On Letting Go

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I drove home from work on Friday. It had been a productive day.

 

I had had meetings with our project team, wrapping up a major initiative that our Institute puts on every year. The feedback was helpful. To a person, we were all very pleased with how the initiative turned out, particularly given the vexing circumstances and truncated timeline that had precipitated its beginning.

 

In the words of the ignoble Charlie Sheen, we were “#winning.” And we were all enjoying the moment of a job well-done. Rightly so. We deserved it.

 

Fast forward to the end of the day.

 

As the desert sun set over Tucson, I drove home, windows down, blaring Sinatra’s Nothing but the Best from my Ford Escape. True I wasn’t nearly as badass as the suped-up Tahoe next to me, which blasted Migos’s Bad and Boujee. But being neither bad nor a member of the bourgeois, I simply didn’t care. It had been a great day, and I was of a mind to head directly over to the store, in true bourgeois fashion, and pick up a few treats for my dog – which I did. #FirstWorldProblems.

 

As Sinatra sang of bull fights in sunny old Spain, a smile graced my lips for the first time in weeks. Damn straight, Frank. The month of January had been hell. Friday was payday. From here on out, Nothing but the Best.

 

 

Understand, however, that my version of ’the best’ may be a bit different than most. Mine started off at the local Walmart off of Wetmore here in Tucson. It’s an unprepossessing place. Its denizens are of the sort that would be ripe for cameo appearances on the “People of Walmart” website. (Note: I would make contributions to the site, the locale is that ripe for humor. But for all I know, I may well end up on the site myself one day, so why tempt the fates?) 

 

Regardless, I joined my betters and wandered through cramped aisles, narrowly avoiding the carts and electric wheel chairs of the Walmart vanguard. Before long, I found all of the essentials for my little dog – a new crate, a new bed, and a box of treats as a reward for just how good he had been all week. 

 

For the record, since my last post, not only did Nigel have zero accidents in the house (and zero incidents of destruction), but he also let me know every time that he needed to go out. Often, this amounted to jumping on the bed and kissing me awake at 6am (ALWAYS 6am – Every. Single. Day.). But I welcomed this outcome, as opposed to the times when he felt that he had no choice, but to soil his doggy bed rather than soiling the apartment. (Apologies if you have a weak stomach. No trigger warnings for you on this slice of the web.) 

 

Ebullient, I drove home. So pleased to reward my little dog. It had been touch and go, but perhaps we had turned a corner. Leaving my wares in the car, I bounded up the steps, unlocked the door, and went in to check on my Nigel. 

 

He had an accident in his crate again. But his eyes were so overjoyed to see me. It looked as if he might burst from happiness. It was a magnificent reunion. While I struggled to unlock his crate, I saw a yellow stream of urine flow from between his legs as his body shook with excitement to see me.

 

And my heart fell. 

 

After taking him down, to do his business, I cleaned up the old crate, before promptly folding it up and throwing it in the trash. I would never leave him crated like that again. It was cruel. All while I did my work, he lay on the floor looking at me. 

 

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It’s a strange thing to realize that one is wholly inadequate. That no matter the best of intentions, it will never be enough to meet the need/s of another. Such was my Friday night realization with Nigel – what he needed, I would never be in a position to give him:

 

  • Nigel needed a place to roam free. Because of his anxiety, I had to leave him crated during the day. 
  • Nigel needed consistent human interaction, lest his anxiety lead to an adverse outcome. I work a typical 9am – 5pm schedule and coming home for a mid-day hello is unrealistic.
  • Nigel needed an owner with energy and time to play. My idea of fun is firing up Call of Duty online.

 

In my rationale, there was simply nothing that I could do to meet his needs, while also maintaining enough scratch to meet my own.

 

Except, that I could find him a new home. And so I did.

 

The internet is remarkably adept at facilitating pet adoptions. Within 14 hours, I had placed Nigel in a home with a large family, where everyone is home at some point during the day. They have two other Cocker Spaniels to keep Nigel company. And Nigel’s new home is much bigger than the two bedroom space I’m renting here in Tucson.

 

It was the right call. But it certainly wasn’t easy. 

 

Sitting here now, in the quiet of my apartment, I’m torn. Rationally, I understand that what I did was in the best interest of everyone involved. And yet, I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed Nigel. That I’ve followed the status quo and took the easy way out. On the other hand, I think about Nigel’s shaking after a day in the crate. His joy and relief (literally and figuratively) at being let out – and it somehow, seems cruel to keep him in such dire straits. 

 

At any rate, the transition is done on my end. It’s only beginning for his new family – though they are well acquainted with the breed, and with the quirks of Cocker Spaniels in general. 

 

Here’s wishing them my very best. And here’s hoping that my existential dilemma will have no bearing on their very practical efforts to take good care of my little dog. 

New Adventures in the Desert

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I moved back to Tucson in early November of 2016. I hadn’t spent any time to speak of here since I left shortly after Clark’s birth in 2013. But a failed marriage (June 2016), new opportunities (August 2016), and the promise of sun (Jan – Dec. 2016) – all have a way of drawing a man back to a place.

So, here I am beginning a new adventure in the desert. And if the early billing is any indication, I’m in for quite the ride.

Truth is, while I love my job (more on that in a future post), a city can still be a dreadfully lonely place. Particularly when one is in their mid-30s, newly a bachelor, a bit out of shape, and settling into the routine of life anew.

Given the predicament, this week, I did what any rationally-thinking, non-impusive, risk-averse person would do: I adopted a two-year old Cocker Spaniel.

Originally, his name was Mickey. But this was far too plebeian for so august a dog.  So, I renamed him Nigel, after the sulphur-crested cockatoo in the cartoons Rio 1 and Rio 2. (See here).

See also, exhibit A:

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Now, Nigel, is a wonderful dog in many respects. When I’m home during the day, on balance, he either lays in his bed or at my feet in a crumpled ball of fluff on the floor.

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Which was all fine until this afternoon. I came home from work per usual. The blinds were partly open just as I had left them. There was no barking or noise to speak of. And upon entering my abode, I see my pooch, bounding in my direction from the hallway, excited to see me, and even more ready to go potty downstairs.

So far, so good.

After taking him downstairs to do his business, I came back up, entered the apartment and pulled the screen door to. It was a lovely day. High 70s low 80s. And I wanted nothing more than to have some dinner and enjoy the evening breeze.

As I’m mulling about, however, I glance in the corner near my bedroom door. The carpet looked oddly pixelated – as if the real life image I had tried to see was still downloading from the servers that span the breadth of time.

It was only after I glanced again that I was able to process the magnitude of what had happened.

Whilst away for the day, it seems that young Nigel tried to dig his way to freedom through the carpet of my hallway. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

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After conversations with friends, an expletive laden evening spent cleaning up the mess, and a couple of DIY videos on youtube for dog training, as it stands now, I really have two options for Nigel.

I can:

A) try to rehome him (viz., get rid of him); it’s an option that’s easy, elegant in its simplicity, and ruthless in its execution.

Or…B) give him another chance; an option grounded in the hope that a sturdy crate and the promise of routine can mute his burrowing sensibilities. Not nearly so neat or final an option as A.

It’s a tough call.

Thinking back to last year, there were more than a couple of sleepless nights when I wish that I had had a second chance. Given the outcome, it’s especially ironic that the Christian set amongst us are so often the least forgiving. And as this applies to Nigel, do I really want to be like THEM?

On the other hand, perhaps what Nigel did is beyond the pale? He did bore a hole in my carpet after all – a surely expensive mess that I will have to sort out with my apartment company.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the rub seems to depend upon whether or not an ‘old’ dog can be taught new tricks. And, of course, the extent to which I am willing to entertain this fact. Funny how it is all sounding so very familiar…

One can say many things about my life in Tucson. But it hasn’t been boring.

Laramie Restaurant Review: Roxie’s on Grand

As a newly divorced, thirty-something, male, I’ve had a few revelations of late. Chief among them is the fact that, for what little cooking my ex-wife actually did, I now find myself in dire straits to procure sustenance for myself on a semi-regular basis. 


As a result, I find myself flying solo, eating out more, and sampling the local fare. Honestly, not a bad outcome given that I’ve lived here for three years and never eaten here. 


So, naturally, it occurred to me that rather than sitting awkwardly alone, I could pass the time by providing dining tips to others (Plus, it looks less awkward to be alone and typing feverishly on one’s phone, than it does to simply be alone amidst a sea of couples and families). Talk about reliving high school prom. 

But I digress. 
On this Sunday brunch, I found myself nary a block from my apartment building, having lunch at Roxie’s on Grand (http://roxiesongrand.com/)


The staff on this visit was harried due to the lunch rush, but they were perfunctory, professional, and efficient, which is exactly what I want as a single man dining alone. No chit chat. Just give me my food. And leave me to it. 

I ordered a mimosa and one of the brunch salad options – Roxie’s own “Black and Bleu” salad which consists of sirloin strips, blue cheese, hard boiled egg, tomatoes, and bleu cheese dressing. The salad paired really well with the mimosa. A lite Summer’s lunch for a wam day. 

The mimosa was unremarkable. A bit too little champagne, and a bit too much orange juice. But it seemed to offset the taste of bleu cheese which is normally too pungent for me. 

In the Roxie’s configuration, however, it all worked together really well. The salad ingredients paired extremely well with the mimosa. None too overbearing. With just a hint of bleu cheese to keep the bites interesting. 

It was enough to make me think that “brunch” should be a thing. 


On the other hand, the sirloin strips, I ordered cooked medium well. Having been around lawyers, and an ex out for blood, the thought of anything rare leaves me nauseous. 

But they were a drop over cooked. Not really the fault of the staff, but perhaps the stove was running a bit warm today. It was all eminently edible of course, and I quickly gobbled it all down. 

I polished brunch off with an O’Dell’s IPA – a beer with just enough citrus to keep things lite, and I left feeling sated. Mostly, I no longer gave a damn that I was eating alone. 

Overall, the damage was $32.25. I happily left a 20% tip, and returned to my place for an afternoon of Call of Duty. 

Day one of procuring sustenance = success. Expensive but…  #winning

Graduation Miracles

This past Friday, the University of Wyoming’s American Indian Studies Program celebrated the graduation of seven American Indian students from college.

The ceremony was fairly pro forma. Held at the Laramie Hilton Ballroom, flanked by family and friends, each student selected a faculty member to speak on their behalf. Each faculty member shared personal anecdotes about the student, along with a brief biography that the student had put together. It was a nice evening, but far from unique among the many graduation observances across the Nation.  
I think what made the ceremony portion special, though, were the events that followed a faculty member’s remarks: every graduating student was presented with a Pendleton Blanket, long the gold-standard for gift exchange among American Indian communities. Once the ceremony was over, the invited drum group played a closing song, and an invited elder fanned each student with the incense of burning cedar (a process otherwise known as cedaring in Indian Country).

It was a pan-Indian ceremony to be sure, but one that reflected the diversity of backgrounds and tribal affiliations of the Native students who call UW home.

As the evening carried on, there were plenty of laughs and smiles, along with the inevitable tears of pride from families. But as we discussed the achievements of each graduate, it became easy to take their accomplishments for granted. After all, that’s what we do when we celebrate graduates. We celebrate their accomplishments – even if it’s merely finishing the arduous task of a university education itself. No small feat, but it’s expected. As a society, it’s what we do.

Naturally, as I listened to the accolades, the mindset that “of course, students will amass a number of accomplishments” was never far from my estimation. And yet, now that a couple of days have passed, it’s clear to me that this is so very far from the truth.

The article is a bit cold on the wires now, but according to Dr. Dean Chavers, Director of Catching the Dream (Ph.D, Stanford University), the accomplishments we witnessed on Friday night were actually quite rare:

Only 17 percent of Indian students go on to college from high school. And since 50 percent of these high school students drop out before graduation, only 8.5 percent of Indian students enter college. This compares to 70 percent nationally. Thus Indian enrollment in college is only 12 percent of non-Indian enrollment. And 82 percent of these Indian college students drop out before they graduate from college; they never earn a degree. For every Indian college graduate per unit of population, there are 30 non-Indian graduates. And the gap has been getting larger over the past 40 years, not smaller. 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/06/16/myth-indian-scholarships-and-native-dropout-epidemic-118525

Based on this assessment, a whopping 6.97% of American Indians will actually earn a college degree. Set aside the adversity of losing a family member in the midst of college, and set aside the rigors and stress of student competition at the highest levels of college debate (personal disadvantages that two of our students had to overcome), what we witnessed and celebrated on Friday night was the rare graduation of a group of American Indians.

Far from falling victim of the statistics of Dr. Chavers, our UW graduates joined that narrow 6.97% of their American Indian peers and earned a college degree. Regardless of their GPAs and resumes, upon graduation, our seven students entered a meaningful elite – for who is better positioned to do more, to continue to compete, and to utilize the skills that they have learned to the direct benefit of their communities, than the Native students graduating from college?

Indeed, perhaps, among no other ethnic group in America is a college degree so important as it is to Native Americans.

And so, as our Native graduates move from hither to yon, I wish you all well. Thank you for the years you’ve shared with me. Thank you for the perseverance that you demonstrated, however fraught the circumstances may have been. And thank you for allowing me to witness as close to a miracle as we still have in this modern era – the celebration of your collegiate accomplishments.

And most of all, thank you for the things you will accomplish. May your journal, henceforth, be blank.

The Art of Making Strategic Decisions

In class this week, we walked through a few of the main arguments that set the theoretical framework for building effective tribal governments (See Rebuilding Native Nations).

According to the authors’, one of the key elements for building effective tribal governments is for tribal leaders to engage in strategic decision making. The whole section reminded me a bit of the biblical adjuration, Where there is no vision, the people perish. I think that passage is actually talking about prophetic visions, but divorcing a quote from context has never stopped me before.  
Regardless, the point is the same. In order to run an effective government, organization, institute, non-profit, etc., there has to be some vision toward which the entity aspires. For tribes, some of the questions include, What kind of society do we want to create? What’s our primary objective? What values guide our decision making? Where do we want to be in ten years? How do we get there from here? How do our values inform our policies? And, fundamentally, What do we want? 
While the text applies these considerations, quite correctly, to tribes, the potential applications ofsuch analyses are actually much broader.  In fact, they even lie at the heart of the U.S. Presidential Election:
  • What kind of country do we want? 
  • Would we shut the borders of the United States to Muslims seeking entry? 
  • Would we seriously consider deporting 11+ million illegal immigrants? 
  • Why are we afraid to categorize people who are here illegally as illegals?
  • But, is deportation the best use of our rather finite National resources? 
  • Are we content with a criminal justice systems that disproportionately affects blacks? 
  • Are we content with a nation where top officials can flaunt their violation of our strictest national security laws? 
  • What kind of person would we like to see on the Supreme Court? 
  • How can we provide health care in such a way that we maximize the Liberty interests of citizens, while delivering the best possible service?? etc…

The point is simply that the questions besetting tribes are no different than the kinds of questions that we face as a Nation. The only difference is that tribes must ask such questions not as free peoples exercising their right to self-government, but as wards under the guardianship of an external government that has assumed the authority to nullify their decisions with the stroke of a pen (See Congressional Plenary Power). 

And so the question remains for tribal governments, When will the moment in time be right to challenge the legal presumption that Congress has absolute authority over American Indian tribal nations
Granted, the time isn’t now. But when the time comes, what is the strategy for throwing off the yoke of Washington in order to truly allow tribes to engage in their own exeperiment in government by the consent of the governed?  And make no mistake, consent is key here. Any exercise of tribal self-determination must begin with the will and consent of Indian peoples. 
Even so, what’s the plan? What would that form of sovereignty look like? 
Lots of questions to explore and it’s only week one. Onward…

Blog Reboot, and Today’s Tribal Governments

Today marks an interesting shift for Pax Plena. After years of personal blogging and sharing my thoughts on everything from political questions to parenting, I’ve decided to use this platform as a way to share more of my thoughts on my research and teaching interests. Naturally, I reserve the right to share whatever I like, but I hope to use the site as a way to test new ideas, and hopefully bring a bit of what I do in American Indian Studies to those interested. 


So, consider this an effort to reboot the blog, and take things in a new direction. 

Toward that end, I’m teaching a course on Tribal Governments this semester (AIST 4100). The enrollment is relatively small with only seven intrepid students eager to take on the complexities of America’s fourth form of government. 

This is my third year to teach this course, and it has long puzzled me why a class with obvious relevance to a rural state like Wyoming would generate such little student interest. It could be that students are busy and have to prioritize their course load – an understandable outcome given the reality of the semester schedule and the respective demands of various majors across campus. But I suspect the lack of interest has more to do with the subject matter than it does with any scheduling conflicts.


Part of the problem is that the notion of tribes as governments is something relatively foreign to many students. For starters, the governmental authority of tribal governments finds its genesis in a source of law that falls outside the bounds of the U.S. Constitution. The phrase we use in Indian law is that the governing authority of tribes is ‘extra-Constitutional,’ or one derived not from the efforts of our Founding Fathers, lo so many years ago. Such is the case because tribes pre-dated the U.S. Constitution by centuries, and in their drafting, the Founding Fathers simply did not incorporate tribes into the Constitutional framework.   

So right away, from the very first day of the class, there is a disconnect to overcome. It’s certainly not an insurmountable barrier. But there’s a degree of difficulty in introducing a new form of government within the U.S. after years of civics courses have engrained in a student’s mind that federalism consists of federal, state, and local governments to the exclusion of all others. 

And yet, it’s fascinating course to teach as an instructor. If there’s an area of governance where there is still ample room for innovation, development, and creative problem solving, then the work being done among American Indian tribal governments has to be among the most interesting around. My experience has been that students tend to appreciate this point toward the end of the semester – but at the beginning it’s still a distant concept.

By the end of the semester we will have explored four theme areas: 
  • Tribes as Governments. Here, we explore the nuts and bolts of what tribes can do. Some things will be obvious – tribes can levy taxes, create their own codes and bodies of law, etc. Other things might be surprising to students, like the idea that tribes can issue license plates, or own businesses.
  • Tribes and Other Governments. This theme evaluates the contours of the relationships between tribal governments and the other governmental entities within the American federalist system. Primarily, it addresses questions of jurisdiction. For example, students might be interested to know that in most states, the state government has no jurisdiction over Indian reservations/lands. This may sound find, until students realize the problems this can create in terms of criminal law, given sparse federal law enforcement resources across much of the American west. 
  • Tribes and Development. For many students, this is the most interesting aspect of the course. Unlike mainstream, American governance, where a strong political current actually perceives government as an obstacle to economic progress (a view I’m not unsympathetic toward), when it comes to tribal governance, tribal nations uniformly play a large role in promoting economic progress and development. Often times, a tribal government will find itself in the role of a business owner. Such an action by government in the mainstream context would be rare, and mostly anathema to significant segments of the population. 
  • Critical Analysis. The final theme that I true to imbue in the minds of students is the notion of critical analysis – and the particular challenge of maintaining critical thought when it comes to our overview of tribal governments. While I consider myself an advocate of tribal sovereignty, I believe that it’s equally important for students to understand that tribes are fallible entities indeed. Not every tribe governs well. Not every tribe abides by the rule of law. And not every tribe ensures that its citizens are entitled to equal protection under the laws of the tribal nation. So, while the students will be learning about what tribes can and can’t do, what their relationships are like with over governmental entities, and the impressive innovations that can result from tribal/state/corporate/federal partnership, I also want them to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism throughout the semester, and to consider tough questions that, honestly, may not have an answer.
Functionally, the course has always gone well. It certainly isn’t a required course by any means, so the students who sign up tend to have some interest in the class, which in turn makes my job a lot easier. Suppose we will know more on this score in a few weeks time, but I’m happy to have the students I met on Monday on board. 

For now, I’ll leave it here, but don’t be surprised if additional comments and questions from the class make their way into this space. Truth is, I’ve missed blogging – so, it’s nice to have a way to incorporate my academic interests into our now 11 year old conversation here at Pax Plena. 

More to come…

Homeward Bound

Earlier this afternoon,some of our class was keen to ride the cable cars to the top of a local mountain here in Wellington. Hungry, and dreading the 12+ hour trek home, I opted for the only place in New Zealand where a man can eat for less than $10. McDonalds isn’t the healthiest option, but the burger was fine, and the view of the city below was not unwelcome.

Strange to think that the trip is winding down already. In fact, just this morning two members of our group left for an extension of their travel abroad, off to destinations in Australia. One other member of the class left for Laramie yesterday.

Soon, the rest of us will board a plane here in Wellington for a brief jaunt to Auckland, where we’ll connect to LAX and eventually to Denver, and to home.

I suppose with every trip there’s a bit of wistfulness for the memories made. Over a year ago, when my family and I left New Zealand for Oklahoma, I wasn’t sure that I would ever return. And yet, just over a year later, here I am with a fresh set of experiences that were only enhanced by the students and my colleague on the trip.

It’s a bit cliché, but like to think that farewell isn’t good bye. If the relationships developed here are any indication, a visit to New Zealand or hosting visitors from New Zealand in the near future isn’t only possible but perhaps quite likely. International travel, something that was once quite alien to my life experience, now seems to be a part of the natural order of things. Sometimes it’s a lot for this kid from Cotton County, OK to absorb.

At any rate, I’m quite pleased to be leaving for home. I have a wife and son that I’ve missed very much, and plenty of Call of Duty left to play now that classes are over – not to mention the academic research and writing that I need to do as well.

But in the meantime, I’ll keep a special place in my heart for Aotearoa – the land where my son learned to walk, and the first place our newly minted family called home.

Until next time, farewell, Friends.

A Visit to the Museum

Te Papa Tongarewa Museum here in Wellington, New Zealand is every bit the epitome of a modern state museum. But what makes this one especially interesting is that its cavernous halls are home to some of the most exquisite collections of Māori artifacts in the world. Our group from the University of Wyoming traipsed through this morning for a quick 90 minute tour of the museum’s Māori highlights. 

Our tour guide was a surly woman. Short. Somewhat portly. The tenor of her voice bespoke an annoyance with the very premise of answering questions. Naturally, this effect was amplified on those rare occasions when one of us dared to ask one.

This seems to be a thing with tour guides on this trip. In a separate incident while touring Parliament yesterday, a different guide actually yelled at a poor girl from our class when she paused to use the restroom before the tour even started. Later, the same guide badgered my colleague, a staunch feminist, over Wyoming’s decision to grant women the right to vote.

To be clear and fair, this guide was very much in favor of women’s suffrage, but his point seemed to be that New Zealand had led the world on this score by becoming the first country to grant women the right to vote as opposed to being merely a state. My colleagues position was that Wyoming’s decision on women’s suffrage was actually done under “false pretenses.” Now that I think about it, I suspect they were talking past one another.

Nevertheless, fireworks ensued and we all enjoyed the festivities, albeit a bit awkwardly. The name “Te Papa,” according to our tour guide is derived from the Māori words for treasure and basket. As a result, the museum fancies itself as a treasure basket of sorts, or to put matters less obtusely, the home of the nation’s treasures.

At Te Papa, one of the more interesting parts of the collection was the Māori “meeting house,” or wharenui in the photo above. This particular wharenui was actually stolen (or “confiscated” to quote our guide) from one of the New Zealand tribes as a showcase piece for visitors to Parliament as luck would have it. Perhaps our guide from Parliament gave the tours.

For the indigenous scholar in me, all of this, of course, begs the question of whether the museum is actually a home to the nation’s treasures or a safe house for the country’s plunder.

Tomato, tomāto, I suppose.

In all, it was a lovely visit to the museum. It’s no Smithsonian but the coffee was nice even if the tour guide wasn’t.

A Dispatch from New Zealand


The Tukorehe Marae is an unprepossessing structure. Nestled behind a grove of lush palm trees, its paint is gradually fading, unveiling layer upon layer of cosmetic efforts past. The predominance of white paint is strong in the front. But in the back, it yields to flecks of salmon, and some of the wood has worn itself bare.

Our host at the marae is a man named Shawn, or “Papa Shawn,” as the kids call him. And while he’s hardly the garrulous sort, he clearly loves this place – a place that he simply calls home. 
Māori in New Zealand often call a particular “mare,” such as this, home. For the descendants of Tukorehe, a Māori ancestor from the distant past, this marae is theirs, carrying with it all the trappings of ownership as if they had helped Tukorehe himself hew the logs that support its roof. 
By way of explanation, the focal point of the marae grounds is the meeting house, or wharenui, which resembles a small wooden chapel that congregations in the Southern United States might have used over a century ago. However, far from practicing Christianity, Māori consider their meeting houses to be the living iteration of their ancestors. Photos of deceased relatives line the wooden walls of the wharenui, each ancestor looking after the occupants in a very literal and symbolic way. The walls themselves are ornately decorated with wood carvings and flax tapestries that tell both the exploits of the ancestor, as well as the philosophy/theology that undergirds the Māori worldview. 

The marae, then, is not so much a chapel as it is a cenotaph dedicated to the presence of the absence of ancestors who never truly left to begin with. 
If there’s a nugget of wisdom I’ve gleaned from the complexities of the Māori cosmology (one I will, admittedly, never fully understand), it’s that they do community rather differently than we do in mainstream America. 
I won’t say it’s better, because I’m not sure it is. But it is different, and special. 

The first difference is the Māori emphasis on all things communal. Sleeping in the marae, for example, is a wholly collective affair. The end result is that our group of ten from the University of Wyoming have spent the past three days sleeping in the wharenui, sharing snores, showers, and sleeping patterns alike. This is, of course, a stark contrast to America where privacy is the order of the day, no matter how much the NSA might say otherwise. 
The second difference is in the Māori emphasis on social extroversion. Back home, my normal routine involves quiet, reflection, dedicated time for writing, and the occasional game of Call of Duty
For Māori, nearly every interaction is focused on the shared, lived experience of family or whanauFamilies and extended families all come in equal turn on the marae, sharing meals, entertainment, and social activities in common. Needless to say, this American’s time for reflection has been almost non-existent, and in all honesty this has taken its toll on my frazzled nerves. It seems I crave quiet in the same way Māori crave togetherness. I suppose both the individual and the collective have their place and needs. 
Of course, I knew all of this coming in. The marae was never a mystery to me given the year/plus that Gwyn, Clark and I lived in New Zealand. But perhaps the difference on this trip is the presence of the absence of my own whanau. While the Māori ancestors look after us from behind their frames in the wharenui, my own family is ensconced miles across the mighty Pacific, visiting family back in Indiana. 
It seems this is the real lesson from Māoridom. There’s precious little that’s more important than family.  Of course, we all take this to different extremes. 

Children at Play

We took Clark to the park today. The playground equipment had all the usual trappings of a large park in the center of town, including scores of parents, kids, and pooches out for their afternoon walk. 
 
Amid the chaos, we discovered the slides fairly quickly. Clark and Gwyn spent most of the time going up, and down the slide head first. No worry given to broken necks, or petrified father watching from the side. Only the occasional mischievous glance, and the squeal of joy at landing in the wood chips beneath the slide. 

 
It’s a remarkable thing to see a child at play. Engrossed in the moment. Utterly fascinated by whatever it is that captures the attention, and imagination of a young mind. 
 
But what I envy most is Clark’s ability just to be. To enjoy. To play. Some nights when my mind races with things to do, with the things that I didn’t get done, with the typical cares of life that keep one awake late into the night, I wish I had his young heart, and innocence – things forever etched on the face of a child at play. 
 
I suppose that’s something I can’t get back. And yet, I can’t help but pray it’s something he never loses.