Thursday, December 29, 2005

Time passages

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Framed by the Christmas tree of the week past, one can look through to the Black Forest cuckoo clock of the here and now. Even this is a memory of times past, both recent and long gone. Any story will seek to make these kinds of connections, and here, telling its own story, is a very new tangible reminder of something almost lost to the modern world; the visual and audible passage of time.

As a little girl, I was fascinated, as many children are, with the small cuckoo clock that hung in my parents' home. I would watch the little bird pop out, calling the hour. I'd await the time when the pine cone weights would near their descent, touching them if no one was looking, trying to grasp time. At Grandma and Grandpa's house, there was a similar, larger cuckoo clock, perhaps in homage to my Grandfather's German heritage. This poor clock had been placed over a heating vent, so that when that little wooden bird popped out, his marking of the hours sounded positively asthmatic!

I don't know whatever became of the cuckoo with a sore throat, but I do know what happened to Mom and Dad's. Gwyn happened. I really don't remember this, proof that when you're small enough, the bad times are blocked out, but I'm told that I reached out to grasp time, went swinging and down smashed the clock. Though I don't remember it, I do feel badly. I hope my parents have forgiven me that childish transgression, I'm sure I meant no harm!

Last summer, while traveling in the Black Forest region as a teacher leader for People to People, I had the pleasure of visiting the Drubba Clock Factory in Titisee. It was suitably drizzly, adding to the magical effect of the Schwarzwald, backdrop for this family-owned business. The building itself a giant cuckoo clock, with life-size dancers whirling out on the hour, made for an otherworldly experience.

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The only thing I really wanted of this trip, besides a Hard Rock Madrid t-shirt, was a nice cuckoo clock. I'm a birder, after all. After purusing all my possibilities, I chose a nice, handcarved classic, with the week long movement. It would be a nice marker of our 25th wedding anniversary, I thought. We really didn't have a nice clock anywhere in the house. It was paid for, packed up and shipped home.

About a month later, my clock arrived on my doorstep back in Wisconsin. Securely packed, I carefully opened it, delighted at the smooth, beautifully carved clock face, the sweet little birds perched atop the roof. I lifted out the pine cone weights. Oh my gosh! They weighed a ton! Paralyzed at the thought of my clock crashing out of my wall, the poor clock sat in its box--for months.

Until yesterday. With his new electronic stud sensor in hand, my husband set out to try and discern the best placement for our clock, then, given that the house is old and full of nails in odd places, used a toggle bolt anyway. The clock, as you can see, is up and running. It's new enough that the novelty of running to see the cuckoo call out the hour is still worth dropping whatever we're doing. What is most reassuring, however, is the soft "tick tick" of the pendulum, moving those counterweights floorward. I can't remember the last time I've had a clock that audibly marked the time, reminding me that it's truly transitory, that to mark another hour passed with ceremony is something to savor. In this computer driven, fast-paced world, storytellers seek to slow us all down for a moment, to help bring us together in what is called the "storytelling trance," where all time is suspended and a community, however fleeting, of teller, listeners and story is created.

May the times you created in 2005 be celebrated in stories hereafter! Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bird tales

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Though I do maintain an entire blog devoted to my favorite of all wild things, there is a place for feathered creatures in this blog as well. After all, birds are major players in so many stories, from the birds who helped out Snow White to Raven as the bringer of light to the tribal nations of the northwest. This little tree sparrow, playing amongst the seedheads with the juncos and chickadees while I was out skiing earlier this week, captures that delicate balance a storyteller seeks between fact and fantasy in stories involving the natural world.

I have a friend, Kevin Strauss, who specializes in such stories, often creating original versions that sound like traditional tales. Kevin particularly loves wolves, and has recently published a book of stories to try and help fight the bad guy image folklore has given Wolf. I have had an original story of my own banging around in my head since witnessing an incredible encounter between a Red-Winged Blackbird and an adult Bald Eagle last summer. So far, that's been the extent of it. I know the direction, I know the main events, but I just can't seem to take it to the realm of magic that is called "story." Lucky for me, Kevin hosts a winter storytelling retreat at a lodge near his home in Ely, Minnesota, and I've treated myself with registration for this retreat next month. I'm hoping that come Saturday night, I'll have my story in a form worth telling, adding it to others at the concert slated for the International Wolf Center that night. It might be tough, though. I understand there are cross country ski trails right out the door of our lodge, and don't even get me started on the possibilities of all those northern bird species I can try to see!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Seasonal tales

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Storytellers are struggling along with the rest of the United States to maintain political correctness in this era of "season's greetings." Called upon to perform for various functions, there are requests on the storytell listserv for "winter tales." Smart aleck that I am, I almost posted a reference to Shakespeare's "A Winter's Tale," but I resisted that impulse.

While I completely respect and celebrate the diversity of humankind, the fuss lately in the media gives one pause; if someone at Target were to wish me "L'Chaiam," would I take offense? Not a chance. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is the season of waiting; waiting for the days to grow longer, the light to return, the light being in the Christian faith of course, Jesus Christ. What's happening is perhaps more a reflection of the shifting of our nation from a Christian majority to greater diversity in belief systems. Along with the diversity, there are greater numbers of people here who have different beliefs and would want them recognized as well. Add in to the mix those folks who choose not to adhere to a religious belief system and it gets pretty complicated.

Yet isn't the underlying sentiment in all of these various seasonal greetings simply one of hope and peace? I think that no matter what your slant, those are things we all wish to see in our world. Rather than reacting negatively to the whole mess, it is not a bad thing to simply say, "Thank you," and then place whatever spin on said greeting you need. In fact, maybe the greeters at the stores could simply wish us all "Peace and hope to you." Better yet, return to the meaning of the celebration, whatever faith system you follow. Stay home and light a candle. Bake cookies. Knit socks for your loved ones. Tell stories of holiday celebrations past. Peace and hope to you.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Pacing...elements of story

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Though the photos in this scrapbook layout weren't taken today, they could have been. It has snowed here, enough to bring out those of us who live for the white stuff. After having my coffee, I piled into my gear and was on my way to the trails at the area nature center. Nearly pristine. Completely still. Whatever does any of this have to do with story or storytelling?


Pacing is an element that is often overlooked in storytelling, especially as we are just delving into the craft. Nervousness rushes us along, never allowing the quiet spaces for the images to develop in the mind's eye of our listener. I think there are elements beyond nervousness at work as well. Prime among these is the frantic pace at which we usually move through our days and our lives. For many of us, it's been so long since we could move at our own pace, taking in the world in those small delicious bites. This is one of the reasons I so appreciate nature. It forces me to slow that pace.

Even kicking and gliding through the woods, I have to slow down. There are birds overhead, so of course I need to stop, observe, identify. Listen. The snow, still covering the sides of the trees, suddenly begins to drop, hitting the sides of other trees and my shoulders, making a tiny pinging sound all around me, swirling. It's a sound I'd never even hear if I were to rush through the snow.

Refreshed and exiliarated, I can't simply rush home, either. I know that I'll ache after this first of many outings on my skis, and further effort will help to burn off that lactic acid. The marsh isn't far, and winter's chill has transformed it completely. Again, as I walk with binoculars and camera in hand, I stop and quiet myself often. A kingfisher rattles continously, taunting me to come closer as he dives to the water in the river. The water itself gurgles in the still cold air, passing the barrier of a fallen tree. Brown Creepers will not be seen, even though I can hear them, unless I stand still and wait patiently, watching for "bark" to climb up a tree.

Watching the kingfisher, a movement in the snow across the river catches my eye, revealing itself to be a mink, playing in the snow. I've never seen a mink! I walk these trails year round, but perhaps I've just been walking too fast.

Taking the time to slow one's pace, to appreciate the images, the silence following the falling snow, allows me to understand this need for pacing. It takes time to grow an image in all its senses; the sight of the snow, the sound of it falling, the soft touch as it melts on my cheek, the chilly breeze that brought it there. A storyteller would do well to spend a long day in nature, in all seasons, enjoying it at its own pace. Allow yourself to stop, listen and observe your own reaction, bringing that appreciation back to your telling.

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The creatures that could be missed while hurrying are our loss