Still I Rise: Honoring Maya Angelou

It is hard to remember when I first discovered Maya Angelou.  My best guess was finding her poetry. She inspired me then, and continued to inspire me as I read many of her books, volumes of her poetry, articles, an amazing cookbook/memoir, and listened to her recite her words over and over. Each of her poems tells a story in my mind. Her repetition of words and sounds and her unique rhythm draws any reader to her words. Her words will always be with us. She will continue to inspire many. The selection below was the poem I decided to share today.

Still I Rise
Maya Angelou1928 - 2014
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Passionate Gardening

 I am passionate about gardening. When I moved to my house it started as a challenge. I lived alone and I was determined to create a place that was surrounded in beauty. I did okay the first year, but once I met my husband, another passionate gardener, it was easier and more pleasant to work together.
The things I love the most about gardening are planning spaces, creating color schemes that may work, and finding plants that work in our soil and temperature zone. I have also learned that if plants are in big pots, you can move them around to fill in holes, dead spots, or cover weeds. I am the one that wants things to look pretty.
Everett is the vegetable gardener, orchardist, head fertilizer guy, and chief waterer. He knows well how to plant seeds, hoe, divide, and harvest vegetables. He knows how to prune fruit trees the right way. He also has a perfect system for watering. All that we are thankful for in our gardens is because of his watering. I remind him of this every day. We don't have a sprinkler system or anything scientific. He just drags hoses, sets up sprinklers, and walks around and waters by hand.

Together it is our passion. During the summer we are home mostly. We can travel to a campground close to home and one of us can come home to check on things. No long vacation trips for us in the hot summer, but that is okay. We find satisfaction in gardening. Sitting on the deck after hours of work yesterday, we felt our sore muscles and knew it would be an early night to bed. As we looked around and took in the sights and smells of the gardens, we knew it was all worthwhile.

I Live By This Water

I Live By This Water
A shift in the landscape east of the Cascades during the 1930s took place between the rocky cliffs of the Columbia River with the construction of Grand Coulee Dam.  As the turbines began to produce electricity the Columbia River flooded the land behind the dam creating Lake Roosevelt.  I live by this water. When this man-made lake in northeastern Washington was formed it covered orchards of trees, foundations of homes, and sacred burial grounds. The fishing weirs built by the Colville and Spokane Indians to catch the native salmon disappeared.

As bodies of water disappear and a drought continues to dry up land in the west, The Grand Coulee Dam Chamber of Commerce proudly advertises, “We’ve Got Water!” On any day ferry boats, jet skis, houseboats, fishing boats, and yachts are spotted all over Lake Roosevelt.   The lake provides a vacation destination for campers and tourists year round. The lake is plentiful with fish. While sitting on the deck I enjoy sailboats drifting by slowly. Living by water I sometimes forget this lake used to be the Columbia River so many years ago. The drawdown is a reminder.
The drawdown of Lake Roosevelt takes place each spring. Often the drawdown is held for flood control. Sometimes is has to do with repairs at the dam. Last year it involved the selling of electricity by the Colville and Spokane Tribes. During a drawdown the water is adjusted at Grand Coulee Dam causing Lake Roosevelt to return closer to its original state.  As the snow melts and the trees begin to bud we watch for the signs of the drawdown from our deck. The shoreline across the lake shows up more and more with the sandy beach getting wider and wider. Long, narrow sandbars appear close to shore as the level of the lake drops.  The commuters on staff begin talking about having to drive all the way around if the water gets to shallow and the ferry can’t operate.

Depending on how much water is drawn down on a given year the islands north of the Kettle Falls Bridge reappear drawing the native people to the sacred site for ceremonial rituals. I often hear stories of tribal members doing a Vision Quest when the rocks emerge during the drawdown.  As I walk along the shore in late spring I can count the trees stumps that remain and imagine how the land looked in its natural form. During the drawdown archeologists, local historians and elders can be spotted carefully sifting through the sand along the shore for artifacts representing an earlier time.
While walking the shores of the changed landscape I began to understand what creating Lake Roosevelt did to the native people. Two thousand tribal members were displaced. Homes and businesses were lost.  As my students walked along the path of old Inchelium last spring and stood on foundations of old buildings and marked the places where family houses had been they too  began to understand how the mighty dam and Lake Roosevelt  affected their people. Elders sadly explained how there was an attempt to move all the bodies from the cemetery.  Some buildings made it up the hill by St. Michael’s Catholic Church while others ended up closer to the ferry landing. Some things just couldn't be salvaged as the water began to cover up the land behind the dam.
 I do live by this water and love watching the sun rise and reflect on the blue lake, but I also look forward to driving closer to Canada and seeing the river in its natural form at the headwaters of the Columbia.  Eagles, moose, deer, and coyotes also continue to live by water close to the shores of Lake Roosevelt.   Bald eagles are at home along the shores of the lake as they dive for fish in the deep blue water. The native people have found new places to fish.  New land was found for the cemetery.
Woody Guthrie spent time around the Columbia River during the construction of the dam. He wrote numerous folk songs during his stay, but the one most familiar to those in Washington state is “Roll On Columbia”.  Guthrie said, “This was the greatest thing built by human hands.”
Was it the greatest thing built by human hands?  Here is the dilemma.  I feel blessed by the beauty that surrounds me, but am saddened by the losses to the people that lived along the Columbia.  I love living by this water, but am concerned about the zinc tailings that pollute the lake from the smelter across the border.  I enjoy the scenic beauty of the campgrounds along the shores, but have grown weary of seeing human garbage and pollution left behind at campsites and along the beaches. 

I live by this water.  I hope to visit the remains of Old Inchelium again with my students as we celebrate the beginnings of a town moved up a steep mountain and rebuilt.  I will walk quietly along the shore as not to disturb the deer drinking in the shallow water.  I will listen to the stories from the elders to gain a deeper understanding of what is sacred.   As the bald eagle circles above the pine trees by the lake I am reminded of a renewed sense of respect I feel for the lake and land around me. I live by this water. 

National Poetry Month #20: Remembering Orofino and Grandma West

The end of National Poetry Month arrived when I was too busy to post. I will end this month of poems a bit late. This is an original poem I wrote when I was trying to capture gathering around the table at my grandma's sunroom in her house in Orofino. 

The Table in the Sunroom

The rays from the evening sun glowed on the hollyhocks;
the windows of the sunroom framed Grandma’s tall gladiolus .
Dad wiped his reddened face,
the pitcher of ice tea sweating under the stifling heat.
Steam rose from the bowl of garden fresh beans --  
we  climbed to the back of the table
wedged between the Singer sewing machine and the old Kelvinator,
squeezed in the six chairs.

Corn on the cob was always in season.
 The kernels small and golden.
Grandma cut her kernels delicately off the cob,
I begged for the knife so I could do the same.
In a voice that even the neighbors could hear, Mom announced,
“You have good, strong teeth…
just eat it off the cob.”

Next a plate of tomato slices
followed by cooked beets and fried pork chops.
I lifted my legs as bare skin stuck to the chair,
while my brother was kicking my foot,
my baby sister’s damp hair stuck to her head.

From my seat I couldn’t gaze at Grandma’s garden
 or watch the bees buzz around the roses,
but I took in the slow table conversation
as I tried to cut up my tomato:
Canning cherries, and Norm and growing cucumbers,
Konkleville, Canada Hill and cousin John came up.
Is that fire still burning out at Yellow Dog?
What is on special at the Glenwood Market?

Dad took his paper napkin and wiped his face again,
And told Grandma this was the best corn he had ever had.
Her eyes lit up as she rose from the table
And thank goodness headed to the old chest freezer.
Vanilla ice cream from the Orofino Creamery would be
passed around last.
The sun slipped behind the crabapple tree,
The shadows cooled the sunroom.
That cold vanilla ice cream was the best I had ever had.

Christy Woolum