa Ana he had failed to reach because of a landslide. He looked up. Not to God, but to the steep incline he’d have to traverse.
Capitan reared and snorted. The stallion charged his herd, pushing mares back, away from the river overflowing its banks on both sides. A deadly lake, pooling in the moonlight, eroding pasture. Capitan whinnied, turning on any horse who tried to bolt in fear.
“Damn stud save them mares,” Joe said, over coffee. The old ranch-hands gathered after mass at Kincaid’s Cantina.
“Unlikely, Joe.” Corey Fairfield expressed the skepticism of a vineyard owner. Educated.
Patty poured toppers. “Unlikely? As unlikely as your sons serving in the Pacific?”
Corey flushed at the chuckles. Their sons were Marines. Good horse-sense meant survival.
Essay by Ann Edall-Robson, a member of the Congress of Rough Writers.
<< ♦ >>
I struggled with the thought of writing something insightful, useful and raw. Several starts and stops took me to the same conclusion. I write from my heart, about things I am passionate about. Often capturing moments others may not have had the chance to experience. Sharing, not only what I view in my everyday life, but also from the western heritage I am so proud to say I am from.
Writing isn’t something I just decided to do one day because it had become a fad. The stacks of journals, pieces of tattered edged papers, loose leaf pages and old school scribblers are a testament of how long my mind, paired with writing tools, have been having a love affair.
Books filled with poetry, fiction and life stories. Dribs and drabs of teenage dreams, and adult realism. All following me in boxes from my rural home, where I was raised, to the place close to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where I now call home.
Raised with the expectation that please, thank you and excuse me, were not only part of every person’s vocabulary, you had best be using those words, yourself. Respect for everything and everyone, unless they proved otherwise, was mandatory.
This was not the beginning of the raw world I cherish. Our western heritage encompasses so much, and is almost nearing a point of the “forget about it” era. Technology infringing on moral standards is pushing the wild, raw, traditional life, to the side. Ranching, farming, neighbouring, and knowing the land cannot and should not be shunned. It is such an important part of going forward. Without remembering, telling the tales, the history, we are nothing.
Fast forward to the 21st Century. We are in a time when no one writes letters by hand and mails them. Families don’t eat meals together, and when they do, they have no idea how to carry on a conversation. AND, our heritage is being paved over for the next shopping mall.
Now, more than ever, is the time we need to be the keeper of the old ways, traditions and stories. The raw life, regardless of the culture, needs a home. In both my writing and photography, I am passionate about recording and sharing the old days and ways. Every chance I get, I include something from a time gone by. A time when our grandparents and parents were children. A time when I was a child.
How easily we choose to forget, or perhaps ignore, the history we were making in our young years. How we fervently wish the door could be opened to find it close at hand. Disappointed and even devastated, when we know it’s lost, gone forever, without a trace and without a recorded word.
I was connected to the land in my young years and didn’t even know it. Yet, when I read pieces I penned almost half a century ago, I recognize the influenced of my lifestyle. The Wire and Post Contraption and Partners, both included in Moon Rising: An Eclectic Collection of Works are from that era. Other short stories written for this book, came from within. From the heart of where and how I grew up.
My writing and photographs are fed by the soul of our western heritage. A honourable culture I remember, the stories I was told, the people I have known and places I have been. The fields of horse belly deep grass speak to me. Inviting the imagination to reminisce about the pioneers homesteading in the cabin, where now, only a few weathered grey logs are left.
The Quiet Spirits, my current project (Release 2017), has traits of western heritage immersed throughout. And yes, there is another book being penned, not yet titled, and modeled after western ranching traditions.
Writing Raw or Raw Fiction is a style I have always embraced. The word Raw, to me, means open, unbridled, passionate, from the heart. I write by the seat of my pants, not missing the chance to record a thought, any thought. I made a recent comment, “The first draft should sting with every thought imaginable.” That is what raw writing is all about. Uninhibited, telling the story as if you were there. Find the whatsit, whatchamacallit, thingummy you are passionate about and use it until you exhaust the soul it came from.
Ann Edall-Robson, writer, photographer, lover of life, and all things that make us smile. She has an unwavering commitment to share the traditions, heritage, and stories of the country life she hails from.
An avid quilter and gardener, Ann grew up participating in rodeos and gymkhanas. She now lives with her husband near the rolling foothills, mountains, and country life that inspire so much of her work; both written and photographic.
Published books include:
Voice and Vision 2016 includes two of Ann’s stories
Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Water so blue; sand so red. I sway, not sure I can stand, but I feel a desperate need to keep my remaining dog joyful. Grief is never a straight path, and one curve turns us to the pain of loss and the other to the fear of it. Bobo has a leaking heart valve, a healed spinal injury that leaves a leg limping, and seizures. Add to that loneliness for her brother Grenny and increasing urination, and I’m terrified of losing her, too.
But we cannot live in the shadow of death. That’s not the purpose of grief.
Grief is firmer stuff than that. It may cast the shadow, but only so we can soak up all the love and light we yet have. We do not succumb to grief; we step into the valley and walk across it. Like stepping out onto this southern Utah red sand, I sink and then feel the hold. It’s firm enough to walk. Firm enough to seek joy in memories. Firm enough to make new ones.
As I walk, Bobo pulls at her harness like a lunging sled dog. She sees the blue water and smells the warm air, full of scents unknown and in need of investigation. Halfway down the slope that leads to the beach, I unsnap her lead and she runs straight into the water rippling to shore. In the distance a flock of floating mud hens watch her, understanding they will be fleeter on water than an animal that sinks. Barely deep enough for her paws to still touch she veers right and swim-walks.
The red sand is darker and firmer where it meets water. Water is the force that carves this desert wonderland, despite its rarity. We have many forces upon us in a lifetime, but unlike stationary sandstone and basalt, we can choose how we react.
“What happens is not as important as how you react to what happens.” ~Ellen Glasgow
We may need to take a walk with what happens and slog through what it means, to step one foot in front of the other in the sand and confirm we are still on solid ground. We may look around and notice only the shadows or unfamiliarity. Hold firm. Give it time. I begin to look through the eyes of my dog wading where water and sand define her moment of bliss. And why bliss? The vet can’t say how much longer she has, but none of us know that. Bliss is the present moment of scents and sand and wetness. She’s yet delighted in life. I look around again and see curious prints in the sand. I wonder.
To a writer, what’s that is almost as good as pondering what if.
Not only do writers get to choose to react to the forces in life, we also get to shape them into stories. Part of what we learn to do is build reaction — we lead with the unexpected or end with a twist. Maybe because writers understand reaction and choice, we look at social situations through a different lens. Often we can see what sets off the reaction. Consider DJT — Donald J Trump. He’s built a career of manipulating reactions to feed his lust for power. His legacy, whether he wins or loses, is that he radicalized hatred in the US. Many writers from big medias to small blogs have continued to point out his campaign of hate.
But what disturbs me more is the reaction of those who support DJT.
Hate, like compassion, is a choice. It’s easy to cave in to my own negative feelings during a time of grief. I let the latest Trump scandal get under my skin because I saw how it relates directly to rape and rape culture. I spoke out because I know the dangers of silence. Many rabid Trump supports, mostly (surprisingly) women, gnashed their teeth at me. In my grief, I felt unbalanced more than I normally might. I succumbed to paralysis and hopelessness. I drove home from the beach only to watch my previously blissful dog succumb to a grand mal seizure. I felt lost and alone on Mars.
A few days later, Bobo was recovered and ready to pull at the harness once again. I avoided the beach, but took her to town. I got out of my confining space and just drove in the sunshine. I went trailer shopping. I looked at the only rental in the area that would accept a large breed dog. I bought a pesto pasta lunch at a small market. I walked Bobo down a tree-shaded sidewalk and went no where but around the block. And then I chose my reaction. I chose to get up out of the sand, brush off and live another day. With love. With joy. And yes, even with sorrow. But not fear. Not hate. Not despair.
With the help of a loan and perseverance to find the right “home” I might have an improved trailer next week. If we save and search, we might find our own property next spring. From there, who knows? We don’t know. We have today. And these wise words:
“People respond in accordance to how you relate to them. If you approach them on the basis of violence, that’s how they’ll react. But if you say, ‘We want peace, we want stability,’ we can then do a lot of things that will contribute towards the progress of our society.” ~Nelson Mandela
This wisdom is important to remember in the days to come. We might not know what to expect after the US presidential election. We’ve never had such a stir. But we can find firm footing in each step forward if we declare our intention for peace and stability. Reaction is not progress. Hateful rhetoric will never heal what ails our society. Violence will only breed more violence. And words can be violent. Let our words lift up instead.
We are not the only ones making tracks in the sand. I saw where snakes left grooves, mice pattered in circles and a gila monster scurried. Each so different from my own print. We walk across the sand, all of us. One does not have more right to do so than the other. I’m curious again. I wonder and wander and choose carefully my next steps while being open to both joys and sorrows. Once again, I have much to learn from my dog.
October 12, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a walk across the sand. It can be a literal day at a beach, in the sand box or a metaphor of your choosing. What is the sand like and what does it reveal to the reader?
Respond by October 18, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Running the Beach (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Looking skyward, Danni noted how the clouds, water and land curved like a snow globe illuminated by an unseen sun. A bald eagle scouted the beach beneath cloud layers, and the two young pointers zigzagged across the sand. Biddy plodded behind, slow but with head up and ears perked. Gripping both leashes, Danni ran heavily, the sand hindering her steps, but she pushed through, laughing as the two dogs bounded and pulsed with matched vigor. Breathless, she let go and both dogs galloped, tongues flapping.
Michael passed Biddy and caught up to Danni. “What did you do that for?”
Crossing the Sand Dunes (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Mary swaddled baby Charles to her chest, and clung to him with one hand, while keeping the ever curious Lizzie close with the other. The older boys walked behind. Sally whined to her husband Leroy that the sand was too hard to walk in, and though Mary agreed, she kept stepping forward and sliding back in silence. At the knoll, the boys giggled, running and sliding downward. The wagon teetered and Leroy coaxed the mules. “Easy!” Then it tilted again, dangling momentarily. Sally screamed as the wagon toppled. Leroy rose to his feet, reigns in hand, sand in mouth.
Author’s Note: The McCanles family never crossed the sand dunes in Nebraska, but they were bothersome to the Mormon Migration that did. They simply up righted the toppled wagons and continued.
A small child with arms stretched upwards expects to be scooped up by a loving carer. What does the saguaro cactus expect? Standing tall across the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona and western Mexico, an army of these cacti giants reach toward a blue sky. They can grow as tall as 40 to 60 feet in height with as many as 25 arms, like deities with multiple limbs, leaving us to wonder if more arms means a greater reach. Prickly as they are, would they be picked up tenderly?
And so it is with politicians. They stand tall before us, on the television screen, the stadium stage, behind the debater’s podium, and wave multiple arms. One arm waves to the targeted voter segment; another waves off past voting records or experiences best left in the dark; another arm reaches toward sponsors; another closes a door on a segment not deemed worthy of votes. Are the multi-limbed deities of cosmic power expressing protection or danger?
I look at the towering, reaching saguaro cactus where I piddle my dogs, and I know to keep my distance.
When it comes to politics, I tend to give a similar wide berth to the subject. I don’t want to stand in the shadow of multiple arms covered in spines. I don’t like the spine-slinging, back-handed slaps of a presidential election year. Commercials fling barbs at opponents in 30 seconds of “approved messages.” Family members shoot poisoned darts at one another on Facebook beneath banners of “Never Her,” or “Never Him.” Mass media skews every word any candidate ever spoke to line up the spines in neat rows like the ribbed saguaro. It’s a prickly season.
Don’t get me wrong; I believe in participation in the democratic process. In 1776, my nation declared independence by democratic vote, but failed to define who could vote. That interpretation was left up to individual states until after the US Civil War. Cobb McCanles was elected first sheriff of Watauga County, North Carolina and he ran on the Whig party ticket in 1852. Each successive two years (the length of term for sheriff in NC at the time), Cobb was sponsored by the same backers, but ran for a different party ticket each time.
My reasoning for this is that the Whig party was crumbling in the 1850s in a similar way to the modern Republican party disintegrating. If you look at that party’s candidate, Donald Trump, you have to scratch your head in wonder how he represents party values. In truth, he represents a desperation for change without critical thought. And that’s what Cobb experienced in his time. In fact, one party ticket he represented was based on not allowing immigrants citizen rights because it was feared the influx of Irish would take jobs. Sound familiar?
Our fears and plights are never new experiences.
Yet, the more fractured small and young counties like Watauga became, the greater the shift of power to those with wealth. Cobb’s backers might have slipped party alliances like snakeskin over a decade, but they were consistently the wealthiest men in the region. When in the antebellum south, how better to express one’s wealth than by owning slaves? A look at the 1850 and 1860 slave census records for Watauga County reveals that each of Cobb’s political partners were slave-owners. Sarah Shull’s father owned slaves; Cobb’s wife’s family all held slaves; and as sheriff, Cobb often had to take custody of slaves as property to offset debts.
None of the McCanles family ever owned slaves in that era. I believe that Cobb’s mother came from one of the large Alexander plantations in Virginia, but her husband was never listed as an owner on a slave schedule and neither were any of their five grown children despite having the means. In fact, this was a point of contention for Cobb in politics — he wanted economic prosperity; opportunities to make a living. I believe this was the driving factor for Cobb and his brother the summer they went west in 1858.
The history of that trip is fuzzy. Family members have letters and oral history that says the two brothers came west together and they use that to “prove” the two came to Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory in 1859. But too many other documented facts show that Cobb came west in February 1859 with Sarah Shull and a few other men, including a receipt for his purchase of Rock Creek Station and a promissory note to Sarah for her services as an accountant. Both are dated the end of March 1859. Leroy brought his and Cobb’s families out in September of 1859.
And Cobb built multiple improvements and ranches, thus gaining that economic prosperity he sought. It came at a price, though. Politically, it ostracized him from the men who once backed him and it created a division so deep between the McCanles and Greene families (his wife’s family and that of his sisters who each married Greene brothers) that Mary could never go home to North Carolina after Cobb’s death. And the remaining McCanles clan had to clear out of the region after the Civil War. This was politics at it’s most barbarous — neighbor against neighbor, but instead of name-calling and Facebook un-friending, they shot and lynched one another.
Racism and sexism are complex fruits of this nation, much like the blossoms that appear upon the spiny saguaro. You can’t easily pluck either without getting poked by the hard truths of their history and legacy in this nation. Voting rights are still not fair in this country, yet most people seem to think we’ve resolved it all back in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act of the 24th Amendment. However, the dilution of voting power for minorities and lack of access for the homeless continue to be real problems in 2017. Because of this, I do not take my voting privilege lightly. I will not be deterred by the barbs I encounter.
It’s a real possibility I have lost my privilege to vote.
While fellow Americans are chasing the multiple-arms of their candidates and trying to chop off those of their opponents, I’m scrambling to meet registration requirements. I may as well be living on Mars as far as official addresses go. The Zion Resort and RV is my official address with the included “Site 82.” However, the US Postal Service does not recognize the physical address as a deliverable one. That is why I have to add the RV park’s PO Box to my address. But a PO Box is not a physical address. You see the conundrum? My physical address does not receive mail and can’t be validated; my PO Box is not a physical address. I can’t use General Delivery, either; that’s also not a valid address. Most full-time RVers use an address of family or friends. However, Todd works in Utah and needs a Utah address for income tax reasons.
Even if we get over this address hurdle and successfully register to vote before the October deadline, we have another hurdle: ID requirements. Getting a Utah Drivers License requires more proof — we need an electricity bill to prove residency (having an address is not enough) and our social security cards. We don’t have an electrical account; the park does. We’ve never needed social security cards in other states and ours are packed away in our Liberty Safe in a storage unit in Sandpoint, Idaho. We don’t have enough time to request new cards. We need to negotiate other ways to prove we live at the RV park and have social security numbers.
Those who are more homeless, living on the streets or in a shelter, are screwed. They are disenfranchised and often criminalized for their lack of housing. Although criminalization laws are unconstitutional, those experiencing homelessness cannot even participate in the voting process to uphold that constitution, change unjust laws or elect officials to represent their interests. To think my veteran husband who suffers service-related disability cannot vote because of a misfortune beyond our control is outrageous. Yet, even if his veteran’s ID were enough to give him access to a federal election, what about me, his wife? I have no Wife-of-Veteran ID. I support, advocate and take my role seriously. Now I know what it must have felt like to be a woman suffragist.
For this reason, I greatly respect Senator Hillary Clinton. Day after day, I see the barbs slung at her simply because she is a woman who has had a career in politics. I admire her reason and calm under fire; her intelligence and preparation; and the fact that she does not crumble beneath bullying tactics. However, she’s not my candidate if I get to vote. And no way, no how is Donald Trump even a consideration! Although, I’ve heard some credible arguments lately as to why people I consider sane and thoughtful are voting for him. My vote is my vote, and another American’s vote is his or hers. Take it seriously.
I also refuse the scare tactic that my third-party vote will have disastrous results. Look, I didn’t put the two-party candidates in their current positions. I’ve been a third-party voter all my registered life. From ages 18 until 46, I voted Independent. At age 47 I registered as a Libertarian. I’ve never voted as a Republican or Democrat, although I have voted for candidates outside my party before.
The only wasted vote is the one not cast. Our political scene is prickly, but like the Sonoran Desert itself, our nation is yet full of life. Despite our history and legacies, there is yet beauty and hope. I looked more carefully at that saguaro this morning and I realized it’s crowned with a thorny heart. Like my America. We are prickly, full of pain and faults, yet there it is — we reach highest with our hearts.
September 28, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a prickly story. Is it the temperament of a character that is prickly or is it a hardship he or she faces? You can write about cacti, rose thorns or other natural elements. Think about how the prickliness conveys the story.
Respond by October 4, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Liars in Court (From Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
“I can’t believe it. She lied,” said Danni.
“Children are capable.” Michael reached for the door.
“Liar!” a woman shouted from behind.
Danni and Michael turned around.
“You’re not a real cop. Go back to the reservation where you belong.” Kyndra Hinkley looked ready to batter them both with her oversized leather purse.
“Where I serve is incidental. Save your words for court,” Michael said.
Kyndra turned on Danni. “Oh, we are through in court. The judge believes my daughter. He’s going to order you to pay full damages and I hope his verdict kills your big ugly dog.”
A Thorny Dilemma (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Nancy Jane muttered while she tended her unconscious father.“He’s gonna get his. He’s gonna pay.”
Sarah handed her friend a fresh basin for dabbing the wounds. The prickly thorns of a locust tree welted the man’s entire body. She turned at the sound of boots on the plank floor of the cabin.
“May I enter?” asked a male voice from behind the calico curtain that hung for privacy of the bedchamber. It was Hickok.
Nancy Jane’s eyes glittered. Sarah knew what she was thinking. If anyone could confront Cobb, it was the young man who wore his pistols backwards.
Walking across the Higgins Street bridge, I see a gathering of human crows in hooded dry-suits lined up along a small strip of rocks and willows. In Missoula, Montana where the Clark Fork River runs through it, the group looks like Navy Seals on a mission. These are not soldiers, but adventurers with surf boards in hand.
Yes, they surf in Montana.
Landlocked by other western states, it matters not that Montana has no ocean. The Clark Fork pounds over rocks beneath the Higgins Street bridge and a perfect surf of sorts forms at Brennan’s Wave. Conveniently located near a park, below a bridge and just blocks from the University of Montana, this phenomenon attracts the adventurous.
My adventure is to watch from the bridge above.
I’ve had enough adrenaline and drama in my life to feel satisfied to watch others dip into killer waves. Adventure doesn’t always mean having to do the deed oneself. I don’t have to squeeze into a dry-suit, buy a board and a personal flotation device, or listen to the horror stories of others who forgot to wear a helmet. I don’t have to plunge into cold mountain water, experience roiling rapids over my head or wonder how long I can hold my breath. Being witness is an adventure of its own.
This thought has been with me long enough it feels like wisdom. I’ll let others scale the rock cliffs or dangle in acrobatic silks from iron bridges. I’m a witness to adventure. I snap photos and soak up sunshine from my perch. Has this been the way of others before me?
When I was younger and unafraid to tumble off the back of a gelded beast 17 hands tall, I galloped. I was, and remain, terrified of water, yet I river-rafted, sucking in air to my rhythmic hyperventilation until I could control my breathing and not show my fear. I’ve jumped sand dunes on a three-wheeler, plunged skis over a cornice, and gave birth at home in defiance of doctors. Younger Me had an edge of cowboys & Frank Sinatra singing, I Did It My Way.
More Mature Me savors mountain bluebirds on a fence wire, reads books alongside rivers and waves at the surfers. I don’t need to explain my soul or my retirement from adventure to anyone. I witness the adventure of others. It still counts.
In history, I think it’s overlooked that women are as adventurous as men. Women tend to settle into maturity quicker because of maternal instincts, perhaps. Roles dictated by generations of culture and society create a framework that’s difficult to break. Or is it? What if women have always had the capacity to experience extreme sports or elite adventures, but that capacity is hidden within the interior of the imagination?
I think of Sarah Shull, Mary McCanles and Nancy Jane Holmes as I stand on the Higgins Street bridge and watch surfer after surfer take on Brennan’s Wave. Did they find satisfaction in witnessing, as I do? Did they feel the thrill of the Pony Express ride when horse and rider pounded hooves across the hard-packed prairie sod of summer? Could they imagine themselves as part of the great western frontier adventure without having to bare-arm wrestle other men or saddle a snorting bronc?
It’s an omission of the woman’s experience to count her present in the Wild West simply as mother, daughter, wife or whore. Women tend to play supporting roles to every lead man. Thus it was a challenge to take on the story of two swarthy frontiersmen and their highly debated gun battle through the filter of the three women who knew them. It sounds a bit like adding lace to iron. But that’s unfair. Women have capacity for adventure, too. Even if they stand as witness. They watched, engaged and could demonstrate prowess, too
Sarah Shull became a memory box for an important incident; Mary McCanles faced down Pawnee attacks as a mother and widow; and Nancy Jane, well what Nancy Jane did will surprise everyone. These women knew adventure. What adventure calls to you? Has it shifted over time and ability?
March 23, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write an adventure, experienced or witnessed. Explore your own ideas about what makes an adventurous spirit. Is it in the doing? Does standing witness count, and if so, how? Be adventurous!
Respond by March 29, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Showdown by Charli Mills
Hickok grabbed across his hips and spun each revolver like a sideshow performer. He grinned at Sarah and Nancy Jane, both gathering lunch from the garden. “I’ve returned from my adventure,” he announced.
Nancy Jane stood up, brushed dirt off her faded calico skirt and grabbed the garden hoe, twirling it around her body in a similar manner. She rested the implement across her shoulders. Sarah, still kneeling by the peas, laughed.
Hickok frowned. “Well, it doesn’t shoot,” he said.
Nancy Jane swung it off her shoulders and sliced a sunflower stalk in half. “Don’t need to,” she replied.