Bird Droppings September 25. 2022

Walking and listening among the Cotton Woods

I walked outside earlier as I do many mornings, listening, observing, trying to understand this reality I am walking about. The sky was brilliant this morning, with a very slight haze settling over the cornfield and visible clouds. Over the years, I have spent many days in the mornings alone, observing in the wee hours, sometimes even wrapped in a blanket for the cold. Today I was wrapped in my father’s old overcoat. A warm and soft black cashmere coat was his favorite, often even wearing it inside when it was chilly.

In days gone by, I would spend my time listening and watching as I sat listening. There were mornings when falling stars by the hundreds would pass by, and I would feel as if I was the focus of their attention watching all in space aim towards me. I would sit and hours later write poetry and verses, logging down emotions, events, and moments in my journal.

“The essence of knowledge is, having it, to apply it; not having it, to confess your ignorance.” Confucius

One day recently, I was told I had an excellent vocabulary. I came home and asked my wife, “Do I have a great vocabulary?” I was hoping for an answer to boost my ego, and she said, “it depends on who you are talking to.” At first, I was hurt, but then she said not that many people have seen or heard what you have in your life, and sharing that expands their vocabulary. I instantly felt better. Perhaps a reason why I enjoy teaching and sharing experiences I have had over my seventy-plus years.

“Knowledge, a rude unprofitable mass, the mere materials with which wisdom builds, till smoothed and squared and fitted to its place, does but encumber whom it seems to enrich. Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; wisdom is humble that he knows no more.” William Cowper

In days gone by, and even today, I will pick up an encyclopedia and read the volume much like a book; ok, tonight’s light reading is the H Britannica. In our Google world of today, few children even see an encyclopedia, let alone open one. Last week in class, I used my ancient Britannica to help a student with a Venn diagram on Achilles and Odysseus. Once he started with the book versus Wikipedia, he was caught up and looked through the pages. He even asked if he could take the volume home, saying Mr. Bird, this is pretty cool.

“Be curious always! For knowledge will not acquire you: you must acquire it.” Sadie Black

We have all grown up with the statement about how curiosity killed the cat, but a lack thereof will keep the world at a standstill, and nothing will happen.

“Today, knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement.” Peter F. Drucker

A great guru of business Peter Drucker has written many books helping people manage their businesses. Looking at our society and the pace of new information and technology, we live in a world where things change while you sleep. This statement is even more accurate today than when Drucker wrote it in the sixties.

“I would have the studies elective. The scholarship is to be created not by compulsion, but by awakening a pure interest in knowledge. The wise instructor accomplishes this by opening to his pupils precisely the attractions the study has for himself. The marking is a system for schools, not for the college; for boys, not for men; and it is an ungracious work to put on a professor.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have come to enjoy Emerson, and I use his sayings often. He was a rather grizzly-looking old goat of a man. When I read this, I realized several times recently this is how I described what a school should be like. It should be a teacher, as a door, with the teacher or person simply opening the door at appropriate times allowing information to go in. As the student becomes more and more adept, the doorman is needed less and less till soon. Only a receptionist is needed to assist in organizing thoughts.

“Knowledge, without common sense, says Lee, is folly; without method, it is waste; without kindness, it is fanaticism; without religion, it is death. But with common sense, it is wisdom with method; it is power; with clarity, it is beneficence; with religion, it is virtue, life, and peace.” Austin Farrar

I recall a few years back when I sat and spoke at length over lunch and walked back to class with a good friend who had served a year or more in Afghanistan. We were talking about cultural differences. Sometimes, these differences are ridiculous, yet to the people within that culture, they are a part of life. I have been fascinated with a tiny group of people. I have been reading several books lately dealing with the Sans or “Bushman” of the Kalahari in South Africa, as well as several other indigenous peoples who have been stripped of their homes and culture for the sake of humanity. At least, that is what we are told.

It seems diamonds have been found in the Kalahari, and the Sans who have lived there for tens of thousands of years, hunting and gathering, must leave and learn to farm to be civilized. The perception was left out of many of the verses today, for a hunter in the Kalahari may not know of Quantum physics, but they do know where to find and how to find water and juicy grubs for dinner. What if the antelope escaped during the hunt? As a Bushmen, you know the signs to track and finish the job. Knowledge of when and where you are now is crucial to existence, returning to my wife’s comment to me this morning and my vocabulary learned through so many experiences and books read.

“Gugama, the creator, made us. That was a long time ago – so long ago that I can’t know when it happened. That is the past, but our future comes from the lives of our children; our future is rooted in the hunt and in the fruits which grow in this place. When we hunt, we are dancing. And when the rain comes, it fills us with joy. This is our place, and here everything gives us life. “Mogetse Kaboikanyo

Mogetse Kabokikanyo was a Kgalagadi man who lived alongside the Gana and Gwi Bushmen in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. In February 2002, he was forcibly relocated to a camp outside the reserve and died just four months later. He was probably in his fifties; his friends said his heart stopped beating. After years of struggling to remain on his land, Mogetse was buried in the desolate relocation camp, far from his ancestors’ graves. We, citizens of the United States, talk of human rights and dignity, but it is very similar in a case closer to home.

In about 1909 or so, Geronimo of the Apaches was told finally he would not be allowed to return to the mountains of New Mexico to die. He must remain at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, on the Apache reservation, literally a prisoner of war, where he died shortly after that. I have been to the grave site of Geronimo many times in my travels to Lawton, Oklahoma. Driving past military vehicles and such to a quiet spot along the river where no visible modern sights can be heard or seen. Immediately around you are only the rustling cottonwood trees, and the water flow over the stones in the river alongside the graveyard provides a backdrop of peaceful sounds. A rolling landscape and meadow of grass go up from a small parking area into the plains of Oklahoma. Not many people come to this corner of Fort Sill.

Many times, as I sat alone staring across the meadow listening to the stream and feeling a breeze brush lightly, it seemed as if time had rearranged, and it was so easy to slip back to days when people buried here had names and were not simply numbered markers. Knowledge is an elusive, ethereal, entity flitting about as a monarch butterfly travels thousands of miles between hills in Mexico and Georgia. Knowledge is elusive in how it conveys power to some and solace to others. Knowledge is walking along the stream by a grave from a time long gone and knowing we can change humanity and make a difference. The Geronimos and Mogetse Kaboikanyo are the genuine teachers of this world.

It may be one step, one speck at a time, but one day, others will be able to stand among the cottonwoods in Oklahoma or beneath a bush in the Kalahari and know tomorrow is a far better day. Hopefully, humanity has learned more as we increase our abilities to convey understanding. One day, maybe not today, knowledge will be instilled in everyone. But till then, please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and try to offer a hand to any slipping as they cross the stream on their journey and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

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