The days have held a certain fog in both the landscape and my mind. It would be grand if I could be atop a mountain looking down on this fogginess, but instead, I am in its misty thicket, creating a new way to see and order this new life. Everything is different and everything has a past that creeps, like the moist air, into this particular time.
“Hiker viewing Mount Shuksan from Mount Ruth,” by Dwight Watson, UW Libraries Digital Collections
My friend Susan told me about the friendly, North Carolina finger wave, done with the forefinger of your driving hand while passing motorists. I hadn’t noticed the finger lift before as I was watching the rural roads go by and wondered if it was true. Over time, I realized she was right and found myself lifting my own small fingers to greet others in passing.
As I drove across the country I discovered my attempt to keep this up was lost on those who had no idea what I was doing. Instead, as I entered Kansas off the toll road, I saw quite a large hand waving the third finger at me as I slowed to try to see where the road I just exited would take me – not a kind wave but rather an angry swing, with shouts and a pounding truck horn. I thought, that’s a nice, “how do you do.”
Here, the complicated mesh of ethnicities have their own customs and handshakes, not to mention driving habits. I tool slowly along these city streets and roads, raising my hand and waving to those who let me in their lanes and to those in our neighborhood on foot or horse (yes, our neighboring Avocado Heights has ranches), I still lift my small, right forefinger in an effort to keep the quiet, rural tradition alive.
Subject: Frank Thone (1891-1949), Science Service, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Mama told me I missed an air show early this morning, saying that a hawk arrived in the backyard and began diving at the chickens, scattering them in the kind of panic we’d been praying for. If the hawk had been successful in lifting a chicken for dinner perhaps I’d have to buy a shotgun to manage the new activity.
Mr. Leatherman, homesteader shooting hawks which have been carrying away his chickens, by Russell Lee, Pie Town, NM (LOC)
In the 1970s a yoga master developed a shoe based on the "Mountain pose," where ones toes were higher than their heels. This renowned wellness shoe came and went and is back, still using Earth as it's trademark claiming, like many shoes with reversed heels, to give life new balance. Mama has a pair and loves them.
Last week my new friend Roger asked how my transition to life and work in Callie was going. I described feeling odd and out of balance while noticing new and small changes — like the laid-back attitude or the dry heat-like dust that covers everything in thin layers — all this newness everywhere while at the same time bumping into old friends from the past. It's exhausting. Roger described it like being in a circus and seeing yourself in those distorting mirrors that even initially make you feel askew.
This weekend we did a lot of work outside. I asked Mama about the Earth shoes I had bought for her in a discount store. Since we wear the same size I know that on first try, these shoes were really comfy. But when I tried to wear them after I brought them home I was sad to find I couldn't walk in them for more than 5 minutes as i was completely off balance. So I gave them back to Mama who put them in her closet for another day. While transplanting a cactus today I needed a pair of garden shoes and asked for the Earth shoes she put aside. She told me that they were a little tight for her so I offered to stretch them out.
Once on my feet I fell in love with them again, rocking backwards like a drunken child — until, of course my calves began to feel wobbly — so off they went again, my toes hoping tomorrow's shoe can be more sturdy.
The peasants that made up my family clan were stubborn in their love for each other. My grandmother was widowed early in life and came to America as a single parent. Her mother moved in with her when my great grandfather died and so the two women bonded, loved, fought, and stayed together until my great grandmother died. When my grandmother couldn’t live on her own any longer, she moved in with my mama for a time, revisiting the life that they once shared.
This is what we do – Russian peasant women – live simply, cover our heads, line up next to family and settle into each others fierceness. Perhaps it’s not that different from images of families we hold up as perhaps more perfect than ours. Loving and living are always complicated.
J.P. Harrington (1884-1861) was a linguist, an ethnographer and an expert in Native American languages. He studied at Stanford and then worked for the Smithsonian Museum’s, Bureau of American Ethnology, compiling raw data on native peoples in California. The 700 feet of collections he amassed are now housed in the Library of Congress.
His early, unpublished field notes of the Tongva language document this spoken language of the Tongva people who lived in many places including Azusa. Azusa, located in San Gabriel Valley (in Los Angeles) is now known as the Canyon City. The Indians called this place, “Asuksagna,” meaning either, “a place of water,” or, “skunk,” depending on who you ask.
Photo: John Peabody Harrington (1884-1961) and Chief Wiishi of the Mission Indians.