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Beaches

May 15, 2019

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This day was going to be different. It was one of the last days of my Hawaiian vacation: no cameras or cellphones: just a towel, some sunscreen, – and a beach. It was mid-morning at Napili Beach on Maui, but the sand was already crowded: families with brightly colored towels and beach chairs and umbrellas – and huge coolers of “snacks”, young couples lying close together, smiling and touching, and older couples with snorkels and fins and determination on their faces.

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But, as I looked out to sea, the people faded away…a quarter mile off-shore, breakers crashed into jagged rock reefs, white against the aquamarine sea. Gentled by the breakers, the water then undulated towards the shore, glinting in the sun. As I walked toward the water, the breezes cooled my face.

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But the shore was quite slanted and I could see that the surf pull-back was strong. I crept forward, the sand and water thrashing around my shins, and wondered: can I do this? It had been many decades since I faced a warm tropical sea. I remembered that moment of fear at the edge all too well. But I didn’t have the strength or the confidence I’d had when I faced the seas off the Solomon Islands or in Limbe on the coast of Cameroon in Central Africa. I didn’t need the tourist book’s warning never to turn my back on the sea. I had learned that as a child – from my grandmother – as I faced the Atlantic surf on Nantucket’s South Shore.

I looked out and there were people everywhere, bobbing in the water. I wanted to be one of them. I looked down. The water was so clear I could see every small rock on the bottom. It looked so inviting, but….

So, I waited, watching the rolling of the waves, and slowly, it began to flatten out a bit. A lady with wet gray hair smiled and beckoned to me. Now… I thought – do it. I dipped down into the trough made by the waves and pushed off…. Memories and sensations came flooding back… the incredible colors of the reefs of the Solomons, my two children – as young adults – larking in the surf in Limbe, the shouts of adult encouragement from the Nantucket shore as I faced a curling wave. “DIVE UNDER IT!” I did, and emerged, triumphant, on the other side. Now, so many years later in Hawaii, it felt so good: to taste the salt, to dip and sway, to be in rhythmn with the sea once again.

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Bringing It Home

April 26, 2019

 

St Croix River

This is the St. Croix River. It flows 164 miles between Minnesota and Wisconsin before it joins the Mississippi. This is the river of my childhood. When I look at this picture, I see myself holding onto a rope on a bluff working up the courage to jump. My younger brothers are yelling catcalls at me; Mom looks worried and Dad’s got a big smile on his face… that’s my girl. I don’t know whether I can do it. “Jump!” yells Dad – and I fling myself out over the river and let go. For a brief moment, I’m flying. I can see the sky and the clouds and the river below me… I did it…I did it! – and I hit the water.

 

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As a child, the river – and the small town of Marine, Minnesota on it’s banks – were a playground. When the family took the canoes upriver, I sat in the bow, trying to imitate Dad’s powerful stroking, paddling and sweating, and hoping against hope that we would stop soon for lunch. I remember sitting on the riverbank eating egg salad sandwiches, my toes digging into the warm, brown mud. My father’s family has lived in Marine for three generations. When I visited my great-grandmother every summer, I remember reading: sitting on the porch overlooking the river, glancing up every now and then to see the sparkling on the water filter through the trees.

 

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I haven’t lived near the St Croix and the little town of Marine for over fifty years. But I visited – and each time I did, I learned a little more about the history of this place and it’s significance to the people who lived – and continue to live – here. My youngest brother has a beautiful “cabin” on the river. It’s one house down from where my great grandmother lived. He is the third generation of my family to live there and, like the generations before, he has become a strong member of and advocate for the community. As a storyteller, I have fused some of my childhood memories together with some of the history I discovered in my research and the result is a story – which has become rather a signature story for me. But it’s never been told in the actual site of the story – until now.

 

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In late June, I will journey back for a visit. It will be the first time in many years that all three of us kids will be together in this place. It seems a perfect time to bring the story back to it’s origins. So, on a warm summer night, we will gather – with others – in Marine’s Village Hall and I will share my story.

 

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The librarians of the small adjoining community library will have set up a display of books on Marine history for people to look at. I will look out at that audience of Minnesota folk… and remember so much more than what is in the story. After over twenty years of work as a storyteller, I will be bringing one of my stories HOME.

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People Sometimes Say the Nicest Things

March 23, 2019

It’s been two weeks since the “Village by the Sea Storytelling Festival” made it’s debut at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, but the images and feelings of what happened are still very clear.

We began the evening with a delicious pre-concert dinner for tellers, staff, and volunteers – hosted and prepared by MORE volunteers – a great way to meet one another and relax together before the show.

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As emcee for the evening, my job – especially initially – was to get the audience ready to hear the stories. But when I walked out on the stage for the first time, it was very clear- this audience didn’t need much: they were READY.

 

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The first teller, Allison Cox, warmed us up with a funny, but telling Mexican folktale, “Cucarachita”. It’s about a fetching little cockroach making her first foray out into the world. She batted her eyelashes and greeted all with a “Hola!” – which the audience echoed. But cucarachita met some bad hombres and this tale can be seen as a cautionary tale about the likes of “El Gato” and “El Lobo”. The tale was delightful and full of fun for an audience like ours. But Allison has used it – to very different effect – in groups of abuse and assault survivors.

JohnThe other job of an emcee is to introduce each of the tellers and give subtle clues about the story or stories that he or she will tell. Introducing John Wasko was easy, weaving together information about his major piece on famed Seattle photograper-ethnographer, Edward C Curtis, and the personal story he was to tell about Alki Beach. One audience member said, “We have actually walked on that shoreline and through the storytelling, we could hear the “hiss” and “swish” of gentle waves on the sand.”

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Katherine Gee Perrone cast a spell over the audience with her quiet but powerful telling of the old Scottish tale, “Tamlin”. In Katherine’s version of this classic tale, Tamlin’s rescuer, Janet, was the real heroine: feisty, defiant, and brave. One line in the story echoed far beyond the theater; a mother in the audience with her two teenage girls wrote, “The line, ‘I don’t like being told what to do!’ is being echoed around our house!” At the end, the applause was warm and generous and Katherine came off the stage radiant with it.

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After the intermission, Eva Abram took the stage with a vibrant African story and then – surprise! – a boisterous tale from the swamps of the bayous near New Orleans, Eva’s childhood home. Eva is a gentle soul, but she easily slipped on the snarky, duplicitous personality of Crocodile in pursuit of a clueless, hysterical Hen and had the audience laughing and responding.

Then Naomi Baltuck took the stage and gave a rousing rendition of her own story, the“Red Riding Hood Rap”. As the audience clapped along, Red “hoofed it to Granny’s House, clippety-clop!”. But –

“When Red got there, she was really grossed out/ To see a fuzz-faced Granny with a big, long snout!”

The story is found in Naomi’s popular book, “Crazy Gibberish” which features “Story Hour Stretches – from a storyteller’s bag of tricks.” My copy is well-worn; I have used it for dozens of presentations with kids – and adults.

Then Naomi’s husband, Thom Garrard, joined her and they finished the evening with a tandem telling of a lively Ukrainian folk tale.

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I knew the audience had enjoyed the evening; I could feel it. So could the tellers. And – of course – that made their performances even better. One said, “I am still over the moon at how well it went!” But it was nice to have that feeling echoed later in emails I received.

“I want to let you know it was a wonderful festival…. The stories were great and so were the tellers. The audience was fully engaged and mesmerized.”

“You have given us a new focus for “old stories” and an appreciation for the talent it takes to bring tales, dreams, and visions to life.”

“I was so impressed with the group you gathered and truly feel this should be an annual event.”

Funny you should say that… so do we… and it just may happen.

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Why? I’ll tell you why….

February 22, 2019

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Five years ago, I swore…I would never do this again… direct and/or produce a show.

I was standing in the middle of my living room shrieking at the top of my lungs because everything had just gone wrong.

But I caved; why? Because I really wanted to bring these wonderful storytellers/people to Whidbey and let our audiences see and hear how amazing they are. And because WICA (Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) is a perfect venue for a storytelling festival. But then, yesterday, I had another one of those days.

One of the online publicity sites was giving out the wrong data…  I had just lost one of my assistants… There were two frantic emails from people who wanted to attend, but could not find housing… Someone was coming to my house with a new couch, but I wasn’t sure when… I had just finished a lousy rehearsal and the timing was all wrong… And one of the mass emails I had just sent out came back with an error  message I couldn’t read…. ARRRGH!!

Why do we do this to ourselves?? The answer is really very simple: because we have to. Because – if you are dedicated to your craft – you simply cannot just coast when you have a chance to promote and support it.  Period.

So – Whidbey Island’s first storytelling festival will happen. Exactly what will happen, of course, we don’t know – yet. But a week from tomorrow, it will happen. There are still so many things left to do…. I hope you can join us.

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Learning More….

February 7, 2019

Sometimes, as people gather together after one of my performances, they ask me: Do you ever do workshops? Some want to be better teachers or docents or tour guides. Others want to be able to share family stories with their children or grandchildren. Still others want to create stories that inform or urge action on issues they care about. Now – there is an opportunity to do any one of these things.

Coinciding with the “Village by the Sea Storytelling Festival”, a series of three storytelling workshops will be presented at WICA on Saturday March 2 from 1 – 3 pm – the afternoon before the festival concert. Each workshop is led by an experienced teaching artist. Curious? Check the information below:

Workshop Descriptions

It’s coming….

January 22, 2019

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Don’t these folks look like interesting people? They are; they’re storytellers… and they’re all coming to Whidbey Island in early March to entertain, inform, and inspire you with their stories. This will be Whidbey’s FIRST storytelling festival brought to you by the good people at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts and Whidbey Telecom. Many people here on the island have heard me tell stories. I thought it was high time that they had a chance to hear some of my very talented colleagues spin a tale. Contact WICA (Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) at http://www.wicaonline.org;  click on “Programs” – then on “Local Artists Series” – then the event for information, tickets, and workshop reservations.

January

January 6, 2019

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Stark and bare…yet brimming with promise

a new year begins….

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