This is the story of a girl
Who cried a river and drowned the whole world
And while she looks so sad in photographs
I absolutely love her
When she smiles
How many days in a year
She woke up with hope but she only found tears
and I can be so insincere,
Making the promises never for real
As long as she stands there waiting
Wearing the holes in the soles of her shoes
How many days disappear?
When you look in the mirror so how do you choose?
Three Doors Down, Story of a Girl
This morning I spent some time listening to an interview with Doug Elliott. Doug is a naturalist and professional storyteller, and he was speaking about how to use and develop story in the context of nature-based education.
It was a great interview on all different levels. They covered a number of different topics and interspersed throughout were Doug’s stories and anecdotes. If you have half an hour to spend, I highly recommend checking it out.
A couple of things struck me. The first was on the negative side. Brother Wolf (the host) asked Doug how people that do not have exposure to nature do… whatever. So wait. How does one not have exposure to nature? It is the air we breathe, the food we eat, it is, quite literally, all around us whether deep in the barrio or on the side of a mountain. Walking down a city street it takes a certain perpetuated blindness to not see the weeds pushing up between the blocks of cement in the sidewalk, the crow or pigeon feeding by the roadside, the insects, rats, and raccoons feeding on human detritus. Granted, many people have learned this blindness, but that simply means that they need a little help to see once more. If they are willing to leave the city to “find nature” then first they should be reminded that they don’t need to leave the city to find “nature.”
Doug did not address the question this way. He spoke instead about how simple a day trip into the countryside can be, of how many people take the time to do so and how rewarding it can be for them. All true, but perpetuating the myth that nature is other.
The more important thing I took out of the article relates to story creation. They discuss how heavily environmental and nature education relies on Native American stories and the problems inherent to this. A few months ago, I began thinking about creating stories around the native plants in my area. Stories that would help explain and remind of their appearance, their properties, their uses and so forth. Jason and Giuli had done this years ago with some of their native plants. They created mythological tales, with anthropomorphised characters, and human drama. Its a brilliant memory technique and it helps in re-integrating oral techniques and skills back into a community.
Listening to Doug’s responses, however, I realized that this was a hollow representation of what we really need. What we need, if we are to re-embrace orality, is true stories. The stories of how we (I) first discovered a plant, how I learned more about it, the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned. Stories do not need to be mythological. But they do need to be true. Mind, I am not dismissing native mythological tales… because these tales developed in concert with the cultures they are a part of: they are true. No one sat down and created them of whole cloth, as Jason and Guili did, or as I had envisioned myself doing.
More importantly, I realized that by telling true stories, however hum drum they may seem to us – we are setting down the foundations that will lead to creating new culture(s). So often we want to jump right to the point of complete culture, but that can only be a cheap imitation of the real thing. Real culture: culture with depth and complexity and resilience can only come about through generations of experience. So I think we need to embrace taking those first steps, allow those first steps to be simple — hum drum, even –, and always, always true. (True does not mean without embellishment, it means based upon our real life experiences, meaningful in context of our real lives, and useful and interesting in the re-telling)