This morning Gary talked about his childhood in Arizona, the terrible things he did and felt guilt for even at the time—terrible kids stuff like caching bees by the wings until he was stung, driving a flicker from its nest and attempting to sell it to the bird farm where he liked to buy pigeons (he had to let it go because the bird man told him it was illegal to cage a flicker). He played with "water snakes" that seemed harmless and "water scorpions" that were not exactly the bugs I found in a Google search, "more of a Mutt than a Jeff" and looked scary. The water snakes were black, slow-moving, and shorter than a ruler, with a distinct head or mouth. Were they eels or leeches or something else? He doesn't know.
He and his friends caught snakes and scorpions and horny toads bare-handed. They avoided rattlers, but kept bull snakes and tortoises as pets. His friends in those days were a snapshot of America—children of all sorts of backgrounds and religions. My manuscript Blond Indian, later renamed Living in Snakeland is built on the stories Gary has told me of his seven years in Arizona. My father denied my Indian great grandmother, but Gary's mother was proud of her Indian relatives, and that was the beginning of his fascination with Indians. It was the times, too, of course, those years of cowboy Westerns on TV. My husband always played the Indian.
Once, years later after college, while working for the Woodland Park Zoo, he drove out in a pickup truck on some errand and discovered a group of Athabaskan men standing, soaking wet in the rain. They were from Tanacross, Alaska, above the Arctic Circle, down for a powwow at the Seattle Center. Their ride hadn't shown up and they were trying to decide what to do about that. Gary drove the pickup back and got a van to transport them. I'm sure the conversation was lively and funny on the ride. The men invited Gary to attend the powwow and he did.
Neither of us remember whether I went to that one. I have no memory of it, so probably I was working. There were other powwows in Washington and Oregon and a naming ceremony up at Tulalip. Mostly these were in the years Gary was fluent in Puget Coast Salish in the 70s, working with the Tutalip Reservation to develop their language program, and later when he was tutoring Indian kids for a public school district before we moved to Oregon.
It was a good walk recalling these old stories. The stories are old now, since tomorrow is his birthday and Gary will be 65. Some of his Arizona stories are sixty years old, and even our Seattle stories are more than 35 years behind us.
Time passes, the tide swings in and out. It was a good summer with a lot of walks.