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Thursday, March 13

Crimean Tatars - Lest We Forget

I admit it.  Before going to Ukraine, I had no real knowledge of the Crimean Tatar people. 

Then my good friend Barb was placed in Crimea to work at the Crimean Tatar Library.  She lived with a Tatar family and ended up serving for nearly 4 years. 

Barbara has many deep and lasting friendships.  Since the Russian invasion, she has been on the phone daily, sometime for hours, trying to listen, console, and reassure them that they are not forgotten.

I think, if truth be told, they are mostly invisible.  Their stories get scant coverage in the West although a few articles are beginning to come through about the terror being reigned down upon these people.   


Thugs roam the cities and villages.  They mark doors with racial slurs identifying Tatar homes like the Soviets did 60 years ago in the forced deportation.  They intimidate families by demanding passports.  They talk about "killing those people."  

The dark-side of the pro Russia rallies we see on TV is this violence that is brewing against Tatars.  They are a vulnerable 13% of the population.  

The nightly news - even PBS - simplifies and fails to give us texture and complexity of what is going on.  I hope this will change.  

Recently, Barb was interviewed by WBEZ Radio in Chicago. She was able to give historical context and present examples of the situation.  

Click here http://feeds.feedburner.com/cprworldviewpodcast  and scroll down to the podcast "Tatars in Crimea."  

I'm indebted to Barb for educating me.  In turn, I share what I have learned so that you might come to know the warm and generous people who are Crimean Tatars. 

Maybe someone with more social media savvy than I will post and help educate others too.     
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Adapted from Presentation of Barbara Wieser

The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic Muslim people who have inhabited the Crimean peninsula for over seven centuries. They are a mixture of the descendants of the Golden Horde (the western part of the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan) and the many ethnic groups of Crimea.

They are considered the indigenous people of Crimea.

From 1441 and for 300 years, the Crimean Tatars ruled the peninsula.  Then in 1783 Crimea was annexed by Russia even though these indigenous people comprised 98% of the population.

Over the next century, Russian oppression grew.  In waves of emigration the Tatar population decreased.  Some fled to the Balkans and Turkey while others were deported to Siberia by the tsarists deliberate policy of annihilating the Crimean Tatar existence.    

After the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin, there was an intensification of repressive policies and terror that further devastated the Crimean Tatar people and culture. 

These practices culminated on May 18, 1944.  The Soviets carried out a plan to forcefully removed Tatars in a mass over-night deportation.  They were carted into box cars and taken to  Uzbekistan and other distant Soviet Republics.  Many ended up in Gulags with as many as 46% dying along the way.  It's been called the Crimean Tatar Holocaust.  

Through all this suffering, the people kept alive the dream of returning to their homeland.  They formed a national movement and for fifty years of nonviolent struggle in the Soviet system, they kept this hope alive.  

In 1985 as the Soviet system started to collapse, the Crimean Tatars saw a chance to realize their dreams.  As more and more restrictions were lifted, their movement gained momentum. They could return to Crimea.  

In a 4-year period from 1989 to 1993, over 200,000 Crimean Tatars came back to Crimea.  Today, an estimated 350,000 Crimean Tatars live in Crimea, constituting 13% of the population.

When the Crimean Tatars began to return to their homeland, their requests for land on which to build their homes to replace the land and homes taken from them in the Deportation were denied. Seeing no other option, they squatted on vacant land and built homes without permits.  This, sometimes, lead to personal violence against them and destruction of their property.

Eventually land was allocated to the Crimean Tatars in “compact settlements” in Simferopol and other cities and in remote locations across the peninsula. Today the land reparations question still remains largely unsolved.

The Crimean Tatars are a cultured people.  They have established a vibrant society. They have an active political organization--the Mejlis, representatives in the Crimea and Ukraine Rada, 15 national schools that teach all subjects in Crimean Tatar, a university that educates Crimean Tatar language teachers, art and history museums, theater, library, radio and TV stations.
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A link for more information on  The Deportation and Fate of the Crimean Tatars


I can’t help but think of that phrase – “Lest we forget…”   

Maybe in the reading of this blog in some small way, we'll know and remember.   

They say that when something goes viral on the Internet millions of people make an individual decision to pass it on.  Isn't it important that more people begin to know about the Crimea Tatars and the terror they are facing?  

The current crisis is more than Geo-political posturing, more than invasion and western response.  It's about a people with a history and a present danger who just want to live their lives and care for their families.  Lest we forget...

Thursday, March 6

Ukraine in Crisis


Here in America we get a matter-of-fact feel for crisis events.  From far away, some development flashes across the media. 

PBS News Hour silently shows photos of  soldiers killed in Afghanistan.   Regrets are felt for another drone that misfires on innocent life.  Demonstrations flare in Bangkok, Venezuela, Cairo, Myanmar.  Name the continent and something seems to be happening there.  So many many events…oh well.

Inspired by my Peace Corps service in Ukraine
And then there’s Ukraine.  Suddenly, the blurs of world events become personal.  I know Ukraine – its history, places and most importantly its people.  They are part of me and I believe that I’m a small part of them.    

A Skype call with a friend in Kiev starts with the telling of a murder.  “My colleague was killed by one of Yanukovych’s snipers.  He leaves a wife and a small child.  Only 32 years,” he tells me.  We stare at each other for a long time – separated, yet electronically close.  I’m so sad.  He looks tired or maybe worn out from the horror of it all. 

I ask him if people were targeted by the snipers up on the roofs.   “No,” he continues, “my colleague wasn’t even on the front lines of the demonstration.  He had no battle gear, no helmet, nothing.  He was killed taking a few medical supplies to help others.”

My friend tells me about joining a million on the Maidon (Independence Square) and being hit by a rubber bullet.  “Damn, it hurts real bad.” 
Scaring on the Maidan, Kiev's central square, displayed in a spliced photo

I remember the numerous times we made pizza and drank piva.  I think about how grateful I am that it was not a sniper bullet and then remember a 100 who weren’t as fortunate.  

I ask about Konotop.  “How is it going for people there?”  He tells me that the huge statue a Lenin is gone – pulled down.  “You mean the huge one that looked out upon the Square? “ I ask incredulously. 
Lenin tumbles in front of Konotop's Mayor's Office
I wonder if any of my friends were involved and what about the civic leaders who were part of my Leadership English classes.   Obviously they allowed this action to happen.  So many people were there.

Konotop is not alone.  I understand that the Lenin is disappearing from town squares across Ukraine.  In some places, the statue is severed at the chest and the face is taken away.  In its place a bust of Ukrainian poet and hero, Shevchenko, is cemented into place.  It’s a powerful patriotic statement. 

We end our chat hoping for the best, yet aware that the situation is so volatile.  

A few hours later I get word that Peace Corps is evacuating Ukraine - 240 volunteers back in America.  I make plans to welcome my friend, Barb who’s been serving for nearly 4 years.  We’ll hang out for a few days and try to make sense of what’s happening and worry about the people we love.  

Saturday, October 26

Are You The Artist?

I notice a couple looking at my art. The woman picks up a piece and shows it to her husband. I'm across the room so I'm curious, but I can't over-hear their conversation. Not that I needed to because within moments, they move towards me with a painting in hand.

“Are you Jud Dolphin...the artist,” they ask?

I'm at an art exhibit featuring 15 artists from my apartment building. We've transformed the lobby into a weekend show of creativity. Everyone is impressed by the quality of the art. I'm making new friendships and feel like I'm part of an artist community. It's great.

The prospect of the Art Show spurred me into painting more. I worked hard on a landscape entitled Winter Geese at Dawn. It was a real challenge. I never painted animals before and here, there were birds with feathers...yikes! It took me four attempts before I had what I was looking for.

Winter Geese at Dawn
Talking with other artists, I hear that it's not unusual to have a lot of paintings thrown into the scrap bin. “Do the work,” they say “and don't worry about the quality. It will come along.” Sometimes I wonder, but my mantra has become – Give it a try!

Some years ago, I came across a book entitled The Artist Way by Julia Cameron. It's a self-help guide for realizing more creativity. It's helped to open a lot of possibilities for me. In part, the Artist Way prepared the way for joining the Peace Corps and now for being more involved with art and teaching.

Cameron's approach is to follow a discipline of writing “morning pages”. They're three hand-written pages of whatever is top-of-the mind each morning. Although I often miss a day or two, the writing fosters awareness and helps to identify blocks that hamper creativity or just getting on with life. Often I'll imagine something on my “morning pages” and find a new opportunity for it later in the week.

Here's a link for some more information http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Artist's_Way

I've reached for the Artist Way whenever I've felt stuck. Recently, a friend was telling me how she was feeling stuck. I mentioned the Artist Way, she bought the book and now we both are working through it – a chapter at a time. One of the side benefits is the chance we have to check-in with one another several times a month.

Both of us agree that we have become more mindful and have been amazed by coincidences and new possibilities popping up where none existed before. Ms Cameron calls it synchronicity.

So here I am at the opening reception for the Art Show. A lot of people have turned out. A cadre of my friends have come to lend support. The room is buzzing with activity. Besides the Winter Geese painting, I have two others on display.

Beach Dunes was created after a visit to my brother's home in Florida. I was impressed by the dunes that lined the beach. Realizing that they are alive with grasses blowing in the wind lent interest. And hearing how dunes actually move over time added some mystery. I hope I captured some of it.

Beach Dunes


















Rock Creek Autumn was inspired by my bicycle rides along Rock Creek.  Rock Creek is a park that winds through the city of Washington, DC.  Not far from my home, there's a water falls that was part of an old grain mill.  I framed the falls and water alive with autumn color.


Rock Creek Autumn

More of my paintings are unframed in bins that line the far wall. A young woman tells me about a friend who has been having hard times. I think it's interesting how a creative atmosphere can sometimes open deeper exchanges among people. Synchronicity?

She looks at a small painting and says, “I want to get this for her.” I tell her about my visit to the Cherry Blossom Festival and how it inspired the watercolor. I hope it will cheer her friend. It's my first sale and an answer to my “morning pages.”

Cherry Blossoms 

Another sale follows. Also from the bin, it features a cluster of birch trees. It's inspired by the birch forests that are so much a part of Ukraine. After the sale, another person says, “I was thinking of that one too.” Maybe, I'll paint more birch trees!

Ukraine Birch

And then there's the couple who asked if I was the artist. They tell me about a parent who recently died after a long life. They're clearing his home near the ocean of personal momentous and preparing to make it a rental. “We think this painting will be perfect on the wall.”

The Wave

Later my son, Matthew, emails me asking how the Art Show went. I call back and tell him about the excitement of selling paintings. Two small ones and one large. He congratulates me and says with a chuckle, “I guess you're a professional now.” 

Wow, I have come a long way. And now I wonder....

Tuesday, August 27

March on Washington - 50th Anniversary

What a wonderful spirit filled experience. Instead of trekking to a far-a-way retreat or cloistering in a quiet pool of meditation, I plunged into a wave of humanity.


It started a couple of weeks ago with a call from my friend, Joe, at the Lafayette Urban Ministry (LUM). He wanted to bring a group of teens from low-income families to the 50th Anniversary commemorating the March on Washington – the one where Martin Luther King voiced his “I have a Dream” speech into history. The group from Lafayette needed a place to stay.

Immediately, I thought of 15th Street Presbyterian Church. This historical congregation involved in civil rights, would be a natural. Another friend , Bob, is the minister there and after a few calls, he made arrangements. The kids from Lum's Achieve program would be able to come to Washington. And I, who probably would have skipped the event, would accompany them.

Here we go. We catch the Metro towards the National Mall. Already, a few groups in matching tee shirts cluster along the station platform. I see logos for UAW, SEIU, and other labor groups. The Urban League and NAACP are well represented too. Others in family groups remember Trayvon Martin with his hoodie image shining life-like across chests - both young and old. I think to myself, “Lest we forget” and to be honest, I mostly had.

Racial profiling and Trayvon's image 

We exit and walk towards the White House. The teens are struck by how small it looks. When juxtaposed with the immense power of the US government, the White House does look out of place. Maybe, we should build a bigger one.

Achieve students from Lafayette, Indiana

I catch an older man wearing a different kind of tee shirt. No logos. It has a message with a lot to read:
One voice can change a room.
And if a voice can change a room, it can change a city.
And if it can change a city, it can change a state.
And if it can change a state, it can change a nation.
And if it can change a nation, it can change the world.

Your voice can change the world.

The tee shirt doesn't attribute the author, but I discover that it's from the 2008 Campaign of Barack Obama – the man who now occupies that small looking White House.


Ironic and yet hopeful, I think. A man who possesses immense power can be used to remind us about the human spirit where even one voice can make a difference. I smile to myself, “Keep the White House small.”

We make the turn onto 17th Street past the old Executive Building and move towards the Washington Monument. One teen asks , “What happened? I thought it was suppose to be white.” I explain the veil of gray scaffolding has been erected for workers to repair damage from the 2011 earthquake that shook the Capital and cracked the upper levels of the Monument.

She nods and scurries to catch up with the others. For a moment, I imagine a monument that is neither white or gray but shines with a spectrum of color just like the Lafayette group who's now merging into a larger and larger stream of diverse Americans.

Messages on placards echo those of 50 years ago. Unite for Justice. Realize the Dream. Protect Voting Rights. Jobs not War. And a new one DC Statehood. Those of us who live in the Nation's Capital still do not have representatives in the Congress. Taxation without representation. We fought a revolutionary war over this.

About ¾ of mile away. We get a glimpse of the Lincoln memorial. It's solid people except for the reflecting pool which has been fences off. There will be no dipping of tired feet in cool waters today. We decide to peel off and make our way to the Martin Luther King Memorial.

We walk through the “Mountain of Despair” and see before us a “Stone of Hope” into which King's image has been carved. On a low wall surrounding the Monument are 14 inscribed quotes. I think how relevant they still are. While reminding us of the controversies we lived through, they point to the conflicts still among us. Sure we Americans have made progress, but there's more to the dream of peace and justice.

Two quotes grab my attention:

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.

It's 1:30 pm. I walk back up 17th Street. I'm tired and hungry. I stop at a sandwich shop and take a window seat. Humanity is still flooding towards the National Mall. There are organized groups of adults, but I'm struck by the number of families with children. I wonder, how much are they absorbing?

For sure, poverty and racism are insidious. Who among these children will pick up the baton and become a drum major for justice? Who will make a career of helping humanity? Who will never forget the Trayvon Martin's of this world?

When I reconnect with the Lafayette teens, I make a point asking each of them about their future plans. I'm struck by how engaging they are. One wants to be a dentist, a couple like the idea of being a vet and several want to get to college. 

Obviously they have absorbed lots and been energized by the day. I have a real positive feeling about this Achieve group. I make it a point of saying to each how I think they'll do good in school this year. "I have that feeling, I say. They beam with confidence.  I then think to myself, “Maybe, they'll find a way to make the world a better place.”

Already expressing leadership, students give interviews to TV 18 Lafayette, Indiana

The March on Washington is over, but my spirit is filled and my awareness has soared.  I'm thinking we can make this world a better place.  

Tuesday, June 4

Alaska's Inside Passage

It looks like any other airport. “Maybe this one is a little smaller,” I think. I pass out of Security and make my way towards baggage claim. Slowly the escalator descends. Foot by foot, a floor to ceiling wall of windows is revealed.
Snow capped mountains - Juneau, Alaska
Wow! Before me is a grand vista of majestic snow capped mountains. It's like a Cinerama. I'm living large. I'm in Juneau, Alaska.
Often cloudy mist hugs the valleys
Weather changes throughout the day.
Here the sky dazzles with a mix of bright blue and clouds.
I think it begs to be painted.
For the next 10 days, I'll board a ship touring the Southwest corner of Alaska's Inland Passage. Our ship is a small one – about 126 feet.  She can hold 30 passengers, but I'll have just 18 cohorts plus crew on this trip.
Kayaking back to the Island Spirit
 They like to call it an un–cruise like a B&B on water. We'll be able to slip into coves where larger cruise ships holding 2000+ cannot imagine going. I'm psyched for the adventure.

An on-board naturalist promises sightings of eagles, whales, porpoise and maybe even a few bears. Captain Jeff tells us that we're on our way to Ford's Terror.
Looking towards Ford's Terror
It's an exceptionally narrow passage. An early explorer got trapped in churning water when the tide turned and rushed out. His name was Ford and consequently the name – Ford's Terror. 

Take a video tour herehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0T6XCM0Tig

We'll ride in on a high tide and hopefully out on the same.

Right now, we're traveling up a fjord called Endicott Arm. The small ship goes slow as we dodge chunks of ice – small icebergs actually. Excitement on the deck grows as we take pictures. One passenger jokes about lifeboats and the Titanic. “Where are the violin players?” I'm glad we had a safety briefing.
Stunningly beautiful flows of ice
Off in the distance is the massive ice wall of Dawes Glacier. Strangely it's colored in shades of aqua and blue. I've never seen anything like that color in nature before.

Distant Dawes Glacier is still moving mountains
  The captain tells us that he will inch forward to within a quarter mile, but dares not go further. He's not so concerned about ice falling or calving, as they say, but being struck by a shooter coming up from below.

Takea look herehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d882cKZIwZ8  Believe me ¼ mile is close enough...simply breath taking.

That night we make the tide into Ford's Terror and drop anchor for the night. The ship is equipped with massive batteries which have been storing energy all day and now the engines are silenced. What remains is Alaskan wilderness just like native people heard – Wind and a near-by waterfalls cascading from cliffs above. I crack my window to let the sounds and cool air flow in. I'm in the wilderness.



Days are filled with kayaking. I paddle to the foot of a waterfalls and get to withing 10 feet of it's splashing descent. The mist sweeps across my face and I spot a small rainbow. My spirit grins.

Alaska is a magical place.  With so much plastic, concretre and asphalt in modern life, being here realigns the senses.  Peer into the water and it's crystal clear.  Smell the air and there's no hint of diesel fumes.  Listen to the breeze sweep across mountains.  Feel the sun peek from behind a puffy cloud and warm your face.  Alaska is massive as well as nuanced with so many experiences.  I'm beginning to realize that I'm only skimming the surface.

But oh my, how I'm enjoying this adventure.



Overhead I see eagles soaring. One lands on a tree and I decide to paddle closer. The eagle tolerates my approach as I marvel at the bird's grandeur.

Our naturalist tells us that eagles are at the top of their food chain. Since the banning of DDT, they have re-established themselves. What an eagle wants, an eagle gets.  I decide to paddle on.

On another day, I'm paddling around an island when I hear a whooshing sound. Humpback whales are surfacing in the distance.  The sound I hear are their blow holes.  Suddenly, I hear and see a humpback surface about 300 feet from the bow of my kayak.  Talk about being up close and personal.  I decide to keep my distance as best I can and watch him gently surface and feed on herring. It's a remarkable sight.

Afterward I just drift along listening to the world around me. It's a cacophony of bird sounds puntuated by a distant whoosh.  Delicate and beautiful. I'm feeling one with nature now.

Each day I paint a watercolor in my journal. I discovered last year when I went to the Pine Ridge and the Lakota Tribe that it's a good way to soak in experiences. It's my way of feeding the spirit. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are a few of the sketches that I produced.

It's a clear day and distant mountains gleam with snow

Sea Lions fill the rock island.  Each bull has a harem of 15-20.
They are very possessive as we learn when we get too close. 
A small one gravel street village with a year-round population of 35.
No cars.  Bikes rule except for the fire truck.  
Twilight fills the sky, land and water with color


Even with pictures in watercolors, my Alaskan adventure cannot be easily shared. It's more than mountains and wilderness, more than ice and waterfalls, more than mammals below or birds above.

I think Alaska gives a glimpse into mystery beyond words and images. It shows me nature's power to both create and destroy.  It transports me into the magnificent cycle of life and death and re-creation or might we say resurrection.

For millennium, glaciers have either moved forward taking giant boulders along for the ride or retreated calving icebergs into the watery seas. Now many are rapidly receding hundreds of feet each year. Creation and destruction are battling within the blue ice.

Humpback whales cooperate with one another. They leave solitary feeding to create a circle of bubbles deep under the water. This bubble ring corrals herring into large clumps so that they can be more easily eaten. I witness the frenzy of life and death swimming in the water.


Moored in remote coves, I see jagged snow capped mountains reflected in pristine waters. Waterfalls cascade across their face cutting grooves and eventually deep fjords into the granite. I think that even these mighty mountains will one day be made low. Nothing in nature and life remains the same.
With Mendenhall Glacier receding more than a football field each year,
Nugget Falls now gushes down the mountain. 

As I soak in the environment around me, a grand metaphor comes to mind.  Being in Alaska is like brushing up against the mysteries of eternity. When that happens, I think we are never quite the same.

Thursday, February 21

Chevy Chase Art Exhibit

Life has a way of surprising me again and again.  Here I am standing in a room filled with artists and their friends.  It’s the opening night of an art exhibit organized by the Fine Arts Council of the Chevy Chase Citizens Association. 

I’m here with eight other artists from the Van Ness Housing Coop.  It’s the first time we have been brought together to exhibit.  It’s fun to meet and greet one another.  One woman says, “With so many of us at Van Ness, we ought to have ourselves an artist saloon.”  Maybe it will happen and usher in another surprise.
  
Around the perimeter of the room hang our paintings.   There are oils and acrylics - mostly abstractions.  They grab attention with their powerful strokes of bold color.  By contrast, there’s a soft pastel.  It depicts friends talking.  I’m struck by expressions and their eyes.  Some connect and others stare blankly beyond the painting.  I wonder to myself, “If pictures could talk, what stories would be told.” 

Watercolorists are well represented with four of us in the show.  Each has a distinct style.  Several use a line and wash technique combining ink pen drawing with delicate watercolor washes.  My friend Marguerite has done some delightful street scenes from Provence France.  You can view some of her work on her blog  http://inkpaintwords.wordpress.com/   


A new friend Martine has a whimsical painting of two cats perched on a windowsill.  They’re intent on every movement of a red bird feeding outside. More of her work can be viewed at http://martineart.webs.com/

It’s wonderful to be here among these artists.  A few years ago it would have been unimaginable.  I was just dabbling with watercolors.  Sure I went to some classes in Boston and Maine.  I even got to go to workshop in Andalusia, Spain.  It was a lot of fun, but through it all I lacked an understanding of basic techniques. My painting was hit and misses and often I missed. 
    
All this changed when I began to teach.  A teacher needs to know his material.  I spent many hours dissecting techniques and painting them one step at a time.  During my Peace Corps Service in Ukraine, long winter nights were filled with practice and then more practice.  My own art work got a lot better as I understood more about basic techniques.  Soon I began teaching classes to aspiring artist and enjoying every moment of it.

I submitted four paintings and three were accepted for the exhibit. 


Maine Winter is from memory, but inspired by my life in Maine.  Often I drove a road in South Portland and viewed the distant city from across the frozen harbor.   Of course the cluster of pines in the painting is a way of identifying with Maine, the Pine Tree State.

 
English Cottage is an painting I made for an Internet contest.  They supplied a photograph as jumping off place.  I then decided to add a second building nestled into the trees.  Do you see the line and wash technique?   I like the way the sky formed.  It uses what is commonly called wet-into-wet. 

A friend asks, “How did you paint that?”  We talk about the unique characteristics of watercolor.  “For sure it can be difficult, but there’s magic too”, I say.  “Unlike other media, watercolor flows and mixes on the paper.  It’s spontaneous and somewhat unpredictable. 

I liken it to having a dance partner. One leads and the other follows and sometimes roles are reversed.  When I lay a wash across the paper, it’s like gliding into a first step and then waiting for my partner to responds.  On and on we go responding to one another.  I think that’s why I like watercolors.  You never know exactly where you’re going to end up.  So many surprising things can happen – just like life.”


Winter Glow comes from my imagination, but is informed by my memory of Ukraine.  Ukraine can be so very cold and it has an abundance of birch trees.  The glow from the depths of the forest is a mystery.  Is it a sunrise, sunset, fire or some other glow?  Like the mystery that is Ukraine, it awaits interpretation.

Right now the room is filling up.  About a dozen of my friends have come to show support.  I'm delighted.  Ben, a Peace Corps friend, is here too.  I jokingly call him my patron because he commissioned a painting last Christmas.  

Lots of people are circulating and looking at the variety of art.  Several indicate an interest in mine and ask for a card.  Fortunately, I made up a few just so that I would be prepared.  I haven’t sold any.  But who knows, I may be surprised.  The exhibit will be up for a month. 

When I served in Ukraine, I got a chance to teach leadership skills to young leaders of the Country’s emerging civic society.  I remember saying that before you start a new project, it helps to imagine it. 
I said, “It’s like your first step happens in the mind.”  I encouraged them to take time to envision outcomes and let their minds feel the contours of what they were about to start.  It’s like Stephen Covey writes in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.   “Begin with your end in mind.”

Last New Year’s, I was thinking about finding a way to show some of my art.  I thought about scoping out coffee shops and various restaurants.  I began imaging my work on public display.   But before I could take further steps, I got a letter - “We would like to invite you to participate in the exhibition program of the Fine Arts Committee of the Chevy Chase Citizen’s Association....”  

It’s amazing how life can surprise you just as you begin to think about starting something new.   

Wednesday, October 10

Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota


“Did Jesus ever sand wood?"  Random thoughts flow in and out of consciousness as I sand parts for a bunk bed project at Re-Member, a volunteer organization on Pine Ridge Reservation.  http://www.re-member.org .

In a remarkable way, life has taken me to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. A year ago, I had never heard of the place. But then newly home from the Peace Corps, I picked up a biography about Bobby Kennedy and began reading. 

I learned that one of the last stops before Kennedy’s assassinated was at Pine Ridge Reservation. Back then, it was one of the most poverty stricken areas of the country and remains so. Kennedy shunned press as he visited families. He spent most of the afternoon in one to one conversations. It’s most surprising that he spent this time while the California Primary, a cliff hanger, was pending. I was moved and registered the name, Pine Ridge. 

Then a few months later, I was flipping TV channels and happened upon Diane Sawyer’s program. She was doing a piece on Pine Ridge.

http://abc.go.com/watch/2020/SH559026/VD55148316/2020-1014-children-of-the-plains 

What’s amazing to me is that I never watch Diane Sawyer and here I am watching a show about Pine Ridge. 

Some more time passes. I’m a regular NPR listener in the morning. Surprisingly, I hear a segment about the foster children’s program in South Dakota. It seems that South Dakota Child Welfare gets a subsidy for every Indian child they have in the system creating an incentive to break up native families just like it was routinely done in the 19th century. The story focuses on …Pine Ridge. 

http://www.npr.org/2011/10/25/141662357/incentives-and-cultural-bias-fuel-foster-system 

Three times in a row Pine Ridge surfaces in my consciousness when in over 60 years of life, it had never appeared. What’s going on? 

Then finally, good friends from Maine, who have gone on work projects to help Katrina families, tell me that they are thinking of going on another work project. Where? Pine Ridge, of course. I can be dense at times, but eventually I get the message. I say, “I hear ya…Sign me up. I’m going to Pine Ridge!”



Pine Ridge is locally known as the “Rez.” It’s what’s left of the land that Lakota people inhabited for millennia. Once, a proud people followed the buffalo from the Missouri River on the East to the great Rockies on the West. They inhabited the unfenced and flowing prairies of this great land. Now in comparison, they are herded onto a postage stamp.

I’m sanding wood with a dozen other volunteers. We've come from Michigan, Wisconsin, and Maine. For a week we will reside in dormitories at Re-Member, work on projects and learn. Native speakers give us a grad school introduction to Lakota ways, culture and history. It’s eye-opening to say the least. 

Days begin early. It’s up before dawn taking turns in the communal bathrooms – one for females and another for males.  Mostly, it works because people are here not for the accommodations, but for the service and learning. 

Ted, Re-Member’s Director, asks us to conserve water. There’s been no rain for months. The water table is low and the pump is stressed from 34 groups coming and going throughout the summer is showing. “Try to keep showers to less than 3 minutes, if you can,” Ted suggests. Not bad advice for water use anywhere. 

After breakfast we gather for “Wisdom of the Elders.” Ted reads quotes and tells stories from Native Leaders. Often insightful, many of us jot down notes for later reflection. I scan the walls looking at pictures of Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, Rain-in-the-Face, Little Big Man and others native leaders. I imagine them speaking through what seems like a deep sadness in their eyes. 

A computer printout of Treaty Titles cascades down the wall. It’s more than 500 titles long. Most were broken by the American Government. Red Cloud said, "They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it."

Here’s an excellent TED Talk - http://youtu.be/8tEuaj4h8dw Take a few moments to re-member our history. 


A picture of a boy stares from a shelf behind Ted’s left shoulder. As I listen, I wonder what happened to him? If he lived into old age, what wisdom might he have spoken? If not, was he another victim of Manifest Destiny and Indian removal? 


Our days are used to contribute to ongoing work projects. One group is working on an innovative housing method that’s rooted in traditional ways – a straw house. Its’ constructed with square bales of straw overlaid with a clay mud mixture. It’s cheap materials, but labor intensive. Another group skirts a trailer with insulated paneling. It’s on-your-hands-and-knees work, but considering the energy savings, it’s worth it and tangible help to families. 

My group is cutting and sanding parts for bunk beds. Families are often doubled and even tripled up. Too many children have no bed to call their own. Imagine. We make 7 beds in two days. On the third day, we deliver them to homes. Each delivery is complete with sheets, blanket and quilt or comforter. There’s even a box of bed-time stories so that mothers and children can pick a few. 

A child beckons a volunteer towards her new bunk bed. She sits there stroking the smooth sheet and points to a stack of books under the bed. “Mine,” she says.

I think about all the hands that make these beds possible and the children who sleep in a safe place. I find myself wondering again – “Did Jesus ever sand wood?” Maybe he did, but more importantly he lived by healing, sharing kindness and seeking justice for the small and forgotten. I get emotional and deep in thought. 

As we return to Re-Member, an intense dust storm kicks in. White-out swirls make it nearly impossible to see the road. It feels other worldly. 


Finally we turn and I see the Re-Member sign through the dust.   I think I understand why I am here. Through life we collect a lot of dust and clutter. But sometimes we're forced to see a sign and remember. There’s is a lot to remember at Pine Ridge and now maybe something I can do.
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 On Pine Ridge, we take a hike to an area known as The Sanctuary.  My prayer is this painting.  

Wounded Knee is a place where native people were massacred on December 29, 1890 . 
Here's the trench where women and children were killed.