Category Archives: History

Your ancestors were great women warriors and other stories I’ve told my daughter

My grandmother, Pearl (top center) at the end of one journey. The beginning of another
My grandmother, Pearl, at the end of one journey. The beginning of another

My grandmother, Pearl, walked halfway across the world, from the Soviet-Ukraine of her birth, to the Ural Mountains of her youth. She came of age traveling across what was then Turkestan, the tattered remnents of the Golden Horde and into Uighur-controlled Northwest China, where she fell in love, married and began her own family.

Sixteen years later, she walked across parts of Mao Zedong’s China with my infant father and his brother to Shanghai, where she and her family sought religious asylum in the Phillipines. After four years in a refugee camp, she made her way to America with three children on her lap aboard a U.S. Navy vessel.  Continue reading Your ancestors were great women warriors and other stories I’ve told my daughter

Is the west still wild?

Birds take flight at Malheur Lake.
Birds take flight at Malheur Lake.

If you were to judge Oregon based on the fact that a bunch of angry militants took over a wildlife refuge demanding the government return the land to the people, well, I wouldn’t blame you.

Of course I’ve been following this.

Over the last six months, I’ve become incredibly fascinated with Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the ill-fated scene of the hostile (silly) takeover.


It was the first waterfowl sanctuary created west of the Mississippi. It was created, in the most simplified way I know how to explain this, when one William L Finley took photographs of the birds there and traveled to Washington D.C., where he showed them to Theodore Roosevelt, who said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Well, bully, let’s create a bird sanctuary for the protection of native birds.” Or something similar.

What you might not know is that there was a chicken egg shortage on the west coast in those days, and people, desperate for their eggs, as we tend to get, were raiding the nests of wild birds and wiping out native populations all over the countryside.

Continue reading Is the west still wild?

Old Long Since: New Years Superstitions

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Ever wonder why we kiss our loved ones on the stroke of midnight on New Years?

Did you learn this from watching your parents?

Why do we sing songs and make noise to ring in the new year?

It’s because our old humanity, locked deep in the recesses of our minds, is holding onto something that we lost so very long ago.

Scratch a holiday deep enough, and you’ll reveal a lot of superstition. Dig a little, and you’ll find the husks that carried the old stories that were once born upon a kernel of truth.

Continue reading Old Long Since: New Years Superstitions

The Seeds of Superstition

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The holidays, all of them, are filled with superstition.

There are old stories, older than time, but we do not hear them anymore.

And at the beginning of those stories, before time itself, are things we don’t understand, that we can’t comprehend.

It is said that history turns to legend like living rock turns to stone, and legend turns to myth, like water turning stones to sand.

But somewhere back in the mist, even before the mist, there was a kernel, and that kernel was hard and good and true. And it was passed along as something valuable for a long, long time.

And over the years, it changed to reflect the lives of its givers, adapting here and there to cultural nuances brought about by cataclysmic events and great distances.

Somewhere along its journey, our journey, the seed was lost. Perhaps in translation or just reduced in importance until there is nothing left but a husk, and the husk was passed along like a vessel. Sometimes given and sometimes alone on the winds of time.

But the husk survived the long journey, and we interpreted it as relating to something important, so we memorialized the husk into something we wanted or needed.

And we passed it along, until the husk – all dried up and crumbling – finally passed beyond memory into the faint nether regions of our mind where monsters and angels and demons play like movie characters on our screens of unconsciousness. Our dreamscapes.

But we are not so old that the stories of the husks have completely faded from memory. Rather, we, being an ingenious race of people, have carved a place for the memory of the husks into the structure of our lives.

We call them holidays, and we act out these stories without ever knowing they were stories, without ever knowing there was a husk that once housed a seed of truth.

We are not blessed with an ancient memory, but we are blessed with an ancient ability to memorialize what we do not understand and to celebrate it wholeheartedly. Not for the sake of merely celebrating, I suspect, but for the sake of the importance of the story that came from the husk that came through time itself that once bore a seed of truth.