The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

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. .

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. 

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. 

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 - 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.
 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.  

Wednesday, July 11

New People, Art and Adventures

A year has passed since completing my Peace Corps service.  I've settled nicely into a one bedroom apartment in Washington, DC.  Gradually I have transformed the blank white walls into a colorful nesting spot where I can live a new adventure, nurture new friendships and create art.  

Ukraine remains close in my memory.  Most mornings when I take a shower, I quickly wet down, turn off the water and soap up.  I's a ritual that reminds me how I lived for many months without hot water and still had a wonderful life. As I start my day,  It keeps me mindful of others round the world who may not even have water.  And as my young friend, Bob, says, "It's green too!"

I have been trying to spend time most weeks on art.  This summer I joined others at the Chevy Chase Community Center just to do art together for a few hours.  Wonderfully, it has encouraged me to try new things and to grow in my abilities.   Last week the Center's Director invited me to submit a proposal for a class this Fall.  I think I will do it.  I always enjoy teaching and nothing is better for learning than to have students.

It's amazing how you get to meet people and discover fellow artists.   The landscape consultant for my coop association happened upon my patio.  I had been meaning to contact him but hadn't gotten around to it.  There he was as I was finishing my morning oatmeal.  

He complimented me on cleaning up the weeds from the perennials and creating new flower beds.  I told him about my Maine garden and how I was so excited now to have a space in the city where I could still garden.

We talked gardens for a long time.  I mentioned a few shrubs that needed trimming.  He asked if I needed more mulch.  We were like two kids who just discovered common interests.  The real surprise was as he was leaving and with one foot over the half wall ready to walk away, he said that he dabbled into a little watercolors.

Well!  That relaunched our conversation.  I invited him inside.  I showed him pictures including one that I recently entered into a competition.  I told him it was a first for me and while I did not expect to win, it was great to have the confidence to put a painting of mine out there.  He understood completely.    

Here's the picture I submitted.   
While I did not win, it is posted along with many other entrants.  I am very pleased.  
After an hour, Rob left and I got to thinking.  While in Ukraine, I had so many adventures.  I met new people here, there and everywhere with many remaining friends.  Maybe life in America is more predictable and certainly way more comfortable, but adventure still happens.  New people.  New friendships.  New chances to be in love with life.  

Inspired by Spring time birch trees in Ukraine.  

Waves and ocean grab our primal soul in powerful ways.  I gave this a try after reviewing a lesson on the Internet.  

Spring is always close in the imagination.  
Living in Washington gives me the chance to view cherry blossoms at their peak.  

A rose is a rose is a rose...

Florida, Art and Family

It's a last moment trip to Florida.  My younger brother, Pete, has moved to the sunshine state.  For many years, his retirement dream was to have a home on the water.  Now he's living his dream complete with a sail boat and beautiful sunsets.

He tells me that he will be welcoming baby Alice the newest member of our extended family.  I cannot resist the invitation and quickly make plans.  Off to Florida I go.
Looking across the grand canal, Cape Coral, Florida.  Congratulations, Pete, and may you enjoy many satisfying years.

Nothing says Florida as well as palm trees.
When I returned from Florida, I posted a quick watercolor sketches on my apartment door.

Early morning with breezes  gently swaying the palm branches overhead. 

A photo captures the beauty of a moment and becomes inspiration for another watercolr.  

The textures and colors of the dunes at dusk.  Relax and watch the sun go down.

Rita, my niece, and Bill came for a visit.  They are living in SF with their new daughter.  Mom and Dad cuddle baby Alice.  Of course, she is adorable.  

Monday, January 16

Winter Art

I never thought I would say this, "I'm missing winter." After two years in Ukraine, you might think I had enough of snow and ice. But here I am in Washington DC with temperatures in the 50s and 60s and only a few below freezing. Last week it was warm enough to have a picnic in a park and I did.

Yikes, it's January!

Maybe to compensate for the unusual weather, I've been creating snow scenes in my art. It's been a lot of fun and I feel like I'm improving week by week.  I started with scanning my photos of Maine winters for inspiration.  These two take me back to my wonderful years in Portland.  Then I heard on the radio that Portland was surprised by below zero or maybe not so surprised.  I remember... Mainiacs seem to take it in stride even as they sigh, "Here we go again."
Original photos of Mainer winter
My first painting is a small one about 5" x 8". People often ask, "Where's it from?"  Of course the best thing about watercolors is that pictures come from the imagination.
Original Watercolor - Winter Walk

I remember the birch trees that are ubiquitous in Ukraine as well as Maine.  I looked through the web for inspiration and pulled together this painting.  I like the glow of color that also leaves a viewer wondering, "Is it the sun rising or setting or is it a fire or ...?"
Original Watercolor - Winter Glow

I took this photo in Ukraine.  It was a cold crisp day when the sun was so bright that the shadows turned blue.  I wanted to give a watercolor life to the photo and express my own feelings.  It looks easy to do, but believe me it is not.  It took me three attempts to get the blue wash smooth enough and the shadow acceptable - not too light or too dark, but just right.  Here's my rendition.
Original Watercolor - Winter Blue

I love winter storms.  Well...let me be more precise.  I love the first winter storm.  When I lived in Maine, I would snap on my snow shoes and go for long walks in the woods.  In Ukraine necessity meant you walked everywhere.  Maybe it's the kid in me but when the snow is whistling across a field I feel exurberant and so wonderfully alive.  Of course by March, I've had enough.  Yet in both Ukraine and Maine, winter has plenty more to dish out.
Original Watercolor - Winter Storm
Painting has become a kind of New Year resolution for me.  I sent several photos of my work to friends in Ukraine. As they replied with Happy New Year wishes, they also encouraged me to keep creating.   I think that's what I most like about watercolors.  I face a blank sheet of paper with only an idea in my head.  I mix some colors.  Sketch and outline.  And them swoosh on my first brush of paint.  Idea becomes form.  A new creation takes shape.
My  Hallway of Ukrainian Art