One Billion Dance to Break the Chain – February 14 2013

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Fill your Valentine’s Day with love for all people on the earth.  There are at least, two opportunities tomorrow February 14th in Bahrain to teach your children the power of dance.  Join one billion other people in the world move towards freedom from violence and rape.  Dances are being held everywhere including Ames, Iowa and several in Des Moines.  You can find a dance near you by checking out the map at One Billion Rising.

8:45-11 World Beat Fitness is holding a dance workshop featuring African djembes, Egyptian belly dancing and a dance by internally-recognized, multi-cultural choreographer, Valli Batchelor.  The event is BD 10 for non-members and BD8 for members.  The proceeds will go towards a local center for victims of abuse.

2 pm the Rugby Club has a dance instructor-led event for those that enjoy afternoon activities.  The suggested donation is BD 5.  The proceeds will also go to a local charity dealing with women affected by abuse.

It is half-term for the schools on the British curriculum.  And a great opportunity for us mothers to show our daughters that even while having fun we can help BREAK THE CHAIN and change the world.

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Where Ideas Spring from the Earth…. Iowa

Winter in Iowa.  Five foot snow drifts.

Winter in Iowa. Five foot snow drifts. Two feet icicles.

My mother skyped me yesterday to tell me it was -2 Fahrenheit (-19C) in Iowa.

All children should be lucky enough to live in a place like Iowa for at least a year.  Teaching the seasons would be much, more simple.  The traditional descriptions of the seasons with the sprouting spring leaves; hot, summer sun; colored, fall leaves; and blankets of snow actually happen in Iowa.

iowa farm with wind tower and traditional swedish painting on barn

Along with the seasons, learning that corn comes from a cob, not a plastic bag, and hens lay eggs in nests, not white Styrofoam cartons, can be witnessed across a countryside where acres of seeds are planted in the spring; their bounty harvested in the fall.

Union Township Cemetery near Oskaloosa Iowa by Eva the Dragon 2011_edited-1

Union Township Cemetery near Oskaloosa Iowa by Eva the Dragon 2011

American history comes to life in Iowa.  The native Oneota people which includes the proto-historic Ioways, lived in the Mississippi and Missouri River valleys, an area that today are the states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska.  Their burial mounds and settlements along the Des Moines River speak to the continent’s history before the French, Spanish and English arrived.  The forts built to protect the soldiers who fought with the Native peoples for control of the land can be visited.  Family farms originally belonging to the white settlers, who arrived in the 1800s, still exist.  The cemetery tombstones bear witness to their lives.

It is a place where the old practices and new innovations come together under clear, blue skies.  In Broken Kettle, there is a four thousand acre preserve of native prairie land where bison roam.  The goal is to promote biodiversity, not provide recreational land.  People come from around the world travel to educate themselves at the highest standards in Iowa’s schools and universities.

Out where the tall corn grows….

Big-city people, like the younger me, complain there is “not enough to do” in Iowa.  What we really mean is, “there are not enough outside distractions to keep me busy.”

Iowa carved, wooden bear by water pump house by Eva the Dragon 2011

Iowa carved, wooden bear by water pump house by Eva the Dragon 2011

Iowa is a place where the pace is naturally set by the seasons.  This gives people time to be human: baking a cake to share with your neighbor over coffee; carving a bear totem from an old log; singing in a church choir; building a birdhouse; “visiting” on Sundays; or meditating while mowing acres of grass.  From those moments of silence come inspiration and innovation.  You might be surprised how many enlightened people and new ideas originate in Iowa then spread through the world.

Our Iowa magazine with cardinal in winter on front

One of my favorite magazines is Our Iowa..written by Iowans…for all those who love Iowa.

Our Iowa magazine photo of our prettiest farm

Every summer I leaf through the past issues’ stunning photos and regular columns about the prettiest farm, funny stories about what children say, recipes (toffee-almond sandies) we are proud to share, an Amish farm wife’s diary, and culture (sort of).  And just like in Iowa where the old blends with the new, Our Iowa can be order online, but it is sent to your mailbox, the one by the side of the road.

Finding Baby Sugg’s Holy Clearing in Iowa

After a year in the desert, I desperately needed to walk among trees.  From my mother’s farm, we drove 90 miles north into Winnebago County, along Highway 9 to Pilot Knob State Park.

And the trees welcomed us.

We climbed to the highest summit, the top of a glacial kame, and turned to look in every direction.  The entire landscape was a patchwork of green under the blue summer sky.

We continued an easy hike along the trail to Dead Man’s Lake.  Swans trumpeted and frogs jumped back into the sphagnum moss when we walked by.

We followed the signs to the amphitheater where I found myself transported into Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved.

“When warm weather came, Baby Suggs, holy, followed by every black man, woman and child who could make it through, took her great heart to the Clearing – a wide-open place cut deep in the woods nobody knew for what at the end of a path known only to deer and whoever cleared the land in the first place.”

Sitting at the edge of the circle at the bottom of a tree, I recalled Baby Suggs’ sermon in the woods.

“She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more.  She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure.

She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine.  That if they could not see it, they would not have it.”

For a moment, I saw Grace among the trees.

A Huck Finn Day

As I scanned my stack of Departures magazine reading articles on the “New Asia” and the Maldives, I noticed that although the editors did add London’s 2012 festivals, they failed to include any articles on Iowa.

When you are done with Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, I suggest driving to Seven Oaks Recreational Park outside Boone, Iowa.

For a mere $43, the young tattooed attendant will load up your rented kayak and canoe.  And within ten minutes you will be deposited on the riverbank seven miles upstream from the pickup ramp.

Minnesota may be known as the land of 10,000 lakes but Iowa has about eighty rivers.

Like half of the US, Iowa was hit by drought this summer.  Despite the Des Moines river’s water levels being half their usual depth, there was enough water that my 71-year old mother and 11-year old Ace and Mark could easily manage either kayak or canoe.

Completely surrounded by trees on both sides of the river, the boys agreed kayaking on the Des Moines was better than Atlantis’ Lazy River and more exciting than Disneyland.

Like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, the children enjoyed bobbing down the river in afternoon sun.   A half mile downstream, we could hear their laughter above the chirping cicadas.  Along the way we saw a group of teenagers swinging from a rope tied to a tall maple tree and splashing into the water.  We anchored and they generously held out the rope so our three kids could all have a go.

I heeded the guides’ warnings and did not bring my camera.  In hindsight this was good because less than a mile to our rendezvous point, I insisted the boys paddle our canoe and while changing spots, I managed to tip the canoe over and dumped everyone into the river.

The canoe completely filled with water as our icebox and shoes floated around our knees.  Luckily the water was only a foot deep.  Unluckily I lost my wits and could not figure out how to get the water out.  Using our Dixie cups, we started bailing with the intention of lightening the canoe and dragging it to shore.

But because it was Iowa I did not have to do this alone.  A young man and his girlfriend pulled over to help us.

However the next morning as I retraced the day’s events, I realized the nice man was as much of a novice as me.  Instead of pulling the water-filled canoe to shore, we should have turned it over and lifted it out, upside down.

As soon as we got home, the boys gleefully called Mojo to tell them I turned over the canoe.

“See, I told them “if that hadn’t happened you would not have had a story to tell.”

Seven Oaks is family owned.  In the summer you can rent tents in their summer camp sites, hike trails, play paintball or have a great day floating on the river.

Their land includes a small hill which – believe it or not – supports six ski lifts that operate all winter.  You can learn to ski and snowboard on their easy to reach slope then head out to Park City or Aspen and show them what you learned in Iowa.

“How Can You Buy and Sell the Sky?”

Seana Mallen’s homage to George Caitlin’s 1850 painting. In 1844 Caitlin documented Mahaska’s journey to London with a group of thirteen other Ioway people.

In 1848, my great-great grandfather Martin Snider erected the first cabin in Montezuma, Mahaska County, Iowa.

The state of Iowa was named after the Ioway natives who split off from the Oneotas around 1650.  In the early 1800s, through a series of treaties, the US government evicted the Ioways from their land.  Mahaska County was named after the Indian Chief Mahaska, or White Cloud in English.

My great-great grandfather used to tell the story of an Ioway Indian who knocked on the door and asked to borrow milk.  The Ioway’s wife had died during childbirth.  My grandfather agreed but admitted he was a bit perplexed when the man went into his barn and led his cow away.  However he did not stop him.

When the baby was weaned, the Ioway brought the cow back.  Later during the “Indian uprising” my grandfather was the only settler in the area the Ioway did not attack.

European colonists viewed the Native people as either vicious barbarians or as Noble Savages.  The Noble Savage image dates back to Bartolome de Las Casa’s 1530 writings about American natives.  1987 American high school textbooks summarized this history.

“For thousands of centuries –centuries in which human races were evolving, forming communities, and building the beginnings of national civilizations in Africa, Asia and Europe-the continents we know as the Americas stood empty of mankind and its works.”  The story of Europeans in the New World “is the story of the creation of a civilization where none existed.”  – Charles C Mann, 1491

This American myth has lasted over five centuries.  In the book 1491, Charles C. Mann calls it Holmberg’s Mistake.

“The supposition that Native Americans lived in an eternal, unhistoried state – held sway in scholarly work, and from there fanned out to high school textbooks, Hollywood movies, newspaper articles, environmental campaigns, romantic adventure books and silk-screened tee-shirts.” – Charles C. Mann, 1491

Historically the North American Indian population prior to Columbus was estimated to be around 1.15 million with a total of 8.4 million throughout the Americas.  Mann outlines new evidence that points to an American population more likely between 90 to 112 million people.  New estimates suggest by the sixteenth century, 80 to 100 million Indians were wiped out by the European smallpox.

Mann also presents evidence the Indians were not just Noble Savages living off the land; rather they were active agents agriculturally shaping the land.  Mann writes the Amazon rainforest is not wild.  Rather this wet desert is the remnant of a large, managed landscape.

The Native Americans were not simply farmers or hunters.

In 1100AD, at the mouth of the Mississippi River was the port city called Cahokia.  The largest concentration of people north of the Rio Grande, hundreds of high-peaked, deeply thatched roofs like those on traditional Japanese farms were built around a four-level earthen mound bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Further south, the Mexican Olmec developed a dozen different systems of writing, established wide trade networks, tracked the orbits of planets, created a 365-day calendar more accurate than the Europeans’ and recorded its histories in books of folded bark paper.  The Mexican capital of Tenochtitlan was larger than Paris.

The South American Inka empire was bigger than the Ming Dynasty in China, Ivan the Great’s Russia, the Ottomon Empire and the Triple Alliance.

The use of zero considered “one of the greatest single accomplishments of the human race” was first whispered around 600BC when the Babylonians tallied numbers in columns.  India used a zero in the first few centuries AD.  Europeans began using it in the 12th century when the Arabs brought it to them.

The first recorded zero in the Americas was in a 357AD Mayan carving.  Before that, a calendrical system based on the existence of zeros was used.

Seana Mallen’s painting is based on Edward Curtis’ photograph. Curtis’ life work was to document the tragic decline of the Native American peoples.

“Man did not weave the web of life.  He is but one strand within it.  What we do to the web we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect.”  Chief Seattle.

When we read the “sage” sayings of White Cloud and Chief Seattle, it is not simply the Noble Savage’s spirituality or mythology.  Their wisdom comes from millennia of experience and reflects the “remarkable body of knowledge about how to manage and improve their environment.”

I highly recommend 1491 to open your eyes to a new perspective on history.  It is not the easiest read but it is very interesting.

Currently on display during America Week, Seana Mallen’s paintings can be seen in the Seef Mall near the Starbucks.

The Snow Goose

Snow Goose in Iowa

Calm, indifferent

as if nothing’s transpired –

the goose, the willows

Haiku by Kobayashi Issa, 1762-1826, Japanese Poet

One Breath Long – the Haiku

Thirteen Roosters by Ito Jaskuchu at the National Gallery of Art

A map of chicken land

noisy with red capitals,

black lakes, white highways

– by Emily from New York

While ruminating on the poet Mahmoud Darwish, the National Gallery of Art sent me an invitation to write a Japanese-inspired haiku.  As my artist-sister and her Japanese family were visiting us the timing was serendipitous.

Haikus are expressions of moments in time.  Through simple language, they invite the reader to experience nature as the writer attempts to capture it.

One breath long, haikus traditionally are three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllable words.  In English this translates into 10 – 14 syllables or 6 – 10 words.

Near Lake Okoboji, Iowa

Old pond –

Frog jumps in

Sound of the water

–          Matsuo Basho, 1644-1694, Japanese poet

April is poetry month at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

On exhibit is the work of the Japanese treasure Ito Jakuchu (1760-1800).  This is the first time his Colorful Realm of Living Beings has been displayed outside of Japan.  The 30-piece bird and flower painting collection is normally kept at the Shukokuji monastery in Kyoto.  Displayed in one room, the paintings signify all living beings gathered around Buddha.

An American national treasure, the National Gallery of Art is free and open to anyone visiting Washington DC.

In fact, the haiku invitation is for everyone.  It’s an opportunity to sit outside and experience a tree, spring flower or bird.  Breathe.  Then try to take that moment and express it in words.

You can read more about the exhibit, the 1,000 year-old art of haiku writing and submitting your haiku at nga.gov/jakuchu.

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