Sunday, May 16, 2010
For Steve, our friend and the proprietor of “Drifters” in Granity, New Zealand, I carved a pair of Hector’s Dolphins. Granity is acros the Ngakuwau River mouth from the hamlet of Hector. It is one of the few remaining homes for the endangered Hector's Dolphins, the smallest of the dolphins. One of the dolphins is from a red beach scrap of wood I used to carve some whales, and the other dolphin is from a bit of driftwood I picked up on the beach along the Abel Tasman Track on the north coast of the south island of New Zealand. I mounted them on some driftwood I found in front on the Mokihinui River down by the Rough & Tumble Bush lodge, along with a Pahoa shell I found out towards the end of Farewell Spit. But if you want to see them, you had better hurry, because Drifters will most likely be displaced by a big resort hotel that is planned to built across the street from this quaint little bar and resaurant.
Here is a poem and a legent about the Fantail that I found online:
See! In the Kauwae-Raro,
O small dancing bird,
Old Kupe says you touched him,
We have his stately word.
And what said Kupe of you,
O small bird of grace?
He said: “The Tiwai Waka
Kept flitting past my face!”
O little Tiwa Waka,
O kind little wing!
I've seen a woman hunt you,
With haste and muttering.
She said it was unlucky,
She drove you out with cries,
For when a fantail flies within
A son or neighbor dies.
Unlucky! It's an honour,
A bird flying through.
He had the whole sweet countryside,
And yet he came to you.
by, Eileen Duggan
Apart from hiwaiwaka, tirairaka and tiwakawaka, there are sixteen other dialectal Maori names for the fantail, many of which denote the restlessness of this little bird. Tiwakawaka is also the name of a grandson of the demi-god and folk hero Maui (Maui-potiki). He was one of the first maori settlers to arrive in the Bay of Plenty more than 1000 years ago, well before the main migrations. This was the time of the explorer Kupe and his grandson Nukutawhiti. Tiwakawaka was captain of Te Aratauwhaiti canoe and is said to have been one of Kupe’s people who stayed on when Kupe returned to eastern Polynesia. When Nukutawhiti returned in Kupe’s canoe to New Zealand it was Tiwakawaka who came down to the beach to challenge him, no doubt boldly like the fantail. Kupe had seen the fantail, tiwakawaka, on his exploratory trip and noted that it carried its tail feathers erect and could spread them out like a fan. Its challenging behaviour reminded Kupe that he was entering the domain of Tane, god of the forest, and perhaps reminded him also of the mythical battle between the sea and land birds.
Taiaha weapon in hand, the fantail and its companion the owl, who was armed with a pouwhenua, advanced towards the forces of the sea birds. Fantail got into a towering passion and danced and glared and performed all manner of gesticulations. Indeed it is said that the war dance, the haka, owes something to this dance of the tiwakawaka in mythological times, or at least the single action in it of jumping from side to side while brandishing a weapon.
It is, however, in the stories of Maui that the tiwakawaka plays its most important role in Maori mythology. From its refusal to tell Maui where his ancestress Mahuika kept fire hidden, it got its very appearance. In retaliation Maui took the bird and squeezed it so hard that its eyes nearly popped out, hence their prominence now. This also explains why its tail projects so far behind its body and why it flies so erratically.
Let it now be said that the fantail got its revenge in full on Maui for his rough treatment by not obeying his instructions when it accompanied him on his last and greatest exploit to the realms of Hinenuitepo.
In those far off days Hinenuitepo, goddess of night, goddess of death, lived, as she does today, in the underworld of spirits. As mother of mankind she has decreed from the troublesome earliest days of creation that man should live one cycle of life, then die. Maui wanted to give mankind everlasting life. He sought to kill Hinenuitepo and by doing so abolish death forever. When Maui asked his father what Hinenuitepo looked like, he replied: “you will see that her body is like that of a human being, but is of gigantic size, with thighs as red as the setting sun. You will see eyes of greenstone, flashing like the opening and shutting of the horizon in summer lightening. You will see teeth as sharp as flaked obsidian and a mouth like that of a barracouta, and hair like a tangled mass of sea kelp”. Maui chose several bird companions besides the fantail to accompany him on his great quest. Because he had the ability to change into many life forms, he was able to travel with these birds to the underworld as a sparrow hawk. Maui’s objective was to enter the womb of Hinenuitepo when she was sleeping and by passing through her vital organs to her mouth, to destroy death. He said to his companions, “My command is that when I enter the womb of Hinenuitepo, you must on no account laugh.” So Maui, having taken on the form of the noke worm, then entered the womb but as he disappeared within, Tatahore, the whitehead, burst out laughing whilst the fantail rushed out and began dancing about with delight. And then was roused Hinenuitepo who closed her legs and strangled Maui and killed him.
The day after our return from Christchurch, Kay and I were walking the path between the lodge and our cottage and an astounding event occurred. It went something like this.
While strolling between rain showers
Discussing Harry Potter's plight
Tui's song urgently told us
To be still and please take notice
He serenades us daily
Always while we walk,
But we never before had the thrill
Of beholding our favorite singer
This time Tui came swooping
Down our secluded path
He seemed on an urgent mission
We ducked our heads and laughed
After Tui had whistled past
In a mighty big hurry
We scratched our heads in query
What could be his vision-quest
As we looked up again
We discovered a double rainbow
Arching over the mountain top
Enshrouded by the mists
It seemed to make footfall
Only a hop, skip and jump away
Within the dark, entangled forest
Where nature never rests
Our host had sternly warned us
Never stray from the safe footpath
If lost the most skilled Bushmen
Will lie down and cry for mommy
We did not want to leave
Our cozy, safe footpath
In quest of the end of the rainbow
Merely for whimsies sake
Just then our Weka friend
Ran towards us with outstretched wings
He rumbled a heartfelt greeting
Weka showed us a hidden path
Beset by gorse and blackberry
We followed Weka's secret path
Around the mossy boulders
Beside rough and tumble creek
Into the beachwood forest
Through the hobbit-hole
Under the wind-felled kauri
To find a hidden cove
Encircled by giant tree ferns
Within the sun-filled clearing
A flock of fantail-birds
Flittered yon and hither
Fantail greeted us
Tail feathers boldly flashing.
And led us to the burbling brook
At the far end of the meadow
Smack under the bright rainbow
Upon a stout jade boulder
Beneath fair Janie Falls
Stood proud Pukeko-bird
Blue feathers all fluffed up
His red beak signaled greeting
Grasped in his lily-pad foot
A Silver Beach Tree branch
Stunned by these events
As if in a magical dream
My bride urged me to take
With the beach twig tightly clutched
To my disbelieving chest
Fantail and Weka led us
To our homeward path
Where Tui gladly greeted us
With vibrant, soulful song
And joined in joyful harmony
With Bellbird humming along
On our stroll home
My beloved and I discussed
What could all this mean
This other-worldly bequest
To our enchanted minds
All this could only mean
For me to fashion the silver frond
Into a magic wand
So I did.
That's my story
And I’m sticking to it!
I recall a story about my sister, Jacque, an award-winning and gifted writer. She and her children had come down from New York, New York to visit our parents. They and other family members had met at a country kitchen style restaurant in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. Jacque was waxing artistically eloquent to her children while expounding upon the artistic merits and social statement of a “work of art” displayed on the wall of the country kitchen. After summing up her explanation to her children, our brother, Bruce laconically said; “Jacque, that’s a harness for a horse!”
Bruce is an internationally famous wildlife sculptor. He is noted particularly for the realism of his art and specializes in carousel sculptures. He has been a guest speaker for a national convention of art teachers. At the convention he said that if one wants to truly appreciate art, one merely needs to ask a child, who has not yet been spoiled by education and cynicism, to share their unbridled joy in a work of art.
Bruce is my identical twin brother, and yet we have slightly differing opinions about art. Where he strives for realism in his art, I am more interested in the impression. So I will play a bit loose with the form of a salmon to convey its strength and determination as it swims upstream to spawn. Typically, I attempt to point the viewer in the right direction about what I am attempting to convey with titles, such as “Corporate States of America”, or “Whimsy”, or “Ain’t Life a Drag”.
My daughter, Brianna, has an opinion about what constitutes art. I still have, in a place of honor on my mantle and in my heart, something she wrote when she was in 3rd grade. “The (My) Definition of Art. I believe Art is all about your imagination, and creativity, to create something really special. Whether it’s beautiful, eery (sic), exciting, dreary, sad, etc…it will always be a work of Art; as everything is.”
This calls to mind something a creative writing teacher demonstrated to a class I attended. With a piece of chalk she put a small dot on the chalkboard. She then asked the class what she had just put on the chalkboard. Without exception, we intelligent and well educated adults responded that she had put a dot on the chalkboard. Duh!!! She told us that if we had been a class of 3rd grade children there would have been as many answers as there were children in the class….such as a description of what lay on the other side of this wormhole to another dimension.
Somerset Maugham writes in “The Moon and Sixpence” “I cannot agree with the painters who claim superciliously that the layman can understand nothing of painting, and that he can best show his appreciation of their works by silence and a cheque-book. It is a grotesque misapprehension which sees in art no more than a craft comprehensible perfectly only to the craftsman: art is a manifestation of emotion, and emotion speaks a language that all may understand.” I like this summation. It speaks to the emotion of art and the conceit of artists. As an artist who would very much like to make a living at it, but so far has only racked up debt, I can certainly attest to the emotion that the best way to complement an artist is to purchase his or her work! I’ll bet that Bruce and Jacque will agree with this.
Charlie Chaplain agreed with Maugham. He said “I have not much patience with a thing of beauty that must be explained to be understood. If it does need added interpretation by someone other than the creator, then I question whether it has fulfilled its purpose
Serendipity. I like the way it rolls from my tongue…serendipity.
I like its meaning. Serendipity enriches my life.
I watched the mom lift her child from her wheelchair and onto the carousel ride. The girl had the bright scars of recent surgery on both legs. Her forlorn expression nearly broke my heart. She leaned forward and hugged her steed.
I took it upon myself to introduce myself as the fool who had carved the Seahorse she rode upon. When her mom nodded her "OK to talk with me, the child turned a disinterested gaze towards me. When I told her that my daughter had painted her mount she lit up and wanted to know all about it. Then we chatted about the other carousel animals - she wanted to know all about the ones my daughter had painted. The carousel attendant paused the ride till we finished our chat, then started it up with a flourish as the smiling princess shouted "giddyup!"
Beatrice the Butterfly emerged from her cocoon bent and deformed…less than perfect. Brent the Wood-Carver, who had carved her mother and spun Beatrice’s cocoon, fretted that she would never be beautiful enough to join her playmates on the carousel, so he sent her to the home for nonconformists.
Beatrice languished in the home for misfits till, one wintry day, Marcello the Artist found her. Specializing in Found Art, Marcello beseeched Brent to help him to restore Beatrice. Marcello understood that, with love and care, Beatrice could be beautiful and bring joy to children.
With lots of love and many hours of care, Beatrice became beautiful in the eyes of Brent and Marcello. But how to fulfill her destiny of bringing joy to children? Her sister, cast from the same mold, but more perfect in form, had already taken her place on the carousel.
On the first day of Spring, Brent and Marcello found a home for Beatrice. The children of Bainbridge Island promised to love and care for Beatrice as she joined her new family at the Kids’ Discovery Museum of Winslow.
And Beatrice lived happily ever after.
Indianapolis Zoo Carousel
“Hey, Bruce! How’s everything?”
“Oh, Hi, Brent! Just wrapping things up here at home before I go to “student-driver, on-the-road portion of Truck Driving School. The highway is beckoning, you know!”
“Yeah…..uhmmmmmmm… Well……. I know that the plan was for me to also go to Truck Driving School so that we can team drive a big rig….but, you see, I have this carousel opportunity….”
“Hold your horses right now! I’m getting off that merry-go-round, and you know it! I am absolutely, irrevocably, and adamantly done with carousels! I’m burned out on it after over twenty years of carving carousel figures, and I AM DONE WITH IT!!!
“Just hear me out, OK?”
“OK, what you got spinning??
“A guy from TC Enterprises just got in touch with me, and he asked me to create twenty zoo-themed carousel figures for a new carousel at the Indianapolis Zoo. He sounds sincere…desperate even. It seems that the Indy Zoo insists that the ONLY ones they want for this project are the White twins. They will allow us the artistic liberty to design the figures as we want. Twenty of them and two chariots. We are in a position to get a fair price for them. The catch is that the Indy Zoo wants to have the carousel operational in time for Spring Break – only six months away.”
“Oh, OK…I know about this. Last month I was contacted by the Operations Director of the Indianapolis Zoo, Tim Savona, in regards to creating a new carousel for them. God sure has a sense of humor, because this was only two days before I was to start training with Schneider Transport to begin a new career as a truck driver. Something about a profit share agreement.”
“Yeah! That’s it. You must have asked the guy to get in touch with me… It seems that Tim must have formed a profit-share agreement with Ted Shaw, who grew up running a carousel for a traveling carnival, or something like that, and has since become wealthy in the concessions business for tourist attractions. Anyway, it seems that Tim has insisted to Ted that only Bruce and Brent can create the zoo-themed carousel rides that he wants for the Indianapolis Zoo….in time for Spring Break…..”
“Are you crazy! That’s only six months from now! In six months we are supposed to design, carve, make molds, cast, prep, paint and install twenty carousel figures and two chariots! THAT’S INSANE!!! That is the amount of time that most people take to simply carve one carousel figure!”
“I may be crazy, but I have a crazy twin brother, too. Together we can do this. Come on…let’s get carousel crazy one more time!”
Perhaps I should back up a bit and mention about the phone call from Ted Shaw.
“Good morning, Brent White, Comptroller, Naval Northwest Dental Region speaking. This is a non-secure line. May I help you?”
“Uh, I think I have a wrong number. I’m trying to reach Brent White the Carousel Carver.”
“Hold on a minute. Let me change hats and I’ll call you back on my cell phone.”
You see, three month earlier I had resigned my job as Director for the Theler Community Center and Wetlands Preserve, as well as my teaching gig at the Northwest College of Art to resume the Chief Financial Officer (Comptroller) job I had held while on active duty with the U.S. Navy. The Iraqi War was necessitating the reshuffling of Navy Medicine resources. Because U.S. Navy Healthcare Finance is a fairly narrow specialty, and I had actually held this specific job, and I was still in the area, I had received the following phone call:
“Brent! How are you! This is Marilyn. Hey, the Commanding Officer asked me to give you a call and request for you to apply for the Comptroller job here at the Naval Northwest Dental Region. I told him that you were a wizard at the job (an obvious exaggeration) and I know that you have a patriotic bone in your head that will compel you to answer the call to duty. So what do you think? The command, and your country, really needs you right now…”
Marilyn was right, I do have this patriotic bone in my head, so I resigned my jobs at the Theler Center and at the Northwest College of Art, and took the Comptroller gig. Little had I known that my primary job as Comptroller for the Naval Northwest Dental Region was to transfer all financial and supply operations to the Naval Northwest Medical Region. This bombshell had been dropped on me only a month after taking the job, so, three months later I was faced with imminent unemployment. The Theler Center had already hired a new Director, and the Northwest College of Art had already hired three different people to teach the three classes I had taught there. This is why Bruce and I had cooked up the scheme to go to truck driving school and team drive together. Although Bruce was truly excited about dropping out of the carousel business and taking to the highways, I had serious reservations about driving a truck for a living…and I still had the carousel crazies.
But how had I gotten into the crazy world of carousel carving in the first place? For the answer to this, I have to take you back to a phone call I had received from Bruce, nearly twenty years previously.
“Good morning, Ensign White, Fiscal Officer, Naval Hospital, Charleston, this is a non-secure line, how can I help you?”
“Hey Brent! This is Bruce! I need your help! I have a commission to carve the plug for the new Wonder Toys spring rocking horse, but I’m swamped. The only way I can catch the deadline is if I clone myself. I can’t do that, but I do have an identical twin brother….”
“Bruce! Are you crazy! I haven’t been near a horse in years. The last time I did any woodcarving was when I cut that sword out of plywood to play ‘Hagar the Horrible’ when we were kids. So what is your scheme this time?”
“OK, Brent, I’ll fax the design – here’s what you do…”
And with this call I had been inducted into the crazy world of carousel carving.
To make a long story short, I did convince Bruce to delay is career as a truck driver (he eventually became a tour bus driver for Village Tours, operating out of Wichita, Kansas) and to help me with Indianapolis Zoo Carousel project. In order to do the job in six months, we had to enlist a lot of help. Bruce’s son, Zachary, made the molds for the carousel figures that Bruce had done previously for other carousel projects. Our nephew, Brandon Ramsey, to made molds of the carousel figures I would created specifically for this carousel. Our daughters (twin cousins), Charity Sadler and Brianna Mello, painted the carousel figures, original and replicas, with some help from Raven ___________ and Kim _____________. Along the way, several of our friends helped out in various capacities - we could not have completed the job on time without their help. Notable among these are Jim__________, Colleen ___________, Nick______________, Ami __________, and several other of Bruce’s friends. A special thank you is owed to the Director of the Patee House Museum, Jim Chicolte, who allowed Bruce to use zoo-themed carousel figures from the carousel Bruce had donated to make molds to cast figures for the Indianapolis Zoo Carousel. Most importantly, the help of our wives, Cindy and Karen, who kept us on even keels during the crests and troughs of our creative tsunami.
This project involved more than merely making twenty carousel animals and two carousel benches. Nine of the carousel animals would be specific to this carousel, so had to be dreamed up, carved, and then molded and cast.
Bruce was responsible for dreaming up, carving, making the molds and then painting the originals and replicas of the Tiger, Polar Bear, Ostrich. Bruce had previously created an Eagle for the San Jose Arena Carousel, but chose to create a new Eagle for the Indy Zoo Carousel. Bruce had previously carved a Dolphin carousel figure for his son, Zachary, so Zachary made a mold of his carousel figure for this carousel project.
Bruce had previously created several zoo-themed carousel figures for Chance Rides, and still owns the copyright for them. These include a Hummingbird, Shark, and Wolf for the San Jose Arena Carousel, and a Rhinoceros and Elephant for their Endangered Species line of carousel figures,
Brent had previously created a Gorilla, under Bruce’s expert guidance, as part of the Endangered Species line. Replicas of these carousel figures previously created for Chance Rides are on the Patee House Museum Carousel, which allowed Zachary to use them to make molds and cast replicas for this project. Because the Indianapolis Zoo wanted two Dolphins, two Gorillas, and two Elephants for their carousel, Zachary cast two replicas, each, of these two carousel figures.
Bruce had previously created a Lion for Lion Country Safari under contract to Carousels USA, a replica of which was on the Patee House museum. Zachary used this replica to make the mold and cast the Lion, but because a major donor wanted an original of the Lion, Brent recreated a woodcarving of the Lion for the donor (who also bought several other of the originals in the Indianapolis Zoo fundraiser).
Here is the story I wrote to go along with the carousel I made for the Badlands National Park.
The Great Race
A blending of Lakota and Judeo-Christian Creation Sagas
According to Brent
In the beginning The Great Spirit decided it would be a good thing to bring order from chaos. So The Spirit separated light from darkness, the heavens from the earth, and the land from the waters. The Spirit thought, “This is good!”
Being an artist of supreme talent The Spirit thought, “I can do better than this,” so The Spirit sculpted the earth with the mountains, hills, valleys, and prairies, and then decorated them with the trees, grasses and flowers. Into the heavens He sketched the clouds, planets and stars. With an infinite palette of colors, The Spirit then painted the heavens and earth with subtlety, boldness, and whimsy. So that He could enjoy it all more fully, The Spirit set the sun and the moon in the heavens and gave them movement to shed ever-changing light and shadow upon His creation. The Spirit thought “Yeah, I’m liking this!”
But the Creator wanted to share His creation, so He then created all the creatures of the land, air, and water – a male and female of all species. So that The Spirit could discuss with them the merits of His work of art, The Spirit gave all of His creations voice. The wind blustered, the water babbled, the trees sighed, the birds sang, the buffalo bellowed, and the humans chatted – all of the Great Spirit’s creations exclaimed in wonderment about His great talent and the gorgeousness of His creation. And The Spirit said, “Now we’re talking!”
Having worked hard for six days and six nights, The Great Spirit decided to take a nap during the seventh day. It was during this time that The Spirit’s creations began to argue. It seems that everyone wanted to be Chief while The Great Spirit
was away napping. The moon eclipsed the sun, the winds scooped up the water and then spit it out to flood the land. Night and Day thundered and sent bolts of lightening at each other. Plants and animals invaded each other’s natural habitats and all of nature fell out of balance. The animals, insects, bacteria, birds, and fish all began to devour each other. Everything atrophied towards chaos without The Great Spirit around to show His children the straight and narrow path of righteousness. All of the ruckus awakened The Great Spirit and He said “Hey! What’s going on here?!”
The People said, “Great Spirit, you created us in your likeness and gave us the biggest brains, so we think that we should have dominion over the earth when you take a nap!”
The Buffalo said, “Great Spirit, you made us the biggest and strongest, so we think that we should have dominion over the earth when you take a nap!”
All of The Great Spirit’s creatures could rationalize why they should have dominion over the earth whenever The Spirit decided to take a nap.
The Great Spirit said, “Hey sports fans, how about we settle this argument amongst my children once and for all and have a Great Race around my favorite creation, the Black Hills. I reckon it should take you all about forty days and forty nights to run all the way around the Black Hills. So what you need to do is decide whether a the male or female will represent your species in the Great Race and get them on a conditioning program so that they will be able to run for forty days and forty nights. Whichever species wins the Great Race will win dominion over earth whenever I am not around to keep you all out of trouble.”
The People said, “Hold on! This isn’t fair. Buffalo and most of the other animals have four legs. That gives them an unfair advantage over those of us with only two legs.”
Magpie said, “Yeah! I only have two wings. I don’t think that any amount of conditioning will give me the ability to fly for forty days and forty nights!”
The Great Spirit suggested “If you want to form partnerships for the Great Race, that’s fine by me. Perhaps The People and The Magpie could be teammates…two legs and two wings should even the odds against the four-legged creatures.”
The People and The Magpie, being of similar nature, quickly agreed to form a partnership. Other symbiotic relationships amongst other of The Great Spirit’s creations also formed. In some relationships, all benefited, but some relationships were parasitic in nature. The Great Spirit, in His infinite wisdom, decided to let these relationships work themselves out on their own.
After a period of conditioning, either a male or female of each species lined up at a place at the edge of the Black Hills called Buffalo Gap to do their stretching exercises. The Great Spirit painted a rainbow to symbolize hope and to show the starting and ending point of the race.
In those early days, the males and females of the species all looked alike. For the Great Race, all the species carefully groomed themselves according to their own vision. In this way the males and females came to look different from each other. To this day, all creatures have looked the same as they did when they groomed themselves for the Great Race.
Some of The Great Spirit’s children feared that they would become lost during the Great Race. The Great Spirit talked with His brother, who had dominion over the Great Southwest, who agreed to send Kokopeli to play his flute and lead the children from the wilderness, should they become lost. Those who danced to his music would also enjoy great fertility, be fruitful, and multiply.
With a thunderclap the race began!
Hummingbird Gal darted to an early lead. But soon she became distracted by all the pretty flowers and began flitting from one to another to check them all out. Hummingbird Dude knew how much his gal loved the flowers, so he had formed a partnership with the flowers to line the path of the Great Race with blooms. While smelling a dogwood bloom, she saw that her dude truly was more magnificent than any of the pretty flowers, so she dropped out of the race so that she could be with him.
With Hummingbird Gal out of the race, Galloping Stallion blew to the lead. It seemed as if the Great Spirit had endowed Galloping Stallion’s spirit with the wind! Indeed, Galloping Stallion had formed a partnership with the wind for the Great Race. To this day, horses run as fast and free as the wind. But the wind will blow where it wants; so it was that the South Wind carried Galloping Stallion away from the race.
Slim Buffalo Woman thundered to the lead of the race. It seemed that certainly no other creature could match her speed and stamina. But then, half way through the race, she came up against the Wall of the Badlands. She was not sure-footed enough to climb over the Wall, so she had to run around it.
While she was running around the Wall of the Badlands, Sheep, Ferret, Magpie, and Man of The People came to the Wall. Sheep easily scampered over the Wall, Ferret followed the tunnels prepared by her partner, Prairie Dog, under the Wall, Magpie flew over the wall, and Man of the People followed a trail he had prepared before the Great Race through the Badlands.
Magpie reached the other side of the Badlands first and could see the rainbow at the finish line of the Great Race not too far off across the prairie. Not having too much stamina, Magpie decided to wait for Man of the People to catch up with him.
Next to reach the other side of the Badlands was Ferret. She popped out of the Prairie Dog hole just as Sheep came sprinting down from the Wall. Sheep did not see Ferret in time and tripped over her. This unfortunate event caused Sheep to crack open his skull. He had to drop out of the race, and prayed to the Great Spirit to heal his hurt head. The Great Spirit answered Sheep’s prayer and healed his hurt head. To make certain that Sheep would not hurt his head in the future as he went bashing into things, the Great Spirit made for Sheep a magnificent set of horns, formed in a perfect spiral. Sheep became known as Big Horn Sheep, and to this day the golden ratio of the perfect spiral of his magnificent horns can be found imitated throughout nature.
Ferret was not so lucky, either. She got bruises on her paws and two black eyes from the collision. One can still see evidence of this crash in the Black Footed Ferret.
Big Horn Sheep was so upset that he had hurt Black Footed Ferret that he dropped out of the race to take care of her hurt feet.
Just as Slim Buffalo Woman reached the far side of the Wall of the Badlands, Man of the People found his way through the Badlands. The arduous trek through the Badlands had taken a lot out of Man of the People. The earth of the Badlands had become stained with the blood from his blistered feet, and is still red to this day.
Many others of the Great Spirit’s children did not make it through or around the Wall of the Badlands, but perished in the effort. Because their mates were left all alone and lonely, these species of animals became extinct. Fossils of the animals that died in the Great Race can still be found in and around the Badlands.
Man of the People knew that he could not finish the race with his blistered feet. He also knew that his ally, Magpie, did not have the endurance to complete the race without some help. With his last ounce of strength, before collapsing next to Black Footed Ferret, he picked up Magpie and mightily flung him towards Slim Buffalo Woman. Being clever, Magpie guessed what Man of the People’s plan was and with a flutter of his wings he tried to land on Slim Buffalo Woman’s back as she thundered by. With a failing heart, Magpie realized that he could not quite make it.
Foxy Lady, being very sly, had followed Man of the People through the Badlands. Foxy Lady, although the smallest of her kind, was the swiftest. She exited the Badlands and took off across the prairie towards the rainbow over Buffalo Gap close on the heals of Slim Buffalo Woman. Being clever, Foxy Lady had guessed what Man of the People and Magpie were trying to do. She knew that she could not pass Slim Buffalo Woman. Se also knew that the world would be a better place under the dominion of The People than under the hoofs of The Buffalo. Summoning her last ounce of courage, Foxy Lady jumped and caught hold of Slim Buffalo Woman’s tail with her sharp teeth.
This slowed down Slim Buffalo Woman just enough so that Magpie was barely able to land on Slim Buffalo’s back.
Slim Buffalo Woman felt certain that she would win the Great Race and dominion over the earth for her kind. She could see no other creatures behind her who could possibly beat her to the finish line under the rainbow at Buffalo Gap. Slim Buffalo Woman did not understand why she was slowing down, though, so she gathered all of her remaining strength for the last surge towards the finish line. Her heart came close to bursting. She did not know that Magpie had hitched a ride on her back and that Foxy Lady was holding onto her tail and slowing her down.
The mates of Slim Buffalo Woman, Magpie, Foxy Lady, and Man of The People were all cheering as Slim Buffalo Woman approached the finish line. Slim Buffalo Woman could not understand why Madame Magpie, Sir Fox, and Woman of The People were all cheering because she still could not see any other contestants who had a chance of beating her to the finish line under the rainbow.
It was not until they were a mere hair-breadth away from the rainbow that Magpie shot off from Slim Buffalo Woman’s back and passed under the rainbow ahead of Slim Buffalo Woman to win the race! Woman of the People gave a great shout of happiness as Slim Buffalo Woman fell to the earth exhausted and Foxy Lady collapsed at her heals.
So Magpie had won the race for The People and The Buffalo had lost. Ever since, The People have respected The Magpie, never hunting or eating them. The People do, however, hunt and eat buffalo. Dogs, being close relatives of fox, have become companions of The People.
And The People earned dominion over the earth while The Great Spirit takes a nap.
Here is the back-story to my Artist in Residency at Badlands National Park
While Kay was visiting her brothers in Seattle and helping our daughter, Brianna, prepare for her May wedding, I was all by my lonesome in Kinsley, Kansas. I had been teaching Physical/Earth Science and Biology classes at Dodge City High school and had recently come to the conclusion that it was the worst experience of my life - and this includes the time I had spent in the Persian Gulf in summer aboard a U.S. frigate at battle stations for days on end. I found myself dreading each and every day as I awakened and prepared for work, always wondering “what conflict will I become embroiled in today?” - much as my days began while in the Gulf. I had always loved teaching, but I was doing precious little of it at “Gangland High”, rather devoting most of my time in the classroom to discipline issues. I had come to the hard conclusion that, although I love teaching, I am not too hot at the classroom discipline side of it.
At the age of 51, I was at a point in my life where I just didn’t want to be embroiled in conflict every day. I found myself making excuses to call in sick to school. I rationalized that I had largely completed the curriculum for the year, and even felt confident that my students would do better than average on the State’s “No Child Left Behind” assessment tests. “Let a substitute baby sit them and deal with the petulance” I found myself saying. Knowing that Kay would be distressed about me turning in my resignation, I had done so in her absence. Now I was just awaiting the end of the school year and the opportunity to extricate myself from this daily nightmare. But what to do about my imminent unemployment?
I had toyed with the idea of volunteering with the National Park Service. With a retirement pension from the Navy, having paid off most all of our debt with the profit from the sale of our home in the Pacific Northwest, and with very few expenses associated with our home in Kinsley, I felt that I could afford the luxury of doing some volunteer work.
With this thought in mind, I looked up “volunteers” on the National Park Service website. My eyes were immediately drawn to the “Artist in Residence” program. While cruising through the program opportunities I was drawn to the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Why?
On reflection, it seems only natural that I would be drawn to the Badlands. I don’t recall how old I was, but when Jacque, Kelly, Kent, Bruce and I were all under the age of 10, Mom loaded us all into a station wagon and drove over 500 miles from Wichita, KS to Rapid City, SD. Brave woman to do this, my mother! I recall that we were going there to meet our father for Thanksgiving. I guess that he was there for some Insurance Business…he was always away somewhere on Insurance Business. I believe that this was the first time that I had ever been outside of Kansas…although Jacque, Kelly and Kent went with mom and dad to Colorado on vacation every summer, Bruce and I, the incorrigible and hyperactive/attention-deficit twins, were always left with Grandma Olsen in Dodge City during vacation time. Brave woman, Grandma!
I recall mom negotiating the curly-q hairpin turns on icy roads in the Black Hills during a snowstorm as Bruce and I raised a ruckus in the back seat. I recall warming our freezing hands (after mom had kicked us out of the car) under the air dryer (the first one I had ever seen) in the public bathroom at Mt Rushmore. I recall being very impressed by the profiles of our most famous presidents chiseled in the granite of the mountain….but more impressed by the blow dryer. I recall joyfully meeting Dad for Thanksgiving. This all made an impression upon me. But the biggest thrill of all awaited me on our drive home.
On the drive home, Mom decided, for some reason I don’t know, to drive through the Badlands. The fantastical shapes of the Badlands forever engraved themselves in my imagination. For the next 40 years they would haunt my memories. Whenever I had an urge to get far from the madding crowd, it was always to the Badlands that my imagination took me. I believe that Bruce and I didn’t even give mom hell, per usual, as we gazed gape-mouthed through the dust being kicked up by our car, lost in fantasies of living with nature, deep in their canyons.
These memories of the Badlands, and the emotions they evoke within me, are always intermingled with thoughts of my father. I always missed him when he was gone, and he seemed to be gone all the time. So, as I sat at my computer desk in Kinsley, reading about the Artist in Residence program at Badlands National Park, missing my dad greatly less than a year after he had died of cancer, there were some very strong emotions beckoning me to return to this idealized place of my youth.
So I slapped together a proposal for the Badlands’ Artist in Residence program, without much hope of actually being selected for it. Although I specialize in carousel art, I thought that I might have a chance of being selected to do some kind of wildlife sculpture. Because most all of my artistic credentials have to do with carousel art, of course this is what I included with my submission. I sent it in and then kept mum about it…not even telling my wife about my secret submission. And then I went back to my job search
As dispirited as I was at the time, I was somewhat surprised to land the promise of a job teaching at the local Catholic grade school. There was a caveat, however – only if the school could secure enough enrollment, or otherwise convince the diocese not to close the school. So with a hope and a promise I waited till the end of summer vacation. With only two weeks before the beginning of school, I was informed that the school would definitely close.
So I finally answered my brother’s urging to become a tour bus driver. I met with the owner of the company Bruce worked for and was hired. While studying for my Class-B driver’s license I received the phone call from Badlands National Park. They had selected me to be their Artist in Residence for the Autumn. I would live at the Park for a month, seeking inspiration from the park for a work of art that I would create and then donate to the park.
To accept this opportunity to fulfill my secret dream, I would have to quit my job as a tour bus driver before I had even gone to work. I put the question to my family and friends who universally agreed that this was too great of an opportunity to pass. So I signed the Artist in Residence contract and called my new boss to quit. He was not happy.
But now I was unemployed again, and although I had arranged my life to live modestly, I still needed to earn enough income to buy groceries, pay for my internet connection to the world, and splurge at Applebee’s once in awhile. With my recently received Emergency Substitute Teaching Certificate in hand, I visited with the five school districts in and around Kinsley, Kansas. While visiting with Pawnee Heights School District, a rural school of about 150 students K – 12, I let slip that I had founded and run an After School Program earlier in my life. The District Secretary’s eyes got real big and an hour later I was interviewing with the Superintendent and Grade School Principal for the job of founding and running an After School Program for Pawnee Heights. They graciously agreed to hire me for the job with the understanding that I could take a month off, a month after starting work, to go to the Badlands and fulfill a dream. The next day, while getting my act together for the After School Program, the Special Education Director for Pawnee Heights tracked me down and more-or-less begged me to work for her as a Para-Educator. I agreed to be a tutor/mentor for the High School students in her program, again with the understanding that I would be gone for a month, within a month, to be an Artist for the Badlands. So in two short days I had gone from being willfully unemployed in a stubborn desire to pursue a dream, to having two jobs and pursuing a dream.
Within a month I had developed close relationships with my students – both my High Schoolers during school, and my Grade Schoolers after school. It was tough for me to leave them for my month-long hiatus. Two of my boys who had been receiving failing grades, had recently received “A”s on a recent Physical Science exam. I like to think that I had something to do with that. It seems that caprice had led me to contentment in a worthy job at which I have some skill. With a promise to have them help me to create a sculpture of a “Pawnee Heights Tiger” (the school’s mascot) to adorn the entrance to the school, I bid my farewells to my kids. I miss my hugs from the little guys when I help them complete their homework, and the gleam in the eyes from the big guys as I help them to understand a new concept.
My contract with the Badlands says that I was supposed to be here on the 15th, a Saturday, but I chose to take my foreign-exchange students, Pim from Thailand and Thao from Vietnam, to the Kansas State Fair on Saturday. With a gut heavy from greasy Fair food, I set out on my 500 mile trek to the Badlands on Sunday.
My journey to the Badlands after my first visit to them over forty years ago was unremarkable. I gloried in the unfolding scenery as I drove and listened to the audio book “Ender’s Game”. I have always loved the prairie and farmlands in autumn because of the plethora of colors. I can never understand how anyone can believe that the buffs, ambers, oranges, rusts, reds and greens of the prairie grasses and fields of maize, with the exclamations of yellow, pink, lavender, purple and scarlet prairie flowers are drab and dreary. The prairie as a floor for the limitless ceiling of blue skies, with herds of puffy white clouds thundering from hither to yonder sunset of purple, violet, orange and reds always makes me feel at one with what the Lakota refer to as the Great Mystery. I made it as far as Interior, South Dakota, just south of the Wall, shortly after sunset.
I awakened before sunrise and was fortunate enough to catch the rising sun just as it peaked through Cedar Pass of the Badlands. I took what I thought was a great photo of the sunrise, but discovered later that I had the camera on the “video” setting…so I can’t put the photo here.
Missing Kay already, I was anxious to call her, but discovered that I had no cell phone reception. I reasoned that if I got closer to the interstate highway I would probably get reception. So I drove through the entrance to Badlands Park, past the Visitor Center (not open till 8, and it was about 6), up Cedar Pass, and across the upper prairie (as opposed to the lower prairie which was now about 300 feet below). Pulling into the parking area accessing the Castle, Door, and Window Trails, I found that I had full cell phone reception. I went ahead and called Kay, not certain if I were in Mountain or Central time…fortunately I am in Mountain time, so I caught Kay at about 7, which is about when she leaves for school in Dodge City.
Kay was glad to hear from me, so we talked for awhile. About 7:30 I drove back down the Cedar Pass Lodge, whose restaurant/gift shop opens at 7:30. I browsed the gift shop and bought a Badlands National Park guide/book. I paid for it, in part, with a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, which the clerk had never seen before. She was thrilled to get one, and promptly “bought” the dollar coin with a dollar bill from her pocket. I then walked over to the Visitor Center, just as one of the Rangers was raising the American flag. From habit I stood at attention facing the flag as she raised it.
Going inside, I introduced myself as the Artist in Residence for the month. The Senior volunteer introduced me to Ray (short for Riana), who got my key and showed me to my little, efficiency apartment located in “Ben Reifel Square” (or whatever it is called), which is the living quarter for Park staff, Interns, and volunteers.
Ray is a natural-born tour guide. As she walked me back to my quarters, she pointed out all of the administrative buildings and who worked there, the Park Enforcement Office, fitness gym, etc. I have observed her interacting with the many busloads of senior tourists passing through the Visitor Center, and she is just a wonderful fount of knowledge about the park for anyone fortunate to ask her a question. Ray is not a full-fledged Ranger. She is an Intern – one of six who are into the last month of their six-month internship at the park. Apparently, although not required, a good way to get into National Park Service for a career is to volunteer for a 6 month internship. During this time the intern is provided a place to live in the park, free of charge, and a $75 a week stipend. Most importantly, they receive training and experience. This makes them much more competitive when they apply for a permanent job with the Park Service.
My quarters are humble, but adequate, like an efficiency apartment. I have a futon bed which is not long enough, so my feet dangle when I stretch out. Here is a picture of the front, and a picture from my front window. I have a Badlands butte immediately out the back door. Around the butte is where the museum/archival area for the park is located, as well as the maintenance shack.
Believing that I would rather have something and not need it than need it and not have it, I brought nearly my entire workshop with me, including my band saw, planer, table saw, all my wood clamps, and hand tools, a work bench and a cabinet with all the little stuff. I also brought enough basswood for 4 carousel-sized wildlife sculptures (probably). Obviously my poor, little old pickup truck was way overloaded. As I drove down the highway, my headlights were Shining up into the treetops, like I was hunting for squirrels. So, anyway, I unloaded all of this stuff into my little efficiency apartment. While unloading my stuff, I met Roger, the Maintenance Guy. It seems that ADA rules mandate that at least one of the three apartments in each of the four tri-plexes must be ADA accessible. So he had been working at putting in a ramp and new sidewalk to my tri-plex. Next on the agenda for him is to convert the bathrooms, doors, etc. to make the designated efficiency apartments ADA friendly. He doesn’t quite understand why all 3 of one tri-plex can’t be ADA, rather than one in each. I’ve gotta say that I wonder why, too
After unloading my stuff, I got back into my pickup to drive back to Interior for provisions. Ray had told me that the little store in Interior was adequate for most grocery shopping. Here are some pictures of Interior.
I was able to provision myself with enough food to last me a week or two. The guy who packed my groceries looked like he could have been Chief Bigfoot, reincarnated. He proudly told me “I don’t drink alcohol” as he packed my “Moosedrool” beer along with my popcorn. The clerk is a twentyish young lady with a beehive, multi-colored hairdo, blue jeans, a denim Shirt and cowboy boots. An attractive, friendly gal. After departing the store I walked next door to the Post Office to get some postcard stamps. The same young lady met me at the Post Office counter. I had not noticed that there is no wall between the two buildings behind the register counter. Apparently, she is also the Town Clerk. I wouldn’t doubt that she is also the Mayor!
Back at the homestead, I unloaded my provisions, then went back to the Visitor Center, planning to check it out. On the way there, a Ranger called to me and asked if I was Brent. I was surprised that anyone but Ray would know who I was. Julie introduced herself as the Education Coordinator for Badlands, and because I had come from the direction of the park quarters and I was someone she didn’t know, she had surmised who I was. Julie is the person who was responsible for selecting the Artist in Residence. This is because one of my roles while here is to give a couple of classes to the children of Interior School about my art. Julie showed me around the Administrative spaces for the park and introduced me to one of the Senior volunteers. She also took me to meet with the Park Administrator, Connie. Connie let drop that one of the reasons the Badlands had selected me to be the Artist in Residence was because they are not satisfied with the quality and durability of some of their fossil exhibits, particularly on the Fossil Trail. She wanted to have the opportunity to “pick my brains” about casing 3-D objects, knowing that I have some experience in casing carousel figures for working carousels. Connie and Julie also let drop that they hope to display my sculpture in an outdoor kiosk, covered with two walls, near to the park’s campground and on the path to the outdoor amphitheater. This is all cool with me, because I had hoped to do a large piece that visitors, particularly kids, can interact with. I told them that I did not really want to get involved with the time and expense of making molds and casting replicas of whatever I create for them, and that being in an outdoor/exposed setting might be an issue (although I don’t really think so, if I properly seal it and it is properly maintained). Both Connie and Julie said that I really need to talk with Megan, who is the museum curator and exhibit coordinator for the park, and determines where to display the Artist in Residence artwork.
Headed back to my hooch, I noticed a young lady going somewhere with a laundry basket. Well, I’ve used less of an excuse than that to stalk an attractive young lady. I found her exiting the door right next to my back door…that’s where the laundry room is. Convenient…as soon as I can round up a key for it, that is. Lauren is another Intern who has another month left here. She graduated with a degree in park/recreation management…or something like that, and is pretty focused on getting a full-time job with the Park Service.
While talking, Sara walked up. Yet another attractive young lady doing an Internship with the Park Service. I’m surrounded by them…oh no, what am I going to do! She graduated a couple of years ago from an Art School in Chicago with a degree in photography. Apparently she kicked around for awhile before deciding she would like to land a job working at a National Park.
Both Sara and Lauren say that they voted for me for the Autumn Artist in Residence. It seems that Julie had been busy with another project, so had punted the Artist thing to Megan, the Museum gal, who had let the Interns decide who to have as a visiting Artist. Sara and Lauren both said that it would be really cool to have a small carousel with Badlands animals on it. I had envisioned a wildlife sculpture, but I suppose I can mount them on a turntable, aka carousel, as well as on something else. This fits rather well with my idea of having the four reintroduced species as subjects for my wood carving (bison, bighorn sheep, swift fox and black-footed ferret). I had proposed using the carousel style to represent Lakota culture with the Badland species. So it is all coming together.
Well, that made for a pretty full day, so I bid Sara and Lauren good night. Apparently the Interns gather at the bench outside my tri-plex in the evening to socialize and use their computers. We have no TV or cell phone reception, and very limited radio reception, but Ray had had cable connected to her apartment so that she could have internet. Because she has wi-fi, the other Interns can use her internet connection to do their extended socializing while chatting personally with other folks in the Badlands compound. Because Ray is in the apartment next to mine is why they all hang out by our tri-plex.
After driving up to Cedar Pass for my morning talk with Kay I set out on an auto tour of the Badlands North Unit. This is probably the same drive that Mom took us kids on so many years ago. If memory serves, it was a dirt road then, while it is good, paved road now. I didn’t stop at the overpasses, planning to stop at them on another day when I go for a bicycle tour. Towards the end of this drive is a well-maintained gravel road called the Sage Creek Road. It explores the Sage Creek region of the North Unit. I actually much prefer this portion of the park, although not as developed and touristy and it does not have as much of the fantastical landscape and awe-inspiring vistas. The Sage Creek region contains much of the undisturbed prairie that the Badlands are also noted for. Did you know that at 170,000 acres, the Badlands encompass one of the largest natural prairie habitats in the United States? The Sage Creek area is where one goes to see the bison, big-horned sheep, swift fox, and black-footed ferret. I came upon a bison bull in a little draw right next to the road…not more than 10 feet away from the window of my pickup. Park rules is to give bison a berth of at least 100 feet, but because I had the protection of my pickup, I felt safe. Here are some photos I took of the bison bull:
By the way, a raised tail is an indication of aggression….or taking a dump…
I’ll leave it to you imagination what the bull was preparing to do. In any case, I got back in my pickup right away!
The black-footed ferret is considered one of the most endangered of all land mammals. It was considered to be extinct until fairly recently when a ranch dog in Wyoming dragged a dead one in to show off to the ranch owner. The Rancher, a good steward of the environment, went looking and found a colony of about 30 black-footed ferrets amidst a prairie dog town on his back-forty. Through some captive-breeding efforts, they have come back from the brink of extinction, and have recently been reintroduced to the Badlands. Up in the Sage Creek region is what is known as Roberts Prairie Dog Town. It is more like a metropolis, with many square miles of prairie dog holes and thousands of prairie dogs. Unlike other ferrets, the black-footed ferret is completely dependent upon one species for survival – the prairie dog. As ranchers and farmers have transformed prairie dog habitat, the prairie dogs have been dieing off, and hence, so too have the black-footed ferret. You would have to go up to Robert’s town in the night to get a picture of a black-footed ferret because they are nocturnal.
The Swift Fox is a sub-species of the red fox. The red fox is fairly common, but not so the Swift Fox. Because it is smaller, one of the smallest of foxes, it has not adapted as well to habitat loss. It is the most recently reintroduced endangered species to the Badlands. I have been having a heck of a time finding any photos or information about the Swift Fox. Connie gave me a cd with a few photos of the Swift Fox, as well as the Black-footed ferret and Bighorn Sheep. Here are some photo’s of the swift fox and black-footed ferret from the cd. Later during my stay at the Badlands I was fortunate enough to be stopped on the road by a herd of big-horned sheep and got some great photos before I dropped my camera and broke it. Here are those photos, also. Never mind, the camera is broken, so I can’t get the photos out. But they are great pictures! Hmmm…I found some photos of the Swift Fox and Bighorn Sheep on my laptop that are from the Badlands Museum, so I’ll put them in here:
While exploring the Sage Creed region, I also took some picture of some flowers…who knows, likenesses of them may show up on a carousel figure…
White Prairie Aster: (sorry, lost the photo
Common inhabitant of dry
Dotted Gay feather: Dry, sandy prairie; Underground corm use as survival food by
I passed out of the Sage Creek region of the North Unit and out the back door, so to speak, of the Badlands. Some windy country roads deposited me in Scenic, South Dakota. Believe me, there is nothing scenic about it. Just another prairie town that has dried up and blown away with the passing of better times. From Scenic, it is about an hour’s drive back to the Badlands Visitor Center, via Interior.
Back at the Visitor Center, I went to the well-stocked library for some research about the Swift Fox, Black-Footed Ferret, and Big Horn Sheep. I also wanted to do some research about Lakota art and culture. The Senior Volunteer staffing the library suggested I take a drive down to the Badlands South Unit, where the White River Visitor Center is located. The South Unit is actually Lakota tribal land, co-managed by the National Park Service and the Lakota.
As has become part of my routine, I drove up to Cedar Pass to call Kay. I took a detour in the wrong direction to go down to Interior to fill up the tires in the bicycle I borrowed from my nephew Zach. I filled up the back tire, and then while filling the front tire, the back tire blew…go figure! So I won’t be doing my bicycle tour till I get a new inner tube. On the way up to Cedar Pass I dropped off by the Cliff Shelf nature trail.
Cliff Shelf is a good example of a micro-ecosystem. Sometime in the geologically recent past, an acre-large portion of the Badlands Wall (the drop-off between the upper and lower prairies that stretches for couple of hundred miles, stretching from the Black Hills to the southeast, and which is eroding away to the Missouri River Valley at about an inch a year) sheered off. As it collapsed with a boom, it created a shelf, and so compacted the ground beneath that it created an area where the water does not drain away. So moisture is held in place locally, allowing the growth of water-loving species of flora. Naturally, it becomes a watering hole for the local fauna, including humankind. One can find these shelves scattered through the Badlands. Generally, whenever you look at the Badlands vista and your eyes unexpectedly rest upon a patch of green, you have found a shelf and its associated micro-ecosystem. Here is a photo I took of sunset from Cliff Shelf.
Per habit, I awakened before dawn and drove up to Cedar Pass to call and bid my bride good morning. After our morning conversation, I set off towards the White River Visitor Center. I always enjoy the scenery, although I imagine that most folks would find the drive between the North and South Unit boring.
The White River Visitor Center is open only till the September 21st, so I had a narrow window of opportunity to check it out. It was well worth the drive, for me, anyway.
Ever since I was tagged by the Northwest College of Art to teach a Cultural Survey Class, a topic I was woefully unqualified to teach, and read the book “Patterns of Culture” to prep for the class, my appetite to try to understand the attitudes, ideologies and practices that define a culture from the inside out has been whetted. As my appreciation for Native American art has grown through my studies of it in an effort to incorporate elements of it in my wildlife sculptures, I have been nagged by the question of “what does it mean?” As an American of European descent, reared and steeped in the Judeo-Christian culture, I fear that my attempts to interpret Native American art is inadequate at best, if not even insulting to the indigenous artist. And yet I persist asking the question “What does it mean?” I had been told that the White River Visitor Center has an excellent Lakota interpretive display. This is what prompted my journey quest there.
At the center I learned about the Winter Count. The Winter count is a pictographic method to keep a calendar by recording memorable events for each year. The Lakota Winter Count goes back intact to the early 1700s, I believe. In the year equivalent to the Christian calendar year of 1795 is the first year that Wasicu (non-Indian) is mentioned – “Good White Man Came”. By my survey, this is the first and last time that the European American is referred to as a “good” man. I wonder if I could weave the Winter Count into my wildlife sculpture in some way?
I also learned that the Dakota Nation is divided into several tribal groups. The tribal organization subdivides from there, eventually down to the tiospaya, or family group. There was quite a bit about the history U.S. government breaking its treaties with the Lakota – but then I have been a student of this history of dishonor, so this was not new to me. I intended to visit the site of the Wounded Knee massacre later that day. I had known that the U.S. government came into possession of the Black Hills after the discovery of gold in them thar hills via yet another twist of treachery, but I didn’t know that via judicial review, the U.S. government had been directed to pay the Lakota for the stolen land, but that the Lakota had declined payment, saying that they want their sacred land returned to their control. They are still waiting. I wonder what it would take to return dominion of the Black Hills to the Lakota?
None of this answered my question of “What does it mean?” I asked the Lakota woman wearing a National Park Service uniform where I could go to find meaning. She is a beautiful woman, who speaks with a cultured voice. I did notice, however, that her uniform had been poorly tailored, probably by herself, and that one of her front teeth was missing. This caused me to muse about the poverty and abuse that I’ve heard stalks the daily part of life of the “Reservation Indian”. She said that I should go to the Red Cloud Heritage Center, near to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, where I would find excellent examples of Lakota cultural heritage and art.
So off I set again in quest of “what does it mean?” While traveling south, closely following the path that Chief Bigfoot had followed on his path to his end at Wounded Knee, I was enthralled by the beauty of the rolling mixed-grass prairie with wooded draws and creek valleys. I nearly passed through Wounded Knee without stopping, because there is nothing there to mark the last resistance by the Lakota to the U.S. government other than a decrepit, wind-blown old sign marking the site along the roadway.
While pausing to read the sign, a tribal member beckoned me over to check out her bead-work that she offered for sale. I rarely travel with much money, but I traded what I had for a key chain and bracelet. Not because I particularly care for beadwork, but because I wanted to support her in her venture. When departing, another tribal member beckoned me to check out his/her wares. I’m not certain if he/she was a guy or gal… His/her work was actually quite good. I particularly liked a variation on the theme of the “dream catcher” in which a tepee was woven into the spider thread-work. He/she explained that it was a local theme expressing the value and sacredness of tiospayo. He/she also explained some of the meaning behind the medicine wheel. Now this is what I was looking for! He she had helped me to understand just a little bit “what does it mean?” Too bad that I had already given all my money to the other tribal artisan – my money would have been better spent with him/her. With a promise to return later, I set off again in search of the Red Cloud Heritage Center.
A few miles down the highway I entered the town of Pine Ridge. Everywhere I looked I seemed to see aimlessness in the countenance of the tribal members who inhabit the town. Every where I looked, I seemed to see proof of all the stereotypes that still plague the Native American. There were mobs of them lounging around the grounds of the Indian Agency. Then I recalled the words of the young sage who staffed the White River Visitor Center. She had reminded me that the Lakota have a bond with the land where they live that someone like me, a wanderer, perhaps cannot understand. There are upwards of 20,000 Lakota living on the reservation, and only a few hundred jobs. The ability to live from the fruits of their native land had passed with the near extinction of the bison herds. This, coupled with their disdain of material wealth, left them in a state of what folks like me consider to be indolence. She had been trying to help me to understand “what does it mean”, and I had been too dense to understand.
Beyond the Indian Agency, I passed the Reservation High School. It is a handsomely architectured, and relatively new building, marred with graffiti on most walls. The name of their athletic teams are the “Thorpians”, in honor of the great Native American athlete, Jim Thorpe. Next to the High School is a college – I forget its name. But not the Red Cloud Heritage Center. With inquiry, I learned that the Red Cloud Heritage Center was north of town a few miles.
North of town I found a sign directing me to the Red Cloud Indian School – a Jesuit Missionary School. It seemed that this must be the location of my destination, but I could find no sign for a “Heritage Center”. School was just letting out and the mobs of children were loading onto the buses. I pulled over and waited for the mob to disperse. I noticed that most of the bus drivers were wearing either the white collar of a priest, and the habit of a nun. With the buses gone, I was able to see the small sign directing me through the front door of the main school building to the Heritage Center. Towards the end of a barren hallway, I found a glass door that led into the Red Cloud Heritage Center.
Inside I found a marvelous collection of Lakota art, as well as books about the Lakota culture. Believing that the best way to complement an artist is to purchase his or her work, I bought 28 postcards with prints by local artists in the contemporary Lakota style. I also bought a book titled “The soul of the Indian – An Interpretation” by Ohiyesa (Charles A. Eastman). Its copyright is 1911.
In the foreword, the author states: “The religion of the Indian is the last thing about him that the man of another race will ever understand. First, the Indian does not speak of these deep matters so long as he believes in them… Second, even if he can be induced to speak, the racial and religious prejudice of the other stands in the way of his sympathetic comprehension…” Reading these words I knew that I had to read this book – it just might help me to answer my question about Lakota culture and art of “what does it mean?” I’ve read the first two chapters, “The Great Mystery” and “The Family Alter”, and the book is living up to its promise.
Through a back door of the front room I was stopped dead in my tracks. Here I had found a gallery of the most marvelous traditional and contemporary Native American art that my eyes had ever beheld. In this back room of an out-of-the-way Indian mission school is the best of the best of North American tribal art from throughout the continent. Apparently they have a Native American juried Art Show on display each year, June through August, which then goes on the road to prestigious art centers across the country. And this was its humble home.
Having largely satisfied my quest for the day, I began the long drive back to the Cedar Pass Visitor Center. While crossing the neck that connects the North and South Units of the Badlands, I passed a gravel road with a sign labeling it as the access to Sheep Table Mountain. I had read about it at the White River Visitor Center as a place of spiritual significance for the Lakota. I had heard that the road was suitable only for 4-wheel drive vehicles, but it appeared to have been recently improved. On a whim I pulled U-turn and went back to the Sheep Table Mountain road.
The road had obviously been improved very recently. It goes straight as an arrow for about a mile towards Sheep Table Mountain, then begins to meaner up a canyon towards the top of the mountain. Sheep Table is not really a mountain, but really a plateau, the top of which is about the same elevation as the Badlands Wall twenty miles or so to the north.
Emerging at the top of the canyon onto the plateau, it seemed as if I were on just another prairie pasture. But that illusion was unveiled when I came to the end of the improved road and to a scenic overlook. From the overlook, one can see across the broken-ground vastness of the South Unit all the way to the Black Hills. I was treated to quite a stunning sunset.
I reckoned that although my truck is not 4-wheel drive, it does have high clearance, so I would be able to no navigate the washed out road to its end. So I did. If Kay had been with me, I am quite certain she would have freaked out and demanded that I turn around. Especially at that one point where I had a 200 foot deep ditch on either side of the truck, without room to swing a cat. Across this washed out neck I emerged onto another little plateau. A flock of wild Turkey’s greeted me over there. They thought they were being so wily, staying just over the ridge and popping their heads up every once in awhile to see if I were still there. Well, they were wily enough that I was unable to get a picture of them. For some reason I did not take any pictures up on Sheep Table Mountain. Perhaps the little bits of cloth I saw tied to the trees and shrubs here and there, a message from Lakota tribal members to the Great Mystery, reminded me that I was on sacred ground, and somehow taking pictures just did not seem right me.
From the tip of the little plateau I had a 360 degree view of the canyons of the Badlands. I understand that this region is some of the richest area for finding fossils of the mammals that inhabited this region millions of years ago. I also remembered that this area had been used as a practice bombing and gunnery range during WWII, and that there is still a lot of unexploded ordinance around. This thought kept me from exploring by foot too much.
I believe that I will return to Sheep Table Mountain when I begin doing the detail carving of the four reintroduced animals. I can think of no place better for artistic inspiration than the sacred solitude of this place where heaven meets earth. Besides which, I get cell phone reception up there, so can talk to my muse, Kay, while there.
Returning to the highway, I made my way back to the North Unit and Cedar Pass Visitor Center, and my trek up to Cedar Pass. Once there I answered a voicemail from my sister, Kelly. Kelly had just recently returned from an auto-tour from Austin, TX, to Boulder, CO, Yellowstone, WY, Seattle, WA, the Oregon coast, Mt Shasta, CA, the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, Death Valley, Las Vegas and back to Austin. I sure hope she writes about her journey!
This day dawned a bit cooler than it had been – not cold, but a little nip in the air. Perfect for a hike. After my morning talk on the phone with Kay, I set off along Castle Trail. Along with my compass, topographical map and “Wildflowers & Grasses of the Northern Plains” book, I also had a gallon of lemonade and a few handfuls of sunflower seeds in my rucksack. My camera and binoculars were strapped to my belt. I felt well prepared for the thirteen mile round trip along Castle and Medicine Root Trails. What I was not confident about was whether or not my body was prepared for the hike. Thirteen miles is further than I have hiked in fifteen years or so!
In the early morning, I had the trail to myself with only the Meadowlarks, Black-tailed Deer, and Mountain Bluebirds for company. This suited me just fine. I just hoped I didn’t find any of those rattle snakes that the sign at the head of the trail warned about.
The High School Biology book I had taught from last year discussed the variation between the Western and Eastern Meadowlarks. Their mating calls have become so different that they no longer interbreed – although they are capable of interbreeding. Consequently, the two sub-species are beginning to drift apart genetically, with minor variations also noted in their size and coloring. The book cites this as an example of evolution that we can observe in the field today. Bruce pointed out that he had noticed a variation in the Meadowlark’s song between what we grew up with in our weekend meanderings through Swansen’s Farm, and what he had heard while driving a tour group through Michigan. As I listened to the Meadowlark’s song this morning, although recognizable, it was different than the songs I have grown accustomed to. I am not certain if this is a regional variation, or merely a different song from the mating song we are all so familiar with.
The deer around here are plentiful and not particularly bashful of people. Yesterday the Visitor Center staff had been all abuzz about how a deer had come into the Visitor Center. I’ll bet that was quite the scene for the tour bus group that was there at the time. I imagine that there are some coyotes in the park, but according to the literature, there are no wolves, and the Park Service has chosen not to reintroduce them. They are probably gun-shy of all the controversy that caused when the wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone. So, anyway, I wonder what is being done for population control.
Because there had been a light rain the previous day, the mostly clay ground, although not muddy, was not dusty, and even had a slight cushiony texture to it as I hiked. My arthritic joints sure did appreciate this small gesture of kindness from nature.
I found that Castle trail kinda meanders through washes on the upper-prairie side of the Badlands Wall. One of the geological oddities common in the washes are balls of clay and pebbles ranging in size from ping-pong ball to basketball sized. When the rain comes, it starts eroding away the clay which, as it flows picks up and coalesces around the gravel that is also eroding away. A snowball effect occurs…or more accurately a mudball effect, which washes out of the Wall and into the washes of either the upper or lower prairie. In my mind, I imagined that the mudballs are macroscopic versions of buckyballs. Intermixed with the mudballs in the washes are the occasional geodes, some of which have busted open to reveal the crystal formations within. But perhaps my favorite oddities of the washes between the Badland buttes along the Castle trail are the infrequent, and always surprising little flowers growing in splendid isolation such as this photo of an Aromatic Aster.
About a third of the way along the Castle trail, the Medicine Root trail branches off to the north. It meanders through the upper prairie. Along the trail I saw lots of wildlife tracks and scat, but only the meadowlarks’ song in harmony with the wind sighing through the Green Needlegrass, Indian Saltgrass, and Little Bluestem kept me company. There were also many Prickly Pears with their fruit ripe for the picking, and Curley Gumweed ready for the herbalist to harvest. Perhaps this is what gave this trail its name? I also saw many other kinds of seedpods and flower clusters that I was unable to identify. Here are some pictures:
Prickly Pear – fruit is tasty Green Needlegrass
Indian Saltgrass Little Bluestem
Curly Gumweed – remedy for Colic, whooping caugh
The Medicine Root Trail eventually merged again with the Castle Trail where the Saddle Pass Trail ascended from the lower prairie and merged with the trails. I decided to check out the Saddle Pass on my return trip.
The last third of the Castle Trail was a blend of the first third of the trail and the Medicine Root Trail. That, combined with the addition of more scenic vistas made it the best part of the trail. Unfortunately, my knee was reminding me that I have a military service-related disability, so I mostly just soldiered on to reach my rest objective of the Fossil Exhibit Trail.
At the Fossil Exhibit Trail I plopped down in the shelter, poured myself some lemonade, munched on some sunflower seeds and studied my wildflower book to identify the flowers I had taken photos of. I had not been resting for very long with an elderly couple, clad from head-to-toe in black leather, asked me to take some photographs of them. I was glad to oblige. The woman was a bit pushy and rude, and the man was following her comments with apologies. I believe I got some quite striking photos of them with their big red Harley and with the stark white Badlands buttes as a backdrop.
After taking some photos of them, I found another little flowering plant that struck my fancy. I began to take a picture of it and the lady butted in saying “why are you taking a picture of that?” I told her that the way it was growing out in a mud-flat was interesting to me, and that I believed if it were put into a flower pot it would make an attractive house plant. Whereupon the woman bent down and started trying to pull it from the ground, saying she would take it home with her. I’m not quite certain how she planned to get it home riding shotgun on a motorcycle! But her male companion came to the rescue again and dissuaded her from yanking up the plants.
Here is a picture of this plant:
I then talked with a nice couple from Virginia. The husband had just retired from the Health Insurance business (I was polite and didn’t give him a piece of my mind about his profession). I then did the little walk around the Fossil Trail.
I then saddled-up and began my return hike. After already having hiked about 7 miles, and with my knee starting to ache, I was curious about how well my body would hold up for the last 6 miles of my trek. To my delight, however, I soon discover that the beautiful vistas had mostly been to my back on the first half. So I was able to lose myself in the scenery and isolate my mind from my discomfort. For the first 3 miles, anyway. By the time I got to Saddle Pass Trail, I was good and ready to take a break by the scenic overlook.
While there I chatted with a nice lady from Ohio and we shared our lemonade, sunflower seeds, cashews, cheese and green tea. She politely listened as I expounded upon what I hoped to do with my “Artist in Residency” experience. She said that she had thought about applying for it. She is a basket-weaver and she explained how she puts art into her craft through different weaves, textures, patterns and colors. She also talked some about her son who “sculpts music” through digital manipulation. She had last been to the Badlands on a trip with her mother and two teenagers about 10 years ago, and now that she had the time and inclination to go on vacation without familial distractions, she had chosen to return to the Badlands to “get away from it all”.
The last 3 miles was a repeat of the gullies that I had already traipsed through. Now my knee was an exclamation point punctuating every step that my sore muscles made. So by this point, the scenic wonderland looked like badlands. I was glad to get back to my car. I made it back before noon…13 miles in about 4 hours – not too bad for a 51 y/o man with a 40% orthopedic-related disability, if I may say so myself!
I drove back down to my hooch and dragged myself to my rack, where I took a well-deserved nap. About 1:00, I roused myself up, took a shower and walked around the butte at my back door and down to meet with Megan, the Museum/Exhibit curator. We discussed my impressions and recommendations for the Fossil Exhibit Trail, she showed my other Artist in Residence works of art in the museum, and we talked about what I would like to do. She really wants my stuff to be mounted on a small carousel, and also really wants it to be cast in the elastomer resin that we use to cast carousel figures.
After meeting with Megan, I drove down to the Interior School to meet with the 2nd/3rd grade teacher, Ms. Shortbull (the name fits).
Part of my Artist in Residence obligation is to give a class or two to the local school about my art/craft. I discussed with Ms. Shortbull about how I would like to talk briefly about carousels, and then invite the students to give me their ideas about how to decorate the four wildlife figures I plan to do. Because they are carousel figures that I hope to put on a small, simple carousel, I want the children to use the theme of the “Great Race” which is part of Lakota creation mythology. I was surprised that Ms. Shortbull was unfamiliar with the story.
I explained about how in the beginning, Bison ate man. Man had pleaded with the Great Spirit for help. The Great Spirit gathered all the animals and birds of the prairie together and had them choose team, on either Man’s or Bison’s team. The birds, being two-legged, chose to be on Man’s team. The race then began around the Black Hills. Magpie, being not too swift a flyer, but very clever, alighted on Bison’s back and had a free ride for most of the race. Man and Bison soon left the other animals behind, most of whom had become distracted in some way or other (mole is still digging along, unaware that the race is over). But Bison began to surge ahead near the end. But he was tired, Just before the finish line, Magpie flew from Bison’s back and towards the sun, then swooped down over the finish line to win the race for Man. And Man has had dominion of the earth ever after.
So, anyway, I would like to depict the Great Race in my carousel carving for the Badlands National Park. Ms. Shortbull asked that I read the story to the children, which I will be delighted to do!
When I returned to the Visitor Center living quarters, Megan caught me to tell me that she had arranged a conference call with her, Julie and the National Park Service Exhibit honcho.
I then sat and talked with Chad, who is working at the Badlands for the season as a Park Enforcement Officer. He says that this season he has dealt with a burglary at the guest lodge, stopped a guy with a broken tail-light who just happened to be wanted for murder, participated in prescribed burns of a section of prairie, had swat team training (to deal with hostage situations), arrested poachers, and more. Sounds exciting. Like the Interns, he is hoping to get the experience to be hired full-time.
So, that was a fairly active day! I went up to Cedar Pass to talk with Kay. While there I noticed a couple camping in the parking lot in an old VW van who looked just like hippies from the ‘60s.
My plan for this day was to drive to Rapid City to get a few woodworking supplies from Lowes, and then drive back by way of the Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore and the west and south fringes of the Badland’s South Unit.
On the way to Rapid City I stopped by Wall, SD. I had heard that Wall Drug store is a neat place to visit and world-renowned. I must stay that I was very disappointed with the place…just another tourist trap. However, if I ever get hungry for any junk-food, I can find just about any fast-food restaurant my tummy could desire in Wall. It is only about 25 miles from the Badland’s Cedar Pass Visitor Center.
Rapid City does not excite me too much, either, other than being located in a scenic location. But it is a city, with all the modern inconveniences.
From there I journeyed through the Black Hills to Mt. Rushmore. As should be expected, the approach to it have been commercialized with all sorts of tourist traps. There is not admission to Mt. Rushmore, however the only way to get in is to park in a parking lot that costs $7. Go figure! I passed it up, having perceived all I needed or the monument from the window of my car from the road that approaches it.
I think that the foothills of the Black Hills on the south-east edge is some of the most beautiful country in these here parts. And there is lots of property for sale.
Not too far beyond Red Shirt, South Dakota…it is on the map, anyway, although I didn’t see anything that resembled a town, is the gravel road that skirts the edge of the South Unit. I must say that it is not really worth the drive. The road exits at the White River Visitor Center, and from there I followed the route back to Cedar Pass that I had followed before.
After my trip up to the Pass to talk with Kay, I hiked Window and Door trails. They are decent, short hikes. After checking them out I talked with another young couple camping out in their van in the parking lot. It seems to be becoming a more common thing to do. They said that they make up for the increased price of gas by not paying for lodging. They were from Minnesota, and were returning from Oregon where they had purchased a yurt – and saving on the Shipping cost. The yurt was all packed up on a trailer they were hauling.
Chilled out for the weekend, typed up this journal, and began walking, rather than driving the 3 miles round trip to Cedar Pass to call Kay. A nice hike! On Sunday I hiked the Notch trail which is short but challenging, with a vertical ascent of about 100 feet up a ladder, and some trails cut into the side of a cliff. The trail terminates overlooking from Cedar Shelf.
Here is a photo of the sunset and the lights of Interior as seen from there:
Today I sketched out all my concepts for the Bison, Bighorn Sheep, Black-footed Ferret, and Swift Fox, then blew them up on the overhead projector and adjust the proportions. That took most of the day. I did my conference call and gave the Exhibit Director my opinions and recommendations for the Fossil Trail. Julie and Megan are seem to be all set to put me to work on this stuff rather than my wildlife sculpture project. I didn’t budge….much. I agreed to make a mold of one fossil, make a “cold-cast” bronze of the fossil from the mold, make a form to pour a concrete display pedestal (wheelchair-friendly) for the fossil exhibit and then pour one display pedestal. Then the Park Service can set this all up out at the Fossil Exhibit Trail and see how it stands up to the weather and visitor abuse. If it does OK, we can take it from there.
All of my material, etc., for making molds and cold-casting bronze is at my home in Kansas, however, so I agreed with Julie and Megan that I would make the 1200 mile round-trip drive to get my stuff for this project. I would take home with me all of the shop equipment I had brought with me. I always enjoy the drive, and this gave me an excuse to go home to be with my wife. I could also use the time to do the noisy work on my Badlands Carousel – the band saw, chain saw and grinder work I do to rough out a carousel figure before I begin the finish work.
Oh yeah, one other thing to mention. Late yesterday afternoon I watched the Park Rangers arrest some guys while I was calling Kay on my cell phone. Three bad guys, three pit-bulls, and a poodle made a break for it and the officers took off in pursuit with drawn pistols. The guys and the pit-bulls went over the “Wall”, a 300-foot drop-off from Cedar Pass to the prairie below. I heard a gunshot, then saw the officer return with a smoking gun and the poodle at his heels. I took my cue, bid farewell to Kay, and split, believing that they really didn’t need any help from me! In the evening, a Park official came by and told me that two of the guys had been caught, but that one guy and one pit-bull got away. I was to lock my doors and windows and keep an eye out for him. The whole western Dakota police force seemed to be out there looking for the guy, with helicopters swooping through the canyons and the whole bit. If the guy is trying to make his way to the town of Interior, he could have been going right by my hooch, which is the rearmost of a quad of triplexes, with its back up against one of the Badland buttes. The Park Ranger said that he is most likely headed south, however, which is in the opposite direction. How exciting! The next morning I found out from the Park staff that they had caught the guy. The officer had had to shoot one of the pit-bulls when it attacked him, and the poodle and the two other pit-bulls had been taken to the Humane Society shelter. The Park Rangers had pulled the guys over because their beat-up old van had expired tags. When they called in the tag number they discovered that the owner was wanted for probation-violation on drug-related charges. And there rest is history. Here is a sunset as seen from “The Door”, near to where this incident occurred:
The drive home was uneventful. Somewhere amidst the sand hill of central Nebraska I witnessed the most breathtaking moon-rise/sunset I have ever seen in my entire life. To the east, a full moon rose, casting a twilight rainbow of colors from north-to-south atop the indigo eastern rim of the world. To the west, the blazing sun set, setting afire with shades of pink, red and orange lavender storm clouds from south-to-north the western rim of the world. It was simply too much to take in from the seat of my truck, so I paused in my journey to find a tranquil roadside spot to soak it all in. I arrived home near midnight, having driven by the light of the full moon and the Milky Way.
While home, I cut out and rough shaped the big-horn sheep, swift fox, and black-footed ferret. I did not have the time or inclination to begin work on the bison. I also had the opportunity to attend the Kinsley High School homecoming game. Pim and Thao attended their first-ever dance after the game, and it was a real kick for me to see them all decked out in their newly-bought dresses and all-ajitter as they waited for their ride to the dance. After the dance, Thao breathlessly told of how Pim had “danced with a hot guy!”
For my return drive to the Badlands, I chose to drive our Prius hybrid. My p/u truck just drinks too much gas. My molding and casting materials, along with the ferret, swift fox and the head of my big-horn sheep all fit nicely into the back seat. It was a relatively uneventful drive. For most of the drive I drove catty-womp into a 30 mph wind. The wind shot tumbleweeds across my bow like scud missiles for most of the way, but I managed to avoid being hit by any of them.
On my first day back to the Badlands I had the pleasure of meeting with Ms Shortbull’s 2nd/3rd grade class at the Interior School. They were an assortment of cowboys and Indians in miniature. They were either blond-haired/blue-eyed, or black-haired/brown-eyed, with no in-between. I’ll admit that this puzzled me a bit, because with my Navy background I am accustomed to seeing a melting-pot of cultures, rather than a mulligan-stew. Never-the-less, it was a pleasing and harmonious mixture. And they were SO CUTE!
I started off by reading to the class my favorite poem about carousel carving “The Kid & The Carver”. I think they really enjoyed it - I read it with a great deal of enthusiasm and emotion, and they all applauded my performance. I then showed them pictures of some of my carousel creations and told them the stories associated with them. Such as “Beatrice the Butterfly” and how she had been saved from the home for misfits. And Serendipity the Seahorse, and how he had brought joy to a crippled child. And the family of otters for the family of Craig Sorger, the child who had been murdered by schoolyard bullies. They especially enjoyed the story of the Snoopy I had carved for Charlie Brown’s 50th birthday, and Lucy (aka, my wife). They excitedly chattered about that for quite awhile. That caused us to wonder aloud about whether or not the Great Pumpkin would make an appearance in Interior, SD this Halloween. One child solemnly told me that she waited for the Great Pumpkin every year. I then gave them all copies of my sketches of the big-horn sheep, bison, swift fox, and black-footed ferret and invited them to color them in with their ideas for a carousel figure, with a promise to pick them up next week and choose the good ideas to use for the Badlands Carousel. To say that they were excited by this would be an understatement.
Over the next week I worked on making a mold of a fossil of the skull of a hyaenidon (an ancestor to dogs) and a form for the pedestal display for the fossil exhibit.
I first had to construct a fossil display to make a mold of. Megan wanted it to have the appearance of eroding out of the ground, but with most of it exposed so that the detail of the teeth show. So I glued two, 2’ sections of 2”x8”s together and cut a hole in the middle to fit the hyaenidon skull. Then I used wall-board mud to create the “fossil soil” around the skull. After the mud dried, it had cracks in it, just like real mud in a stream bed would have. Quite lifelike. Then I began layering the latex on the mock-up to create the mold, twice a day. I discovered that if I cranked the heat up to 90 degrees and opened the windows to my apartment wide open, and then place the mock-up in the bathroom with the door and window shut and the heat lamp on, I could create quite an effective “oven” to “cook” my latex mold.
It dawned on me that the mock-up was small enough to fit into a real oven, but I was not certain if this would allow enough air flow to “slow cook” the latex. So I hiked up to Cedar Pass to call my brother Bruce and ask his advice about using the oven. Of course he did not answer the phone, so I left a voice mail with the question. I then hiked from Cedar Pass to Interior to pick up some Pam to use as a mold-release agent (I had forgotten the real stuff at home, but Pam will work in a pinch) and some aluminum foil to put between the latex mold and hard-shell mold (to keep the two from sticking together). Just outside the Interior grocery store, Bruce called. I was amazed to get a call from him because I don’t really have cell phone reception in Interior. He got as far as “Don’t do it, it will be a disaster!” before my cell phone bleeped and I lost reception. I’m glad he blurbed out the important part of his message first, before he started talking about his latest bus tour trip to the Northeast!
With his warning in mind, I resolved myself to a week of layering latex on at 12 hour intervals. In the meantime I found some scrap wood that had previously been used to make a form for the ADA-friendly sidewalks to the ADA-friendly apartments, and used it to construct the form for the display pedestal. I had thought I could throw it together in half a day, but it ended up taking me two days to construct it. This is partly because I was making it up as I went along, and had several false-starts, as I struggled to visualize the form and pedestal from the inside-out and backwards. Also, somewhere in the construction process I managed to drill my pointer finger on my “hold-hand” (left hand) while screwing in a screw with my power drill. Right to the bone, twisting and tearing the flesh as it went in. It bled like crazy, and I had a hard time stemming the flow of blood, but it didn’t hurt too bad, actually not at all, because this is the same finger that I smashed with a drill press a long time ago, and it is mostly numb. I should have had stitches, but a good, tight band aide for several days held the edges of the wound together just fine and it seems to be healing quite nicely.
After constructing the form for the pedestal display, I drove to Rapid City to buy six, 60 pound bags of concrete and rebar. I hoped that this would be enough concrete, but could not get any more because my little Prius hybrid just wouldn’t carry any more weight. Arriving back at the homestead, I wired the rebar in place in my form and then poured my concrete. After four bags of cement, it was full! Or at least it seemed to be. But this just didn’t seem right, so I opened up a board that formed the down-slope side of the display part of the pedestal (I had poured it upside-down for various reasons) and discovered that it had not, in fact, filled in this portion of the pedestal. Because the concrete had set just enough not to be liquid, I was able to lift the form just enough so that I could re-pour this portion of the pedestal from the section I had opened up. Close call! If I had not done so, the pour of the pedestal would have been a complete wreck. In retrospect, I realize that this is really just about the only way to effectively pour the concrete for the pedestal…from the top and bottom.
I decided to celebrate the near completion of my Fossil Exhibit Trail project with a visit to the Wagon Wheel Bar in Interior. I walked into the dimly-lit establishment to find a refugee from the ‘60s behind the bar. He was wearing a tie-died T-Shirt and sported a long, forked, grey beard. Sitting around the room were, literally, Cowboys and Indians, nursing their beers and laughing in conversation. At one of the booths was a young couple who appeared to be runaways, judging by their furtive glances and hushed, private talk. At the bar was a fair-haired city-slicker. My gaydar alarm went off when I sized him up – carefully quaffed blond hair, expensively tailored silk Shirt, languid gestures and a flirtatious smile. I’m not quite certain why gay guys always want to flirt with me, but over the years I have learned politely let them know that I am not interested and to deal with it. So, which group to chat with…the hippi-wannabe, the cowboys and Indians, the teenager runaways or the gay-guy.
The gay-guy gave me no choice. He bellied up to the bar next to me and started the conversation. As it turned out…if you believe what he said…he was quite an interesting guy. He had recently returned from China where he had been involved in commodities-trading for the past decade. He had bought a fixer-upper in Vermont and was on his way to Oregon to visit his God-son who had recently graduated High School and moved to a Portland suburb to work at an organic vineyard. It turns out that he had also been to Jakarta quite often to visit his boyfriend who was from there. Because I had lived in Jakarta for several years, we had quite an entertaining conversation about Jakarta and the island of Java.
With a belly full of buffalo-burgers and beer, I bid the gay-guy good night and went back to my hooch. Unable to sleep, and with my creative spark kindled by talk of Java, I pecked away on my laptop till the wee hours composing a story of my times in Jakarta.
With the pedestal poured, and the last layer of latex cooking in the bathroom, I decided to go camping and hiking down at the Sage Creek campground. So I packed up my stuff, and drove out there. On the way there I was stopped by a herd of big-horn sheep in the Badlands Loop. This was great! I excitedly clicked a bunch of pictures of the ram and does and ewes (or whatever they are called) in the herd. While taking photos of the littlest baby, I dropped my camera out the car window. Or should I say, Kay’s camera that I had given her for her birthday. Of course it landed right on the lens that that had telescoped out for a close-up photo. The top of the camera popped off and the telescoped lens was bent out of shape. I was able to pop the top back on and jack the lens down just enough so that the camera would turn on and off…even take out of focus pictures.
I found the Sage Creek camping area right in the middle of a herd of grazing bison. There were a few other campers there. I began unpacking to set up camp to discover that my gallon container of water had completely emptied out on my camping gear. My clothes were completely saturated. I thought I could deal with that and completed setting up camp. When I crawled into my sleeping bag I discovered that the foot of my sleeping bag was also saturated. Enough was enough, so I stuffed everything back into my car and drove back to my apartment at the Visitor Center. I went to bed, only to have my futon frame collapse, spilling me onto the floor. About 1:30 in the morning, Ray returned from her night out in Rapid City and stopped by my apartment to pound on my door. It seems that I had left the dome light on in the Prius. So much for camping in the Badlands…
My cold-cast bronze of the fossil I cast from the mold I had made turned out quite nicely. So did the reinforced concrete pedestal display that I made for it. They fit together quite nicely, also. Megan seemed to be please with the results, as well, especially after she dropped it on the floor and beat it with a metal serving spoon and was unable to damage it. She seemed quite excited to show it off at the meeting she had in the afternoon. The pedestal, of course, was too heavy to take to show-and-tell, which is good because it means it would be too heavy for a visitor to the park to pick up and haul away. Megan seemed pleased with it, as well.
With that, I packed up and left for home. On the way home I dropped by the school to pick up the sketches that the children had colored for me. Some of the kids had some good ideas that I will probably use for the Badlands Carousel