Friday, April 29, 2016

Reflection: Visiting Fort Frederick's 22nd Annual Market Fair

Last weekend, Jamie and I had the privilege of traveling from Morgantown to Fort Frederick (near Big Pool, MD) with our friends Dan and Lori. The entire day was filled with memories to savor, and new ones to be made. There's something heart-warming about taking a road trip with friends in the first place, but this was the first extended period of time we had together for a long time. Dan and I grew up together, and so the drive was a mix of laughter over old memories and adventures, and in depth discussions about what is happening in our lives right now. An automobile, with no screens and no music is a great place for these types of discussions, but walking together in a park is even better, and that is EXACTLY what we did upon arrival at Fort Frederick.

Fort Frederick State Park has hosted Market Fair for 22 years, and I have probably attended about half of those years. My old chief used to love going to the event because the focus of the weekend was the French and Indian War (Seven Years War) era frontier. The event is a large rendez-vous and historic reenactment weekend with individuals donning the attire of British troops, militia, settlers, and some First Nations peoples wearing traditional regalia. Back in the 90s, going with my chief was like going with a celebrity. Everybody seemed to know him, and enjoyed having him stop by their weekend lodging. Hundreds of canvas tents scattered around the stone fort and these become the homes of participants for four or five days during the event.

Many of these participants are also artisans who specialize in various primitive skills. Every year when I go, I love seeing a variety of incredibly talented gunsmiths, knife smiths, blacksmiths, tailors, tanners, tobacconists, potters, silversmiths, and more. Some of the participants have spent weeks and months making absolutely beautiful quill work designs (they even dye the porcupine quills using traditional dyes). Still others make large belts of wampum, weaving the beads by hand.

In the early years of Market Fair, I remember my chief was brought in as a consultant for a group of Native American re-enactors who were interested in constructing a traditional eastern woodlands village. The photo above was taken at the edge of the woods where this village once stood--I participated in a wedding out on that. A number of native people from the region, including a strong contingent from our Native student group at WVU, would make the annual trek for Market Fair to trade, to find traditional wares, and to connect with other folks from various tribes as well as with other people who simply had a deep appreciation for history and simple living. For many years, this event served as an unofficial and unplanned reunion for many of us. We spent many evenings around the campfire swapping stories and drumming and singing very, very old songs and sometimes writing new ones.

This year was probably the busiest Market Fair I can remember. There were multiple overflow parking areas when we arrived at 1130AM. There's something to be said for perseverance, tradition, and time. This event has grown huge over the years. And, like every other time I have traveled to it, there was an unofficial and unplanned reunion. This year, it was with one of my former roommate's parents, Mark and Debbie Culp. Of course we had to take a group photo and send it off to their son Nic. We were able to enjoy a meal together, and I was able to introduce them to Dan and Lori as well as give them an update on the latest happenings with Nuru. Nic's parents have a love for wilderness, for traditional skills, and for history, but it was their first time visiting Market Fair--they LOVED it!

I highly recommend stopping by Market Fair if you find yourself near western Maryland in late April. The event itself has a longstanding tradition, and you never know who you might run into there. There's something really beautiful about meeting and connecting with individuals who are keeping old ways alive, and who are incredibly dedicated to their craft. There's also refreshment to be found by taking a step away from screens and devices for a few hours to breathe in the fresh air, and to engaging in the quickly fading art of conversation. May you find time and space in this hurried world to slow down and enjoy people and the beauty of the outdoors.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Reflection: Walking Through Muir Woods

Recently my travels took me to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley to welcome aboard Nuru International's newest team member, an amazing individual named Danny Perez. I had the distinct privilege of traveling to the West Coast to begin Danny's first week together with him, and start his on boarding and orientation process as he joins us in the fight to end extreme poverty!

But before his on boarding began, I had an opportunity to visit Muir Woods National Monument. These woods are among the last uncut stands of coastal redwoods, and honestly being able to walk in this space was awe-inspiring. These woods were purchased by William and Elizabeth Kent in an effort to preserve them in 1905, and they are donated to the government. President Theodore Roosevelt used the 1906 Antiquities Act to proclaim the area as a national monument. John Muir, when he heard that the couple wanted to name this monument after him said, "This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly found in all of the forests of the world." And all of this happened more than 100 years ago.
As I walked through this forest of ancient redwoods, I was overwhelmed by a series of emotions, the foremost being gratitude. Gratitude for these trees being preserved--trees that were older than the United States--trees that had seen empires rise and fall, and that had stood resolute for hundreds of years. There's a lot we can learn from an ancient grove of trees, waving in the wind but rooted deeply in the earth.
My gratitude spilled over into a more broadly experienced gratitude for the opportunity to experience ancient and sacred places like this one. There's something powerful about a walk in the woods. As John Muir once stated, "In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks." In my short time on this earth (particularly short when compared with trees that are more than a millenium in age), I have been able to witness some amazingly beautiful spaces. Many of which have been near home in West Virginia, but some in travels across continents. Beauty is all around us, but we rarely take time to soak it in. Dostoyevsky once wrote, "Beauty will save the world." In one sense, it already has in the beautiful life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but every time we are able to pause and soak in the grandeur of this beautiful world, our souls are the better for it.
Before I arrived in these woods, I was driving through rain and thick fog, and I was wondering if I would be able to see much at all, or if the rain and fog would negate majestic views. When I finally arrived, I realized that the rain and fog had probably discouraged others from traveling to these woods that particular day, and that they had granted me an opportunity to walk in this sacred space in solitude and silence. In fact, the park had set up signs along some of the paths encouraging visitors to walk quietly along and soak in the sounds of the wilderness.
My gratitude overflowed as I listened to the sounds of Redwood Creek churning along as it worked to make its way to the Pacific Ocean. It was actually kind of hard for me to grasp that these giant trees and stream were so close to the ocean. I made my way along these groves of trees thinking about the native coho salmon and steelhead trout swimming in this stream, and the many other wonderful memories I've had walking along similar streams back home in Appalachia.
I experienced gratitude as I walked for the rich tradition my parents and other ancestors had instilled in me and other Shawnee people to spend time walking in the creation and listening. Among the immediate rewards experienced on this particular day was the witnessing of a couple of deer crossing along the valley in which I was walking. In the silence and solitude, we can experience emptiness and boredom, or, more likely we can be filled beyond our imagination and comprehension with goodness, peace, and refreshment.
My walk took me meandering along a path beside these trees who had stood at the edge of this creek for centuries. Eventually, I was afforded an opportunity via footbridge to cross the stream and make my way uphill to another path that gave me a different view for the journey back to my vehicle.
When I made it back to the beginning of the path, I felt like it might be worthwhile to stop in the visitor center and gift shop to have a look around. When I was a kid, I always wanted to have a shirt or a hat or some remembrance to mark the experience that I had "been there," but as I have grown older, I have found that the best remembrances are the memory making moments themselves. But, I must admit I was tempted in the gift shop to spend $10 and buy a giant sequoia seedling. I recalled a poem by Wendell Berry about planting sequoias and investing in the millennium. The poem ends with the statement, "Practice resurrection," a fitting imperative at all times, but particularly in this Easter season. I didn't purchase the sapling, BUT, Jamie and I have been thinking pretty seriously about purchasing and planting one in our yard here in Morgantown, especially in light of Wendell Berry's encouragement. They grow about a foot each year once they have established themselves.
When I finally arrived back at my rental car, I felt energized, alive, and ready for a full week ahead. I was soaked from the misty rain, but even more fully saturated with gratitude. A walk in the woods, whether in a national park, or a local grove of trees or protected lands is good for heart and soul. May we each find frequent time to experience the refreshment that only comes from being outside and in this beautiful and majestic created world that beckons us to soak in its rejuvenating and healing power.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Reflection: Rend Collective Concert, Joy, And Music

Last Thursday, Jamie and I took an impromptu trip to Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown, West Virginia to see a band that our good friend HallĂ© had told us about a few years back, Rend Collective. Little did we realize when HallĂ© told us about this Irish folk band that their music was already a regular part of our weekly worship gatherings among our local faith community. 
As we arrived, I found myself thinking about how music has changed over the last hundred years, and even over the last ten years. Thanks to apps like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music we can stream a wide array of music on our computers and mobile devices wherever we go. I remember when I acquired my first Mac, I was so impressed that I could take all of my compact discs and place them on my computer. I remember as a small child being tremendously excited about listening to eight-tracks with my parents at home, and by the time I was in junior high, I was able to listen to cassettes with my Walkman as I walked around the neighborhood, or even around the house. Mine was one with the ability to record, play radio music, and cassettes, and I can remember having a ton of fun listening to tunes.
But this wasn't always the way music was available. It's kind of hard to fathom because nowadays our favorite artists' music is readily accessible. But there was once a time when music could only be experienced live--our only way to experience music was to go to a concert, or to make it ourselves. As I listened to the band, they invited us to join in singing, clapping, snapping fingers and dancing. They were inviting us to experience the joy of music. Music is quite the gift!
As much as I enjoy listening to music of various genres, I tend to believe that music is best rendered as something we experience. I believe it was John Cage who said that once we record it, it ceases to be music--it is not able to be experienced in the same way as when it is live. It is the energy of a past moment that may be powerful as a memory, but it is a far different experience than making or creating music in the moment. 

As we enjoyed the evening with the band's performance, and as the members of the band switched rapidly among instruments that even included garbage cans, they were encouraging us to enter into the joy of song, singing praises to the Creator of the universe, and not allowing our cynic or our inner critic to rob us of laughter and joy. At one point in one of their songs, the lights went out and they were wearing panda heads. Later that evening they talked about how the Bible references both fruit of the Spirit and gifts of the Spirit and that seriousness does not make an appearance in either list. Making music invites us into the realm of joy, and they felt that panda heads while performing were a good reminder to the people who joined them at the concert to not fill their lives with seriousness. 

Growing up, even though I don't remember either of my parents playing an instrument, they encouraged us to sing, to play music, and to be joyful. It was never a command from them, it was more of a simple way of life for all of us. At some point in time before I was born, my dad and one of my uncles used to drive a garbage truck. They would regularly find treasures along the side of the road that people were ridding themselves of. One of those treasures was an electric organ. I have many vivid memories of plugging that organ in, and listening to a fan begin to spin; the keys on the organ forced the air through to create notes of music. Dad had also acquired a couple of song books for this organ that were numerically coded, so I could follow the numbers to play songs. This was before the advent of synthesizers and keyboards in the 80s. I don't believe anyone in our family ever became a piano player, but I can remember playing Christmas carols and other songs as Dad made home-made pizzas or Mom was making some meal for us all to enjoy. 
Even on my tribal grounds, we never really listened to recorded music. We made music. Our tribal drum was like a heart beat. Our ancient songs connected us with past generations, and brought forth traditions to a new generation. Every gathering had a time for music and a time for folks to circle around a fire as drumming and singing would begin and carry on often late into the evenings. Even during times of sadness, singing, drumming, and dancing, listening and creating music that echoed through the hills had (and still has) a power to move us toward deep joy, peace, and hope. 
Lots of memories came to my mind thanks to the experience of a concert with Rend Collective for sure. Music is such a huge gift, and, while Jamie and I definitely enjoy listening to music as we go through our days, there's nothing quite like experiencing it live with others, or creating music of our own. Even as I write this, I feel a tug toward spending a little more time during my daily and weekly rhythm singing, dancing, and playing guitar. Nothing like a little live tune amid the rhythm of life!
As we go about our days, our weeks, and our years, may we each take time to make music and invite others to join us in joy-filled songs. May we create, build, and share in the gift the King of the universe has given us in living amid music!