Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Privilege and Cantaloupe

I was cutting cantaloupe for breakfast this morning. I've been thinking of my grandma a lot lately, since she died in March, the day before her birthday.  And when I think of her I usually have memories of food and home and cooking and cleaning with lemon-scented Pledge.

This morning it was cantaloupe.  I usually don't bother with it because of the slicing and scooping out of seeds and so forth.  Plus it gets a little slimy and I don't really enjoy handling this fruit. But it reminds me of childhood. It would be early on a dry summer morning, around 6:30 when the sun comes up over the ridge.  Out on Patit Creek Road it's a valley winding through farmland.  On either side of my grandparents house are cows belonging to the Broughton's and Grandpa and Uncle Kennard usually had a cow/calf or a couple of them to raise for meat.  Old farm implements dot the landscape and Grandpa's shop always had machinery and tools and bins of nails, screws and other things someone might need to fix the problems of the world.  It smelled like oil and old grease and whatever old mamma cat they had would inevitably hide her kittens in the shop because it was out of the elements and cats always trusted Grandpa more than anyone in the world. The five acres my grandparents owned were farmed every year to grow alfalfa or grass hay for the animals.  In later years, my cousins Lester and Little Kennard, the grandsons of my great uncle Kennard, did the seeding and harvesting for Grandpa.  That's what family is for, to go on and to help and to keep things going.

Grandma loved cantaloupe.  She would make breakfast when I was little, getting up early to throw sausage and pancakes on the griddle and she would always have a fresh fruit and milk and coffee to drink.  To wake up in the morning to that was such a treat.  The smell of the griddle and the coffee percolating and sometimes the washer and dryer going at the same time made me happy to be alive.  And we'd sit down and eat when she called us, watching "Good Morning America" on television.  Then it would be dishes and clean up and outside to play.  The sun would begin to cook us and in the afternoon, after lunch, Grandma would take us to the pool for a couple of hours.  There was always cold watermelon when we got home.  Much of that fruit, plus all of the walla walla sweet onions were bought at roadside stands.  The strawberries came from Klickers and once, my sister brought home a starving calico kitten which she called  "Onion Baby".  One of the most loving cats we ever had.

Some people have privilege in their lives through social status or money.  This morning, I bit into the juicy cantaloupe and thought of the privilege of my youth, of gravel roads and public swimming pools and I wonder if I will ever find that again.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lake Hefner

I've been meaning to take Pippi out for a ride.  Pippi is my bicycle, a white Schwinn with upright handles and a bell that goes "ding dong" when you hit it.  She's been in the garage for far too long.  So today was the day.  I had to find a new nut for a screw to hold one of her beautiful silver fenders in place and that involved a trip to Ace Hardware, a conversation with someone who did not work there, then someone who did, then me finding the replacement.  Good thing I remembered to take the screw with me.  It's metric. Pippi is metric, if you wondered.

I go to Lake Hefner a lot lately.  It's only a few miles from the house and the 9.5 miles is a great long walk, jog or easy bike ride.  You don't have to go the whole way around and when I take dogs, I don't.  Generally they go about a mile and a half on warm days, and they get to jump into the water and wallow in the red mud.  Makes my little suv look pretty and smell nice...

Anyway, today was a Pippi day.  I like this bike because it reminds me not to take things so seriously, to relax and have fun.  I'm pretty competitive, as we all are, and you just can't race on a Schwinn.  Pippi is more than a bike- she is a mindset of stopping to smell the roses and remembering to notice and smile at the little things.

There are four parts to Lake Hefner, in my estimation.  I park off of Britton Road, which is on the northeast side.  Then I head south.  This first part is the "Look at me" part of the trip.  There are always people at the restaurants on the side of the trail and those who wish to be seen exercising usually concentrate themselves in this area.  It's the guy running with his shirt off, stopping to do some push-ups by the outdoor seating area at Louie's, or the tall and willowy lady with make up, spandex and a sports bra jogging slowly past as though she were in a condom commercial.  There are the rest of us regular people, wearing baggy shorts and tee shirts, women with our ponytails at odd angles and bobby pins falling out and heavy-set men huffing past.  I don't think anyone can see us past the "look at me's" and that's probably a good thing. I generally sweat a lot when I'm at the lake and I don't want to be noticed.  I want to sweat.  I go past this area as quickly as possible and like to start out here first, in case I see anyone I know.    The landscape is very pretty here too- you can walk up to the fake lighthouse, watch the sunset and the windsurfers and para-gliders on a windy day.  The wind, if you're traveling south, is in your face and sometimes a challenge to keep going.

The next part is the lush and green part of the trail.  You'll find a lot more trees on the south side of the lake, with little inlets for fishing, boat ramps and the model airplane field.  In the evenings, you'll see the little skunk that lives there and during the day, when the sun is beating down, the trees offer some protection.  Once you get to the southwest corner, you'll see the Fire Station.  In the late afternoons and evenings, the firemen play basketball on the court outside of their building.  I like to time my run/walk/voyeurism/bike ride to coincide with this event as often as possible.  Who doesn't like firemen?

Part three is the golf course.  This may be the most annoying part of the voyage.  You have to run practically the whole length of the course to get around and you lose sight of the lake at the same time.  Usually you can see from one side to another, like the lake is a giant bathtub, but in this part, all you get is a view of people chasing a ball, only to hit it again.  It brings out the socialist in me, to be honest.  I pass the time by plotting what I could with all that land.  I'd build a huge homeless shelter where the residents live for free.  What isn't taken up with living space would be a garden and agricultural center, plus a small school... *Thunk*!  A golf ball hits smack down in front of me.  It misses me by less than a foot.  Some yutz has hit it clean off the course.  I give him and his ugly-pants wearing party the stink eye and try to continue on my way, but they want me to retrieve the ball for them.  Then they want me to join them for a drink.  I say unkind and hateful things, words that might kill a sensitive man.  Unrepeatable in polite society.  But these are golfers and it's a good bet that they are drunk anyway.  And they almost hit me.  I hear one whimper as I go by. Later, I feel guilty, but in the moment I am a sanctimonious asshole and they must pay for their capitalistic greed and gluttony.

The last part of my escapade is the north side.  The wind has returned.  On the east side of the lake the wind seems to blow north if you're going south.  On the west side, it seems to blow south if you're going north.  I have tried reversing my route, but it only makes the wind do the same.  If you go to Lake Hefner, you're going to be going against the wind no matter which direction you take.  This part of the lake is closest to the water and is about three miles of treelessness.  I refer to it as "gnat central".  No matter when you are there, keep your mouth closed- breathe through your nose- and wear sunglasses.  I don't care if it's 11 p.m.  It's the best way to keep the gnat clouds out of your mouth and eyes.  I once was riding and caught a gnat on an inhale.  Could feel him stuck in my lung, screaming for help, doing the backstroke and drowning in mucous.  It burned.  I felt bad for him.  That was in 2005 and I bet in a spelunking expedition you could find his corpse embedded in an alveoli or something.  The North side of the lake also has a different clientele than the other parts.  It's accessible easily by car and it's by the water so there are all sorts of fisherpeople out, sitting on the ripwrap, fishing for catfish or other thingies.  Others park and get high and Oklahoma City's finest make frequent drive-bys.  Last time I walked the lake I was picking up trash (all walks should involve this activity, btw) and declined to pick up the bent and burnt spoon.  Gnat Central is sort of a tough neighborhood.

Riding Pippi today was a new adventure.  I always had a mountain bike before, and tried for a certain time. I pushed myself.  Today I looked around a little more.  I was passed by a load of hammerheads.  A hammerhead is a cyclist whose bike costs more than my car.  They have those special shoes and spandex gear with a Camelbak.  The helmets are pointed in the back, making them look a little sharky.  And they do laps around me.  Sometimes I got the backwards glance from a hammerhead, like "what the hell are you doing here?", or maybe they were just jealous.  After all, I have the big butt seat on my bike and they have to wear padding on their trousers to make their seats comfortable.  My seat has all the padding I need.  Just for fun, I rang my bicycle bell at someone.  And I was passed by a hipster on a rickety-looking Huffy.  "Nice bike", she said.  "Thanks!"  I'm pretty sure I beamed.

No matter what I've been doing, the last thousand yards of my journey are the best.  I can see the car and my swollen hands and thirsty mouth don't matter anymore.  The salt from all that sweat drying on my neck has ceased to itch and the sunburn I inevitably suffer stops burning for a minute or two: I've made it. I'm not going to die from this.  I get to go home and drink all of the water in the world.  I pat Pippi on the handle bars.  Great job.  Let's do it again.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I have a picture of my dad. It's from his high school yearbook.  He's 18, smiling, with the whole world ahead of him.  You can see clearly where I get my eyes and my smile. And my cheekbones.

And that's it.  That's all I will physically know of my dad.  I know a few other things- that he was a logger, went to high school in Port Townsend, Washington, and that his sister introduced my mom to him. He chewed gum and could sing and play trombone.  And he drank. He had four beautiful, talented and wonderful daughters.  And he never knew about me.

He was killed and it was a drunk driving accident.  My family lived in Discovery Bay and my dad worked as a logger in Forks.  Yes, Forks, Washington.  Twilight, Stephanie Myer, vampires and all that bullshit. Two weeks out and back again. The other driver swerved across the line. Hit his white car with a red interior and killed him instantly.  I don't think it was raining, though in October it's entirely possible.  My mom was going to tell him she was pregnant that night.

So we grew up without a dad.  I had a nice Grandpa on my mom's side, and my Uncle and great Uncles were all very kind.  Some of our 5 Step-dads were nice too, especially one of them, who taught me to drive when I was 14, and how to work hard and stay out of trouble.  Not all were nice, that's the best I can say.

Father's day has always been ambivalent for me.  I assume that if my dad were alive that he'd still be a good man.  That when I got married he would have walked me down the aisle.  That he would support us financially and make sure we had a roof over our heads.  But life for me about the luck of the draw and as sad as it sounds, my life could suck a whole lot worse.

Many of my friends on Facebook changed their profile photos to pictures of them and their dads.  Others, like me, either do not have that luxury or choose not to for other reasons, such as life being less than storybook perfect and difficult relationships with our parents.  I content myself with knowing some really incredible dads.  Dads who are deploying for yet another tour in Iraq (be safe, Josh!), single dads who bust their asses to provide, Step-dads doing the best they can, uncles, cousins and family friends who stand in the stead of that important role and give that support to help a little kid grow up to be able to trust the men around them, and to be able to trust themselves and be happy and secure. At least to give them that chance.

There are things I do not wonder about.  I know my dad would have been happy at my birth and he would be proud of me today.  I know he would have been there for me the way he was for my sisters in the time they had with him.  I know that some lovely spirit lived inside of him.  I know that me, the person I am today, has been forged from my life experiences beginning with that first traumatic one.  But I do wonder sometimes, what he would look like today.  Would his hands be rough and would he wear glasses? Would his grandchildren all become aspects of him the way my siblings and cousins have become aspects of our grandparents?

Happy Father's Day, wherever you are.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Damn Hard Work (If You Can Get It)

I sometimes get obsessed with the definitions of words and all of the connotations and denotations possible when you say a word and how what a persons says gets misconstrued, turned around and generally confabulated from one's lips to the ears of another.  You've got to deal with text, context, signifier, signified, subject, object, verb and those slithering adverbs that sneak in on reptile bellies no matter how many times you try to kill them.  It's a wonder we communicate effectively with each other and that we somehow get our point across.  Thank goodness for body language.  Well, normally.  I'm teaching an online course this summer.  We have no body language at all- one of the stresses and joys of internet access.  And I've been thinking of the word "success" for about a week.

In the context of general life goals, students in secondary school will probably say that success is equal to money.  If you are rich, you must be successful.  I've been looking for another full-time gig, preferably teaching college but I'm also dogging the high schools around here for something to do with myself come fall.  I would count myself successful if I had oh, say, health and dental insurance in October.  To compound this, teachers don't make actual money, so we cannot be successful by the definition of a high school kid.  This means that I want to be successful at not being..successful.

Ok, forget that. I don't like kids anyway.  If you ask my friend Valerie, she might define success as getting all four of her kids to be creative, free-spirited artists, musicians, sculptors or art historians who live within the boundaries that they set themselves rather than the ones society has decided are acceptable.  Maybe she would think of success if her children push on those boundaries some, the same way that she does in her oh-so-mirthful way.

I am damn sure that there is another word involved with success: hard work.  Ok, that is two words.  I used to do a good deal of hard work when I was a kid.  I mucked stalls, fed lambs every four hours in the dead of winter, moved hay, and dug ditches.  I didn't get paid for any of that.  When I got older, I worked at Ski Bluewood, I was in the ski rental shop. That was work too, checking out all of those skis and boots and checking them all back in again too.  And it was sort of cold and by the end of the day, I'd have metal blisters on my hands from handling skis and bruises from boots and skis since sometimes things got a little crazy in the rental shop. Sometimes it was really damn cold.  I had it easy though- we worked inside and only froze our tookas' off going to and from the mountain.  The guys who worked in the parking lot, the lift operators and the maintenance crew- they had it rough.  They did some *real* hard work.  They were outside most of the day.  One time I had to work at the top of the lift for an afternoon.  I was under-dressed too and almost got frostbite on my left hand.  I was successful at making friends there but not so much with the monetary gain.  Minimum wage was only $5.50 back then.

This last year my hard work included commuting 150 miles a day, teaching 5 classes of freshman composition in a row- back to back on the same day, taking two classes myself and taking my general exams with only a few weeks to do them.  This Spring it was in teaching four classes of composition, writing my prospectus and dissertation and renting out my house to move to Ada temporarily. None of those things are physically taxing- I'm not waiting tables and walking a concrete floor for 8 hours a day, nor am I getting up in the middle of the night to fix downed power lines.  I also do not work in the hot sun or freezing cold, keeping neighborhoods safe.

Since entering the teaching profession, I have felt a little guilty that my work isn't "hard work".  In our sweet little church in Dayton, Washington, my Sunday School teacher and the pastor impressed upon me the importance of doing some hard work every day.  Except for Sunday, of course. I respected my Sunday School teacher.  He was a giant man with a permanent sunburn, giant ham-sized hands and squinty eyes, like it was too bright in whatever room he was in.  It's not so much that anyone pointed out that if you want to get to heaven, you have to work.  It was demonstrated in the overalls that the men wore, the ladies in their paisley and gingham tops and the thick smell of Avon Skin So Soft in the summertime.   Most are farmers, city or electric workers and yes, even teachers.  My Agriculture teacher worked himself to death sometimes.  Yeah, I'm pretty sure I don't do hard work and sometimes it's not like work at all.  I just go until I fall asleep.

Except for right now.  Now I'm having a season of rest and regrouping.  It's good for me, figuring out the next best thing to do.  To stay still long enough to find my own rhythm again.  It's hard though, to not force some solution, to be patient and concentrate on the things in front of me.  I'm always busy running from one thing to the next. These days, I'm running a little more for exercise and a lot less from one thing to another.  It's been nice to catch up with people and to sleep in some days.  And to do some reading.  I'm not going to starve to death. I still have my last semester of school and probably enough adjunct work to stay afloat and keep Eleanor in canned kitty food until the new year.

I guess that means I have to redefine success.  I have a roof over my head today and I ate some awesome baba ghanoush from my favorite deli.  I met with a good friend at the library and we worked on research stuff, books we are reading and books we want to read.  I washed some dishes and walked five miles out at Lake Hefner and now I am sitting here, writing a blog.  My favorite thing.  Success.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

True Grit

I had the good fortune to be invited to an Osage tribal gathering yesterday.  Well, I was invited weeks ago, but it was yesterday.  And yesterday was day three of four days of this group of people coming together.  I thought of everything I knew of stereotypical Native American gatherings and consciously threw those things out the window.

I wasn't sure what to expect.  My friend, V, and her entire family are Osage and as such participate in the yearly dancing, eating and fellowship that meets in Gray Horse on the reservation in June.  I am white, to be sure, and even whiter than most of my white friends.  I probably glow in the dark and I knew I would stand out like a sore thumb.  So what to wear that would be cool and also socially acceptable?  Something that wouldn't make me stand out so much.  You know if you're going to a job interview or any social gathering where you haven't been before, it's always a good idea to ask ahead of time rather than just showing up.  Left to my own devices, I might have worn a skinny tank top and no bra, maybe some jeans.... V said that anything was fine as long as there were no spaghetti straps or short short skirts. No problem there.  I wore a long summer dress with a cardigan and my hair in a bun.  Crisis one averted.  But I just knew that since I didn't know anything I would probably end up saying or doing something stupid. And I did. We'll get to that.

It's June in Oklahoma, which usually means that I'm crouched by the air conditioner.  When forced outside to forage for food, I go from my cool house to my blasting-the-air conditioner-car to the frozen food section of the grocery store.  It stays that way until September 15th.  Except for yesterday.  V sent me directions to her house and to Gray Horse, which is somewhere in the North and Central to East-ish portion of Oklahoma.  I looked on Google maps for the area, terrain or other information.  It showed a picture of some old time ocean waves and painted green trees and the words "Thar be dragons" in old English script. The directions she sent included turning right at a boat storage facility and driving around a couple of bends, then taking the left fork of a gravel road past a structure that used to be there but isn't anymore.  I am not kidding.  I sped right past the turn off.  I knew I would.  And there isn't really cell phone reception in every place out in the forested dragon sea, so I blew up V's phone until I backtracked enough to find her residence.  My messages sounded something like this, said in a cheerful tone: "Hey, it's Mindie.  I'm still lost.  I drove by a gorgeous lake and there is a fire department on the right.  Lots of rednecks out here too.  Call me, or I could die out here. Bye!"

We made it to the meeting place in record time.  I drove while V got ready. The meeting place was another 40 minutes out there and my cell phone didn't work the rest of the afternoon.  Fine by me. Once we arrived, it was time for her to get the dancers ready for the afternoon dance.  This was the first sons dance and is only performed by the firstborn sons in the tribe.  Only these sons wear red in the ceremonial dances too.  Under an arbor, away from the searing hot sun, several men and boys were getting dressed in Straight Dance clothing.  Everything begins with footwear.  The traditional mens moccasins are heavily beaded in geometric patterns for Osage, and more abstract patterns for Otoe tribes.  Two of the group had their family names in the beadwork and I can barely fathom how many hours and how much work, concentration and love went into making them.  I watched from a corner and stayed out of the way, but had a good vantage point.  From the ground up it seems, the men, aided by V, got dressed in leggins, drops, guards (which are colorful and ornate in geometric straight lines patterns), bells and patterned and beaded belts.  There were bustles and aprons too.  The bells were loud and often crossed thrice around the leg below the knee. Each step made them sing.  Long ribbon shirts made of all sorts of patterns and colors comprised the men's shirts and they wore  more ribbons on their armbands too.  Sometimes the men also put on vests.  On their backs laid otter hides and back feathers and around their necks, beaded chokers.  Next the men donned kerchiefs around their necks, held with beautiful silver clasps, and plain white kerchiefs where one would ear a sweatband.  On top of everything, a horsehair or deer hair roach was tied tightly under the chin and an eagle feather placed on top.  Another eagle feather laid to one side or the other, depending on one's clan affiliation.  Eagle fans and either sticks, weapons or a mirror were held in the men's hands as they got ready to go walk to the main arbor. There are no short cuts, there is no throwing something on as quickly as possible and going.  Everything must be secure and in place. It must not slip off. Getting ready takes time and concentration.  Much time and money and effort goes into making individual pieces, creating outfits and keeping tradition.  Sometimes, V would hold up a piece of clothing or ornamentation and explain it's significance for my benefit- everyone seemed to know the history behind each piece- who made or bought it, who owned it before and how much V either liked or disliked the looks of it.

As they got ready, much of V's family was there.  They talked and joked and spoke softly with few sharp words and a lot of smiling.  Her brother has four children and while young, they have seen this all before but paid attention in the way children do- around the other parts of their lives spent playing and wrestling over gatorade and fresh cherries.  As the first son's made for the main arbor, their steps rang out to herald their movements.  It was time to get the girls ready.

Men and women dance in the same place but not together. The girls had heavy wool broadcloth skirts and leggins if they wanted to wear them.  The leggins are separate from each other and from what I could tell, a pain in the ass to put on and wear.  The skirt is tied on- no buttons or zippers or pinning.  Tied on tightly around the waist.  It can't be allowed to slip in the slightest.  A long patterned ribbon shirt goes over the top and is clipped at the neck, with large silver buttons and a ribbon down the back for maidens.  In their hair were often beaded clips and intricate shawls are either carried or worn over the shoulders, and eagle fans are carried as accoutrement.  Beaded purses are also acceptable.

V pronounced the girls beautiful and we made for the main arbor, seating ourselves on hard benches.  My butt promptly went to sleep and I started sweating under my breasts.  It was over 100 degrees.  I didn't care.  The singers were in the middle of the arbor, around the drum, singing in Osage.  At the beginning of every dance, the men stood and crossed to the arena, then danced in a circle in time to the music.  About 200 first sons were there, stepping and dancing, moving the humid air with them, dancing together amongst the assembled 400 or so other people in attendance for that afternoon.  Tail dancers came in at the end of the dance, to expound or extend on what had transpired and to bring an end to that particular dance.  And whipmen were in place to keep everyone in line.  If a dancer drops something- a bell, a feather, any part of their regalia, the whipmen pick it up and it must be retrieved in front of everyone.  Likewise, the whipmen have actual whips to keep people from misbehaving.  At the end of each song, everyone goes to sit down and it sounds like rain falling as they walk. At breaks, the water boys each took a post and walked around to each of the dancers, offering them water from a bucket with ladles.

The women dance outside of the men's circle and they also dance together in time to the singing.  The girls danced, and V danced as well. No bells, just shawls and dresses and moccasins and the occasional whiff of moth balls.  I asked V about that and she said that their clothes are stored in moth balls and it is one of her favorite smells in the world.  I was overwhelmed by the colors and the sounds and how comfortable everyone seemed with themselves and with each other.  I missed so much more than what I caught and I've articulated so few of those things.  Just imagine that my face looked like a muppet, frozen in mid-air with my mouth wide open.  I took no pictures and wrote no notes and honestly, it's best that way.  I'd rather keep the impressions and feelings rather than look at a photograph.

Other things happen at these shindigs besides dancing.  There are committees to attend to and giveaways and lots and lots of food. At the end of the afternoon dance, V and everyone headed back to the family arbor.  Along the way, we stopped and visited with everyone in the world.  She introduced me to cousins and friends and older people and aunts and children- who were polite and sweet- and V teased every last one of them she met. They teased her right back. It was time to eat. The cooks all cook over open fire pits and make everything from scratch.  Long tables are set up and in our arbor, about 50 people gathered to have a meal.  Kind words were said and a prayer offered and we dug in.  V urged me to try everything.  I hadn't eaten all day and  was famished.  The feeling had finally come back to my butt too, except that when I sat on the narrow wooden bench, it fell back into numbness and stayed there until this morning.  I shrugged and tucked into a meal of brisket, fry bread, dumplings in gravy, hominy, taco salad, fresh fruit, and dried meat stew.  The dried meat stew is exactly what you'd think- thin strips of meat dried in the sun and reconstituted into a thin bouillon with rice.  Delicious. Every bit of it cooked over the fires with hard work and cooperation. I don't think I've eaten so well in years and could not possibly reproduce the taste of that meal. First, I don't cook over fires very well and second, I'm not Osage.  Many of the recipes are passed down from generations.  Practice cooking takes place before events, so that the younger women can learn how to cook certain foods and discussions center around old variety and hybrid corns and where to get seed to plant, who makes the most delicious version of a particular dish and how they do it and practical discussions for everyday cooking.  I helped clean up.  I cleared dishes and smiled at people and was really grateful to have something useful to do.  It's something my Grandma always suggested I do- when you're company at someone else's house, you offer to help cook or clean up.  But sitting there like a bump on a log is not a good idea.

The evening dance commenced at 8 that night.  More men danced since the earlier dance was firstborn son's dance.  Hundreds of dancers were in attendance and V, her sister-in-law and mother helped get everyone ready.  I was handed a camera and asked to photograph this process and caught pictures of mothers and fathers and aunts helping their children, tying roaches as tight as humanly possible, slicking back braids and smiling toothy smiles.  Telling everyone how beautiful they are and occasionally soothing bored little kids while shimmying them into moccasins.  Nine dancers emerged from the family arbor that I saw, and probably half a dozen or so more that escaped notice while I was busy.  The sun was setting and I felt dusty and skanky.  V assured me that everyone felt that way and advised me to remove my cardigan.  I didn't want to.  I didn't want to be anything less than really polite and formal, but the sweat was starting to bead up under my armpits again and my fuzzy hair was escaping the severe bun I'd stuck it in so many hours ago.  I took off the damp jacket and breathed a little easier.  The dancing resumed as it had earlier, only with many more dancers, onlookers 30 deep, and a few water breaks. There were trotting songs, trickster songs and prayer songs.  There were even a few family songs.  Members of V's family took turns telling me important things; things I needed to know.  Like not pointing at people. And the significance of a song and some of the meanings of people's outfits and even some familial ties.  And wouldn't you know it? By the time the dancing was over, I was hungry again.  I hadn't done anything all day except eat and sit, yet here I was hungry.  I can't imagine how the dancers must feel- dancing for hours on end in the heat. I was asked what I thought of the whole thing and I struggled for words, saying that it was my first time at a powwow and I would never forget such a wonderful experience.  "It's not a powwow", was the response.  Shit. Gathering. My first gathering. I needed to know that too.  I took my hair down from its bun.

When it was all said and done, we made it home around one in the morning.  Too tired to shower, I brushed my teeth and flopped down on the couch.  I worried that I wouldn't be able to sleep.  V had told me stories of the mountain lions and giant spiders and raccoons and showed me the place above her stove where a scorpion had dropped through the vent last year.  I squashed a tiny spider with my shoe and laid down, dried sweat and dust and funk, and passed out cold. As I drove home today, back to Oklahoma City, to my air conditioning and an ancient cat who would describe herself as "indoorsy", I knew that V and her family were commencing their fourth day of ceremonies under the hot Oklahoma sun.

I'm lucky to have been invited and lucky to go in early June, before it gets "really hot and and really dusty" at the other district gatherings. It felt so much like a giant family reunion, only much more beautiful and meaningful.  Maybe they will ask me back next year.