Bird Droppings September 10, 2022

Grandparenting/Teaching is telling our students and grandchildren the stories

I have been lazy lately. I have been reading and documenting notes for my dissertation but have not pulled them up in a few days. I am finishing up the first three chapters of my dissertation. My title has changed over the years and days. Birddropping: Stirring up Foxfire: Rekindling Personal Passion for Teaching through Storytelling. I grew up listening to stories from my grandmother, father, and mother. My uncles added to and various other family members. All had a wealth of stories. My mother told me about my grandfather, who was a storyteller before he passed on. I listened to them all.  I Learned from them all.

“I wanted to give something of my past to my grandson. So, I took him into the woods to a quiet spot. Seated at my feet, he listened as I told him of the powers given to each creature. He moved not a muscle as I explained how the woods had always provided us with food, homes, comfort, and religion. He was awed when I related to him how the wolf became our guardian, and when I told him that I would sing the sacred wolf song over him, he was overjoyed. In my song, I appealed to the wolf to come and preside over us while I would perform the wolf ceremony so that the bondage between my grandson and the wolf would be lifelong. In my voice was the hope that clings to every heartbeat. In my words were the powers I inherited from my forefathers. In my cupped hands lay a spruce seed– the link to creation. In my eyes, sparkled love and the song floated on the sun’s rays from tree to tree. When I had ended, it was if the whole world listened with us to hear the wolf’s reply. We waited a long time but none came. Again, I sang, humbly but as invitingly as I could, until my throat ached and my voice gave out. All of a sudden, I realized why no wolves had heard my sacred song. There were none left! My heart filled with tears. I could no longer give my grandson faith in the past, our past.” Chief Dan George, Salish

I look forward to the day I can tell my grandchildren tales told to me by my father and his father. Recently my oldest son and I were standing in the dark listening to a chorus of coyotes call only hundreds of yards away through the dense pines of the nearby forest. Perhaps they had caught a deer or found a carcass left by some wayward hunter and were celebrating their find. The echoes and calls bounced off the trees and filled the air, unlike anything I have heard this side of the Mississippi river. I am sure when I retell this story, it will be embellished a bit, but it was awesome to hear. The ending saddens me as I am sitting here this morning reading this short passage from Chief Dan George. We are on the verge as we continue to focus on the now of losing our past. Our dominant society has ravaged the landscape, stripped away what we need, technologically impaired our children, and left the little possibility that our grandchildren will be able to hear and see what we have even in our lifetimes.

Many will scoff at my feeble words. However, as a teacher, I see the children of today struggle with imagination and creativity. I see today’s children so entangled in gadgetry that they no longer need a stick horse or sock stuffed animal. Few children are building forts and tree houses when they can have virtual worlds to play with. Some of us will recall what it is like to play Robin Hood in a patch of forest. Some will remember days before TV and video. Some of us remember asking an operator to connect you to your phone call party. Some will remember dialing with a rotary dial phone other than comedians in skits. I am as much a victim using my smartphone to instantly communicate photos and images and get directions or weather reports. However, it surprised me when a clerk at one of my favorite stores asked me what I did with my herb garden during the winter. It set me back from the fast pace world into one of growing plants and herbs. One of digging in the dirt and growing what we need instead of asking just the price. Several times I had brought bags of mint and stevia by their store, and this clerk remembered me. So, what will I tell my granddaughter one day when she sits on my knee? I might start with a passage I used at her parent’s wedding ceremony.

“You have noticed that everything as Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round….. The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours…. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.” Black Elk, Oglala Sioux Holy Man, 1863-1950

Sitting in my office typing away on my laptop of days ahead, it is easy to wonder what lessons and stories I will share. I will walk through the fields and forest and point out leaves and twigs, and I will pick up an insect and tell of what it is and why; I will teach how a great horned owl calls in the evening and the difference between a spring peeper and a grey tree frog, I will show them to avoid poison oak and ivy and look for wild strawberries. Still, I will also show how to create images on a computer, use words wisely and powerfully, and share with others.

“Everything was possessed of personality, only differing from us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library, and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of earth. We learned to do what only the student of nature learns, and that was to feel beauty. We never railed at the storms, the furious winds, and the biting frosts and snows. To do so intensified human futility, so whatever came we adjusted ourselves, by more effort and energy if necessary, but without complaint.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

I read an article in Child Trends about reading to young children earlier.

“Young children who are regularly read to have a larger vocabulary, higher levels of phonological, letter name, and sound awareness, and better success at decoding words. The number of words in a child’s vocabulary can be an important indicator of later academic success.” Burgess, S. R., Hecht, S. A. , & Lonigan, C. J. (2002). Relations of the home literacy environment (HLE) to the development of reading-related abilities: A one-year longitudinal study. Reading Research Quarterly, 37(4), 408-426.

Reading to children at a young age is more crucial than flashcards, workbooks, fancy preschools, blinking toys, and computers; it is simply reading with mom and dad. This is where imagination begins and grows.

So, I am wondering what lesson I should first impart. There is a lesson that, sadly, many forget as they go into the world. It has been many years since I first saw these words, and it is that lesson of example. Fifty years ago, Dr. Nolte gave us a poem of sorts “Children learn what they live”, that critical lesson is one example of providing a life that is a lesson rather than a disaster. So, this morning as we start a new week, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related) bird


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