Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Next Step

A lovely week of recuperation in Santa Fe, and now we are in Houston for another lovely week of recuperation. Or something. Through a fortuitous set of circumstance and coincidence, we fell backwards into a very comfortable three-bedroom in South Austin that will be ready on the 13th. Until then, we'll be at my mother's house in Seabrook. I'm working on getting the last bits of my grad school applications in, and Courtney has devoted herself fulltime to fielding job interview calls which are now coming on an hourly basis. So *that's* what having a "real" degree will get you!

As you can tell, our life is once again becoming boring.

Thank god.

Friday, December 01, 2006

On the Road

Ty is brilliant. I argued and pleaded, but he held to his convictions. "We have to stay our whole two-weeks," I insisted. "It's going to snow. And it's going to be very, very cold," was his reply.

He was right. I was wrong.

So, with a car stuffed to the gills with stuff and dogs, we left on Monday from Manderson at around 1:30. That night from our hotel room in beautiful Sterling, Colorado, we watched the Denver weatherman predict a helluva snow storm starting on Tuesday afternoon. As we drove through Denver and Colorado Springs the next day, we could see the storm coming, always to our right. We very fortunately made it to Santa Fe by 4:30. Then the heavens opened up on Colorado. Roads were closed. Accidents happened.

So, here we are, snug in Santa Fe at grandma's house. We're leaving tomorrow for Houston. We'll take two days to make the drive.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thank you

Thanks to everyone who left such supportive and kind comments, and to those who emailed us in private or contacted us by phone. Your words are a pertinent reminder of exactly what we've been missing during this difficult time, and are much appreciated.

We've begun the process of packing up today. We decided not to get another U-Haul, so we'll be leaving much of our furniture here. I'm sure somebody will find good use for it. Our plan is to leave before a big-freeze/snowstorm that's due to hit on Wednesday, as the I-25 corridor we take into Santa Fe has already been closed due to snowfall a couple of times this year. We'll be spending a few days in Santa Fe, then moving on to Houston until we get set up in an Austin apartment. Courtney's new job starts on December 18th, so we'll be having Christmas in Travis County this year.

Thank you again, all of you, and I'll be catching up on my "reply-to" list sometime in the near future. Things are a bit hectic right now.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Starting Over

That was a bad week.

One of the worst weeks, really. We were trapped in Chadron, Nebraska, each day hoping we could go home and each day being disappointed. And, of course, it wasn't just a matter of being trapped; it was a matter of waiting for something awful to finish, of worrying that something worse could happen.

Add to this the fact that it was the first week of hunting season. Men with rifles and camouflaged jackets loitered in every parking lot, mutliated deer bodies were in the backs of trucks, bungee corded to fences, hanging from thatched ramadas like ritual sacrifices. It felt like we were living in the end times.

Did I mention it was a bad week? It was a bad week that drove a lot of things home for us. Several factors converged and made us realize something important: we want to leave.

I've got to fess up here: I've purposefully kept a lot of our experiences out of this blog in the hopes that things would get better. They haven't. Perhaps most importantly, our supervisor, who is supposed to have provided us with a point of contact for the community, hasn't. She honestly seems to resent our presence, and takes pains to avoid us. We haven't recieved any support, guidance or feedback from her, which is especially odd considering that she requested our presence. Given the insular and often xenophobic nature of the community, her lack of involvement is a set up for our failure.

That's not to say that it has all been bad. We have met many wondeful people here, and learned a lot about both this culture and ourselves. We've had many enjoyable and unique experiences, and I am glad, overall, that we came here. But without Fern's involvement, it isn't possible for us to the job for which we were hired. And without that, what's the point of us being here, really?

Add to this our strong desire to be near our friends and family, especially pertinent after last week, and the fact that Courtney was offered a job in Austin today, the reasons for leaving have reached a critical mass.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Well, I have officially lost the pregnancy at week 11. So close to the three-month "safety zone." We've been in Chadron, NE since Sunday night when we drove the pitch-black 80 miles to the hospital at the doctor's request.

I will spare everyone the details of the process of miscarriage. Let's just say that the physical discomfort is rather intense, but nothing compared to the emotional distress involved.

Still, we are together. We even have the dogs with us (and they were even permitted to sleep with us in the hospital room the first night!). We've been in a hotel since Monday, but we'll probably be permitted to go home today. After that, I'm looking for work in Austin again. It's a hard way to learn how much one values close proximity to one's family and friends.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rumor Control

I apologize for the previous entry. It was based entirely on last night's wild rumors and baseless speculation. This update, conversely, is based on slightly more recent wild rumors and baseless speculation from the following highly reputable sources:

The post office lady

The new girl at the office

The owner of the only restauraunt in a 60 mile radius.

Anyway, this is how matters seem to stand at the present juncture: at approximately 11 am yesterday, the election appeals board (or whatever) ordered that current President Alex White Plume be reinstated on the ballot as the 1982 conviction upon which basis the other election board thing originally removed him was, in fact, not a felony but a misdemeanor. At this point, White Plume ordered the election halted and sent out a flunky (apparently by the name of "Muffy" something-or-other) to seize ballot boxes from polling locations, not, in fact, engaging in the act himself as was previously reported. Subsequent to this, police intervened and some sort of high speed chase ensued, which may or may not have been narrated by a Waylon Jennings voice over. The result of this high speed chase is not known by any of the extremely reliable sources cited above, but it is believed by all that yesterday's election was such a farce that the whole thing will have to be done over. But will it? Opinion among the Radio Free BannGerald editorial staff (me and Courtney) is sharply divided.

Still no gunshots, but I did hear a car back-fire about an hour ago.

High Speed Chase

The office rumor is that Alex White Plume *personally* seized ballot boxes from polling sites, and was then pursued by police in a high speed chase across the reservation! I don't do this very often, but I'm going to cue the Waylon Jennings voice over for this:

Well, about this time ol' Boss White Plume was feelin' mighty left out of the political process, so he decided to take matters into his own hands the only way he could. . .


Still no news on the election. The non-broadcasting-but-podcasting radio station is playing nothing but ceremonial music, and their breaking-news web-update hasn't been changed in over 12 hours.

Actually, that update deserves to be reprinted in full:

Election Board of Appeals reinstates White Plume. Ballot Boxes Confiscated. (Or maybe not!)

It appears that the election was stopped midday after the board of appeals ruled in favor of Alex White Plume. But we don't really know yet - it's all just rumor. Stay tuned to KILI and we'll update you online as soon as we know. News at 11:00.

But the news at 11 never came. I don't see any columns of smoke rising over the buttes, so that's good sign.

In what they call around here "real world" election news: Well, you know already, celebrate or despair as you see fit. Me, I'll be celebrating in a reserved fashion and continue whistfully hoping for a more equitable system of proportionate representation that maybe, just maybe, could include a third party.

Oh, the abortion ban that indirectly triggered the current state of Pine Ridge affairs (by inspiring Cecilia Fire Thunder to open a Planned Parenthood clinic) was overturned by a significant majority of voters last night.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Chaos!

Okay, this all off the non-broadcasting radio's podcast (available here if you're desperately curious), so info is incomplete at best: apparently, at about noon today, the board of appeals ruled in favor of standing President Alex White Plume's petition and ordered him reinstated on the ballot, which, since voting had been going on all morning, neccesitated police seizures of ballot boxes polling stations. God knows what else since then. I'll keep you posted, and let's all pray that the shooting doesn't start.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Election at Pine Ridge

The election season at Pine Ridge may or may not be coming to a close, and it's been bizarre and chaotic. First of all, the rules are quite different, and I can't claim to understand most of what's been going on, nor can I say whether or not this has been a particularly odd election year by Pine Ridge standards. Here's a little run down from my point of view:

In spring of last year, after the state of South Dakota declared *all* abortions illegal, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Cecilia Fire Thunder took steps to open a clinic in Pine Ridge, citing the high per capita rate of incest and rape on the reservation. There was a revolt on the council, and she was first suspended, then impeached for "mishandling tribal funds". At that point, Vice President Alex White Plume (a tribal rights activist, previously most well known outside the reservation for attempting to grow industrial hemp as a cash crop and subsequently being raided by DEA helicopters, oh, and he's our neighbor's brother) assumed duties as President until the November election.

The primary for the new election was held in mid-October. The OST primary is a remarkably casual affair; as far as I can tell it is a general election where *anybody* may vote for *anybody*. Votes are counted, and the top two vote-getters are placed on the official ballot for the November election. Alex White Plume clearly recieved the most votes. However, the second and third place vote-getters, John Yellowbird Steele (my boss' brother) and former President Cecilia Fire Thunder (!), were separated by a margin of *2* votes.

2 votes.

Remember Florida?

Chaos erupted. Some 400 ballots were challenged (a big deal in a race where the top vote-getter only recieved 621 votes), at one point the primary election was declared null and void, police were removing ballot counters by force, meetings went late into the night, and everyone was disgusted. . .

When the dust settled, Alex White Plume retained the lead, and John Yellowbird Steele had gained 17 votes over Cecilia Fire Thunder, meaning that she was officially off the ballot for the November election.

Oh, but not so fast.

Things were quiet for a few weeks, despite all the above it's been a very low profile election season, the only broadcast media available to the reservation being KILI radio which was knocked out by a lightning strike in August and still hasn't regained enough wattage to broadcast outside the six block area surrounding the station. Then, on Friday, three days before the election, some unnamed person surreptitiously ran a background check on presidential favorite Alex White Plume and discovered a felony assault coviction (resulting in 180 days probation) from 1982.

Tribal law forbids anyone convicted of a felony from holding office. Meaning that, three days before the election, White Plume was taken off the ballot, and the election is now between John Yellowbird Steele and Cecilia Fire Thunder.

Now that's a November surprise.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Er. . .

I don't know how to put this.

See, for a while I figured they were joking. Just trying to make the outsiders uncomfortable, you know. Age old insider-vs-outsider needling, but I've recently learned that yes, they do in fact. . .

Well... Every once in a while, anyway, and most of the time for purely ceremonial purposes, but SOMETIMES just for dinner. . .

They eat dogs.

. . .



I mean, it's not like there's any LACK of dogs around here, and really, it makes sense that a people rooted in their age-old-traditions (some of those coming from periods of intense hunger and so forth) would eat any number of animals in close proximity, and not that there's anything wrong with that, but it still makes me uneasy.

For one reason, mainly. . . You see. . .

It's considered rude for a guest to refuse food.

And at some point, someone may offer me a certain opaque soup, and I'm going to want to say no. . .

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Kid-to-be update

Well, we had our first official prenatal exam yesterday in Chadron, Nebraska. The drive, which normally takes about 1.5 hours, took more than 2 hours as the roads had iced over in the night. We actually had a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Apparently this is how you drive in snow: slowly. Agonizingly slowly.

Fortunately, the roads weren't iced the entire way to Chadron, and we made it to the appoinment almost on time. The beautiful thing about seeing a doctor in a small town is that it didn't matter one bit.

We actually had an ultrasound because I've been having some sharp pains on my right side and a little bit of bleeding. Dr. Johnson decided it would be best to go ahead and rule out the ectopic, so we actually got a chance to see our future kid! Right now, it looks more like a small lima bean. BUT, there was a heart beating. The bad news is: I'm less pregnant than I thought I was - only 6 weeks instead of 7. The good news is: everything is right where it's supposed to be. The pain in the side is caused by a corpus luteal cyst, which is a good thing. It should go away by the end of my first trimester.

Officially due on June 8.

Monday, October 16, 2006


Today's update is a more or less random collection of photos.

Manderson from above

The town of Manderson seen from above. Well, it's actually slightly to the left of the town of Manderson seen from above. That's St. Agnes Catholic Church in the background, where we attended Mass somewhat accidentally. Which is to say, we were invited to a Monday evening potluck that turned out to actually be a healing balm centered Mass followed by a potluck.

courtney cows

Far too often, this is the view out of our kitchen window.

Evil Cows

The cows are not what they seem.


This is the old cabin behind our house. There's been a frost, so the marijuana has exfoliated itself.


I much prefer the horses to the cows. They're quieter and tend to actually get out of the way of our car.

old car1

The dirt road that we live on actually goes all the way to Pine Ridge. Unfortunately, it has a long standing reputation for serving as a liquour run for Reservation boot-leggers, and the road is littered with car wreckage going back several decades.

old car2



A sunset seen from our yard.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ah, pregnancy

So, apparently I was getting all cocky and the gods have decided that I need a good dose of humility in the form of morning sickness. So for the past few days, I've woken up feeling like crud - needing to eat when the thought of food absolutely turns my stomach. Getting exercise works, so I walk the dogs every day. Unfortunately, this morning it was 17 degrees, and it's not going to be getting much warmer in the next few weeks.

Got a prenatal yoga DVD and that's probably going to be helpful.

You know, when I ask people who've recently had kids what they wish they'd done differently in their pregnancy, most say that they wish they'd enjoyed it more. Honestly, right now I don't know how anyone could enjoy feeling like this. Yuck.

Any suggestions for remedies will be much appreciated. This only lasts a few weeks, right?!?

Monday, October 09, 2006


Some unorganized thoughts:


So, as Courtney mentioned a mere post ago, we've got one on the way. It wasn't an easy decision, and not, perhaps, an entirely logical one, but it's coming, and it feels right. Besides, we'll have a story to tell her (him) about carrying in the Sioux Lands. That'll impress his (her) friends.


We have it here. And it's glorious. Burnt yellow trees in the gully, mist rolling down between the buttes... chilly cows. We don't have doors in the house, other than between the bathroom and the kitchen, so we've hung blankets in the doorways to better hold the heat. It works well, although it makes the place feel like a cave.


We have one again, so expect many more pictures in the near future. Here's a brief set of the first ones we've taken.


It's getting old. There are certain places, Big Bat's Gas in Pine Ridge especially, where people don't see us, they see flashing dollar signs. Other places: the Post Office, Pinky's Store, outside our gate when the kid who stole from us sees us coming in (a gall that I'm surprised at).

Pow Wow

We went to one yesterday in Rapid City. I've been to many feast day dances at New Mexico Pueblos, and this was very similar, except in a few telling respects. Because dancing for religious purposes was outlawed on many reservations in the early part of the century, dances were changed into "competitive" events. So, whereas pueblo dances are still entirely ceremonial, pow wows are judged affairs, with numbers affixed to dancers and prizes given for the costumes and fervor. Despite this, the pow wow didn't feel competitive, the emphasis seemed to be more on community and tradition but without many overt references to the religious heart of the ceremony. Also, both applause and photography were allowed, even encouraged, both of which are strictly taboo at pueblo dances.


I'm learning. And making mistakes. This culture is far from my own, and the amount of it that I will never understand is mind boggling. As such, this blog is neccessarily misrepresenting the culture I'm living in. This upsets me. Someday someone will call me on it, and I'll have no excuse other than who I am and where I come from.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Well, here's the big news: if all goes well, we are going to become parents around June 2007!!

We're both really excited. And I have to say, I feel fantastic. I know, just typing that is asking for it (I'm knocking on wood as I write this), but I honestly feel great. I have my first prenatal exam on Wednesday, 10/18 and can provide more official information at that point.

Some News...

Well well well, guess what?

No, really. Guess. :)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Today we took a walk behind our house, along a set of ruts into the woods that surround White Horse Creek's gully. There's a lot of trash back there, (despite what certain 1970's era public service announcements might have you believe, there's a fair amount of dumping on the reservation), several generations worth of broken furniture, rusting car parts, toys and so forth, and picking our way through the rubbish has kept us from going too far back there before. Today though, we were feeling like exploring, and followed the ruts through the trash heap and into a clearing. We were suprised to find an ancient log cabin back there, abandoned and falling down, of course. We poked around, examined the ancient tree in front of it, a long rusted front-of-a-car, and a still-intact wood stove laying on its side, as the dogs engaged in their favorite past-time of bothering cows.

As we explored, Courtney complained of a strong smell. My perpetual allergies don't permit me to smell anything, so I wasn't sure what she was talking about. "I think it's this," she said, pointing to a shoulder high brushy plant.

I looked at it. Looked at it again. Recognized it.

"That's pot."

And indeed, it was. And there was another cannabis plant beside it, and another, and another. In fact, there was a veritble thicket of pot plants surrounding the abandoned cabin.

Our first thought, of course, was that someone was growing it. But there was nothing well tended about these plants. They were ragged in fact, unruly. And if someone was interested in harvesting them, they had missed their opportunity as they had gone to seed.

There's at least one other possiblities. Hemp was once a major cash crop in South Dakota, and was legally grown on the reservation up until the 1940s (when the US Government encouraged its production as part of its "Hemp For Victory" initiative) and, as mentioned in a previous post, in the early 2000s by the White Plume family attempted to revive the industry, though that didn't work out so well. I've heard that wild remnants of these crops are still growing throughout the reservation, and I believe that this accounts for todays discovery.

Now we wait for the helicopters.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

And on another tack entirely...

I just found another facet of my growing internet fame. Click on the title to find out how desperate for free stuff I can get.

Courtney would like to point out that she had nothing to do with any of that.

Heh. Chickenfoot.

Monday, September 25, 2006


So we walked to the trailer across the way to confront accuse ask our neighbors whether they’d “seen anything” suspicious at our house the day of the burglary, their emotionally disturbed 10 year old son being the community nominated suspect #1 and all.

Our first trip met with no success, no one home except for a cow happily chomping a bag of cornmeal in front of the steps up to the trailer’s door, so we walked back home and waited for signs of their return. It was something of an agonizing wait, I don’t enjoy confrontation, and although I told myself I was, just going over to tell them what had happened and ask if they’d seen anything, the fact was that everyone I’d talked to about the robbery had mentioned the kid’s name, and some element of our meeting would be colored by that. I smoked my pipe in the yard and watched the road.

Finally, after an hour or so, the mother’s red sedan pulled off of BIA 33 and I went inside to let Courtney know it was time. She didn’t want to go over any more than I did, but we both felt like we should.

We walked the 300 yards or so to the trailer “lot”, loosely defined by a slack and incomplete barbed-wire fence, walked up the warped wooden steps to the door, and knocked.

The mother, Roberta, opened the door and, more or less cheerily, invited us in. We introduced ourselves, said that we had been meaning to come over and say hello for a while, and now, regretfully we were doing so under serious circumstances.

We explained about the robbery, and asked if she, or any of her children, might have seen anything unusual that day.

“Oh,” she said. “I think my son was home with his cousin that day. He’s been diagnosed with PTSD, he was a hit-and-run victim and now he’s kind of emotionally unstable. They won’t let him go to school no more.” Her voice had an apologetic edge, and it seemed clear that she too suspected him. “I’ll ask him if he saw anything.”

We made a little more small talk after that. It turns out that her brother is currently President of the tribe, that her family gained some national notoriety a few years ago when DEA helicopters raided their property for growing industrial hemp (despite an argument that it was legal to do so under the Fort Laramie Treaty). Her husband is an activist currently battling the Park Service over a section of the Badlands known as The Stronghold (a place of refuge for Lakota fleeing from soldiers after the Wounded Knee Massacre.)

She was very friendly and open, and Courtney and I would have enjoyed talking for longer about these things, but then her little girl, who had been watching out the window, said, “Dad’s home.”

The atmosphere changed immediately. As the mother began busying herself in the kitchen, the door opened and ‘Dad’ walked in with our suspect #1, a young boy of 10 or so, right behind him. He looked at us coldly but offered no greeting. We suddenly felt very out of place.

We introduced ourselves, he shook hands and muttered his name.

“They got robbed yesterday,” Roberta said from the kitchen.

“What are you missing?” he asked.

We described our stolen possessions, mentioned that we were offering a reward for the bracelet and the necklace. I said, “I think it was probably just some kids, they mainly took games.”

“What games?” He asked, casting a glance at his son. I listed them.

Suddenly his son, Joshua, sprinted over to the family’s television and grabbed four PS2 games and splayed them out for us, “We only have these games, see?!” He seemed very upset.

“We’re not accusing you, Joshua.” I said, even though I was sure it was him. ”We just wanted to know if maybe you saw something, or maybe if one of your friends brags about it you could let us know.”

“They’re offering a reward, Joshua,” Roberta said.

After that, without saying anything more to us, the father went into the kitchen and began talking about horses. The atmosphere was very tense, and it was clear that it was time to go. We did.

Afterward, Courtney and I debriefed on the experience. We agreed that the kid had acted very suspiciously, and that the parents would undoubtedly talk to him about it. I felt better about the situation, as I figured at the very least the kid would see that there was some accountability for his actions, even when perpetrated against outsiders like ourselves. Neither of us particularly thought we would get anything back.

Two days later, we were thankfully proved wrong.

It was raining and frigid and about 9 o’clock when the knock came. I went to the door in my pajamas and there, clutching a black garbage bag and illuminated by the headlights from the truck behind him, was Joshua.

“Do you have your dogs?” he asked. “Do you have your dogs?!”

I did not, in fact, have my dogs. They were both snarling behind me, and I was somewhat gratified to see that he was afraid of them. “Hold on,” I said.

Once the dogs were safely put away, we reviewed the contents of the bag. The playstation was there, some DVDs that I hadn’t even missed yet, and my father’s bracelet.

“They were at my friend Thomas Ghost’s house,” Joshua explained. “I think he broke into your house and stole them!"

I thanked him for bringing the items back. "You said I could have a reward?” he asked.

True to our word, we gave him a reward for the bracelet. He was excited to get it, and ran back to the waiting truck.

Courtney’s necklace was still MIA, and on closer inspection the PS2 had been gutted. Courtney and I were both pretty conflicted about the experience. We had, of course, just paid ransom on our possessions, and that’s not a good feeling to have. Especially when the necklace, which had belonged to Courtney’s grandmother and was certainly the most materially valuable object, hadn’t been returned.

After discussing it though, we came to the conclusion that offering the reward had been our best chance to get the objects back. Courtney was still upset about the necklace, and we didn’t go to bed that night terribly happy, despite the near-miraculous return of the possessions.

There was still one last surprise for us, however.

The next morning, again rainy and again drizzly, another knock at the door. I was indisposed so Courtney answered.

“Thank you, Joshua! Thank you!’ I heard from the other room.

The kid had brought back the necklace. Perhaps the previous night's visit had been a test to see if we'd really give him the reward?

So there you have it. A happy ending. I’m still not thrilled about paying ransom for the items, but I am glad we didn’t lose them forever. And I doubt the kid will do it again as bringing the stuff back is tantamount to admitting guilt, meaning that he’ll be the first one we consider if we suffer another break-in.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Well, you won't be seeing any new photos on our blog for a while.

Yesterday, when Ty and I arrived home from work, we noticed that the lovely chicken wire Ty put up to keep the dogs in the yard was bent down between two of the fence-posts. Odd, we thought. As we walked toward the door, there was no barking from inside - very odd, as Sharka normally raises quite a racket when anyone approaches the house. So, at this point we realized something was a bit off...

Entering the house, we were not greeted by Sharka. The feeling of foreboding grew, then Ty said, "shit." As I looked across the kitchen into the living room, I could see that the window screen had been completely shredded. Sharka then timidly, submissively crawled out from under the bed. The first thing I noticed was that the playstation and all its games were gone. Then I noticed rocks and sticks littering the floor between the living room and bedroom. I found glass candle votives, more rocks, a rusty old stapler that had been in the yard, and the hammer lying around the bed. I suddenly realized with horror that whoever broke in had thrown these things at Sharka to keep her at bay.

The perpetrator took not only the playstation, but also our digital camera, a Talking Stick we had bought for Brittany's birthday, the case for the DVD Gulliver's Travels, which I assume s/he used to stash my deceased grandmother's engagement ring, and Ty's father's turquoise cuff bracelet. They also took (super-weirdly) about 20 of our little, plastic War of the Ring pieces we'd been painting. The fact that they mostly took toys, they only took small things that they could easily carry, and the fact that they completely overlooked several high-value items (my flute and the laptop - thank god) make us think that the perps were kiddos.

The loss of two priceless family heirlooms, the feeling of violation and anger, and especially the trauma apparently inflicted on Sharka (who still hides under the bed whenever she hears anyone coming to the house) make this all a bit difficult. Still, things could be much worse. I'm saddened that it was almost certainly a kid. I am reminded of my clients in residential treatment - particularly of our Zuni Indian kiddos. I feel conflicted - I hate for a kid to get involved with the juvenile justice system or residential treatment because he made a stupid mistake, but I also don't want to see a kid get away with something, figure it's okay, and continue the behavior.

At any rate, the beautiful thing about living in a tiny town is that everyone knows everyone else, and the responding officer said he's pretty sure who did it - the kid who lives across the way. We went there and just let the parents know some things had been stolen, but we didn't accuse their kid - just told them we were offering a reward for the recovery of the ring and the bracelet. We'll keep you posted.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Badlands (from Courtney)

Spent last weekend up at Badlands National Park, just 20 minutes from home. Apparently, a cold front was due to arrive here this weekend (which it has!), and we thought it might be a good idea to tour the park before it got too cold and windy - particularly since the place is treeless, affording essentially zero protection from the elements. Luckily, we got beautiful weather. And, given how cold and windy it is out there today, we had beautiful timing to boot.

The terrain at the park is incredible. I've never actually seen anything like it before - just vast expanses of flat-topped, tall buttes as far as the eye can see, which is quite far indeed. It feels otherworldly, and I swear Mars' surface must have a similar look

I'm posting some pictures of our drive up Sheep Mountain. On top, it's completely flat and grassy. If you're not careful, though, you could walk right off the edge and enjoy a 200-foot drop. Signs on the way up advise staying on the main road, and apparently more than a few people have taken their cars too close to the edge and subsequently tumbled over. Knowing this, Ty actually experienced a bit of vertigo at the edge, and afterward wouldn't let me get too close. He nearly had a heart attack when Sharka disappeared over the edge for a second! Fortunately, it turned out that particular spot had a second ledge just below. Lucky dog.

You can see some pictures from our trip on our Flickr Page.

The week was also pretty eventful - we got to attend a couple of ceremonies, eat beef tongue soup, and rescue the mangiest, most pathetic puppy you've ever seen. I called him Homer because (a) he's practically bald and (b) he's been through quite the Odyssey. He's now undergoing treatment at the Rapid City Humane Society. I'll post a picture of him as well. Hopefully in a few weeks he'll be cute and adoptable, and find a good family (no, we are not keeping him - 2 dogs are so much more than enough).

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Initial Impressions

Just some quick thoughts about our new circumstances:

(I'm a lazy bastard with a love of cut and paste, so if you're a mofi reader, some of this is a repeat)

The Rez:

First of all, I was expecting much worse in terms of outward signs of poverty. I had in mind something more akin to a Mexican border town, all tar-paper shacks and refuse,and while the town of Pine Ridge itself has its rouch edges on display (mostly apparent in the form of begging at Big Bat's gas station, the hub for outsiders on their way through town), I've found that most of the Reservation is no worse than, say, some of the rural villages in northern New Mexico. There’s no question about it, people are poor, most dwellings are trailers or small 1-2 bedroom houses, many people have outhouses and use wood stoves as their primary source of heat, but overall, most residences are well maintained and it seems like people take care of their immediate environment pretty well.

The countryside is beautiful: vast plains sweeping up into pine covered buttes, awe inspiring badlands on the northern edge of the Rez that seem like they must be hallucinations, lots and lots of space.


My new hometown is a small community of about 600 people spread over a 15 mile radius. Everybody knows, and is likely related to, everyone else. Village social life seems to center around Pinky’s Store (where you can get your laundry done and stock up on as much lunch meat and hot dogs as you can carry) and the post office, a tiny little bomb-shelter of a building which people use as a sort of depot for bumming rides to other places. Other than that, there’s St. Agnes Catholic Church, presided over by Father Chris from Boston, and the Wounded Knee School. Kids ride horse back through town, Rez dogs trot leisurely out of the way of oncoming cars, and everyone quickly notes the arrival of the white couple with Texas plates.

I've already explained a bit about the house below, or at least The Cow Problem. What I didn't say is that it's a very comfortable little house, recently renovated to feature indoor plumbing (thankfully!). There's an abandoned well out back, and a number of former fixtures scattered throughout the gully behind us.

Just up the road from us lives Charlotte Black Elk, great granddaughter of THE Black Elk. In fact, most people in town are descended from the last members of the Oglala nation to give up the resistance, and still carry the (affectionate?) designation “hostiles”. It is interesting to note that many of the people here are involved in efforts to get the Black Hills returned to the Tribe.

The Job

Oh my. Hard to say really. Things are quite chaotic, and on top of that, our boss and office mates have mysteriously vanished, apparently for the week, without leaving us further instructions. Yesterday, we were fielding a lot of phone calls as follows: “Yep, all week. Nope, I really don’t know about that. Not that either. Nor that one. Care to leave a message?”

Should make for an interesting week.

I'm still trying to get a handle on the cultural differences. That'll be the brunt of the next update.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Photos posted!

I've posted a photo-set from our trip to Manderson on my flickr page.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Awakened by Cows

or rather, awakened by the dogs, barking at the cows. Manderson has given them many new and wonderful things to bark at: cows, great rivers of them that flood down our driveway and all around our (newly) fenced in yard, brown and black and white, cows and calfs and bulls; wandering rez dogs, surely a subspecies unto themselves after 100+ years of more or less isolated breeding, sauntering through our yard, looking to see if I stupidly left the trash can out like I did the first day and which I will not do again after spending an hour cleaning their scattered handiwork; beautiful painted horses cresting the buttes, looking disdainfully down at us in our little fenced in island in their sea of pasture; flocks of wild turkey trotting (that's what they do, isn't it? Somewhere between a scurry and a low-to-the-ground gallop)their way down the wooded creek bed behind our little white house.

The dogs, you see, are in heaven. Less so today because last night Courtney and I worked past dusk stapling chickenwire onto the barbed-wire fenceposts that formed a cow-proof but dog-permeable perimeter around our home. Before today, there was nothing to stop the dogs from racing out into the fields and throwing their aggression against the cows' stubborness (and the cows ran away!) or chasing the poor turkeys down into the creek-bed. This morning they were dismayed and could only race around the perimter with their hackles raised, barking and roaring while the cows watched with only vague interest.


Having been without ISP for two important weeks there is much to tell. I'll be posting more soon...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Made It

After two weeks in a peculiar limbo, we were ambushed by a dsl installation today. Pleased to report that we have made it to Manderson, our little house and our job site.

And happily so.

More to follow.

Friday, August 25, 2006


A full day of busting our asses and the trailer is finally loaded. I have no expectation about where I'll be in a week, it's just too far from my current experience.

The strange thing is, I know when we actually arrive there this undefined potentiality will solidify into a banal day-to-day reality and life will continue something like it does now. Only, you know, completely different.

I love that feeling.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

South Dakota is the Moon

Or it may as well be.

We had a VISTA training last week in Albuquerque, NM, which was nicely coincident with a trip we were planning out there anyway. 5 nights at the MCM Elegante Hotel, where every fixture was held together with duct tape. Well, not really, but it certainly felt that way when the elevator got stuck for the third time.

There were about 130 other wide eyed VISTAs there, about 60% women of, say, 25 years or so (note to unattached male college grads: VISTA training is the place you want to be), the other 40% represented a very diverse cross section of people from all income levels, ethnic backgrounds and ages. At one table, I discussed the nature of poverty with a 50 year old woman who'd spent the last decade of her life on TANF welfare, a young woman whose father was "in the top 1% tax bracket" (her words), and a 23 year old anarcho-syndicalist recently emigrated from Mexico.

Oh, we DID figure out all the causes of poverty and quickly whipped up a couple of extremely simple and effective solutions that I'll be happy to share with the world for a mere $500,000. A price that I believe is quite reasonable. Leave a comment if you want to take me up on this.

Courtney and I seemed to be headed to the most "exotic" location. Most VISTAs serve in their own communities, or make a move across country to a place like Tuscon, Arizona, which is undoubtedly a change but not as dramatic as ours. I suppose I felt a certain smugness when, during introductions, our announced destination of was greeted by more than a few "whoa"s. We'll see how that smugness gets me through a lonely South Dakota winter, though.

After the general VISTA training, Courtney, myself, and two other girls had an extra day and a half of training specific to the National Society for the American Indian Elderly VISTA program. Of course, there was a lot of useful information about the Knowledge Preservation Project and the needs assesment that we will be initiating on the Reservation, but that's not what sticks out in my mind. No, what sticks out in my mind is this: Medicine dogs.

Oh, medicine dogs. See, part of our training in regards to the needs assesment consisted of a briefing by the head of the project, a professor at the University of North Dakota who is of Lakota birth. He told us about various cultural issues that we may encounter while administering the survey to elders in their homes: eat whatever is put in front of you; be willing to sit and talk for a long time; don't express shock at the living conditions; and watch out for dogs.

"Especially watch out for... well, we used to call them medicine dogs. See the families give these dogs a root in their food that makes them get real big and mean. I mean, they're still nice with their family and all, but they really run down intruders. I don't even get out of my truck if I see a dog on the porch, I just honk and wait for the person to come out. If they ask, I say 'I didn't want to get out of the truck because I thought maybe your guy up there might be a medicine dog.' I'd suggest that you guys bring a clipboard or something, something that you hit a dog with if he gets mean with you."

So, yeah. Medicine dogs.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Impending 2

And now, the whys.

So, we've been offered the opportunity to move 1000 miles away to the Pine Ridge Reservation, a place many would consider the middle of nowhere (300 miles to the nearest "big city", Aurora, CO, pop. 200,000). A place, I might add, with most of the same problems that third world countries struggle with: deeply rooted poverty; high infant mortality; extremely low life expectancy; a history of sometimes violent political turmoil, etc, etc. A place where we will be, for the first time in our lives, members of an extreme minority (Census data has the White population pegged at 1.12% on the Reservation, if you're keeping score), with historically uneasy, shall we say, relations with the area's majority. Quite a change.

Some of our friends have made it clear that they think we're insane. So, then, why are we doing it?

A number of reasons, but today I spent some time thinking about my inclinations in a more abstract sense. Here's what I've come up with:


Because the world is a big place, and it’s far too easy to forget about the parts you haven’t seen.

Stick it on a greeting card, people.

I also wrote some very rambly nonsense about heuristic judgements and a peculiar parable about a child and a dragonfly, but upon review I think that the above statement is perfectly sufficient in summing up my reasoning, as well as making me sound vaguely pretentious.

If anyone wants to hear the dragonfly story, I'll be at the Dog and Duck in two weeks time with a "Will Ramble On Pretentiously For Beer" sign around my neck.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Let's start with the wheres.

As I mentioned before, we're moving to the Pine Ridge Oglala Sioux Reservation, South Dakota.

(Quick quote from the wiki: Unemployment on the Reservation hovers around 85% and 97% live below the Federal poverty level. Average annual family income is $3,800 as of 1999[1]. Adolescent suicide is 4 times the National average. Many of the families have no electricity, telephone, running water, or sewer. Many families use wood stoves to heat their homes. The population on Pine Ridge has among the shortest life expectancies of any group in the Western Hemisphere: approximately 47 years for males and in the low 50s for females. The infant mortality rate is five times the United States national average.)

Specifically, we are going to be living in the town of Manderson a village of 600 about 45 minutes from Pine Ridge proper. We know very little about it, except a few pieces of advice from the former Vista worker who was stationed there before us:

"The people are open and kind," she said. "You'll stick out like a sore thumb, and everyone will watch you. Just don't get involved in the feuding families."


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

An Unexpected Mogwai

An unpleasant feeling: reading a story for a fiction workshop and suddenly realizing that it's a fanfic.

This has happened before.

On the one hand, I'm certainly not opposed to fanfic. People write what they want to read, and the craft is such that improvement comes through doing. Have at it, fanfickers! Dress up Sailor Moon any way you want! Enjoy yourself! But please, unless you're going to write a screenplay at some point, consider Pokemon Meets X-Files an exercise, something to share with your like-minded friends.

Because, you see, when a fanfic crosses the border from the insular Superheroes In Love community site to the outside world, well, its jarring for us. How, exactly, am I supposed to critique ideas unapologetically lifted wholecloth from another author's work? That's the problem, as succinctly as I can put it. A large part of the story is beyond criticism because it comes from a previously existing narrative. It's cheating. And hiding. And the fanfic authors aren't giving as much of themselves as someone whose ideas are meant to stand on their own originality.

Well, back to Gremlins VIII.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Next Thing

The Pine Ridge Reservation. That's Oglalla Sioux country.

We're moving there.

In three weeks.

Expect updates.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Note from Courtney

Hooray for me, I am finally getting around to posting on this thing! Actually, I'm taking my lead from Kirsten Welbes (check the sidebar link - Welbi 'round the world).

Graduated from UT on Saturday, finally. I now have my Master's of Science in Social Work, which will allow me to make a whopping $30K per year. Let the good times roll, man. Apparently, the family thought it was a big enough deal to make a pilgrimage to Austin. We all made it through the 2-hour commencement, then did a barbecue thing in the back yard. For those of you who've seen our humble abode, imagine it stuffed with sixteen and a half people (with 4-month old Nathaniel). Thrilling!

Really though, it was a good day - a good end to the last two years. So now suddenly I have all this free time, and what better way to fill it than contributing to the Radio Free BannGerald?

Will post pics of the graduate real soon.


Saturday, February 18, 2006

No Naughty Nurses Here

Okay, this needs to be said, because several search engine hits have directed people to this site looking for something that... well... you just won't find here:

Nurse sluts.

That's right, this is a "nurse slut" free zone. In fact (and this is the reason I'm getting these hits), I have specifically formulated a rule against "nurse sluts", in so far as Halloween costumes are concerned.

Now, I'm certain that there are many fine Internet resources that can provide the... er.... "information" that you're looking for, and so, I offer you a helpful link to Google, which should set you on your way.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Forgotten Austin: Barton Springs Cemetery

Click Title for Photo Set

Austin strikes me as a city not entirely comfortable with its own history. Oh, to be sure, there is much vaunting of the achievements of the brief-lived Texas Republic, colonist Stephen F. Austin was naturally granted apotheosis long ago, and various restaurants proudly display artifacts left casually behind by U.S. Presidents who put in their Austin years as governor (LBJ’s hat, a myriad of Christmas cards and thank-you letters from the Shrub), but aside from this narrow slice of the past, much of Austin’s heritage seems to have been left to quietly fade away.

However, it IS still there, if you know where to look. There are quiet, decaying corners where the last vestiges of the all-but-forgotten linger on, eschewing the notice of the casual observer, and severed from context. Blocks of granite scattered across an island that now serves as a dog park turn out to be the last remnants of Austin’s colossally unsuccessful first dam; a low stone wall in the woods happens to be one of the few pieces of physical evidence of 18th century Spanish missions to the area; and, of course, the town is saturated with hidden and neglected cemeteries.

Take, for instance, Barton Springs Cemetery. Nestled in the Zilker Park neighborhood behind an inconspicuous, dilapidated building, most people would pass it by without a second glance; this despite the recent erection of a small historical site marker. Indeed, there is little to see. An empty acre or so of fairly-recently mowed grass and a few broken unmarked stones cresting the weeds are all there is to tell the story of a vanished community. The historic marker tells us a little more: the lot is one of the oldest African-American cemeteries in central Texas; the building at the front of the lot was a Baptist church erected in the 1940’s, replacing an older one that burned down. Tantalizing hints, but that is all.

If you turn to the Internet and the local library, you can find a little more. A bit of digging, and some other facts reveal themselves in the form of old articles from the Statesman, a brief mention at a City Council meeting, the text from a small pamphlet put out by the Zilker Neighborhood Association in the 1980’s. It turns out that the cemetery was not just an African-American interment ground, but was, in fact, started as a slave cemetery for a nearby plantation, whose grounds once encompassed most of the surrounding subdivision. After Juneteenth (which, if you recall, is when the Federal government finally got around to freeing Texas slaves some two years after the Emancipation Proclamation), the cemetery and church formed the center of the nascent freedman community and remained so for many decades. Indeed, by the 1940’s, the site had supposedly seen the burial of over 1,000 persons, and attempts to find a spot for even one new grave were utterly unsuccessful.

After the original church was destroyed by fire, it seemed that, due to a combination of factors, not the least of which was a government strategy of segregating the city along its East/West axis, the African-American community in South Austin began to disperse. By the 1980’s, little remained of it, and in the 1990’s the church closed its doors for the final time. The grounds continued to be tended by a group of caretakers who had grown up around the church and cemetery, but as they aged, their efforts became intermittent at best. Vandals shattered and stole markers, records of burials disappeared in the teeth of bureaucracy, weeds covered the grounds.

Today, the neighborhood, as with much of South Austin, has steadily grown whiter and more affluent; mushrooming real-estate taxes have forced many of the remaining older residents out, time marches on and the cemetery and church, once the very heart of a vibrant community, now sit quiet and forgotten, perhaps an unwelcome reminder of a history modern-day Austin is uncomfortable with.


Got a stomach flu today, so I've got nothing better to do than work on another cemetery entry. Expect it soon.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


The car, she is dead.

Adjuster #626, after much dithering and weighing of options, with grim voice and the indefatigable coldness of the fiscally oriented mind, declared it so on Friday.


"Alas, alas, alas!"

The cries echo from the cliffs, grown grey beneath the clouded sky.

"Alas, alas, alas!"

The birds are silent, the seas are still, the sun is in hiding. A thing of beauty is no more.

Cheer up, little birdies! We have another car now!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Donuts and the Land of the Dead

Click title for photo-set.

Last week, I hopped a fence behind a Krispy Kreme and explored William's Creek Cemetery, a handful of acreage where several hundred people, many of them slaves, were buried in the mid-to-late 19th century.

Once upon a time, this was a pastoral landscape, perfectly suited for all of our "Rest In Peace" pretensions. Now, progress has marched forward and the cemetery is a forgotten wooded lot surrounded on four sides by the worst suburban sprawl has to offer: family dining establishments and a multiplex movie theater. Amid the tangled weeds and trees, most of the graves have fallen into a state of serious neglect, or had their headstones smashed by vandals. The air is sick with the smell of donuts from Krispy Kreme and rotting pasta from the Macaroni Grill's dumpster; the sound of traffic is an ever-present assault on any meditative mood.

Still, its fate is better than that of some of Austin's older burial grounds. Walmart recently provoked controversy when it exhumed an entire Slaughter Lane cemetery in order to open a new store on the land.

Rest In Peace, indeed.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Dear Sirs and Car Wreck

I had five of them, students that is, walk out of my class today. I attempted to keep them from doing so to the fullest extent of my abilities. This means that I walked to the door and said "Hey! Come back here!"

They did not.

Something rather beautiful in that finality.

And in this: On tuesday I was pegged by a young girl more focused on her cell phone than the tiresome details of driving. I saw her sail out toward me and knew she would hit, that I could do nothing. She was going to hit me and that was all.

*Sickening thud*

Fortunately I was not hurt, nor El Poocho Obnoxiouso, though both of us were shaken. The finality came for the Cabrio, I'm afraid. Mr. Adjustor said it was almost certainly totaled. Mrs.Fitzerman railed a bit at that, got that terrible set in her eyes and swore it would be repaired no matter what Mr. Adjustor said. But reality sneaks in regardless.

Ah well.

Thank you, Universe, for not freakin' killing me. Or freakin' mangling me.