Archive for the ‘Columns’ Category

413. More Than A Spectator Sport

Long ago my great-grandfather’s brother Will was a small town doctor.  Medicine was a lot different then, and I imagine “Uncle Will” even made house calls.  But one thing that hasn’t changed is that people then, like people now, had babies.

And once a baby arrives (or any child if a couple fosters or adopts), one becomes a parent.  Parenthood isn’t particularly glamourous, especially in the beginning when sleep is non-existent, diapers have to be changed and spit-up dealt with.  But twice a year parents are honored, first mothers in May and then fathers in June.

Uncle Will once observed that the first baby can come any time, but after that it always takes nine months.  It took six years for Lori’s and my first baby to arrive, six years of uncomplicated life that hardly seems real now.  Because once little William arrived nothing was ever the same.

Lori had five weeks maternity leave, and I honestly tried to help with William’s care.  I’d wake her to let her know he was crying, holler at her when his diaper needed changed, and reminded her to do the laundry.  But when the five weeks were up fatherhood suddenly became much more than just a spectator sport.

I was never so panicked in my life.  I really wished I’d paid more attention to how Lori did things.  The very first time I tried to change William’s diaper he initiated me as only a little boy can.  I almost called my mother, but decided to try to get through it by just taking it an hour at a time.

Over time, as each new parental challenge presented itself, I did my best to meet it, and miraculously, our kids somehow survived.

Angela came along 2 years after William and was in no hurry to be born.  Finally, during an early morning snow storm, the contractions started.  When I eventually managed to get a path shoveled and the car warmed up, I found Lori was back in bed.  “The contractions stopped.”

The next time she woke me to say she was having contractions I pretended I was still asleep.  It was my birthday, and I wasn’t interested in another false alarm.  But 18 hours later I was in the operating room, spectator at an emergency C-section (Dr. Kusek glanced over and said they should find a chair for the father – I guess I was “looking rather green”).

A few years later Thomas arrived unexpectedly while we had William and Angela in the bathtub.  This was supposed to be a planned C-section a month later, but Thomas had other ideas.  A doctor was hurriedly found and everything went well.

I don’t think I was ever happier than I was that next day.  They let us keep Thomas in Lori’s room and take care of him ourselves – it was the first peace and quiet we’d had in years!  But two months later we were back in the hospital.  Thomas had contracted pneumonia and again, I found myself taking life just one hour at a time.

I’m writing this on Father’s Day and I have more work to do than I can possibly get done – part of me wishes we could celebrate Father’s Day by just letting me work.

But this is about the only time that fatherhood is recognized, and considering that I’ve never worked harder at anything in my life, I guess I’ll make a few more sacrifices (though those don’t include missing this column’s deadline) and enjoy doing what really needs to be done today – spending quality time with my family.

412. Shadows

Sunday, as I waited for the shadow to creep across the grass, I had plenty of time to think.  How long had it been since someone did this here?  Obviously, someone had, but how long ago?

I was watching a gnomon, a vertical pole used to cast a shadow and a time-honored way to determine the position of the sun.  By marking the sun’s shadow in the morning and drawing an arc on the ground that distance from the gnomon, when the sun reaches your line in the dirt in the afternoon the two points are exactly east and west from each other.  Carefully paint a line between them and you have a handy visual reference.  My son William and I have been mapping Native American earthworks with a drone, and by having a visible line showing east and west, it’s easier to determine the alignment of the mounds.

But it takes a LONG time.  I couldn’t help but think about lots of things while waiting, including a comment by a woman who once remarked that while men and women are “so different, we’re also so much the same.”

The people who built these mounds were very different from us.  For one thing, the roles of men and women were different, but again, probably quite a bit the same.

Women were equal – or even superior – to men in many Native societies.  Descent was figured through the mother.  So important was the mother’s line that a woman’s brothers took on most of the responsibility for raising her sons, just as her husband’s primary child rearing duties were to his sisters’ sons.  The domed earthen lodges these people lived in symbolized a woman’s womb, with the long covered entryway the birth canal.  Every morning these people, in their minds, were literally reborn.

So yes, they were different from us.  Yet the women ended up doing most of the work.  So I’m sure the female half of our population would say that things were also very much the same.

But why build mounds?  It must have taken a lot of work, and the more my family and I study these mounds the more we realize they aren’t just haphazard piles of dirt – they have varied and sometimes complex shapes.  There seems to have been standard units of measure, both on the mounds and in the larger spaces between them.  They were carefully planned, and enough people believed in their value to construct them one basket full of dirt at a time.

As the gnomon’s shadow drew close to the arc on the ground, the trees to the west started casting their own shadows over both the gnomon and the ground around it.  Ooops – I hadn’t thought about that.  Could we catch the gnomon’s shadow before the shadows of the trees caught us?  Fortunately, there were enough gaps in the leaves that we were able to mark our spot.  But the shadows were too long for us to take good drone photos – we’ll have to try that another day.

Trying to decipher the meaning of these mounds is much like chasing shadows, the elusive shades of those who lived here long ago.  These people cast a long shadow, visible still in the silent mounds they left behind.  But I have to wonder if I’ll ever understand why they built them.  They were as human as we are; they laughed and loved and wondered about the world just as we do.  Yet they were so different, and like the gulf between men and women, I wonder if I’ll ever bridge it very well.