Thursday, June 19, 2014

All Things Sheep

Ever since I moved to the Navajo reservation I have been interested in all things sheep.

I have herded sheep, sheared sheep, carded, spun and woven wool.  So the Sheep is Life celebration is a high point every year.  It is a fiber arts workshop organized by The Navajo Lifeway organization.  ( )

This year Rebbecca Shepard taught us how to felt a sheep herders hat.

As with all things sheep it is not as easy as it looks.

Who knew we would have to start with uncarded raw wool?

I have carded before.  Believe me it is a labor intensive exercise for this beginning.

Happily we got to use a drum carder so it only took a couple of hours!

 Until we had this.  Piles of soft carded wool.

We layered the wool on top of the pattern for a hat.  The word of the day became "more" issued forth by our gentle task master. 

More layers.
Soap("Dawn is the best") and hot water.More hot water.

Maybe not more soap…suds ran across the table and dripped over the floor, down our arms and legs before we finished.
Definitely more of this.  Rubbing, beating, pounding the fibers together.  More, More, More…Who knew you could build up the upper arm muscle while felting a sheep herders hat?

Flip it all over like Navajo fry bread and more?  Really?  

Cut it off the pattern.

 Turn it over and inside out and back again and with each step…yes!  More!

But after all that rubbing and pounding and beating and molding we had a finished product.

I might not try this at home yet.

But I definitely want to make a scarf next.  You begin with silk and add the wool.  You use bubble wrap and I suspect more muscle power.

If you are interested, we hope to have Rebbecca come to Chinle for the scarf class or contact her about making a hat.  She lives near Many Farms so we can do it!  Stay tuned in late summer or early fall.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

One Little Picture Book and an Author Visit

It is gratifying to know that one of my books might change the life direction of even one reader.

And too a good reminder of the difference an author visit can make.

The power of words, of books and sharing and reading can be awesome!

Dear Ms. Williams,

My name is Laura Scherb, and I am a rising junior at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. Growing up, I attended Heritage Elementary in the Franklin Regional School District, where one year, you were a visiting author. I very distinctly remember reading your book Tap-Tap and becoming enamored with the idea of Haiti. I interrogated my mom to see if that was where the car that we had just sold went (it wasn't) and imagined painting our new van to be a tap-tap car in Murrysville (I didn't). Instead, I declared that I was going to move to Haiti and be a French teacher there (using the French that I had yet to learn), and for a year, that's what I told people I was going to do when I grew up.

The years passed, and I forgot about Haiti. When the earthquake hit, I was upset to hear that so many lives were lost or changed forever, and I think I half-heartedly helped with a bake sale to "do my part." I promptly forgot about Haiti and went about my life in a bubble.

The next time I thought about Haiti was during my first day of classes at CMU, in fall of 2012. Everyone in the humanities college here is required to take a freshmen seminar, and mine happened to be all about The Uses and Abuses of Haiti, modeled after Paul Farmer's book. The class engaged me, and all of the sudden, Haiti didn't seem that far away at all. By happy accident, I found out that my RA had been to Haiti three times in high school and was interested in helping me to get a group together to travel there.

 A year later, after wading through wads of red tape from the university's side of things, we were an officially recognized organization on campus and on our way to Port-au-Prince. We spent spring break there in March of 2014 working with several schools, women's rights groups, and refugee camps in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas. We donated over $6000 and worked with the groups to find out how we could better equip them to accomplish their missions. We returned to Pittsburgh in the middle of a snowstorm, fired up and determined to make a difference.

The world is such a small place, especially where Pittsburgh and Haiti are concerned. I was so excited to learn that we have mutual friends in Haiti and in Pittsburgh, especially since it was you who inspired my love of Haiti so long ago. I would be honored to be featured on your blog, and I wouldn't mind at all if you used my name. I would welcome any questions about our group (CMU in Haiti), our work in Haiti, or my journey that was propelled by your book.

Best wishes, and thank you for captivating me with your words,

Laura Scherb

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Can you See the Snake under the Hood? A Chinle Story

Can you find the snake?

Here's the story:

 The parents and older folks(Steve and I) are in the backyard doing what adults do at a cook-out(drinking beer and wine).

The kids(not Steve's or mine) are playing in the street.  To be fair it is a cul- de- sac.

One child comes running around the house to announce.  "There is a rattlesnake in the street"(where some very young children are playing).   This brings back memories of when our kids were playing outback(presumably with matches although not in the street)  at a similar gathering when one child runs in to say there is a fire out back.  But that is another story….

Parents and old folks(Steve and I ) run out to the "street".

It would be a better story if I could say the snake really is a rattlesnake but there is no rattle.

It is a very pretty snake however and it is scared by all the commotion.  It slithers under a vehicle for protection.  In fact it is our jeep(the old folks).

And then we watch it swiftly and skillfully slide up the tire and into our engine.   Cameras (actually phones) click away.  The snake must be camera shy.

I insanely keep asking if it is poisonous and whether a snake can get from the engine of a vehicle into the interior as into the driver's or passenger's  seat.  I am assured it cannot but I don't believe it.  I watched a show on the Nature channel once….

Steve starts the engine to scare the snake out... or maybe shred the poor thing to bits.

Snake parts do not spew out of the open hood of the jeep.  Neither does a snake crawl out from under our jeep.

Steve must get to work.  He is on call.  He drives away and parks at the hospital.  Later he hears that someone saw a snake at the emergency dock.

This is what passes for entertainment in Chinle.

So I am going to assume I do not have to worry about a poisonous or non-poisonous snake in my jeep. This snake hopped off at the hospital.

But wait!  I had parked the jeep up on the mesa earlier that evening to walk Reena.  I suspect he (the snake)rode back to the hospital campus with me.  How many hitch-hiking snakes have I or will I pick up on the mesa?  And will any of them be a rattlesnake?

After note:  We later learn that the Navajo often put "medicine" around their vehicles to keep snakes from crawling into them.   Can I get this medicine at a swap meet?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

New Warp, Fresh Page

 My most recent rug is finally off the loom.   It is my first attempt at the outline weave.   There are some mistakes but all in all I am pleased.  It is taboo to disparage your own weaving so I will display it proudly and take what I have learned from this project and move on to the next.

It is the same way with my writing.  When I finish a project I must send it off into the publishing world.  Hope I have done my best and hope my best is good enough for an agent or an editor.  I will always think I might have done a better job.  But I always hope to apply what I have learned from my most recent project to the new work brewing in my imagination.

I am a slow weaver.  Like my writing, my weaving sometimes gets pushed aside for other chores and responsibilities. Or I might sit in front of the loom as I sit in front of my lap top, trying to find the design of my project with false starts and rewrites.  I need to take out an inch of weaving to correct an error.  In the same way I might need to delete entire paragraphs and begin again.

 A new fresh warp waiting to be filled with color and design is exciting and it is scary in the same way a clean new page waiting for the first words of a new story or essay is both exciting and terrifying.  Both a story and a woven rug must have a well planned beginning, middle and end.  I like to have a pretty good idea of where I am going before I begin.

I the Navajo tradition,  Spider Woman turned the clouds into cotton which became the warp which receives the weft which is the sun's rays.

A blank page is ready to receive a story woven from my imagination and sometimes some research, my experience and all that is around me.

For my new project  on the loom I hope to use some of the fibers I have died myself with vegetable dies from wild carrot, walnut shells, sage brush, and rabbit brush.  I plan to go back to the more common flat weave and to make this my best project yet.  One with the right amount of tension and even edges. It is the largest rug I have attempted.  It may take me a year but I look forward to pride in my finished work.

I have several writing projects on my desktop now but the scariest one is a rewrite.  I have opened up a new page in Word and plan to tear the original work apart.   I will use critiques from writer friends and my editor, and I will dig deep into my own imagination to give the story the fabric and color it needs to to make it come alive for the reader.

While I don't expect my rug to appear at a Navajo rug auction, I do hope my picture book project will one day be on library shelves.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Light Writes the Story: Antelope Canyon and a Poem

Photography literally means writing with light.

Thousands of people come to Antelope Canyon outside of Page Arizona each year to capture the light that filters into the canyon and writes it's story on sandstone.

The light etches itself into cracks and crevices.  It flows in waves.

Light colors the spaces and gives us shadow.

It reveals the the story of alluvial formations and aeolian erosion that continues through the ages in this sacred Navajo landscape.

Light sets the mood and changes with the day, the season, the time.

It sets the stage.

Light illuminates the important, give us our moods and inspires the photographer and the poet alike.  It tells our story.

Human Things
by Howard Nemerov

When the sun gets low, in winter,
The lapstreaked side of a red barn
Can put so flat a stop to its light
You'd think everything was finished.

Each dent, fray, scratch, or splinter,
any gray weathering where the paint
Has scaled off, is a healed scar
Grown harder with the wounds of light.

Only a tree's trembling shadow
Crosses that ruined composure; even
Nail holes look deep enough to swallow
Whatever light has left to give.

And after sundown, when the wall
Slowly surrenders its color, the rest
Remains, its high, obstinate
Hulk more shadowy than the night.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Why I Love School Author Visits

1.  I wish I had one when I was in school.  I think I would have published sooner.

2.  I sign lots of books and feel like a diva for a day.

3.  I get to share my stories and my galimotos and artifacts from around the world.

4. And answer questions:  How old are you?  Answer:  I published my first book when I was 35, I began writing when I was 12.  Do the research on line, solve the math problem.  :-)

What is your favorite book that you wrote?  Answer:  My books are like my children.  I have 4 children.  I could never say one was a favorite (although the family has suspicions) ;-).  They are all special for different reasons and they have all given me some trouble along the way.  Every author knows after her book is in print that there are things she could have done to make it better.  We save those lessons learned for the next book.

 5.  I get to see the creativity my books inspire.  And I get new ideas myself.  Teachers and librarians tell me that after an author visit, books fly off the library shelves.  Not just my books, all books.   This is gratifying.

6.  I am always impressed how much the students know about writing and how they get right to work in a writing workshop.  

These kids inspire me.  I need to get back home and begin writing!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Got Moccasins? Check.

I have been looking for someone to make me a pair of moccasins since I arrived on the Navajo Reservation.   You can buy them pre-made in some of the shops here but they are stiff and ...well...not handmade.  I have also seen some moccasins where the craftsmanship is not up to speed.

Then I met Deborah Teller.  She took a class at the Dine College in the art and craft of moccasin making.   Believe me it is NOT just a matter of tracing your foot.  It is an art that must be practiced.

My new moccasins are soft and  molded to my feet.  Deborah explains that making moccasins is almost like sculpting.  They are all sewn by hand.

I learned a few things about wearing moccasins too.  Do not wear them to a funeral or burial or cemetary.  If someone passes away their moccasins should be taken to the mountain and left there.

And you should not decorate your moccasins( well except for the buttons on the side to keep them closed.)  But then why would I?  I love the red/brown color of the soft suede.  

Interested in a pair for yourself?  Talk to Deborah:  760 975-4313
Her husband makes custom designed chaps too.  Now if I only rode rodeo...but y'all know me, I would hang a pair on the wall....