A few weeks ago, on a busy weekend during which Piper and I spent more time at work than anywhere else, something beautiful happened. It snowed.
Though I was stressed about work, feeling the pressure of managing an event last-minute and scrambling to patch problems while almost all of my coworkers (and superiors!) were out of town, Piper was thrilled to be there. There were so many nice people to meet, so many things to sniff, and it was snowing, too!
She forced me to take breaks from work and go for walks. She made it impossible for me to ignore the best part about the snow. I couldn’t complain about the cold when she was leaping and snapping at flakes or skipping around me. Though the weather only made my life more complicated, it made Piper’s more exciting.
Our snowy weekend reminded me why I wanted to adopt a dog in the first place: I needed a friend to walk with me through the dark and cold, so that I wasn’t so alone.
I shouldn’t have ended up with Piper. I found her by “accident” – if you want to call it that – and several other open doors closed before I returned to the dog with three legs and first contacted her foster mom. I had doubts, but everything fell into place anyway.
Piper survived a traumatic injury at a young age, and recovered with the help of a devoted volunteer who fostered her off and on and did her best to get her out of a shelter environment. During that time, Piper became to her foster mom what she is to me now: a blessing in a lonely period of life.
I found out after my first visit with Piper that her foster mom would soon be moving, too far away to remain caring for her. She was worried about Piper’s future and was praying for the right adopter to come along.
I had been discouraged by the process of finding an adult dog who would adapt to my chaotic life, my weird schedule, my living situation and my career. I’d been searching local shelters for months, and each dog that seemed right initially was ultimately not a good fit. I sent an email asking about Piper anyway, and laid out all the details of my life that might have been red flags… Details, that in emails past, had prevented me from adopting other dogs.
“I think you might be a match for her,” she wrote back.
Even after my first meeting with Piper, I was skeptical that we’d work together. But none of my concerns meant anything to Piper or her guardians. Honestly, it wasn’t until after she came to live with me that I understood what I had to offer Piper was exactly what she needed: a dog-free, cat-free household; a backyard perfect for lounging and nature watching; a cozy couch to snuggle on; brief walks; a dog-friendly job and a small army of friends willing to help out when needed.
I smile every morning when she looks at me out of the corner of her eye and wags her tail furiously, waiting for me to say “breakfast.” She makes me laugh, think creatively, and go outside more often. She keeps me from getting ANY work done when she’s snuggling with (and on!) me, but when I am ready to go out, she’s ready to come with me. She doesn’t hold back; she makes her opinions known and loves with her whole heart, instantly. She makes me feel safe – she is a ferocious guardian against every twig that falls on the roof or gust of wind that sounds like a footstep on the porch. I say it often: I can’t believe I ever lived by myself.
Piper is a beautiful reminder of grace, resiliency, and love. For me, she is a promise kept, and further proof that God will always provide exactly what we need.
I went looking for a four-legged friend and didn’t quite find one. Instead, my three-legged angel found me, and I’m so thankful for how merry and bright this season of my life has become because of her.
While I’ve got family within drivable distance, Piper has made my house a home, and she’s definitely family. She’s learning never going to get along with her equine sister, as well as the three “Ladybugs” in our front pasture, but we’ll keep trying. Maybe one day we’ll behave well enough to get a real family photo.
For now, we’ll be on the couch if you need us.
Edit: we tried family photos anyway. Neither of my children behaved, and both attacked the other. Such is my life. Enjoy.
Fun fact: If there were a third picture to this sequence, it would show all three of us standing on two legs.
Yes, 2018 will involve a dog trainer. But it will also involve so many adventures, and I’m thrilled to see where we end up!
I’m more than two months in to my new position at Tryon Resort, serving as PR & Marketing Coordinator at Tryon International Equestrian Center. Livin’ the dream and still pinching myself that I get to grow horse sport and work with the people I work with.
In the winter, however, most of my coworkers are based in Florida, so things are starting to get quiet* in the office… really quiet when Michelle is out of office and I’m the only one there! And then I go home to an empty house. Sure, there are three horses down the driveway, but they’re no good at indoor snuggling. But you know who is?
World, meet Piper, my new snuggle buddy and 3.14-legged roommate!
She’s a four year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Boxer mix who has spent most of her life in foster care or at a shelter. She was struck by a car at a young age and broke two of her legs, eventually losing one because she went so long without treatment.
She doesn’t seem to mind.
Piper loves car rides, short jogs, lounging on the pool chairs and surveying the farm. Her favorite thing in the world is meeting new people and greeting them with a kiss. Her cuddles are the best.
She has no IDEA what horses are or that she should be very, very afraid of them, but we’re working on that. For now, she loves to supervise them from afar.
Our bucket list includes various camping and hiking destinations, visits to family and friends, and definitely checking out all the outdoor dining we can find (she found new fans at The Crepe Factory most recently). I can’t wait to adventure with her!
On a very real note, I’ve found that despite the chaos of transitioning her into my life, as well as her recent virus that required two vet visits and WAY too much cleaning of my house, Piper has drastically improved my quality of life. I can’t believe I lived without her before!
If you live or work alone, you should definitely have a friend – dog or otherwise. Trust me, it doesn’t even need to have four legs!! 10/10 would recommend.
I’m so thankful to have a new member of the family… and I apologize (a little) for all the photos still to come.
If you actually want to see more of Piper, follow me on Instagram for regular snuggle snaps. We’ll see you there!
Et al: There are now less than 300 days til the World Equestrian Games (find us @tryon2018 on the social medias), and it’s highly probable that I’ll be working almost all of them. You’ll probably catch me there more than here.
October 2018 is going to be soooOo sweet. I’ll sleep for most of it.
*Team: if you’re reading this, I miss you! See ya soon.
Meet Rose and Reba, the two newest inhabitants of Ladybug Farm. I’m thrilled to have “roommates” and I can’t wait to get to know them!
Both are slaughter rescues; I couldn’t be more supportive of anyone wanting to rescue slaughter-bound horses, and the Makers were able to save these two mares in the nick of time. Rose was literally pulled off a truck so that she wouldn’t be live-shipped to China. Aside from the fact that they’ve already made me enjoy mornings much more, here’s what we know so far about these painted ladies:
Reba: 20 years old / Pony of the Americas (POA) mare / literally been there done that / all the ‘tude in the world / will eat anything
Reba will teach some awesome kids how to ride, and is the perfect first pony! She’s already given some perfect pony rides and I can’t wait to see how we progress.
Rose: 15 years old / palomino paint mare / APHA registered / fabulous horse to work with / loves scratches, carrots and sunbathing
I’m still getting to know Rose, but she’s a superstar thus far and I can’t wait to ride her once I know her better and once she’s in better health. She’s a joy to have in the barn, and tries very hard to please!
(While I know her registered name, I know very little of her history and would love to connect with someone who has an APHA account and could do some digging for us…)
In some of these pictures, you can see the girls exploring the new dry lot, a land management tool that I’m super excited to put into practice after studying it in the past.
Soon, Ranger will be joining us for a well-deserved retirement, complete with plenty of snuggles and carrots. It’s been about a year since I’ve last seen this sweet boy, and I can’t wait to have him here!
Actually it’s a novella, but it’s got my name on it, and I’m thrilled! It’s been so humbling to receive positive feedback from my friends, their parents, their parents’ friends… and each one is just as flattering and embarrassing as the next. Thank you to all who have supported me on this journey–you know who you are!
This novella was published because it won the Ben Wofford Prize for Fiction–a contest held every two years at Wofford. It is not being sold in stores, but you can find it on campus at Wofford or if you contact me directly. I’m currently working on turning it into a full-fledged novel and THEN you can buy it in stores. Stay tuned!
The Office of Marketing and Communications (more specifically, my friend Kelsey) wrote a beautiful release about the novella that you can read here.
I also graduated, and I’m not sure how that happened, to be honest. I was just moving in for my freshman year like two weeks ago. Dear old Wofford, hail. Photos by Laura McDermott.
Postgrad and “Single Mom” Life:
I took an internship as prep for a full-time job with Tryon Resort and I absolutely LOVE working in advertising and marketing for the Tryon International Equestrian Center. Every day is different, and I never want to leave! I am loving every minute I get to spend in the Carolina foothills region. Plus, when I need to escape to another city for a yoga class held at a brewery, or swing home for dinner with my family or former roommate who’s now kicking butt at med school, I totally can.
I’m close to my horse, amazing outdoor attractions (some of which I haven’t even had time to check out yet!), incredible food (that I can’t yet afford), and I also get to work towards growing equestrian sports every day! For instance, have you heard about Gladiator Polo yet?!?!
Gladiator Polo is a new form of arena polo thatcombines the fast-paced, arena style of hockey with the finesse, agility, and horse-human teamwork that we equestrians love to watch in the show jumping arena or on the polo field. It’s fast, exciting, and it demands a rowdy crowd! Gladiator Polo debuted at TIEC on June 24th to a crowd of more than 10,000 spectators, and it will be coming back in September (1st, 9th, and 30th)! Check out some of the pictures/videos here.
My days include interviewing riders, writing press releases and drafting copy for other projects, making deliveries, coordinating ad inquiries and sales for our print publications, canvassing the property to promote special events, tracking media impressions, helping run events, driving golf carts… and whatever else needs doing! I’m thankful to be working, learning and growing with great coworkers and at a crazy fast pace that I love. The next year will be a marathon–at a sprint. The first few miles have been great!
Even more exciting than Gladiator Polo is the chance to help plan and host the FEI World Equestrian GamesTryon 2018 in September of next year–we call it WEG, and it’s coming up fast! Around half a million people from all over the world will converge at TIEC to celebrate and compete in eight different disciplines, and I can’t wait to watch it all unfold. The event, which occurs every four years and travels to different host countries much like the Olympics, will bring an estimated $400 million dollars in economic impact to the area, and I’m thrilled to be impacting my community of the past four years in this way. Personally, I’m super excited to watch the driving, para dressage and vaulting competitions! Tickets will go on sale in September… stay tuned! (Horsey friends–get housing now!!)
Two eye surgeries later, Dancer’s right eye looks drastically different than what you might’ve seen in the past seven years! Her bilateral orbital fat prolapse was [re]confirmed as benign by the vets at Tryon Equine Hospital, and they have been so great helping us ensure Dancer’s eyes continue to stay healthy. We decided to operate on the most prolific eye first to investigate the tissue and determine whether further action needed to be taken. A second procedure was necessary because Dancer developed some proud flesh in her third eyelid, but based on pathology results I’ll hold off on any procedures for the left eyeball until I’ve got a stable financial situation… pun intended.
In the meantime, since I’m only working one job and not four these days, I’ve been able to spend a lot more time with my girl, and it’s one of my favorite parts of postgrad life! After-work trail rides or walks are my favorite way to spend time with her while building her confidence, and it seems to be paying off recently. Two hour trail ride and obstacle course with our barn family? No problem! Dancer is really starting to relax, pay attention to her feet, think her way through obstacles, and carry herself more correctly since we’ve been trail riding, and I’m so glad to see it paying off.
Like all the best horses, Dancer is complex and challenging and not alway easy, but I know persistence will pay off, and I wouldn’t trade one good day for all of our bad ones. I can’t wait to get more miles together in the future… we’ve got some goals in mind, but I won’t share them here just yet. Stay tuned 😉
Dancer is learning to let others set the pace on trail rides
I’m not the only one who loves yoga!
If you don’t like pictures of eyeballs, don’t click on the pictures below. Nothing gory, but everybody’s different, so be advised. Here’s Dancer’s eye before the first surgery, before the second re-touch, and a few weeks ago. Huge difference!
I have lots and lots of friends to thank for making me feel loved this summer, whether in person or in spirit. It feels good to be surrounded by such support. Below are some pictures from the weekend before my birthday…. which, coincidentally, also included a bear in a tree in downtown Landrum, just a few miles from my house. But I missed that shot. You’ll have to read about it here. Outtakes from that weekend that didn’t end up on the news:
That’s pretty much all that I’ve got to write home about… for now. Stay tuned, friends.
I had a cute postgrad blog post planned, but today I have something more important–and something more urgent–to say instead. This post is inspired by a Facebook post I saw from multiple people in the past week, three-hour drives to and from Winston Salem, and lots of coffee.
“Great Barrier Reef dead at 25 Million” reads a New York Post headline from Oct. 2016.
Snopes says it’s not true… yet. That doesn’t mean that the world’s largest coral reef system isn’t about to flatline in the next few years, especially since 2016 was an especially devastating year for the GBR:
A survey of the extent and severity of coral bleaching between March and June 2016 conducted by the Australian Government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and released on 13 October 2016 found that:
22 percent of coral on the Reef died due to the worst mass bleaching event on record. Eighty-five percent of this mortality occurred in the 600 kilometer stretch between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island (Snopes).
Also according to Snopes: “The latest surveys indicate that 93% of the individual reefs in the GBR have suffered some degree of bleaching, with reefs in the north the most severely affected. Australia’s marine biodiversity, and the jobs and economic prosperity that the reef supports, is under grave threat.”
I have three things to say about this situation and one multi-faceted response:
Firstly, prematurely declaring the GBR dead could impact efforts to save it… doomsday thinking is usually more harmful than helpful to environmentalists, as much as we love to talk about thresholds from which we cannot return. I’m reminded of Christian rhetoric in particular that calls us to “fill the earth and subdue it,” a phrase which holds a very different connotation than stewardship, and implies very little respect for the earth. This is specially true when combined with end-times doctrine that perpetuates greedy usage of what’s here now instead of preserving for the future. Understanding the dire nature of a problem is important. But we cannot declare something impossible to save if there’s something left to try (Like, I don’t know…. supporting the Paris Agreement, or recognizing that CO2 is definitely a huge contributor to climate change, or allowing scientists to study climate without censoring them or cutting their programs entirely. Just a few ideas.)
Secondly, the visibility of this issue matters… and it should move people to action. I grew up learning about the Great Barrier Reef in school, hearing that coral bleaching was becoming a problem and that an increase in global temperatures was changing the acidity of ocean waters and creating a nearly irreversible trend in bleaching. But many people don’t know about coral reef bleaching at all, much less that the Great Barrier Reef is in danger of succumbing to it. On the one hand, it’s a great thing that so many people are now concerned about the GBR, whether or not they’ve been there. I’m hopeful that the attention it’s getting moves people to make a change, now that they’ve seen what we’re in danger of losing. This is a serious, visible result of climate change… maybe some people will finally be convinced that human actions do have consequences, and that climate change is something to pay attention to instead of ignoring it.
With our current administration denouncing the Paris Agreement (despite more than 343 cities, more than 900 businesses and almost 200 colleges and universities and three states pledging to uphold it anyway), the GBR is seriously threatened. And climate change will have much more direct impacts on our lives than anything that happens to the GBR: coastal cities around the world are more likely to be submerged under rising sea levels… directly impacting more than 40% of the world’s population (40% of the world’s population lives within 100km of the coast as of 2010, and that number has only increased).
Thirdly, we have got to stop believing that actions do not have consequences. I don’t understand how the same people who:
appreciate mankind’s ability to level mountains and blast through them,
clear entire landscapes for development,
know what an oil rig looks like and/or enjoy the use of electricity,
marvel at engineering achievements such as dams and bridges and highways and industrial agriculture, as well as countless other examples of anthropogenic forces on our globe,
fly in airplanes and look down on enormous cities–especially at night–and see how significant they are on the landscape,
or understand how rapidly our country has been developed compared to others, and how significantly different our lives have become in the digital age
are the same people who deny that all these actions could possibly have negative impacts somewhere outside the financial statement. Climate change might not have the same, immediate effect on an individual as touching a hot stove, but its larger systemic symptoms are overwhelmingly supported by scientists, and our impact on the globe is worth considering simply due to its rapid (and rapid increase in) pace in the last few centuries alone. We are transforming our planet, and we at once seem to believe that our impact is possible and also not provable. I’m baffled.
How will I respond? On one level, by redefining what Christians call “filling and subduing the earth,” and on another level, by “keeping” the Paris Agreement in my own ways. Here are some springboards for action from various aspects of life:
Plastic Free July: In case you missed it, plastic is incredibly hazardous to aquatic ecosystems and there’s actually a trash gyre the size of Texas floating in the Pacific as we speak. Plastic bioaccumulates up the food chain, causing carcasses to be found with stomachs clogged with trash. Plastic Free July is an initiative started in Western Australia, and its goal is to highlight just how much single-use plastic we consume and see how much we can reduce it. The objective? Don’t use any single-use plastic for all of July (or forever, if you get attached to saving the planet). Cut out plastic straws, utensils and flatware, plastic water bottles, shopping bags and cling wrap, and you’ll find that you use a lot more plastic than you thought you did. It’s difficult sometimes, and I’m not great at it, but I’m enjoying the learning experience.
Packaging can throw some kinks in plastic-free shopping for groceries or household products, but the benefit of initiatives like these is they expose how prevalent plastic is in our lives, and the more mindfully we consume, the better. Plus, there’s always recycling. Plastic Free July–and all environmentalism, for that matter–is about participating as able. There’s a really cool list of ways to live plastic free, which you can find here.
One of the cool ways I’m ditching plastic wrap and plastic bags is by using Bee’s Wrap, a plastic free way to package bread, veggies, snacks and food products for storage or transport. I just purchased some and I love it already! I’m also participating in Plastic Free July by bringing cloth bags to the grocery store (especially when buying veggies!) and carrying a reusable water bottle with me instead of purchasing bottled water or sodas in plastic containers. This goes for coffee, too–I can bring my own thermos, or I can do without. Regardless, I can do without plastic straws! I carry my own, reusable utensils around, too–something I started doing during my senior year of college. It feels good to imagine how many times I’ve been able to opt out of plastic since I started!
Meat… Less: I love meat, but I don’t eat it every day, and I much prefer to know exactly where it came from. Industrial agriculture has developed a system that relies heavily on corn-fed cattle pumped with antibiotics–an unnatural and water-intensive, highly polluting process that also emit about two billion metric tons of CO2-equivalents per year–more than the entire transportation sector. The less meat we eat, the better off the environment… If you don’t believe me, this list from The Natural Resources Defense Council of the most environmentally destructive foods starts and ends with meat-based products, and to the credit of my vegan friends, contains only one non-animal product. While my personal life choices might not offset the entire American culture of meat at every meal, cultural shifts happen in increments, and I’ll be one of them.
Check out this startling infographic below from CulinarySchools.org, then keep scrolling for more ways I’m combatting climate change in my everyday life.
Boxed wine: I can hear some of my friends groaning across the internet, but as a person who loves to drink a glass of wine at dinner when I get home from work, it is much more environmentally friendly and economically feasible to drink boxed wine… and I think it’s great. Unfortunately, the wine does live in a plastic bag, but cardboard and plastic are way easier to recycle than glass around here, so I’d say it’s a step in the right direction. And with some boxed wines, there is no bag–it’s like buying a carton of milk, or a juice box… An adult juice box. I’ll drink to that.
Coffee: This deserves its own category because I’m a writer and I can’t write without coffee–and whether I’m buying it in a plastic/paper cup at a shop or using a Keurig at home, I’m creating a lot of waste. So when I graduated college I transitioned to making coffee in a French press every morning, eliminating any paper or plastic waste, and using a thermos to keep my coffee hot all day, so I never need to buy an afternoon pick-me-up that comes in a plastic cup or bottle. If I do run out of coffee, I show up to the barista’s counter with my own container. Some places even offer a discount for bringing your own mug–the intern on an intern’s salary loves that!
Cosmetics and feminine products:Uh oh… she just went there. Yup, I did. But ladies, there’s a LOT of plastic floating around in our bathroom cabinets, and there are alternatives for everything we currently own, including makeup and cosmetics. Make sure your habits aren’t preventing you from exploring new options, like applicator-less tampons, period panties or diva cups. I’ve also learned to be aware that cosmetics, shampoos and exfoliating scrubs might contain microbeads: tiny pieces of plastic that accumulate in waterways and can bioaccumulate in the seafood we eat later (!!).
Microbeads are almost impossible to clean up, but many cosmetic companies use them in their products because they’re cheap. Skip the microbeads by checking labels for words like Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or Nylon… or by using the Beat the Microbead app to scan labels and know what you’re up against.
Clothing: Thrift shopping is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to buy clothes, as the clothing industry is notoriously heavy on both natural resource usage and worker exploitation (think sweatshops, which are still totally a thing). Turns out the majority of our clothes are created in developing countries and transported across the globe before reaching retailers–an environmentally negative system in and of itself–but the processes are also less regulated for environmental hazards or workforce welfare. Like most systems in an industrialized world, it’s a non-knowledge system that the consumer isn’t supposed to pay attention to. But buying or donating used clothing and extending its life by even a few months saves precious natural resources, among other environmental benefits. Check out five reasons to thrift shop more often here.
When I do buy clothes new, I try to know as much about the company as possible. Try looking at RankaBrand.org and see where your favorite clothing lines stand on sustainability, including climate change and carbon emissions, environmental policy, working conditions and fair trade. This website can be useful for almost any brand, from technology to food, but I find it particularly helpful when I’m shopping. If a brand isn’t on the site, you can suggest it, and you can “nudge” companies to better their scores with an easy-to-use pre-formatted email. Capitalism at its finest! 😉
Some companies are even learning how to recycle clothes, such as H&M’s clothing recycling program. If they bring in clothing to be recycled, customers can receive a discount on their purchase. Not only is this a good deal for a young person on a budget like me, but it could spread throughout the entire clothing industry over time, and that’s something I want to support. Any clothes that I don’t want at the end of each season and that wouldn’t sell at thrift shops, I’ll be bringing with me when I go shopping for more work attire. While H&M doesn’t have the best rating on RankaBrand, it’s definitely made improvements in recent years and it’s certainly important to me that these kinds of programs become the norm!
Travel: This one is tough for me. I live close to work and my horse, but living in a semi-rural area means there’s no public transportation system I can use, and I end up driving hours at a time when I deliver promotional materials for work. On the bright side, I still drive a minivan instead of a truck, so my MPG is pretty decent and I’m able to carpool with friends whenever possible–and usually I can fit everybody. But it’s something that I’m learning to be more conscious of as I settle into routines and explore my new home.
Equestrian activities and products: I did an entire capstone on environmental horsekeeping, and I still find it difficult to make a dent in my habits as a horsewoman. Almost every product I buy for my horse comes in a plastic bottle, box, or bag, and some are even dangerous to aquatic life. Recycling is key, but there are other things I can do, too: I can limit how much water I use by only hosing down my horse when necessary, or using a sponge and bucket instead of a hose; I can sell or donate used equipment instead of trashing them; I can “carpool” when trailering my horse or choose destinations nearby to limit vehicle emissions; I incorporate barn visits with other errands so that I limit my own traveling time; and I purchase environmentally conscious products whenever possible. Equine science is a little behind some other fields, and environmentally focused equine science is even farther behind, so I’m excited to see what products develop in the next few years. In the meantime, the practice of horsekeeping is mostly about mindfulness and intentionality with recycling.
Another challenge in the area of horsekeeping is the fact that I do not manage my own facility and have limited influence of larger-scale practices impacting the landscape, such as manure management, pasture rotation and pest management. In that way, I am somewhat limited. But again, it’s enough to do the best I can with what I’ve got.
Recreation: Supporting National Parks is a great way to promote environmentalism, and luckily I’m surrounded by state parks, national parks and outdoor attractions. Plus, hiking does great things for the mind. It’s not just about working out, fighting boredom, or getting a sweet pic for the Insta!
That’s all I’ve got in me for this season of my life… or at least until you all give me more ideas! Please please please leave thoughts below if I’ve missed anything you know about. Don’t worry, fam… I’ll post that cutesy, postgrad life blog post another day.
Plains Indian Sign Language, American Sign Language, and the usage of nonverbal communication in Native American literature
I’m currently taking a class at Wofford on Native American Lit and noticed the use of sign language in a book about Indian baseball–Miko Kings by LeAnne Howe. But what struck me is that the players were communicating more than just instructions–something we as contemporary Americans understand as part of the game–but they were communicating to members of the community outside the diamond as well. They were speaking their own language.
As a learner of American Sign Language (ASL), I decided to investigate what I could about both languages and their interactions with each other, if they existed. What I found was that ASL is more French than I thought, and that Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL) was probably better preserved, accepted as part of culture, and studied than ASL. The story of “hand talking” was much different than I expected. Here’s what I found.
Let’s start with the history of American Sign Language (ASL):
During the nineteenth century, the use of hand gestures for communication by deaf people was called manualism, and deaf Frenchman Laurent Clerc established the language of ASL in the United States by establishing the first permanent deaf school in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1817 (Greenwald 558). French Sign Language (LSF) and ASL are undeniably linked, with certain sign families and gestures meaning the same thing in spoken English and French (Shaw and Delaporte).
Deaf linguistics were preserved in African American communities over time, but throughout American sign language was stigmatized like most foreign languages associated with immigrants, and “it was deemed a marginal language used by an inferior race… and suppressed in schools for whites,” though it thrived and was preserved in African American communities (558). Because of ASL’s “foreign” stigma, oralism (forcing deaf people to speak and read lips without the assistance of sign) prevailed in schools until the 1960s, when ASL was recognized as a legitimate language. The history of this shift is documented in books like Deaf Like Me, celebrating the acceptance of sign language as a way to allow deaf people to function more easily in society and create a vibrant culture of their own. “Yet the trends of mainstreaming, widespread use of technology, and the Americans with Disabilities Act have all contributed to the increasing cultural and linguistic isolation of deaf Americans,” argues Greenwald (559). At the very least, this shift has given ASL the space to exist, and for users to thrive. It will be interesting to follow this issue into the future.
The visual and tactile nature of the language prevented records of the language and its etymology until the first two decades of the 20th century, and written descriptions include personal variances and dialects—regionalism is common within the language, and makes proper documentation difficult. Today, ASL is seen as one of the best options for the success, happiness and achievement of deaf persons and is taught widely in schools, but also as a foreign language for hearing students who wish to learn to sign. Interpreter programs around the country certify hearing people to interpret for the deaf in school, medical, legal and social settings.
ASL also appears in some instances of pop culture: the Freeform television series “Switched at Birth” features both deaf and hearing actors and utilizes subtitles for signing conversations. Some episodes are entirely silent–entirely in ASL, and much of the series involves hearing characters learning ASL.
[Shameless plug: “Switched at Birth” is on Netflix and it definitely helped me learn to read ASL. Check it out!]
But what about the history of native sign languages?
Colonists in the New World observed Native Americans using gestures to communicate, especially between tribes that spoke different languages. The most widely used variety of Native American sign language is known as Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL), but is an endangered language (Indian Country Media Network).
But there are even older instances of European contact with Native signing:
“More than three centuries before U.S. officials ventured into the Far West, early modern Europeans had already come into close contact with Indian signs and complex indigenous systems of visual-kinetic communication in the context of the early colonization of the Americas. Their records of some of the nonverbal indigenous practices they witnessed strikingly resemble nineteenth-century observations of PISL and its role as an ‘alternate sign system’ being used alongside speech in hearing societies. A French Jesuit conducting a mission in seventeenth-century Guiana, for instance, noted that the Galibi Indians (modern Kali’na) ‘also use gestures to express what they want to say, treating and conferring with each other, without their being deaf and mute, however; which they particularly do to designate numbers, despite the fact that there are words to express several of them’” (Carayon).
These sign language systems, Carayon writes, functioned as an “internal auxiliary language”—a lingua franca shared by two or more distinct linguistic groups, allowing communication across language barriers. This this the language that explorers and colonists could have observed across the New World, utilized by multiple tribes. PISL, as a lingua franca, “also functioned as an ‘alternate sign system,’ by which is meant a separate, internal language that is completely autonomous from speech and is used by speaking-hearing communities who share the same dialect” (Carayon).
But were PISL and ASL ever studied together? Yes. About that…
With “decidedly evolutionist” ideas about sign languages’ inferiority to spoken languages, experiments were conducted comparing indigenous sign language to ASL in 1880. Lieutenant-Colonel Garrick Mallery brough seven Ute men to the National Deaf-Mute College in Washington, D.C., now called Gallaudet University (a well-established school for the deaf that’s been around since 1864). For this experiment, researchers observed what happened when deaf students told the Ute men scripted stories using ASL… despite a few inaccuracies and impasses in the translation process, most of which were attributed to cultural differences rather than communicative deficiencies, the men were able to understand the ASL.
But what at first seemed like an exciting revelation would result in some dangerous understandings of nonverbal communication, Carayon says. “Mallery, the foremost specialist of the time in the study of Indian signs, used the case study to argue that ‘what is called the sign language of Indians is not, properly speaking, one language, but … it and the gesture systems of deaf-mutes and of all peoples constitute together one language—the gesture speech of mankind—of which each system is a dialect’” (Carayon). Though the “gesture speech of mankind” is a phrase now used to praise sign language, the sentiment behind this statement is problematic for several reasons: “In this statement, Mallery captured the two most prominent and problematic concepts attached to the observation of American Indian sign languages in the modern era: the question of whether manual languages had ‘universal’ properties that could transcend cultural, geographical, and linguistic barriers, and the misguided conceptual association of Indian signs with the various nationally based sign languages of deaf communities in the industrialized Western world” (Carayon).
N.B.: if we look at the featured image at the top of this blog post and reposted above, we see that sentence structure in indigenous sign language is different from the sentence structure we recognize as English. The sentence structure found in Indian sign language as described here is very similar to ASL sentence structures I have learned in the past–it does not surprise me that the experiment in 1880 went well. Those who sign are very good at understanding context and conveying meaning, even to those who do not speak the language, I’ve found.
Bringing PISL back
In 1930 the Indian Sign Language Grand Council was created as part of General Hugh Scott’s preservation efforts to preserve Plains Indian Sign Language, and was the largest meeting of elders and chiefs ever filmed. The films were lost “in the dust of the Great Depression and the unconcern of anthropology’s mainstream until Jeffery Davis, an “interpreter, teacher and researcher in the field of sign language/deaf studies, was stranded overnight in the Archives during a snowstorm in the early 1990s. Members of a Ken Burns documentary crew, also stuck overnight, had noticed the films and told Davis about them” (Hughes). The films were restored and posted online, however the link is too old to function.
The first Indian sign language conference in 80 years was held in August of 2010, in an attempt to “preserve Indian Sign Language through the cooperation of sign language linguists with deaf and hearing members of the North American Indian signing communities through research, video recording and a dictionary” (Hughes). There has been a revival of Native language learning in an effort to preserve its usage, but it is a language that has been described as nearly extinct–most fluent hand talkers are dying without passing on fluency to younger generations. Nevertheless, there are strong programs developing across the nation, such as the Crow Agency’s sign language learning program at Little Big Horn College, pictured below.
PISL in film:
More attention is being paid to PISL in the arts, particularly in Native creative circles. Below is a promotional video for a short film screened in March of 2016 at INDIgenesis, a Native Film Series presented by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. “Directed by Missy Whiteman, this sci-fi docu-narrative follows Charlie, who is forced to choose between joining a Native street gang or going on an epic pilgrimage. Featuring an entirely Native American cast, the film was shot in the Minneapolis neighborhoods of Phillips and Little Earth. ‘The Coyote Way: Going Back Home’ features Native American Sign Language and there is no verbal dialogue (“7 Great Movie Trailers to watch from the New Native Film Program: INDIgenesis”).
Meanwhile, in American pop culture, this is how Native American nonverbal communication is portrayed:
I think it’s safe to say that most Americans could do with a little education on both ASL and PISL; primarily, we need to recognize the inherent values of these languages and what they can do for the speakers, hearing or deaf. Hand talking is an art of its own kind, and one that should be appreciated rather than seen as inferior.
Nonverbal communication in Native American Lit:
Native American Lit: literature written by Native Americans… and also the name of the class I’m taking. I’ve gotten to read origin stories, some of the first works ever published in English by American Indians, boarding school narratives of Indians who were forced into schools that taught them Western ideals and culture, and more contemporary works of fiction and poetry by native authors. Here are a few examples of indigenous sign language and what it means for the story:
from Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story by LeAnne Howe:
“The wig’s supposed to make him look traditional, but Laemmle wove it like a girl’s braids. It’s obvious to the Indians that their producer doesn’t know the difference between the plaits of a powerful warrior and those of a little girl. Each time Laemmle’s back is turned, Hope’s teammates elbow one another and point at the wig. The men use sign language to call Hope Ohoyo Holba, like a woman but not.
Hope watches his teammates joke at his expense. He signs back that he’s the hero of this story: ‘Out of 157 games played this season, I’ve started in 45, completed 40, won 35, and lost 8.’ He signs the number 8 again for emphasis.
The men snicker. Hope signals Blip Bleen, the Miko Kings’ player-manager. ‘Tell them I’m the hero,’ he signs” (Howe 7-8).
This is the prelude to the story, in which the team and their usage of sign language is first introduced. It is clear that signing is not just about baseball, but a full language utilized by all members of the community. Later in the novel, sign language is used to communicate from the field to the stands, when Blip the catcher notices that something is wrong with Hope’s pitching and Bo Hash seems to be involved:
“Blip signals to Henri and Lonnie Johns in the stands, then points to Hash. Get him, he signs. Find out what he’s doing with Hope. Hope sees Blip’s signals and looks at him with pure hatred. Blip senses it and wonders if Hope knows what happened with Cora… Hope can see that Ezol has come down from the bleachers and is standing close to the dugout… Their eyes meet. Stop, don’t do it, she signs. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. She keeps signing and screaming, trying to be heard over the roar or the crowd, yelling, ‘Throw the ball!'” (196, 197).
At the conclusion of Hope’s life, he is known as “No Hands”–they were chopped off at the wrist, observes a nurse (198). Nevertheless, he is still filled with the passion for baseball and his former skill… his hands had been perfect, he remembers. Perfect for baseball–but also able to communicate on another level than just speech.
This novel’s use of sign language tells us, indirectly, the same information I learned about the language’s history: it was used in addition to spoken language rather than instead of it; the language was understood widely and therefore well-preserved; and others could learn and understand the language. Nonverbal communication encompasses any form of communication (body language, facial expressions, micro-expressions, sounds, and formal sign languages), but sign language is one that is often omitted form fiction. In Miko Kings, the story comes from and transitions between spoken and unspoken words–and between ghosts and living people–seamlessly. This works well for a book that explores the physics of space and time surrounding baseball and the Choctaw language.
from House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday:
In House Made of Dawn there is no sign language, but there is a great deal of mention of hands, body language, and positioning: Abel’s hands are broken–again, purposeful violence against someone’s hands–and Tosamah the Priest of the Sun remembers his grandmother in “postures” rather than in stories:
“I see my grandmother in the several postures that were peculiar to her: standing at the wood stove on a winter morning and turning meat in a great iron skillet; sitting at the south window, bent above her beadwork, and afterward, when her vision failed, looking down for a very long time into the fold of her hands; going out upon a cane, very slowly as she did when the weight of age came upon her; praying. I remember her most often at prayer. She made long, rambling prayers out of suffering and hope, having seen many things. I was never sure that I had the right to hear, so exclusive were they of all mere custom and company… I did not always understand her prayers; I believe they were made of an older language than that of ordinary speech” (Momaday 117).
Some of the most impactful scenes of this novel do not include words, but body language, such as when Abel kills an albino man and it seems to be with consent–even by request of the albino man… but the words that might have been said don’t matter. The meaning is there–though maybe not for the reader–and it needs no words.
Céline Carayon; “The Gesture Speech of Mankind”: Old and New Entanglements in the Histories of American Indian and European Sign Languages. Am Hist Rev 2016; 121 (2): 461-491. doi: 10.1093/ahr/121.2.461
Greenwald, Brian H. “Significant Gestures: A History of American Sign Language – by John Tabak.” Historian, vol. 70, no. 3, Fall2008, pp. 558-559. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1540-6563.2008.00221_31.x.
Howe, LeAnne. Miko Kings: an Indian Baseball Story. San Frnacisco, Aunt Lute Books, 2007.
Hughes, Pam. “First Indian Sign Language Conference in 80 Years Will Be Held in August.”Indianz.com, Indian Country Today, 18 Aug. 2010, indianz.com/boardx/topic.asp?ARCHIVE=true&TOPIC_ID=41328. Accessed 17 May 2017.
Momaday, Navarre Scott. House Made of Dawn. New York, HarperPerennial, 2010.
“Native American Sign Language.” Indian Country Media Network, 3 Jan. 2011, indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/native-american-sign-language/. Accessed 17 May 2017.
Shaw, Emily and Yves Delaporte. “New Perspectives on the History of American Sign Language.” Sign Language Studies, vol. 11, no. 2, Winter2011, pp. 158-204. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=hft&AN=509293450&site=ehost-live.
This January I spent three weeks hiking, camping, and hostelling through iconic California landscapes, and I am forever grateful for the experience. I’m blown away by how much there is to share and remember–and how much there is that I can’t put into words, but here’s the “short” list:
I learned to pitch a tent and cook dinner on a camp stove/fire in the dark, hiked through waist-deep snow with avalanches falling nearby, fell in love with Pinnacles National Park and its incredibly diverse ecosystems, drove “the one” along the Pacific coast until a landslide forced us to turn back, walked among massive elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park, camped next to strawberry fields at Sunset Beach, went tidepooling with marine biologists at Carmel Point and later by ourselves at Point Reyes, panned for gold and gemstones and visited Sutter’s Mill site, where gold was first discovered.
I hiked with elk on the coast near Point Reyes, walked among redwoods in Big Sur and giant, two-thousand year-old sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, toured Cline Cellars and enjoyed a wine tasting after petting their donkeys and learning about their sustainable farming practices, visited a petrified forest, squeezed through Yosemite’s spider cave in total darkness with no visibility and only the person in front of me to guide me, spent an afternoon on the beach at Point Reyes enjoying the sunset and campfire conversation, and greatly expanded my taste in music thanks to our lonnnnnnnnnnnnnng hours in the vans and our collaborative playlist.
But the true highlight of the month was the wonderful humans who put up with my stench, made sure that I had nut-free food to eat and managed to avoid sending me into anaphylactic shock, loved me well when I got sad news from home, made me laugh with impersonations and rap battles, and were sources of endless deep and encouraging conversations about everything. I signed up for this trip entirely independently of my friends, and really, I didn’t know anyone well going into it. These four gals and nine dudes are family now, and while I never would’ve picked us out, I’m so thankful for them. We’re a diverse bunch, but we all share a passion for adventure, the outdoors, and the environment–and that bridges all other differences. If you’re reading this, team, I love ya. So much. Thanks for being you. Let’s go camping soon.
This month was full of the unexpected, but it was also full of rest and reflection. We rarely had service, and I was free to experience every day in the moment without the pressure of work, school or the ever-intimidating job search. Even the little things, like not wearing makeup for an entire month and not feeling any pressure to shave, was so freeing. I signed up for this class in order to fill some missing holes in my outdoor and environmental education, but also because it’s something I know my late classmate, MacGregor, would have loved. I wanted to honor her somehow, and this adventure seemed appropriate. It was–beyond my imagination. As we left Yosemite, I wrote this in my journal:
I feel that a bear has been watching us as we walk. And maybe it has… maybe MacGregor is with us. We’ve shared so many trails before–it feels wrong that she is not among the small cohort of women amidst the mostly male class. She should be here… she would be here, were she still alive. I’m convinced of it. So maybe she is here. Maybe she was the condor we knew was above our heads but could not see; maybe she was the bear hunkered warm in its winter place while we stomped and stumbled through waist-deep snow, pelting each other with snowballs and overflowing with laughter. Maybe she was in the wind, or among the redwoods in Big Sur where we found banana slugs on the slopes and hoped to spy the largest. Her adventurous spirit certainly was. Either way, I feel that something in me has been restored, though I can’t yet identify what. Maybe I should just keep walking.
That’s what last year was for me: a long and unexpected walk among avalanches that seemed to barely miss me; bruises from falling through crusted drifts and dragging myself back to the compacted trail; gratitude for the trailblazers ahead of me and the satisfying crunch of snow beneath my feet; an exhausted body that protests my every effort to continue on the trail; crisp air that at once thrills and drains me as I struggle to drink it in; despair as I turn a corner to find yet another steep slope with no resting place in sight; the sudden, unexpected weight of snow dumped by a tired tree on my head, and the slow thawing process afterwards; and wonder–absolute wonder at the joy that comes from trusting your guide and briefly, finally understanding the purpose of the hike we’ve endured. And we have endured. We were made to walk this earth, to enjoy the view, to face plant in the snow, and to keep walking, however harrowing the climb.
Jesus taught me so much about trust this January, and an old promise that once felt limiting is now so sweet to me: “The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent” (Exodus 14:14). There’s a lot in this world that I feel called to fight, and it’s easy for me to feel overwhelmed by the sheer scope of these battles. I feel so small–the kind of small that we feel when submerged in the natural world, such as in the high peaks at Pinnacles or on cliff-lined coasts of Point Reyes, with waves crashing in a continuous thunder at their base.
But there is such freedom in this smallness, too: I can faithfully, joyfully do what I am called to do, and no more. The Lord will fight for me even when I am silent, and he will certainly work through my work, too. I just have to trust that my seemingly fruitless efforts are not in vain–that there’s so much going on around me that I cannot see, but will understand one day, some day.
So now what?
I hope I never forget the lessons and memories I gained this past year. I hope 2017 far exceeds my expectations–though January set the bar pretty high! I’ve got one more semester at Wofford before I’m on my own–with my horse in tow–but otherwise, the real world is coming up quickly. Before I graduate, I’ll have a novella published (through Wofford) and hopefully some creative nonfiction as well. We’ll see. I know this semester’s going to be a hike of its own kind.
With the EPA and National Parks Service (and basically all scientists) under attack, I’m convinced that environmentalism is as important as ever before, though I’m not sure what I’ll be doing a year from now. But that’s okay. I’ve got a whole three months to figure out where I’m going next… I just have to keep walking. No matter where I go, I know the view will be great.
Writer, horse lover, Jesus-loving environmentalist for hire!