Two years shy of my thirtieth birthday, but anticipating I made a pilgrimage to an old family friend living on the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota. On his kitchen table, the former Vietnam veteran, school superintendent, medicine man, Basel Braveheart had splayed open C.G. Jung's Red Book. The landscape, the smell of horses and sage, comes to mind as I read the vivid account On the Rez by Ian Frazier, a gift of my mother. She did, after all, take on two foster teenagers while we lived for a year on the Rez when I was just the age of my daughter, turning four.
We read because of who curates the canon for us. After a 19-mile walk from Boston to Concord Free Library, I snapped a picture of Henry David Thoreau's drawing of the phallic fungus in Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. a documentary by Jonathan Katz.
While my wife Emily (B.A. '03, MSW '12) drives over the Tappan Zee bridge, I do my best audiobook voice of Kyle T. Mays' An Afro-Indigenous History of the United States (Beacon Press 2021), one of the books displayed for us visitors performing landscape service to the Herring Pond Wampanoag tribal building in Plymouth.
"Are you smart?" asks Elsa, daughter of Rutgers University professors. Umm. “Then spell it," Elsa demands. S-M-A-H-T. "No! I-T" she shouts, and runs off gleefully.
Reading is about showing off how smart I am--a stay at home Dad who, after chasing my girls in circles through a giant heart in the Benjamin Franklin museum can now, reunited with Emily after her AFSME conference and riding Philadelphia SEPTA, take my eyes off my girls to read, briefly, of female bodied warriors saving the life of US Army General George Crook in Gregory D. Smithers's Reclaiming Two-Spirits: Sexuality, Spiritual Renewal & Sovereignty in Native America (Beacon Press 2022). Reading also serves a part of my involvement with MA Catholics for Indigenous Rights. Our reading is formed by the upcoming visit of Pope Francis to Canada, July 24th, extending an apology to survivors of Catholic run residential schools.
Emily was driving past the exit for the Cloisters in New York City when she gave me, on Father's Day, the first of two gifts, saying, "This is for your soul," an icon of Joan of Arc shown as transgender, "and, this is for your mind." I took in my daughter's handiwork, the colorfully painted paper wrapping a brick of a book, Bernard Lonergan's Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, a tome that unpacks that Eureka moment beginning in physics and algebra, before moving to the more readable section on common sense. Here's to having goals.
Next week my relatives come for a visit marking my fortieth birthday, so to honor my birthplace (in Seattle) I'm opening, now, a classic of northwestern literature sent by my mom, Brian Doyle's Mink River (Oregon State University Press 2010).