People can run afoul of the law in many ways. Take, for example, a couple from Papillion who recently tried to go canoeing in the flood-swollenMissouri River. They were ticketed byCouncil Bluffspolice who maintain that trying to navigate theMissouriin a canoe right now is suicidal.
Fortunately, this isn’t the case on the Beaver. This time of year the poor Beaver is often too low to even think of navigating. But a recent rain raised it a little, and since canoeing is one of the few things in life that helps me relax, I decided to give it a try.
I needed a crew, though, so I enlisted the aid of my 12-year-old son Thomas who quickly recruited his friend Ronald. The three of us set off east ofAlbionand ended up five hours later at the railroad bridge below Boone.
There was barely enough water to float us, but Thomas only had to get out twice to pull us off sandbars. I had worried that the boys would get bored – they are, after all, part of a generation that finds most of its excitement in the virtual world of computer games – but they seemed to soak up every minute of what turned out to be a real-life nature documentary.
The Beaver doesn’t seem like much of a river, and few people realize it can be canoed. It’s surrounded by corn and soybean fields and serves mostly as a nuisance to farmers and a repository for trash. Both narrow and shallow, it’s at best a footnote in the vast agricultural landscape it bisects.
But when actually down on it one enters another world. There were more trees than crops visible on the stretch we traveled, and it’s easy to imagine one’s self far from civilization. This narrow ribbon of trees, vines and water is Nature’s last remaining stronghold here and as such boast a concentrated diversity of flora and fauna. Songbirds and butterflies abound, as do wild grapes (and, unfortunately, cockleburs).
A canoe is a quiet craft, and the boys, perhaps in the thrall of the woods, were quiet as well. Their silence was rewarded. As we snaked our way through fallen trees and around meandering bends, we encountered a menagerie of local wildlife.
We tried to keep count. Three does — who snorted in contempt as we passed — and four fawns, two of which, still bedecked with camouflaging spots, stood wide-eyed on a little beach, mirroring our sense of wonder. Four mud hens, one of which was paddling busily downstream with eight ducklings immediately in tow. A red tailed hawk and three great horned owls roused from their afternoon slumber only to be set upon by smaller birds as they took begrudging flight. A kingfisher hoping we’d scare up a meal, and a magnificent great blue heron who stayed just ahead of us through most of our journey.
There were muskrat and beaver dens along the water’s edge (one even had a mysterious vapor wafting from it, leading the boys to accuse the beavers of smoking). Here and there carp would suck at the surface of the water from hiding places in the mottled shade, and one little fish flashed silver in the sunlight as it leapt from the water to mark our passing. A muskrat raised its head briefly to get a better look at us at the same time a water snake rippled across our bow, too intent on whatever errand it was pursuing to pay us any heed.
The trip made quite an impression on all of us and I hope the boys never forget that we share this land – as tame as it often seems – with a remarkable wealth of natural life.
Why do people make music? That’s a question I asked elementary students during Michael Fitzsimmons’ residencies in Albion, Newman Grove and St. Edward last week. “Because it’s fun,” was a frequent answer. But one little girl said, “because it’s another way we communicate with each other.”
Human beings communicate in many ways, but sound is fundamental. Babies hear sounds while still in the womb. We speak, we sing, we laugh and we cry, sharing what we’re thinking and feeling with sounds.
Some experts suspect humans sang before they spoke. Poetry, which bridges the gap between sung verse and the spoken word, was much more common in the past, especially when literacy was rare. Rhymes make remembering things easier. A teacher in St. Edward even mentioned that she uses rhymes in helping her students learn.
Poetry – which until the mid-nineteenth century always rhymed — is not a precise means of conveying ideas. Today, in a highly technological society, prose is the preferred means of communication. Poetry, after all, is much more subject to interpretation – and thus misunderstanding – than prose.
But that’s the beauty of poetry – the reader or listener is an active participant. He or she projects his or her own experiences onto the poem. Poetry is evocative and capable of expressing multiple meanings at the same time.
And this seems to be the way humans respond to communications. No matter how hard we try to make prose as clear as possible, it’s still easy for people to misinterpret and misunderstand.
I sometimes see this when working with the state ethics commission. We go over and over the wording of state statutes and then try to apply them as the Legislature intended. But sometimes legislators think we’re completely off-base. What people think they’re saying and what other people are reading or hearing are seldom exactly the same.
Since we do color what we read and hear based on our experience and temperament, poetry is a more natural means of communication than prose often is. The human mind is not a computer and thus is capable of communicating in a variety of different ways, as the girl in St. Edward understood.
It was great to sit in a circle of 30 to 40 young people all playing their newly-constructed drums together. It’s easy to learn to play a drum – you just hit it. But playing drums with three dozen other people isn’t so easy. Everyone has to play at the same speed, play either the same or complimentary rhythms, and start and stop at the same time.
Michael Fitzsimmons taught the students to do this quickly. The key was for everyone to pay attention to everyone else (thus the need to sit in a circle). Musical, verbal and visual cues were necessary for everyone to stay together. So everyone had to pay attention to everyone else.
Michael mentioned that in many other societies’ people gather in the evenings to drum and dance together. Since everyone interacts, social ties are strengthened.
And that seemed to be the case last week. Nearly 300 people of all ages gathered for Michael’s concert to hear children from four schools play as one. It had an effect – there was a feeling of joy in the gym. And when the students who had worked with Michael were finished soloing, young people erupted from the audience, coming forward spontaneously to play on a set of conga drums.
Why do we make music? Because it’s our nature to connect with one another in ways that extend beyond words…