Storyteller Tip on Story Impact © by Anna Lee Walters
On this day, 145 years ago, a battle raged on the Pitahauerata, a tiny band of native people. That deadly engagement certainly scarred them but they had resilience and survived. Losses and bravery on that day seared into their collective mind and heart with lightning speed but in fragmented recall and account. Later, those pieces came together as a whole ongoing “story” of what happened and why. Who the Pitahauerata are, then and now, is revealed in passionate outpourings of their acts and thoughts during events and conditions such as this one. This is experienced as a living voice speaking about senses and emotions. Its vitality is the point and meaning. Furthermore, for Pitahauerata descendants, that day and today merge. In a real sense, a Pitahauerata person today might say, “I” was there one hundred and forty five years ago.
Our patch of Mother Earth in northern Arizona is thirsty and barren in August. She doesn’t give abundantly as before and when she does, wind yanks forcefully at her gifts and hurls them away. Herbalists walk and walk but medicinal plants run from them. “What will I do?” the herbalists think. “How can our people be well without plants that heal?” Wind huffs anyway, skirts the Black Locust tree at my door until its small sparse leaves curl into yellow and brown shades of flicking papers. The papery leaves drop from empty stems long before it’s time to fade in a cooler season. They do not accumulate at the base anymore to become black mushy soil. There’s no time for it; instead, very rapidly they are swept up and away.
Bare ground is the only thing really thriving under whipping wind, burning sun. Beyond the fence surrounding the house, sagebrush and other bushes lose color and contract in rising mounds of sand. Old and young trees give in to the growing space of waterless land. Wild horses with protruding ribs walk zigzag in and out of it, searching, searching. Streams are memories. In place of them are dry beds of warm stones and animal tracks all looking for one thing.
Rain is not completely gone. Infrequently it comes for a second or two or quickly accumulates until flash floods zip by in frightening roars, leaving their own tracks, deep arroyos, behind. The rapid and forceful strikes to the land and a slow moving horse in the empty wash contrast sharply. His herd is no longer fat and it is decreasing. All the wild horses are bony grazing silhouettes. Some fare better than others.
One day last week a solitary one stood uncertainly near the paved road. The next day he didn’t stand anymore. Little is left there today but an image of him — free and alive. Immediately he was claimed by raucous birds dipping down from smoke filled sky. The ghostly veil from distant fires has been circling us for weeks, snaking in close, penetrating the deep red canyons and turning toward the mountain daily. The birds remind us that their way is to break things down to the most basic elements and they work purposefully. A bleaching carcass is slowly covered by stirring sand.
These are the signs in August. Drought looms and hovers. It is dead horses. It is people scouring for medicinal plants to make everything good again. There are teachings in all this but will we look deeply enough to see them?
Writing your story:
• Sort extraneous information from concise, detailed, but full and clear revelations about a person, place or thing.
• List details.
• Notice how they juncture.
• Look at the core.
• Experience those impressions.
• Make those impressions link to human senses.
• See and feel the contact between a storyteller and audience.
• Allow a story to come alive.
• See the MAGIC at work!
This process works for me, but I have been writing short stories (and novels) and teaching oral stories of Native American people for a very long time! Information shared here is from my personal experience as a writer and teacher.
Also, all this is easier illustrated than actually done. Your turn!!