Friday, November 17, 2017

Wood Stacked Before Church

Pride. A word that can make me cringe. Pride goeth before a fall. The prideful sinners in Dante’s Inferno who bear enormous rocks on their backs, rocks they carry for eternity or else be crushed.

I feel proud that I got the wood stacked in the shed before church. I was late to church, but luckily, people are encouraged to ‘come as you are.' Which is to say disheveled, pitchy, dirty, and wearing an old shrunken blue sweater littered with sawdust and bark chips. And with an itchy nose full of dust.

Sara gathering cows to head to Pumpkin Creek

We had a busy few days, getting ready to move the cattle to Pumpkin Creek, but I really wanted to go to church. It had been many months since I had a chance to enter that hundred-year old stone sanctuary and take time to reflect and question life with people of different minds. I knew a storm was moving in and the firewood was still in an enormous pile in the yard.
Crossing Rye Bench

So first thing Sunday morning, I wrestled the big quarters of tamarack, red fir and pine into neatly stacked rows inside the woodshed.  A small thing, so simple and necessary that I can’t help but admire it during these trying times, when all around me I feel a cacophony of wrongs ringing against the mountains like the shots of duck hunters at dawn.

Andrew saddling up to take horses to P Creek

The night before, at the cultural center in Joseph, people gathered to be part of a project that uncovers racism and change through music.  There were stories about black people who migrated from the south to the logging town of Maxville in nearly all-white Wallowa County in the 1920s. There were stories about redlining and confinement of people of color to areas like Vanport in NE Portland in the 1940s. Our history, our story.

Leaving the Hall place, over the hill to river crossing 

Marilyn from the Portland Jazz Ensemble calls her voice a musical tool; she sang a newly-birthed song about trees. Trees that give so much to life and have also taken life away. Her music travelled into my solar plexus and left me vibrating and without words.

Chester watches cattle cross the river

And then I had to walk to the front of the room and take the microphone and moderate the audience discussion with the panelists. I said that some months back, at the dedication ceremony for the Nez Perce longhouse in Wallowa, the leader of the Washat service reminded us that each person who journeyed to be there brought something to that space, each person contributes something. What is created in the Washat is made possible because of every person who is present. 

Mike and Andrew arrived at Pumpkin Creek

What I learn over and over again is that I am not in control of my voice. I give it air. I give it sound. I give it thought and recognition and attention. But sometimes my mouth opens and words come out and people are frightened, feel left on the edge of a rim, and sometimes people are bored and dissipated.
Fence fixer, complete with dirt mustache

The experience of grace in the Washat gave me the courage to stand the front of the room at the Josephy Center and invite people to share, to listen and be a part of something difficult together.

If we dig deep enough we find a kernel of ugliness and a kernel of beauty in each of us. Each of us has something rotten and repulsive in our story, and each of us has a flower fattening toward light, a grub morphosing into a hummingbird moth.

Fence I fixed snaking up to the rim, steep work

Before I went to the Josephy Center, I spent the day propping up old barbed wire fence on a ridiculously steep hillside in the canyon. When I finished, I scrambled back down to the creek, searching for sign of Mike and Andrew working their way up the fence on the other side.
Mike and Andrew fencing across the draw

Near my feet, I spotted an enormous yellow leaf that had drifted down from the crown of a tall cottonwood tree.  Twice the size of my hand, the leaf lay on the stream bank, reflecting for a day the transient light of fall.

Big as my two hands

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef