Bird Droppings March 31, 2011
Sacredness and finding Foxfire in the Kalahari
I have known about Foxfire for nearly forty years since I bought my first copy of a Foxfire book in 1973 or so. Since that time coincidence as it may be I have taken courses in the Foxfire approach to teaching and attended several as a learning facilitator. I am excited as my oldest son will get his first taste of Foxfire in June in a graduate class. Hopefully next week I will journey up into the mountains of North Georgia again to sit in and rekindled many fond memories.
I got a bit later start than I had planned and with the weather while not cold foggy this morning not helping. It seems those of us with allergies and congestion foggy days make it harder to get going. Traffic is not bad for me going to work early as I do and allows me time if I have errands to run or extra paperwork to do at school. I recall just a few weeks ago driving up to the mountains what I thought would be a two hour drive eventually came near to a three hour journey. I avoided some traffic by taking a different route than normal and went sort of cross country which led to an integral part of the day. As I came up an exit ramp a red tailed hawk swooped directly in front of me banking and sailing right back across the road exposing its red tail fully spread. So many people would simply pass that off but such a wonderful sight for me I wonder about what are the odds for me to take a drive and be at that place at that moment.
I often think back to me first visit to the Foxfire property as we sat down after a tour of the museum and property which I still enjoy even after listening fifty times or more. It was the late and great Robert Murray, the resident expert who would tell of folklore and wisdom as he guided the group through the numerous cabins and mountain buildings. A plant here and there and a bit of lichen all had symbolic and often medicinal applications to the people of Appalachia. We started our meeting with a first for that group an exercise entitled connections. This was an opportunity for members in the group to bond and become more of a community which is a crucial part of the Foxfire principles. Most were silent a word or two here and there and then I offered how I considered this place sacred. So many families and traditions, love, faith, prayers, hopes and lives had drifted through the various buildings all collected on the property. I interpret sacred in this manner.
“Not only the present but the future depends on a constant reinterpretation of history and a re-examination of the state and nature of human consciousness. Both these processes are profoundly and mysteriously interdependent and doomed to failure without a continuous search after self-knowledge, since we and our awareness are inevitably the main instruments of the interpretation.” Laurens Van der Post, Witness to the last days of man
It has been several months maybe even a year since I last picked up a Von der Post book. Somehow in an email or comment along the way I went looking for this author and a prolific author he was. As I researched over the years and of course I went to Amazon.com where I was greeted with sixty three pages of his books and variations and edited versions and even translations were available. He died in 1996 at the age of 90 and had been everywhere and done everything it seems. One good trivia point is that he was Prince William of Great Britain’s God father. He was the only non-royal ever to be so honored. He also had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth many years ago.
His writings while some covered his travels worldwide which he is best known for are also for me some of the best his stories of the African bush. One of these books, “A Far away place” was made into a family movie of children and their trek in the African wilds. But permeating all his writing a fascination with a nearly lost people they call themselves “The Sans” but are know more commonly as the African Bushman.
“The depth of darkness to which you can descend and still live is an exact measure of the height to which you can aspire to reach.” Laurens Von der Post
“Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us–and those around us — more effectively. Look for the learning.” Eric Allemburgh
Yesterday I was thinking in several directions. On one hand I was discussing education in the US with several teacher friends and somehow I can always get to Foxfire. We dabbled with the pros and cons of public education, and of course applications of Foxfire teaching methods. In one discussion it somehow went the direction with introjections of indigenous peoples of South America and how Amazonian Native peoples will often want to experience civilization. I sited a unique program in Brazil which as well of protecting indigenous peoples from civilization the land is kept in tact and rain forest left alone when a new tribe is found, literally keeping civilization out.
It was in that course of thought I went the direction of the Bushman and Von der Post. Yesterday as well I sat longer than I usually do standing outside listening to the night. When I finally got home and went to write my time was limited and I hurriedly jotted down a thought from the day and an email to a student who had an issue. It was the series of events; I often use the term coincidence yesterday that led me to my thinking today.
“When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.” Mary Kay Ash
“It’s easier to go down a hill than up it but the view is much better at the top.” Arnold Bennet
Several days ago I received an email from a person to be added to my morning meanderings. I added this person to my list and yesterday received another email in my rushing to get a Bird Droppings out I had written exactly what this person needed that day. It seems their child was acting out and my rambling about a student had produced several ideas for them.
“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Taylor Benson
“Adversity draws men together and produces beauty and harmony in life’s relationships, just as the cold of winter produces ice-flowers on the window-panes, which vanish with the warmth.” Soren Kierkegaard
As I was sitting and thinking about the drawing together of thoughts the past few days and ideas, I came back to that class way back when I had driven up to learn about Foxfire teaching techniques. As I thought while reading several passages this morning in Von der Post’s book “The Lost world of the Kalahari” is a comment about witnessing the last of the Bushmen painters. It seems there was a point in time when the Bushmen stopped their primitive art paintings on the rocks of the Kalahari. Evidently the last painter was killed in a genocide attack by South African soldiers and no one within the tribe knew how to take over.
As I thought about students walking the halls and the discussions we have had over the past months on the internet in graduate classes it really dawned on me I was where I was to be and doing what I was to do. I felt I was offering at least a little piece of more than what is normally available. I never thought forty years ago I would be that hope, be that wisdom, or be that talking about a bushmen egg with red neck kids in Georgia and interestingly enough preserving pieces of old Georgia in essays and photos and PowerPoint projects as we go. Von der Post in his book went in search of the last of the Bushman and found himself.
“Coincidences have never been idle for me, instinctively, but as meaningful as I was to find they were to Jung. I have always had a hunch that they are a manifestation of a law of life of which we are inadequately aware and which in terms of our short life are unfortunately incapable of total definition, and yet however partial the meaning we can extract from them, we ignore it, I believe, at our peril. For as well as promoting some cosmic law, coincidences, I suspect, are some sort of indication to what extent the evolution of our lives is obedient or not obedient to the symmetry of the universe.” Laurens van der Post, Jung and the Story of Our Time, p.47
For many years now I have read and pondered Jung’s words and ideas. Back almost fifteen or so years ago an author James Redfield wrote about coincidence in a fictional story of a lost manuscript “The Celestine Prophecy”. He was trying to explain what he saw happening in his own life. Carl G. Jung in the early 1900’s coined the word synchronicity, which I simplify and say simply I am at the right place at the right moment.
What is amazing is when you look at life that way you begin to see events unfold before you rather than just seeing through hindsight I like the very first quote, “a continuous search after self-knowledge, since we and our awareness are inevitably the main instruments of the interpretation” Laurens Von der Post . To borrow from the Foxfire website:
“In the Foxfire Approach, learning environments are characterized by student involvement and action, by thoughtful reflection and rigorous assessment, by imagination and problem solving, by applications beyond the classroom for what is learned, and by meaningful connections to the community. In these classrooms, students build the ability to work collaboratively and assume responsibility for their own learning processes.” http://www.foxfire.org/teachi.html
Where and how do the Kalahari Desert and Bushmen and Foxfire and coincidence all tie in perhaps by borrowing from a core practice in the Foxfire teaching process.
“Reflection is an essential activity that takes place at key points throughout the work. Teachers and learners engage in conscious and thoughtful consideration of the work and the process. It is this reflective activity that evokes insight and gives rise to revisions and refinements.” Foxfire
We build through reflection we grow through reflection.
“Not only the present but the future depends on a constant reinterpretation of history and a re-examination of the state and nature of human consciousness.” Laurens Von der Post
I think reflection could be inserted just as easy into Von der Posts quote. We all need to take time to see where we are and then participate actively as we go in life. Each day I ask for everyone to please keep all in harms way on your mind in and in your heart.