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We all have our story, right? The story that makes you who you are, that helps you make meaning of your life and the crazy world around you. Sure, the story may just be a story- subjective and based on your unique perspective- and ask someone else in your life to tell your story and it may seem totally different, even unrecognizable to you. But I think we all have our story, even if it changes and evolves over time- a reality we create and choose to believe. Call it a world view, a religion, an ego, whatever.
What if suddenly you realize your story doesn’t make any sense? All the facts contradict each other and it seems like every hour, even every minute you can turn the story on its head, choose to believe a different set of “facts” and create a different story. You start to feel crazy, because all these stories are incongruous and none of them really make any sense. And suddenly you can’t tell up from down, right from wrong, or truth from lies. Is that what they call an existential crisis? Or is that just going crazy?
Imagine solving the mystery of your life. Not the unknown future but your past. It should make sense, right? I mean, you were there, you experienced it. You should have all the pieces and the information you need. But it doesn’t make sense. The pieces don’t fit. And so it becomes an obsession- trying to make the pieces fit. But they won’t. And so you start to question your own sanity. Why won’t the pieces fit?
A canoe and a sail boat sail parallel. Parallel lines never touch. They exist harmoniously. This was the basis for the two row treaty, the first treaty between the indigenous peoples of North America and the Europeans. When the Europeans (at this time it was the Dutch) came from the east, with their different language, culture, and ways, the native people saw that their ways were different and often conflicting from their own ways but recognized that they were still people and so sought a way to live harmoniously with them. Talks between the Europeans and the natives led to an agreement. The Europeans recorded it on paper. The native people used their own way to record the treaty; wampum beads, made from quahog shells. These beads were used by the native people for identification, to record events, and to carry messages. So the treaty was made into a wampum belt. On this belt were two parallel rows of purple beads to symbolize the native’s canoe and the european’s sailboat running parallel forever. In between these two purple rows, each two beads thick, was a row of white beads, three beads thick, for peace, friendship, and forever. The white beads represent truth. And so, in a white sea of truth, both sides agreed to travel down the road of life in peace and harmony with each other and all other beings on the planet. They pledged to not interfere with each other’s affairs and to take not more then they needed, leaving enough for the other and for the next seven generations. This treaty was to be forever. Or as the natives say, “as long as the grass grows green, as long as the water flows downhill, and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.” And indeed, the grass still grows green, the water stills flows down, and the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. And the wampum belt still exists, as testimony to this treaty, while the piece of paper has long been lost or destroyed. But the europeans have violated this treaty many times, passing laws to try and change the native people, what they are, and how they conduct their spiritual, political, and everyday lives.
As 2013 marks the 400 year anniversary of the two row treaty the indigenous people and their allies are calling for this treaty to be honored as we move forward. We are asking to work towards an existence that leaves enough for others and for the next seven generations. An existence that does not interfere with the existence of other beings but lives harmoniously side by side. Is this not something we can all work towards? Is it not something that will lead to a better future for all our grandchildren?
This is what I came to realize over the last three days, as I walked and paddled with native people and allies from stuart park in Ithaca, NY to S.H.A.R.E. farm in Springport, NY, about 30 miles north of Ithaca. This is not just about the struggle of indigenous people. This is all of our struggle. This is about our earth and our children. Corporations are destroying the earth that we all live on through fracking, mining, and consuming and they are doing it in our name. As the saying goes, perhaps you could stand by when they took the land from the Indians because that was not you. And perhaps you could stand by as they dumped toxic waste in the black ghettos because that was not you. But soon they will come for you and there will be no one left. Everyone suffers when clean drinking water is polluted. Everyone suffers when our food contains poisons. So really, we should all be joining this fight and demand that the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land that grows our food be sacred. This is not their struggle. It is our struggle. Already we are becoming victims to what we have helped create. Our taxes support practices we do not support. Our corporations have been elevated to the level of nations and exploit our resources with no consideration to the well being of future generations. And they do it in our name.
And so it felt so right to walk on the land and paddle across cayuga waters for three days and three nights learning about, spreading awareness around, and living the way of the two row wampum treaty. And the plants and animals seemed to agree. Three blue herons flew over us as we paddled the first day. And two foxes ran along the edge of the railroad tracks. Sitting on a rock on the water, Craig, a young Diné (Navajo) man played his wooden flute into the sunset our first night at Myers point. Little ducklings came, mama duck in tow, to swim around his rock. Walking through farm land the second day horses came, drawn to our drum and song, and then began to gallup in an earth-wise circle. Three baby colts and a half dozen or so full grown horses galloped and galloped in a circle, dancing for us. None of us had ever seen anything like it. The cows on the farms stood at attention and watched us, every single one of them following us with their big brown eyes, saluting our cause it seemed. The animals were saying yes. This is right. Walk together. Paddle together. For peace and harmony.
There, in the context of peaceful, slow travel, magic happens. A Magic that leads to spontaneous music and dance in front of strangers in the evening. A Magic that leads to hard but necessary conversations as people open their homes and sacred spaces to us travelers of peace. A magic that leads to the opening of hearts and minds.
And so the two row wampum renewal campaign is about beginning that healing through conversations and awareness so that we can find ways to walk side by side as brothers and sisters. And for myself, I will say this walk has helped me learn how to better do that. I feel I have begun to form the friendships, knowledge, and vocabulary to seek my place in this struggle. And the fears that acted as fences between people with difference begin to dissolve. Another magic that happens when you travel slowly with people.
July 27th through August 10th over 400 people will be paddling and walking from albany to the United Nations headquarters in New York City by way of the Hudson river. They will be caring the same message we carried on this three day walk: a message of peace, asking that we all work together to take care of this earth. At the same time, a group will gather in Washington, DC on July 13th and leave July 15th to walk across the nation, arriving in Alcatraz, CA on December 22nd to complete the 4th longest walk. The first one was in 1978 to call attention to legislation that was trying to be pushed through congress that would greatly restrict the lives of native americans. These pieces of legislation were dropped. In 2008 the 2nd longest walk took place to call attention to indigenous sacred sites. And in 2011 was the 3rd walk to reverse diabetes. This 4th walk is to take the medicine back home. The last three walks have been from the west coast to D.C., carrying messages out, to the rest of the world. This walk will begin in DC and travel back across the original route taken in 1978, taking the medicine home back to native peoples.
If you can, join one of these two momentous events. Even if only for a day. Go out and support the travelers as they pass through your area. Offer them food, water, shelter. All will be appreciated.
“why such philosophical talk about something as worldly as homebuilding? Because what is worldly about homebuilding is that it happens on this earth, it uses natural and man made materials and it requires money. The rest of homebuilding has to do with beliefs, feelings, spirit and passion. Certainly shelters can be made without these, but they probably will not be the kind of structures that speak positively and warmly to future generations of occupants. For most people, homebuilding is full of the most sensitive emotions. It seperates them from their life’s earnings, either to a good or ill end. It can bring families together or it can tear them apart, for homebuilding can be a dark and dangerous sea full of shoals and turbulant currents. I believe a well designed and well constructed timber frame house is worth the voyage, and I offer this book to help chart the course”
This is the last paragraph of the introduction to The Timber-Frame Home: Design, Construction, Finishing written by Tedd Benson. And for me it captures much of why I build. Building, to me, perfectly matches my inclinations as an artist and person who strongly identifies with place and fulfills my desire to walk a “mystical path with practical feet” (a phrase taken from Bill Plotkins, Nature and The Human Soul). Building is a worldly endeavor with tangible, real outcomes. But is also so much more then that. It can build community, make a statement, create a sense of place, give pride, provide an anchor, a home. Who are we without a home?
It has been a little while since I have written about building but that is not because I have stopped exploring it. Quite the contrary, I think I have become even more committed to it. Almost six months ago I was given the honor of acceptance as a Heartwood School Apprentice. I will be one of four apprentices who will stay at the school through this summer taking courses and also being offered many fantastic opportunities outside of the courses to participate in raising’s, go to timber frame guild meetings, and visit historical timber frame structures in the northeast. And to add to this honor I also received the very first Berkshire Woodworkers Guild scholarship to help with the cost of this summer. This was an exciting and unexpected gift that reassured me that I must be doing something right.
Almost a month ago now I went to Heartwood for our first course, Fundamentals of Woodworking. It felt great to be there. I felt at home almost immediately. And although I am sure their will be many times during the apprenticeship where I will be challenged, get frustrated, and perhaps even doubt my abilities, this first week I felt strong and confident, which felt like a good way to start. In this first course I learned a lot about tools in the shop; their function, safety, and maintenance. And we also built a toolbox as well as a beautiful little shaker stool. I was quite pleased with how mine came out and will hopefully get a picture up here of it soon. I also met one of the other apprentices, Jack, who at 17 years old is the youngest apprentice Heartwood has ever had. We got along fantastically and I am excited to meet the other two apprentices, one of whom is coming from Argentina!
When I returned to Ithaca I was almost immediately presented with an opportunity to put my new knowledge to use. It was quite amazing actually. I had just pulled into the parking lot of Ecovillage at Ithaca (where I am renting a room until I fully move into heartwood on June 13th) when I saw Dave, a fellow ecovillage resident, struggling to carry a bunch of wood and tools from the shared shop back to his house. I offered him a hand and by the time we had reached his house he had enlisted my help in his projects. Dave is an amazing man. A professor of neurobiology at Cornell University, he built his own timber frame home in Song, designing everything, including his own ingenious windows and doors and enlisting a local blacksmith to help give his house a unique and beautiful look. He also tinkers with electric bikes in his spare time, using them to commute back and forth to Cornell when the weather is nice (the hills in Ithaca make doing this commute on a regular bike only for the the most ambitious) and driving his small hybrid car that gets 70 miles to the gallon in poor weather. Now we are almost done building 4 storm windows that will match his interior window design and have a plan for a screen door that we are both pretty excited about and hope we can pull off.
In the little spare time I have between these projects and my work at the amazing local food coop, Greenstar, I have been reading some books on Timber framing. The first was Build a Classic Timber Frame House by Jack A. Sobon, a fantastic how to book that walks you through exactly how to build a classic hall and parlor house. And, having just finished that one I am starting in on The Timber Frame Home by Tedd Benson. Already I like his writing style which seems to intertwine the philosophy with the practicalities, because lets be real, yes, I like that building is practical, but if it doesn’t also fit into my belief systems and worldview then I would not be interested. The philosophies, beliefs, and ethics of building are of just as much interest to me as the practicalities of it, and I hope I never lose site of that as I delve deeper into learning all the practical skills to create a delivery system to manifest those more abstract parts of who I am. After I finish this book I hope to read The Company We Keep: Reinventing small business for people, community, and place by John Abrams, a book about a timber frame business on Martha’s Vineyard, and what it takes to run a responsible and ethical business. I like what one of the reviews on the back of the book says; “the company we keep is a soulful and refreshing reminder that businesses are no different from families, communities, or any other human organization– without mission or purpose they can be lifeless, even destructive, but infused with intention, they can sow the seeds for a hopeful future.” -Gary Hirshburg
I went to NYC to see the Earth & Me at Symphony Space. It was a beautiful moment and an amazing show. It was a full house in this large theatre, filled with children from kindergarden all the way through 8th grade from all parts of the city- chinatown, brooklyn, the bronx, and manhattan- and even some handicapped and special needs students. My grandmother introduced the show, explaining how everything on the shadow screen is done by hand and nothing is done by a computer. This received a round of applause from the audience. Then, as the opening music came on I felt tears come to my eyes as the shadow of the child, as if by magic, emerged into the projected image of the earth. I felt transported back to my childhood and was blown away as the performance unfolded to see all my core values reflected back to me in such a beautiful medium of song, dance, and puppetry. And what a powerful message of hope and peace! The children around me Oooed and Ahhhed, with exclamations of wonder and excitement escaping their lips with the appearance of new puppets and magical shadow screen effects and exquisite power filled dancing. After the show the dancers and puppeteers came out and sat on the edge of the stage where children were able to come up and say hello, some asking for autographs, others giving high fives, and others wanting to hug the “mother earth” character and ask if she was ok now. Thank you to all our other donors for helping make this show happen. We truly could not have done it without you. You helped create a very special moment for both me and my grandmother as well as plant many seeds of peace in the young hearts of literally thousands of children.
I want to thank all of our supporters for your contributions. As of this writing there are 106 of you. We have raised $5,809 on the campaign site and $3,315 donated directly to the theatre with potentially an additional $350 promised as a result of the campaign. That bring our potentcial total up to $9,474.
We are hoping to raise at least $10,000 +.
Any help you can give by telling your friends will be greatly appreciated. Shortly, our indiegogo campaign will come to an end, however our fundraising efforts will now. People can call in contributions to 212 724 0677 or mail checks to The Shadow Box Theatre,325 West end Ave, New York, NY 10023.
Though we are noticeably short of our stated goal of $27.000, in good faith, Earth & Me has gone into rehearsal. The opening date is April 17th at Hostos College in the Bronx. We have already booked 3,140 inner city school children booked to see the shows in all 4 boroughs. Our goal is 6 to 8,000 children.
Hopefully between additional fund-raising and ticket sales we will be able to end our season in the black and bring a wonderful show supported by many to our young audiences.
We hope to see many of you at a performance.
Know how deeply appreciative we are of your help. You literally will have inspire many children to care for our earth as well as making many children smile.
And know that the campaign has done more than just raise money. It has lifted the spirits of us in the theatre, reminding us why we do this work! Our Inter-generational joining of hands has made a small miracle happen.
Miwa Oseki Robbins, Sandra Robbins, and the many children we serve
Previous posts on this topic:
The freeskool in Ithaca offers some great classes, including one about fingerlakes plant communities offered by Adrian, a wonderful teacher. We had our first walk of the season this past sunday and went to Mullholland Wildflower preserve on Giles street to look at a typical flood plain forest. Note that is is still very early spring here so we learned to identify these trees without leaves!
Here is what I learned. The two main trees that makes up this floodplain community in the fingerlakes are the sycamore and the cottonwood. The Sycamore is a very distinctive tree due to its beautiful, multi colored bark, which once you know it, is unmistakable. But on an older tree you may have look up a bit to see this distinctive bark as often the older bark down below is less distinctive.
The sycamore tree is an important tree in the ecosystem as they often have large hollows that provide good habitat for animals. We even saw one with a beehive in it where the bees seemed to be just waking up after the winter and buzzing around!
Here are a few other characteristics of the sycamore tree. It’s branching and leaf pattern is alternate rather than opposite or whorled. And it has a large fruit that it drops in early spring, around May and is somewhat spiny. If you are around sycamore trees you will see them everywhere on the ground in late spring. I had always seen these fruits but not known which tree they belonged to. And their leaves are large and broad, somewhat like a maple leaf.
Although these trees are often planted in places that are not floodplains and can survive in such conditions if you seem them in a natural habitat this may indicate a wet area or a flood plain. Look for some of the other species I will talk about next if you suspect it is!
The second main tree species in the flood plain community of the fingerlakes is the cottonwood. Cottonwood trees are fast growing trees in the poplar family, which is distinguished by deep, fissured bark, that appear to have almost diamond shaped fissures. The leaf and branch pattern of this tree is also alternate, like the sycamore. The cottonwoods we saw here were different then the ones I was familiar with in the northwest, which tended to be very tall and straight in stature, and often seemed to be planted as a hedgerow tree. These cottonwoods in the northeast were not as straight, although still quite tall.
The cottonwood wood is known to be good for carving and is what we used in Michigan for our timber framing project. It is relatively soft and straight grained.
Its leaves tend to be relatively small and heartshaped, with wavy edges that can be seen in the picture below, and their fruit are small and hang in clusters, and produce a cottony pollen after they ripen in June.
These two species, the cottonwood and the sycamore are the two plants that define this floodplain community. We also learned about a common understory tree in the community, the box elder, latin name acer negundo. For those of you who are familiar with latin names you will notice that it is in the maple family. I had heard people talk about box elder’s and when we were guessing the identity of the tree I guessed that is was a maple, but I didn’t know that the box elder was a maple! Did you know that there are over 100 species in the maple family?! Well, apparently there are.
I guessed that the box elder was a maple because it had many burls and my woodurner friend had been talking about how maples tend to have large burls, which he likes to work with on the lathe.
In this community the box elder is often an understory tree and grows almost like a weed. Because it is competing for light it tends to be in a somewhat stressed condition, causing to to send out many leafy sprouts in an attempt to have more surface area from which to photosynthesize.
I also came to recognize the black cherry tree on this walk, a tree not necessarily typical of the flood plain community. This tree has wonderful wood for burning or smoking things and also has quite distinctive bark. Someone on our walk described it to me as potato chip bark and I think that will always stick with me. Also, as its name implies the bark is quite dark in color.
The fruit of this tree is also quite yummy and can be used to make jams and pies is what I hear, but the birds often get to them first!
Now you are a little more familiar with one of many flood plain communities! Try seeing if you can find a flood plain community in your area and see how it differs and is similar to this one! If you want to read more about this particular flood plain community a great resource is the online pdf version of the Guide to the Plant Communities of the Central Finger Lakes Region by Charles L. Mohler, Peter L. Marks, and Sana Gadescu which can be found here through cornell’s ecommons.
One last cool thing I learned from a fellow student on the plant walk was a handy acronym by which to remember the trees that have opposite branching patterns: MAD CAP HORSE. Here is how it works
M – maple
A – ash
D – dogwood
CAP – caprifoliaceae family (honeysuckly and vibernum family)
HORSE – horse chestnut
All of these have opposite branching and leafing patterns, while the others tend to have alternate or whorl patterns. Opposite means that they will branch both ways at each point, giving the plant an overall somewhat symmetrical look.
Hope you learned something!
Until next time…
I am Sandra Robbins’ eldest grandchild and have just graduated from Cornell University majoring in environmental science. The Shadow box Theatre changed my life and has shaped me in more ways then I can imagine. But more importantly I see the impact it has on each child that is blessed with the opportunity to experience SBT. Children love my grandmother’s shows. When I go to her weekday shows full of public school children I am amazed at the reception her theatre receives. They sing, dance, and clap along. In The Earth & Me they all join hands at the end of the show and sing “Hand in Hand,” making a commitment to peace and the earth. As a child I remember listening to the sound track of The Earth & Me and re-enacting the whole play with two little stuffed animal seals I had, entertaining myself for hours. I knew all the songs by heart and especially love the closing song, ‘Hand in Hand.’
Today when I see who I have become, an outdoor enthusiast and a passionate steward of the natural world as well as an empowered individual with great concern for the earth and its people, I have to look back and thank my many influences, but particularly my grandma, who has always been one of my strongest woman role models. Her passion to bring theatre with important messages to children is a great example of a life’s work well spent. When I heard that The Shadow Box Theatre was in a financial crisis due to Hurricane Sandy and considering canceling its spring show of The Earth & Me, I knew I had to help. Now, more then ever, I think children need this show. With many in NYC having seen first hand the darkness brought by extreme weather, children need a message of hope and a guiding light of a way to live in peace and harmony with the earth. This show provides just that and much more. Anyone who experienced the power of theatre and the magic of its’ “Story-telling” as a child, knows that it stays with you forever. Thank you for helping us make this fund raising effort a great success.
View the full campaign here: igg.me/at/EarthAndMe
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about my grandmother’s theatre and the financial crisis it is in due to Hurricane Sandy. Well, today I am writing to let you all know that we have launched our fundraising campaign and are off to a great start having raised $2,253 in our first week. But, we need to keep going, as our goal, which is what the theatre needs to be able to weather this storm, is $27,000. We have raised about 8% of what we need.
There are MANY ways you can help and not all of them include money.
Perhaps the most important thing is to increase our visibility, or as IndieGoGo calls it, our GoGo factor. Doing this will have a snowball effect in that it will help make our campaign come up higher in search results and possibly even make it reach the home page of IndieGoGo, which will lead to more donors! You can all help us do this just by clicking on our page (click on it every day if you can!), sharing it via facebook, twitter (and retweeting our posts), using google+, e mail, and word of mouth and by getting creative. You can reblog this post or my previous one or write your own blog post about us. Or call up someone you know who supports the theatre arts and has some money to spare. Or write an article for your local paper! All of this will help us reach out goal. I know my audience here on my blog is at least somewhat internet savvy so I am asking for you help in spreading the word!
And it is not just about the big donations. Any donation does and will help. This theatre touches over 30,000 school children each year. If each child had someone donate just $1 in their name we would be past out goal! So, even if $1 is all you have to spare, consider donating for a child. $7.50 is the price of a ticket for a child when they come as a school group, so donate $7.50 and one more child will be able to come see our shows! This is called crowdfunding and numbers are the name of the game.
If you do spread the word or donate let us know about it! It brings smiles to our faces and keeps us going here at the theatre to know that others are working on our behalf. You can comment on this blog, send me an e mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on our indiegogo site and help inspire other supporters to also spread the word!
Thank you and I hope you will support me in this effort.
With warmth and Light,
Miwa Oseki Robbins (and the Shadow Box Theatre)
To view the full campaign visit igg.me/at/EarthAndMe
This painting was inspired by a picture of my wonderful partner, Peter Benjamin. He is a kind, thoughtful, always supportive, and steady soul in my life. We have been together for almost four years now and I am just as happy with him as I was on day one. With love, I dedicate this painting to him.