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Poem: Third Day of Kindergarten & Chumash Folkways

August 22, 2008

Third Day of Kindergarten: Thursday August 21, 2008 230-330p
Loop: Barranca-Beach-River-Thompson-Barranca

I wanted to ride west with the moon this morning
ride along the beach to the river
watch it dive
into the sea

There is quite a bit of it left this moon
this waning moon this much more than a sliver
well worth watching
But the day didn’t go that way
The foggy morn would have blocked
the moon’s slide down one white
against another

And the child needed me needed me
this morning needed to hold my hand
to be on this adventure with him
this third day of school of kindergarten
here at outdoor camp

So I put mine on hold
stayed with him at the confluence
of my needs and his
where he moves on to school
and where he stays home
here at the confluence of
the Ventura River and San Antonio Creek
stayed with him at the site
of the Chumash village
of Somis, of scrub oak
to walk with him and his classmates
to examine local plants
to press apples into cider
to play theater games
to listen to Chumash elder Julie Tumamait
to continue to engage us with her stories
as she did last night at the campfire.

“I guess the spiders are enjoying it here too,” says the boy when finally, this afternoon, we make it on my ride to the river. “They should clean up their messy webs. Those silly silly stupid spiders. But I like them.”

Maybe he knows Grandmother Spider
helps me tell this story to you
weave the parts
see the pattern
she hands me the threads
quietly quickly into my hands
whispers softly in my ear
tickles my chin with filaments
guides my hand as I write this story down

Thank you Grandmother Spider for all your words today and every day, for telling so many stories to me, and for spinning time this morning so that Julie Tumamait and I could talk together, share ideas, together this day, help each other from this day, thank you Grandmother Spider, thank you.

What Julie said

This morning, Chumash elder Julie Tumamait gathers the children round, they calm, they quiet, they listen, clustered together, parents children elbow to elbow side by side:

“Coyote are young right now, three months or so,” she says, “roaming around learning how to be independent.” My boy nestles against me at the picnic table, watches her every move.

“They eat rabbit, squirrels, gophers, squirrels, insects,” she continues, raising her coyote pelt high, stroking its thick tawny fur. “I buy my animals and skins at powwows.”

“Foxes,” she says now, picking up a pelt from the table, “smaller. Island fox is much smaller.” The children nod, yearn to hold it, tilt their heads to see.

“Clothing for Chumash women consisted of using deer hide and parts of deer for decoration, and rabbit,” she says lifting a women’s top off the table. “Rabbit front and back, one shouldered,” she says showing us.

“We killed and ate deer and elk, used the skins for clothes. We knew how to find and gather plants. Children’s clothes we decorated with rattling shells. I made this one for my daughter.” She gives it a shake, and the skirt complies, singing its location loud and clear.
“I made this for me, bobcat. Polkadot,” she says with a giggle, the bobcat’s distinctive spotted fur lustrous. “One foot across the shoulder, one shoulder bare. I didn’t want to waste the head, so I turned the head into a purse as a belt, the head folds over, hangs over my belt,” she says demonstrating. She opens its mouth wide, sticks her hand deep in, wriggling it, retrieves a rock.

“Wealthy women had fancy clothes, nice leathers with shells,” she says, holding a skirt up, decorated with pearlescent shells. Over the leather skirts, she explains, the women wore aprons of otter fur as well as capes. The wealthier the woman, longer the cape—to the waist, knees, ankles depending on wealth.
Next: more of what Julie said this morning on Chumash folkways–medicine, musical instruments, etc

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2008 5:32 pm

    This is all very beautiful. “down one white / against another” is lovely. I wish my son’s third day of kindergarten were like this.

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