Because it’s all still happening

I am both surprised and not surprised at how many white friends and acquaintances have avoided seeing the acclaimed movie, Killers of the Flower Moon.  They report some variation of— “I don’t want to watch the violence, it makes me too uncomfortable…”  And I encourage them with some variation of—“Maybe it’s our turn to be uncomfortable, to witness the real history we are standing in. Maybe we need to educate ourselves so we can have a different conversation, because it’s all still happening.”

Image from movie poster and trailer posted on-line.

Killers of the Flower Moon is a culture-shifting piece of work; like Apocalypse Now changed the view of the Vietnam War, and Schindler’s List, presented the Holocaust in one agonizing unraveling story, or Going After Private Ryan showed ordinary men rising to extraordinary sacrifice. Each of these films is violent, message-driven, ambiguous in outcome, heroic and villainous: classics.

Years ago, I went to see Shindler’s List on a Christmas Day when I had no other plans and was hanging out with Jewish friends. We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant, and then went to a late matinee. Three hours later we emerged in total silence to walk past a long line of mostly Jewish people waiting to get in. They looked in our faces and saw that we were stunned and mourning. We looked at their faces and saw their determination to endure being shown the horrors of their ancestral story. Out of the silence, people began to recite the Kaddish—prayer for the dead. As the lobby echoed with this ancient lament, I learned that we can experience one another’s difficult stories as an act of spiritual allyship.

It was in that spirit of willingness to know something I did not want to know, and to reckon with my relationship to this history, that I watched Killers of the Flower Moon. First in the total submersion of a darkened theater, and again with several friends on a large screen TV on an afternoon when we could stop and take a breath, sit outside a few minutes, talk with one another, and then go back to finish the tale.

Whidbey sunset– nature watches over us.

You may be carrying enough trauma or sorrow that seeing this movie is not appropriate. Please take care of yourself first and foremost.  I have found my dives into the interviews, now archived all over the internet, to be as interesting as the film. Lily Gladstone, who portrayed Mollie Burkhart, the Osage wife of Leo DiCaprio’s character, has beautifully centered the Native narrative and elucidated Native issues for a white audience.

Tantoo Cardinal, who plays the mother of Mollie and her sisters, said, “I grew up in Northern Alberta among the tar sands. I know what happens when the oil industry doesn’t want to be messed with. And I know the greed that has overcome this world until this land, North America, belongs basically to business. I’m delighted people are being educated about what my ancestors lived through—and we live through it now. …People think the movie is hard, but it’s gentle compared to the actual experience of colonialism and genocide and the abuse our cultures have gone through.”

Image from Native Hope website.

Interestingly, May 5th (Cinco de Mayo), also links Holocaust Remembrance Day and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Day. Of these three, MMIW,or MMIP(oeple) is perhaps the least known, but through organizations like NativeHope.org  we can educate our-white-selves to the realities of Indigenous suffering and honor the persistent vulnerability and resilience of Indigenous communities. Murder is the #3 cause of death for Indigenous women

One story that touches close to my heart is the hit-and-run death of Mika Westwolf who was killed alongside Montana Highway 93 on the Flathead Reservation, walking home late at night on March 31, 2023. I have connection to her extended family and have been brought deeper into their story. What it takes for Indigenous families to get justice is a courageous capacity to channel their outrage, and expose their private grief to media attention.

When Popular Information ran the story, and Amy Goodman picked it up for Democracy Now, the death of this young woman and the tragedies of many Native families came to white-eyes attention. The woman who hit her has the last name White, and her little children are named Aryan and Nation. The combination of vehicular homicide, white supremacy, and hate-crime brought the FBI into the case.

It is Mika’s story that opened my heart to this issue. It is the courage of her mother, her grandmother, her extended family and the devastation of those who loved her that makes me determined to stand alongside their spiritual fierceness. Knowing is the source of acting. Caring is the source of reckoning.

Image from MikaMatters.com website

Crises of injustice tumble into each other. I see ever more clearly that when we do not address the hard work of restitution, violence rolls from one generation to the next, from one group of people to the next. If I start listing all our crises, it’s overwhelming. Desperate immigrants seeking safer places, college campuses roiling with protest and police, wars grunting on in horror. Today, I am holding the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People in my heart… because I can, because I am willing to stand alongside their pain. Today I have a candle lit for Mika, because Mika Matters.

Perhaps this is not where you are called to put your heart… but I hope you will put it somewhere in the sorrows and needs of the world. And if you are the one who is suffering, that you will reach out and ask for what you need. May we continue to grow, to look out for each other, to bear witness when we cannot fix and to fix what we can, because it’s all still happening.

Thank you for reading these words and sitting in this story with me. Thank you for letting Mika come to the edge of your heart, even for a few moments.

Please scroll down these comments–especially to the one from Kim, part of Mika’s family. Think of Mika’s mother, one week before Mother’s Day, giving two speeches about MMIW, one at the University of Montana, Missoula. There is wisdom in the circle as we listen to one another.

 

Lily Gladstone’s next movie is Fancy Dance about a family dealing with the disappearance of Lily’s character’s sister. It starts streaming on Apple+ in late June.

 

 

Persisting on a Monday

It’s Monday. We are heading into another week of predictable disasters: politics, war, devastation in the natural world. A list of sorrows runs rusty as dried blood onto my journal pages and rivers into daily conversations, along with the ever-present question— “what can I/we do about any of this?”

I’m home alone a few hours— laundry, vacuuming, drifting in a state of dis/courage/ment. I will not stay here—but it seems a necessary emotional state to admit is in me. And perhaps it is instructive, though I find myself tongue-tied: wandering in a fog without sun breaks of insight.

I feel obligated to excavate insight. I expect myself to find words that uplift my spirits, and then communicate such possibility to you–oh beloved community of strangers, former students, writers, friends and colleagues. But this Monday my well runs dry, my tears run wet. Maybe you, too? Where shall we turn?

I turn to Nature. There is beauty outside my window. The beach/bluff is half a block away. Mountains at my back and in the far vista… and scenes of winter’s edge/spring’s determination.

I turn to poetry. I flip open familiar verses from Mary Oliver, and choose a line to start my journal page anew. How will the day be different if I take seriously her statement, “My job is loving the world.”

Or her prose: “If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins….Whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”

I turn to community. What acts of kindness, outreach, neighborliness, texting, chatting, writing can weave me back into place? Open my heart? Be of service? Like a hug: what I offer is what I receive.

I invite you. This reverie will not change the course of disaster we seem to be on: but I hope it will offer en/courage/ment to help us keep standing together in the great story we are living and to rest in the larger realities that endure and hold us.

Snowshoeing near Galena Lodge, Ketchum, ID in Feb. 2024

Road Trip: Hello Again, Hello.

We are a community of readers, writers, storycatchers, and commentators on the day to day.

Welcome and thank you to the many people who signed up to receive this blog off my new www.christinabaldwin.com website. Over a hundred names have flooded in from the last posting and I am delighted that so many people, whose names (or email monikers) I don’t know, and with no idea how you “found” this blog want to join the growing list. This is a thoughtful community and I hope you will make a comment, pass along the post, and take these words into the story streams of your own lives.

 

June 1-15, 2023, Ann Linnea and I made our first long road trip in eight years. Our trusty 2011 RAV4, purchased to make a rite of passage camping trip when our grandson, Jaden, turned ten, is still the vehicle that carried us through the western coastal states of Washington, Oregon, and California, to Jaden’s high school graduation and back! There’s more mileage on the car, more years on the grandmas, and more to think about venturing out of our usual island routines into the ongoing story of “what is happening to/in America.”

What determined the route was the memorial in Sonoma County for our dear colleague, Deb Greene-Jacobi, the chance to visit long-time friends in the same area and end up in Culver City to support Jaden in his launch toward college, and his parents and sister reconfiguring to support Sasha through her teen years. Where there is good love, there is foundation for good life.  The lovely people stories are living in my heart. This blog is a reflection on what it meant to be on the road.

What replenished us: awe at Nature’s beauty and her resilience to keep working with/around/despite all human interference and interaction. We drove by all seven volcanoes that form the PNW link in the ring of fire. We

Sister Sequoias.

walked in Redwood groves with trees older than white presence on this land. We marveled at the massive presence of Sequoia. We walked alongside bubbling mud and melting snow in Lassen Volcanic NP. And because of the wet winter, everything was still green, blooming. Hundreds of miles of oleander growing on the median of the interstate—such generous plants to transmute exhaust fumes into blossoming beauty.

 

What we thought about: monoculture agriculture, the stress to the land of food production and our shock to find rice paddies, olive groves, almond orchards in the northern California

Rows of citrus orchard outside Fresno.

drylands. Seeing where foodstuffs I take for granted come from, and the scale of water use and production necessary to keep the grocery shelves stocked, changes how I handle everything in my kitchen.  Everything comes from something: life is chain-linked, cyclical, interconnected. All products, edible and not, represent a huge donation of resources, industry, and people laboring in the system. Workers bending over in the fields, truckers carrying boxes of goods mile after freeway mile, workers stocking stores, etc. etc. I know all this. I’m an educated person. I read books and articles. But to SEE it, to be immersed in the agricultural heart of California for days of driving, followed by the rangelands of dairy farms, cattle ranches, sheep on hillsides, and chicken barns is to be reawakened to what it takes to keep even my “simplified” modern life going.

What we noticed: America is not the same. The vibe has changed since we were last on the road. I fear this polarization in which ordinary people are manipulated into deeper and deeper divisions. To accomplish our

Bumpersticker that made me cringe.

Bumpersticker that made me think and smile.

heartful mission, we two grandmas traveled through a social field of increased aggression, intolerance, threat, and despair. There are fundamental signs that America is not okay: Gun toting in public. Drug use on street corners. Tents and tarps and people begging. Flags in which each star is a skull, each stripe an automatic weapon. Society is a fragile arrangement, and when people are in crisis, society is in crisis. The divides are more obvious—not just bumper stickers and flags, but who the system cares for and who it does not.

Now what:  We traveled 2838 miles (4567 kms).  We had incredible moments with people and nature, seeded conversations that are growing in ourselves and others. We come home even more aware of the vulnerability of all things. We come home determined to keep making a difference at any level of scale we can: how we tend our own garden, buy from local farmers, bicycle instead of drive, befriend the folks around us, stay social, engaged, grateful, humbled, determined to continue threading sense through these turbulent times. Grief and gratitude are two sides of a spinning coin. Perhaps they cannot exist without the other.

Whidbey sunset from the edge of our neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PS: I know Ann is posting a blog about the graduation: check out www.annlinnea.com to read that part in depth.

Bones to the Ground

July 15-23, 2019: Ann and I took a 2200-mile road trip around western Montana that held so many layers of significance it is taking weeks to let the heart and soul of our experiences weave into meaning-making. There are moments in this trip I am not ready to share; moments I will probably never have words for, moments that will be transformed into later stories that can only emerge from the perspective of long time. Here is one moment around which my heart swirls:

On the way east, we drove with a small, stainless steel canister containing my father’s ashes riding in the backseat. We were meandering toward the family homestead in Fort Shaw, and the family grave plot at the community cemetery in Sun River, Montana. This grave has been an informal pilgrimage site ever since my grandmother was buried there in 1960, followed by my grandfather in 1970. The headstone is engraved simply: Baldwin.

Dad/Leo Jr. at his parents’ grave: 2011

Over the years the ashes of my Uncle Kenny and Aunt Florence, my Aunt Grace, and now my father, Leo Jr.,  have been set over the coffins of Leo and Mary. Down the row is my Aunt Dorothy, Uncle Reese, and their son, my cousin Richard. With my father’s death at age 98 last October, and his sister Francie’s death at 103 this past February, all the eight first generation Montanans are now laid to ground. In our family’s sense of collective lineage, this marks the end of something. So seventy-five descendants came to acknowledge this cycle, to walk this valley one more time, to pose in front of the Square Butte that looms over the bee-yards and church steeple that defined us, to tour the honey house now operated by Treasure State Honey, evolving our grandfather’s standards of “pure, raw, unfiltered.”

75 descendants at the West Side Methodist Church in Great Falls where Grandpa B. was minister in the 1930s.

Sunday morning, July 14, in the midst of our reunion weekend, we all arrive at the cemetery. A new, flat stone marker is set in place. There is a small urn sized hole in the ground. It is sunny, windy, and we are all milling around in a large clump.

My cousin, Bill, calls us together playing the violin that my father gave him as a boy, his first learner instrument. His granddaughters hold the music pages balanced on the tombstone; his six-year-old grand-nephew comes running over, “That’s amazing sound,” Rhys says, “Can I learn to play that?”

“Yes, you can,” he says to the boy. “And so it goes,” he says to me.

I read a Wendell Berry poem. My brother Eric reads some words of his own, and words of our father’s. We sing Kipp Lennon’s song, “Family Tree,” and cry through the lyrics. And then it is time to lay the shiny canister into earth. I set down the old man’s bones. I invite anyone  who wishes to step forward and put some dirt in the hole. Who comes first are the children: Leo’s fourth generation of great-grandchildren, great-grandnieces and nephews, little hands solemnly spreading summer-dried soil over their ancestor.

Ashes to ashes, they understand the heartfulness of this ceremony.

 

We send silent prayers on the wind. We give thanks.

My niece Colleen with Leo4

 

After folks have drifted off to the brunch awaiting us at the local Methodist church, I sit for a last time with my dad, holding the story I am writing onward, honoring my lineage of Leos, asking forgiveness from the Blackfeet people whose horrific displacement made our placement possible.  Morning glory flowers creep through the grass. Bees buzz. There is both blood and bounty on this land. The wind is still blowing. I pray that all may come to healing; that we may cherish what is good, true, and beautiful; that we may find peace in the wildness of things; that we may learn to better love all our relations and the world.

Butte and bees–what remains the same

After a few moments I rise and walk into the arms of my grandchildren—where my responsibility lives now. They look thoughtfully into my teary eyes, “You okay, Nina?”

I look thoughtfully into their clear gazes. “I’m okay…” and inside I’m thinking to myself: stay healthy, stay fierce, stay strong, stay one whom they can lean upon.

Parents gone, we siblings stand on the ground of bones.