Sunday, February 18, 2018

Things on my Desk

While I was writing the other day, I was drawn to the curious assortment of objects that have collected at the corner of my desk. The pile is composed of items from nature: a 7,700 year old fossil of a bone from Mt. Mazama; a pocked rock from the top of Mary’s Peak, a place of spiritual power for the tribes of the Willamette Valley; a rock from the Pacific Ocean impregnated with miniature seashell fossils; a dentalium storage container made by a member of the Kalapuya tribe; a piece of chert with a streak of quartz right through the center; and two acorns from a graveyard.

These treasures remain on my desk because of the constant hold they have on my thoughts. I spent some time this past spring with the state archaeologist and members of the Kalapuya tribe. We wandered through the woods together and I was privileged to learn firsthand from them. One of the members of the tribe is an archaeologist who works with flint, antlers, and stone. He made replicas of some of the early items used by the Kalapuya and I was able to procure a dentalium storage container from him. Dentalium was the currency of the Kalapuya. It was made of shells harvested from the ocean with long brooms. The natural holes of the dentalium made them easy to string together or be kept in a purse, until they were needed for the purchase of an item. The dentalium container I have is made from an antler. On one side of the antler, an oval opening has been carved and the center of the antler, carefully hollowed out; this is where the dentalium was stored. A strip of hide was tied around the container to keep it secure, and a hole was drilled in the top of the purse, so it could be fastened around the neck or on a belt.

The second item was a treasure I found myself. Recently I learned how mortar and pestles were made by the Kalapuya tribes in this area. The bowls were deliberately carved using chert because it is a rock that is harder than most. I searched to see what chert looked like and found it to be a reddish-brown stone with a smooth look to it. This summer as I was hiking along the Santiam Wagon Road I was looking down at the path as I walked since that part of the trail was filled with copious amounts of exposed roots. Right in the middle of the trail my eyes were drawn to a piece of reddish-brown stone about 1 ½ inches long. I instantly recognized it as chert and excitedly picked it up. As I examined it, I noticed it had a streak of quartz going from one end to the other. I rubbed my thumb over the smooth side and turned it around in my hand. I carefully put it into my pocket and carried my prize home.

The most recent addition to my desktop include two acorns from a cemetery. I enjoy wandering around old cemeteries and have spent time in nearly all the pioneer cemeteries near my home. A few months ago, my husband and I visited New York for the first time. I was invited to give a presentation at the 40th Annual New Netherland Institute Conference in Albany, New York. The theme of the conference focused on women of New Netherland and I gave a presentation about Catalina Trico. The cemeteries in New York are much older than those in the west where I live. It was incredible to see the crumbling headstones with unreadable names and dates sinking partially into the ground.

With some searching one night, my husband discovered the cemetery where Catalina and some of her family were buried, so the next day we found our way to the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church Cemetery, established by Peter Stuyvesant in 1654. The church near the cemetery was under construction and the gate around the cemetery was locked so we were not able to go inside. We stayed there a while and thought about Catalina’s life and her final years in that area. As we prepared to leave I hesitated, because I did not want to go. I looked around for some physical token to carry home with me. As I gazed through the black iron fence I spotted two sizeable acorns just a bit out of reach underneath an oak tree near a crooked line of headstones. My husband grabbed a stick and meticulously pulled the acorns towards us and within our reach. Sometimes I just hold one in my hand as a connection to Catalina.

The artifacts on my desk are links to the past from times and places that are significant to me. They bring me within reach of events that happened long before I ever arrived on the scene. Each of them are a physical reminder that the past is still with us, that it can be touched, and that it must be remembered.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Discussions of History

Much of my life revolves around history. I get to teach World History to 7th grade students at my local Junior High School in Oregon. I have written articles, lesson plans, and assisted with research at the New Netherland institute in New York. For the past year and a half, I have served as the director of the East Linn Historical Museum. The last several months have brought opportunities to participate in multiple presentations to the public about the local history of the area I live in.

After attending some of my discussions, a local radio station invited me to do three live history shows at their station. The beginning show is about the Santiam Wagon Road, the first passageway over the Cascade Mountains from the Willamette Valley in the 1800s. It is filled with stories of pioneers, exploration, roadhouses, and an automobile race.

Next up is a brief summary about the Kalapuya Tribes that resided in the Willamette Valley when pioneers began to arrive from the East Coast. Their organization, social structure, and agriculture are unique and fascinating. Details of how these tribes lived, what they ate, and the extent of their trade is also discussed.

Finally, there is a tour of the East Linn Museum which includes discussions of objects in the museum related to early schools on the area, the Civil War, medicine and other unique items.

These shows are available to listen to, simply follow the instructions listed below:

- Go to KGAL Radio (Lebanon, Oregon)
- Use the pull down menu under PROGRAMMING and select VALLEY TALK
- Choose a date:
      4/17/17 Santiam Wagon Road
      4/27/17 Kalapuya Tribes (start at around 19:45)
      5/11/17 East Linn Museum tour
- You may also click on the link below and select the dates listed above.
- Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Who Cares about History?

I have to admit, I am a bit over the top when it comes to history. I teach Jr. High history, I read books about history, I teach community classes about history, I watch movies about history, I write about history, and I am the director of our local history museum. That being said, I have noted a disturbing trend leading people away from studying history. In the schools, there has always been an emphasis placed on testing and this idea continues, especially in the areas of math and reading. Sometimes middle school students who are behind in math and reading skills are removed from history classes until they reach high school. I don’t have anything against math and reading, and I understand that some view test scores as an indicator of success, test scores are linked to funding, and thus the emphasis on reading and math.

I recently read an old journal written in the late 1800s by a schoolteacher from the small town I live in. I was interested to read what school was like over 100 years ago and quickly noticed state tests were given then also. The state test topics the teacher prepared her students for in the late 1800s were Arithmetic, History and Oregon History. I was shocked at this, and the idea that students were tested over two types of history was magnificent. Why was history emphasized as a vital part of learning then, but so easily brushed aside today? I don’t have an answer. At the beginning of each school year, I am reminded that history often does not have a big fan base. I hear my students say history does not matter because it happened so long ago and everyone is dead anyway. When I hear this, I am always quick to remind my students, that this is their future as well, and they had better think about the legacy they will leave.

The filmmaker Ken Burns said, “The great arrogance of the present is to forget the intelligence of the past.” As society moves forward and improves, people sometimes discredit those who came before, thinking that somehow their predecessors lacked intelligence because they did not have our technology. However, those before us, lived with what they had and created better things as they went, just like we do today. The dates were different but the general issues are the same.

A line from a song by the Dixie Chicks reminds us, “Who do we become, without knowing where we started from?”  It is critical to understand the path taken by those before us who got us to where we are today. We have connections to the past that cannot be broken, even if we are ignorant of them; they are still a part of us. Time does not travel in straight lines, but in circles, and these circles connect to others to make patterns that are often repeated throughout history. When we can identify and understand these connections we are privy to amazing insights - ideas that can only be learned by studying history.

Discover the joy of getting to know people who lived before you. Study what they learned during their lives, how they influenced their own circles of history, and how their circle connected to other ones. The great historian David McCullough challenged us, “Because you were born into a particular era doesn’t mean it has to be the limit of your experience. Move about in time, go places. Why restrict your circle of acquaintances to only those who occupy the same stage we call the present?” (Brave Companions, 223) You don’t have to look very far to find hero from the past, common people who lived unbelievable lives. They may have only influenced a few people while they were here, but their influence can continue to inspire us today if we take the time to learn about them.  When we explore the lives of people from the past, we realize they still have lessons we can learn from, and ideas we can aspire to. Take some time to learn about people who lived before you, how they handled challenges and successes, and what they struggled to achieve. They may have lived a very long time ago but you will quickly see that they are more similar to you than you think.