Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Writing, Teaching, Language, Landscape, Life


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Wink Ranch, May 2018

“All that is wild is winged—life, mind, and language…”

Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey

“It’s wild to be surrounded by wildlife and hear the birds all the time,” Luke said. I took the video above our first morning on the ranch. (Turn up the volume for birdsong.)

At last, I share our beautiful time on the ranch in May. Wyatt and Luke arrived the week before to prepare for branding. Long gone the days of strapping kids into carseats, listening to endless books-on-CD, and tossing goldfish over my shoulder while driving, hoping come might land close enough for somebody to catch. Noé, Wynn, and I rolled into the lane that evening, 14 hours after leaving Santa Fe.

Dad, Mom, Wyatt, and Luke waved from the front patio.

Together!

My heart…

Luke on south porch. I can’t even imagine how many books he’s read on the ranch through the years.

Dad prepares for branding.

 

Grandma Grace’s lilacs.

 

Beautiful Josie.

Bird-lined branches.

Photo on the fridge. This was Wynn’s ranch wear for years. Tutu, Wranglers, pixie haircut and pink cowgirl boots – yes, yes, and YES.

Cheyenne River breaks.

Luke

Feeding baby calves – 20 years of photos of the kids doing this.

Wyatt

My branding braids by Wynn.

Mom wears her branding shirt, “Does this saddle make me look fat?”

Bringing in the herd.

Wynn at the dam.

Wynn

Cousins! Cuzzin Missy, Mom, Cuzzie Jessie. Mom and Cuzzin Jessie grew up here together.

Our incredible Cuzzin Missy.

I learned how to castrate this year. I’ll just leave that right there…

With dear Josie before we left.

Our time on the ranch was far too brief, which increased the poignancy and power.

There is something about multiple generations coming together on a ranch of deep roots, many chapters, and the creation of deep love that goes straight to one’s heart. It is an experience of beauty.

 

 

 

 

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Reading—No Single Path (The Power of Story by Joan Wink)

 

Grammie and Wyatt reading, 1998

Grammie and Wyatt, Christmas 2017

In the last post about The Power of Story by my mom, Joan Wink, I shared that I’d originally intended to try and convey the whole of the book in a single post. What was I thinking?! The more I read, the more ideas about what to write about I scribbled in my journal. One of the stories that leapt out was of Wyatt’s (my son and Mom’s grandson) path to reading.

This journey taught Mom and me that there is no single path to literacy. This has enriched our understandings about literacy, kids, and schooling ever since. 

To provide some context to the story, I read to the kids aloud for hours a day since birth. We read aloud at least 2-3 hours a day reading for years and years. (Sometimes we read more—the kids were quiet, we were cuddled-up sitting down, and I was so tired!) These times are some of my very-favorite life moments. 

Reading together with Luke, Wyatt, and Wynn, 2003

According to literacy research, Wyatt should have started reading spontaneously sometime before Kindergarten. He did  not. Throughout Kindergarten, then First grade, and then into Second, we continued to read aloud, and Wyatt continued to not learn to read. Mom and I spent hours talking about what might be happening. None of this made sense. What I did know, and this was not from any literacy research that I’d read, was that whatever was happening was part of Wyatt’s path. It was sheer mother’s intuition and had nothing to do with being in education. Thankfully, I trusted this, as you will discover.

Mom includes Wyatt and my journey in The Power of Story (Libraries Unlimited, 2018, p. 24-37).

              Wink, J. The Power of Story, p. 34-37

“BENCHMARK #1: POKEMON  

Hell has officially frozen over. This is what I muttered to myself as I stood in line about to purchase my first pack of Pokémon cards for Wyatt. Pokémon intuitively appalls me. Wyatt’s peers have been collecting the cards for years, but I refused to by any for Wyatt.

“Mom, you and all the girls’ moms are the only ones who don’t allow Pokémon,” Wyatt told me earlier one day. I remained unmoved.

“Then one day, one of Wyatt’s friends came over to play. He brought his binder full of Pokémon cards to show Wyatt. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, no. How quickly can I get them away from those cards and onto the trampoline?” Except that Wyatt spent the next two hours reading those cards. He and his friend sat on the living room floor going over every letter and word in detail. As I dried dishes in the next room, I became aware of Wyatt’s efforts to read all of those cards. Wyatt usually shies away from any attempt at individual reading. Now he sat poring over letters and words, trying to make meaning. 

“He’s reading!” I thought to myself. The next day I purchased Pokémon cards.

BENCHMARK #2: CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS

“I continued to read with Wyatt and his brother and sister. Our stories grew more and more complex, and Wyatt used extremely complex oral language. 

He loved the complex action stories, with hints of the super natural; for example, I have read aloud the J. R. R. Tolkien series and Redwall series, the entire Harry Potter series (four times!), umpteen Norse, Celtic, and Southwestern myths and legends to all three kids, but still Wyatt’s teachers told me they would have to intervene to help him begin to read. I agonized and reflected: Could it be that these stories were too intimidating for Wyatt to try to read by himself? Were the books simply too big, the print too dense, the visual clues too infrequent?”

At this point, Mom suggested that perhaps the Captain Underpants series might be more approachable to him. I was aghast. We read Tolkien, Jacques, and C.S. Lewis. We did not read some weird little dude running around in his tidy whiteys! But, I was desperate and Mom sent Wyatt a box of Captain Underpants books and forbade me from interfering. Wyatt descended gleefully into the graphic novels whose primary focus are the sounds of bodily functions. 

Pie graph (2003) Wyatt made in 2nd grade of the books he’d read

“BENCHMARK #3: PULLING WYATT OUT OF A SCRIPTED READING PROGRAM

‘Mom, I’m so stupid. I’m just so stupid. I don’t  understand any of this stuff.’ Wyatt threw his head down on his folded arms at the kitchen table and cried. 

‘What are you working on there, Wyatt?’ I asked. I sat down beside him to look at the worksheets of homework spread out i front of him. Black and white dittos filled with line after line of words broken down into incomprehensible parts. Slashes, dots, and hyphens turned words into a trail of shrapnel. “Wyatt, I don’t understand how to do any of this either, honey. Not a thing. You’re NOT stupid. This reading homework is stupid.’ 

The next day I pulled Wyatt out of school to homeschool him for the remainder of the year.”

Wyatt was mid-way through 2nd grade. I had no idea what I was going to do. None. This was not an academic decision, this was a mom’s decision following her intuition. Mostly, I read aloud to him. We certainly did nothing academic. I knew anything even remotely like a reading program would be the kiss of death forever for his love of books and stories. So, whatever Wyatt wanted me to read, I read aloud, us cuddled-up together.

With Luke and Wyatt, March 2018, Tucson, AZ. Luke and I off for a run. Wyatt off to climb a mountain.

“BENCHMARK #4: HARRY POTTER

Two days ago, I walked through Wyatt’s room and discovered him lying on his bed reading aloud to himself. On my way through, I realized that he was reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I feigned casual nonchalance and kept walking until I was out of his room and on the other side of the door…when I immediately and silently started jumping up and down pumping “Yes! Yes! Yes!” into the air with my fist. Remember, this was the kid who couldn’t read two months ago. 

As I walked up the stairs, different scenes from the past flashed through my mind—of the countless times I’d encouraged Wyatt to read, to be met with stony silent tears; of the previous couple of years of complete and total refusal to try to read; of my awareness during that time that if I asked him to read, the entire mood of our time would change, would go from one of togetherness, happiness, and enthusiasm, to one of sadness; of the inevitable feelings of failure on both of our parts. And tears, always there were agonized tears involved, whenever Wyatt was asked to read. 

Those memories floated back to me again that night when Wyatt and I cuddled in bed together; he was reading aloud to me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. “Oh, don’t worry, Mom, I’ll just read this. You don’t have to read anything tonight. Here we go.” He read to me, page after page, complete with inflection and enthusiasm. He drank in the storyline, adventure, humor, and mystery.

With Wyatt, Christmas 2017. Me just back from a run and him just awake. Same hair.

I discovered that Wyatt is definitely a sight word reader. He is like his mommy, sounding words out, and phonics only serve to confuse us both. Wyatt sees a word the first time, learns it, and from then on knows that word. I’ve learned when he’s reading aloud and stumbles on a word, if I just say it aloud immediately, he’ll look at the word, read it, and move on. the next time we encounter that word, it will flow fluently from his lips. If I encourage him to sound it out, disaster follows; he gets very frustrated; the soft, warm, fun mood of our reading disappears; and he doesn’t commit that word to memory for the next time it’s read.

What do I attribute his newfound literacy to?…Well, obviously, the hours and hours and hours spent reading aloud, everything from children’s books to adult fiction, greatly influences the rapidity with which he now gains reading fluency. Some of this event, I do believe, it also just part of his inherent nature Wyatt never crawled. He sat for nine months, then one day stood up and started running, almost identical to his literacy journey. 

Ultimately, though, it took me being ready to throw my beliefs about what we should be reading out the window, and being open to books that captured Wyatt’s fancy that he would read independently…namely…Tra la la!…that weird little fellow in his BVDs, Captain Underpants. Wyatt was so busy giggling at the delightfully disgusting adventures of these characters, with the words actually readable to him in small sections, that he completely forgot that he couldn’t read—in fact, he hated to read. Instead, he remained captured and engaged, reading about one deliriously appalling thing after another, giggling and exclaiming “Eeeeeeewwwwwww” happily throughout.

Wyatt, ice climbing, 2017

Now, he’s reading about Harry Potter flying about on his broom high above the Quidditch field, in search of the golden snitch. And along with Harry, Wyatt, too has learned to fly.”

Many years have passed since this journey. The power of story lives in Wyatt. He continues to be a voracious reader.  Wyatt is a college student at Adams State University, with a major in Wildlife Biology and minors in Programming and Computer Science and Adventure Leadership. Wyatt loves rock climbing and  just qualified for the National Competition.

Wyatt embodies all of the qualifies of the heroes he loves to read about. Wyatt teaches his grammie and mom, who adore him, a lot about literacy—and life. 

Today is Wyatt’s 22nd birthday.

Wyatt, rock climbing, 2017


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The Power of Story by Joan Wink

Dr. Joan Wink, aka Mom/Grammie Extraordinaire, The Power of Story ©Chyllis Scott

It is with tremendous pride and pleasure that I share Mom’s latest book, The Power of Story (Libraries Unlimited, 2017) with you. It is FABULOUS!

Dr. Joan Wink

Yet, I get ahead of myself. I always assume that anyone who knows me, also knows my mom, Dr. Joan Wink. For those who do know and love her, and those who are yet to know and love her, let me share a little about Mom.

First, the professional:

Joan Wink is professor emerita of California State University, Stanislaus. Since retirement in 2007, she has been an adjunct professor at Black Hills State University, South Dakota State University, and in the Global Education Master’s Program of The College of New Jersey in Mallorca, Spain.

Joan began a six-year term to the South Dakota Board of Regents in April 2017. Throughout her career, she focused on languages, literacy, and learning in pluralistic contexts.

Dr. Wink completed her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction (Texas A&M, 1991), two masters’ degrees from the University of Arizona (Spanish, 1981; Educational Foundations/Bilingual, 1985; Spanish and English undergraduate degrees from Yankton College 1966.

Joan continues sharing, writing, and speaking nationally and internationally. Joan maintains an active website and blog, WinkWorld. She has published widely in scholarly journals and is the author of Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the Real World (4 editions), A Vision of Vygotsky with LeAnn Putney; and Teaching Passionately: What’s Love Got To Do With It? with Dawn Wink.

There is a scroll of international accolades for Mom that rolls out and reaches into the horizon.

With Mom, Cascabel, 1978.

And here’s the woman her family and friends know and why The Power of Story sings with wisdom, power, and truth. Mom’s life is composed of stories—stories of love, stories of pain, stories of joy, stories of loss, stories of resilience, stories of students around the world, and stories of friendship and roots decades deep.

Yes, Mom writes as the internationally renowned scholar that she is. And, what makes her writing, teaching, and living so powerful is all is based in real, lived experiences. The stories in this book made me laugh, cry, reach for my journal, drink some wine, informed my instruction as a professor, then laugh and cry some more for the sheer humanity that threads every sentence and every story of this book.

Mom does not write from some Ivory Tower of Academia. Mom writes from our cattle ranch on the Great Plains of South Dakota, summed up best when she called me while writing the The Power of Story. “I was working on Chapter Three and then the bulls got out on the highway. Wink and I ran to the pickup and headed out into the blizzard to try to get them off the highway. We barely made it up the lane through the snow. Took several hours to get the bulls back in, including your dad coming back for the four-wheeler and then both of us heading out. A couple of near misses on the highway. Your dad’s out feeding the horses now. Diving back into Chapter Three.”

Mom on Buffalo Roundup. © Dean Wink

The behind-the-scenes story of The Power of Story is one of family and the ever-present realities of writing on a cattle ranch. Just when a writer sits down to write, the bulls get out, the pump blows, the well freezes, the horses get out, the heifers get into the wrong pasture and have to be moved, the hay baler quits, there’s a hailstorm in the hay field, and…

This is the reality that grounds and lifts every page of this book.

The stories of this book are real.

Mom and her Little Free Library at the top of the lane.

Now, if you are interested in dry data and prescribed curriculum, this is NOT your book. If you are a reader, lover of words and language, a parent or grandparent, a teacher of students of any age who wants to sink into story-after-story of how to create a love of reading, the research about why woven seamlessly within, then this is your book.

I‘d originally thought that I would write a single piece on The Power of Story.

Then, I started reading it. By chapter Three (when the bulls got out on the highway), I’d already laughed, cried, taken notes for my own teaching, written on sticky notes on what to connect about with the kids, and scribbled in my journal about language, literacy, and story.

So, I’ll be sharing here some of the stories that made me laugh, cry, reach for my pen to remember to share with my students about literacy, reach for my phone to call and share with the kids, or just sit and stare out the window while I pondered.

First, a story:  If You’re Not From the Prairie by David Bouchard

 

 

 

 


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Weaving Beauty into 2018

                                      The Plaza, Santa Fe, NM

Festive holiday and New Year wishes to you and yours! 

I wanted to take a moment to wish you and yours a lovely holiday season and New Year! 

We spent ours with my parents here in Santa Fe, including a Christmas Eve walk around the Plaza.

                                  Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe, NM

                        Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, by Estella Loretto

                                                                        Christmas Eve 2017

                                                                  Gingerbread La Fonda Hotel

I found this nest with three eggs on the Christmas tree at the La Fonda. I love nests with three eggs…

                                              Eggs in nest on Christmas tree at La Fonda. 

                      Susan’s Christmas Shop

                   Gazebo, the Plaza of Santa Fe

We lucked out with the best table overlooking the Plaza for Christmas Eve treats. Wyatt was home sick. 

Writing in my journal.

I wrote in my journal by the light of the Christmas tree on December 31st, putting blessings of 2017 and dreams for 2018 to paper. Several years ago on a run during a difficult time, the phrase, “Create beauty” came to me. The next day while running, the phrase came to me again. I was very aware that the phrase was not “Find beauty” or “Discover beauty,” but “Create beauty” with an active verb. Since that time, this has informed all aspects of my life, whether it is professional, personal, or family. I try to create beauty in the world. I often fail, as I am wildly imperfect, but this mantra has grounded and inspired me for many years. 

This year as I wrote in my journal, thinking of what I hope to bring into 2018, with “Create beauty in the world,” firmly in my mind, another thought nudged its way onto the page. As I look at all to come in 2018, I thought, “How can I weave beauty into every day?”

I want to play with this idea, how to weave beauty into every day, no matter how busy or long. “Create beauty in the world” has been a sound foundation for me for so many years. I look forward to playing with this other aspect of beauty. 

Wishing you a year of of creating beauty and weaving beauty into your every day life.

                                             Santa Fe sunrise taken on an early morning run.

 

 

 

 


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Travel, Teaching, and Tampico for MEXTESOL

Tampico, Mexico and Coastline

We landed in Tampico, Mexico for the MEXTESOL Tampico Conference 2017 “Evolving and Involving.” 

Our hosts, Jorge Torres and Kim Soriano, and I studied together during a workshop intensive in Puebla, Mexico. It was lovely to reconnect and continue our shared journey of teaching and learning. Jorge and Kim invited us to the gorgeous campus of The American School of Tampico where we met with teachers and talked about Informal Assessment: It’s All About Authenticity. (click link for PPT) Informal Assessments – It’s All About Authenticity

With hosts Jorge Torres and Kim Soriano, The American School of Tampico

With teachers from The American School of Tampico

Gorgeous tree at the American School of Tampico

During our time in Tampico, the earthquakes in Mexico City and Oaxaca continued. We felt nothing where we were, but watching the news learned of the volunteer rescuers of Los Topos (the moles). We never watch news in the US, but did watch in Mexico and learned so much about the courage and heroism of these volunteers, whose initial volunteers began spontaneously in the aftermath of the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City: Who are Los Topos Volunteer Rescuers. Héctor Méndez, one of the original founders of Los Topos, “”Society changed in 1985 after that earthquake. It was a kind of cleaning. Because suffering cleans your spirit… So Mexican society now is a kind of catharsis — kind of a social catharsis, you see.”

The next day we were off to the MEXTESOL Tampico Conference in the gorgeous Casa de la Cultura.

Casa de la Cultura, Tampico, Mexico

Angel, Casa de la Cultura

We dove into ideas around Teaching Passionately Passion, Freedom, Structure (click link for PPT).

Talking and making meaning ©MEXTESOL

MEXTESOL Conference 2017

Mil gracias, MEXTESOL Tampico, Jorge, Kim, and teachers. Here’s to all of our shared journeys!

Leaving Tampico


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Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal by Linda Hasselstrom

Gathering from the Grassland

There are certain voices who sing the song of the land. Linda Hasselstrom is one of these voices. Hasselstrom writes the landscape and life of ranching on the Great Plains of western South Dakota. Her latest book Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal  (High Plains Press) shares the journey of her reading her father’s, mother’s, and her own journals from previous years and the insights and continued questions of time around these three interwoven journeys. Both of her parents have passed and there was much of their final years that was far from easy. Hasselstrom’s embraces humanity, in all of its beauty and pain. Yet, what shines through the years within the written words are a fierce love. A love not always expressed with gentleness. Yet through the sharpness and silences, the connection between Hasselstrom and her parents pulses on every page. The honesty Hasselstrom brings to this journey often made me stop and stare, lost in the familial world she opens the door for us to share.

“April 6. Today I woke remembering the strong voice of Meridel LeSeuer saying to me, “I covered some terrible wounds with lyricism. (p.91)”

What resonates is the sheer authenticity of life, family dynamics and rhythms, love lost, love found—underlying all, love. Hasselstom’s love for the land, love for the ranch, love for her parents within the tangled web of history, memories, and emotion that comes with every family, love for a life she lost, and love for the shared life she created. 

Hasselstrom overlooking the Hasselstrom Ranch. © Linda Hasselstrom

Hasselstrom’s writing and ranching life run deep within these pages, and the people who influenced her come to life. 

“I think the view of women as incapable of owning land was similar to the view that women’s writing wasn’t worth reading, especially if it was about their daily lives. When a woman like my mother wrote about her ideas and work in her journey, she was actively claiming the right to be heard, even if she didn’t realize it….Those other women who taught me  how to live mostly recorded their lives and loves in other ways: in quilts, in jars of vegetables in the cellar or freezer, in embroidery and gardening and taking care of other people in their communities. The work was their art, and their journals; their labor was the books they didn’t write.” (p. 131).

Hasselstrom’s quilts and embroidery ©Linda Hasselstrom

Prairie Mail – bouquet left by Linda.

A treasure, just arrived!

Hasselstrom has been a huge influence in my own reading and writing life. When my parents moved to the ranch nearly 25 years ago. On my first visit to the ranch, Mom gave me a stack of Linda’s books, “Here, if you want to understand the prairie, you must read Linda Hasselstrom.” So, I did, and I’ve never stopped. Linda’s ranch lies on our route between Santa Fe and the ranch. One of the highlights of the 14 hour drive is leaving and receiving “prairie mail” tied to the fence post at the top of the lane. 

Like all of Linda’s books, I wanted to know more about the story of this book. I posed some questions to Linda, and she graciously shared her time to share more about the book, the people, and ranching:

DW: To read your parents’ and your own journals from the same time period is an inherently emotional experience—What was the inspiration? 

LH: See p. 20: I started with a practical job to fill in while I was not writing a great deal: to record the temperatures from when my father began doing so, to address the questions about climate change. As I began to delve into the journals, I remarked “perhaps I am making the job seem important” by beginning to read his entries. Then I began to remember incidents that were happening while he was recording only the bare essentials, and of course at my age (74) I fear losing my memories, so I enjoyed being reminded of the past.

Hasselstrom at work.

DW: What did you wrestle with in making the decision? 

LH: On January 4 I asked myself if his journals are important, and the book is my answer: let those who fear or dislike ranching see who we really are. p. 25: future requires knowledge of the past. If we discard it entirely, we discard the lessons along with the mistakes.  I hope the next owner of this land knows how we operated, even if s/he operates differently.

I’ve seen and participated in the sudden cleanup after deaths, and know how easy it is in the heat of “we have to get the house ready to rent/sell/burn” to throw out letters, diaries, other things that might be significant later. I have no child of my own, and my stepchildren are far removed from this ranch, so it seemed to be simply responsible to consider what might happen if I die before Jerry, who is 10 years younger than I. I don’t think it’s fair to make my partner responsible for my family decisions, especially whether to save or destroy journals that are part of my family’s history.

Clouds over Hasselstrom Ranch © Linda Hasselstrom

” Thousands of us hurl ourselves into cities like nuts into a hopper, and there by grinding and rubbing against one another we lose our natural form and acquire a superficial polish and a little more or less standardized appearance. In the country, the nuts are not subjected to the grinding process.”  Archer B. Gilfillian, Sheep: Life on the South Dakota Range (Opening quote)

© Linda Hasselstrom

DW: What felt peaceful in making the decision?

LH: Hasselstrom collections were established—my aunt Josephine—so that suggested doing this again. I have no control over what people will think of me once I’m dead, so why try to control those thoughts by destroying any more of my journals, or those of my family? I’ve already regretted destroying my journals when my first husband read them, so I know the pain of losing those records of my entire childhood to a liar who had no sense of morals. I didn’t want to make the same mistake again. As I began to read through the journals and take notes, I was filled with admiration and respect for what my parents and others lived through and commented on.

DW: What aspect/s of the writing this particular book came most naturally?

LH: I feel a responsibility as one of the few (so far) writing ranchers, to explain how ranchers operate, to tell the vital stories. We need ranchers and others who understand the importance of grasslands to explain why all of us—whether we eat meat or live here or not—need to care passionately about grasslands.

“March 31. I started reading about Vipssana meditation, about gurus and yoga, but stopped when I realized that the prairie is both my path to enlightenment and enlightenment itself.

The prairie is suitably immense in age and serenity; its silence and depth provide a meditation room for everyone who pays attention. Sit in silence and open yourself, say the gurus, and you will see god or goddess in whatever manifestation most appeals to you.

Around me, I see nothing that is not holy. Goddess in the grass, the birds, the clouds, antelope, muddy pond. Goddess in the sunlight.” (p. 84)

Linda on the land. © Linda Hasselstrom


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Women of the Red Clay—Las Mujeres del Barro Rojo, Oaxaca, México

Macrina Mateo Martinez, Woman of the Red Clay (Mujer del Barro Rojo)

Of the many experiences that touched my soul during our time in Oaxaca, México through LISTO Oaxaca, the Women of the Red Clay, las Mujeres del Barro Rojo, is the ember of story that illumines all else. Our bus bounced off the beaten path and over rock-studded dirt roads to the Zapotec community of San Marcos Tlapazola to visit the Women of the Red Clay.

Road to San Marcos Tlapazola ©Randy Grillo

Macrina Mateo Martinez greated us with a smile and Spanish laced with her Zapotec mother tongue.  “I watched my grandparents and my parents when I was a little girl. I had one dress for a year. We slept on dirt. It was so cold.”

“I watched the beautiful red clay pottery that my grandmother made, taught by her mother, who was taught by her mother, for as far back as we can remember…I watched her trade a bowl that had taken hours to make for a small bag of beans or corn.”

Macrina Martinez and Alberta Mateo, Women of the Red Clay (Mujeres del Barro Rojo)

Trenzas, Braids.

“We had nothing. At sixteen, I decided to try to sell the red clay pottery that the women of our village had made beyond time. I didn’t speak Spanish then, only Zapotec. I went to Guadalajara by myself. The villagers spoke badly of me for leaving and of my family for allowing me to go. Girls did not travel by themselves. The villagers criticized my family.

Sufri mucho, mucho. I suffered and suffered. After many years, my pottery began to sell. Through the years, I have traveled to New York, Portland, Santa Fe. My pottery is in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. Now, all of the women in our village sell our red clay pottery all over the world.”

The strength, artistry, and determination of a lone sixteen-year-old girl who did not speak Spanish in Mexico brought the beauty of red clay pottery to the world.

With Macrina Martinez and Alberta Mateo.

Our class gathered as Macrina and Alberta shared their story of how Zapotec women for generations had walked into the mountains to gather the clay, the stones for dye, and harvested the branches to burn to fire the raw clay into pottery.

Alberta Mateo took an unformed chunk of clay and rolled the corn cob up and down to create the pot within the unshaped form. Up and down rolled the cob under Alberta’s hands, as Macrina spoke to us about the history and experiences of the Women of the Red Clay.

“The men all had to leave to go find work for most of the year. The rest of the time they worked outside in the fields. It was only the women and girls who stayed. I started to learn how to work the red clay when I was a little, little girl. All of the mothers taught their daughters how to work the clay.”

Alberta Mateo

Alberta Mateo

Young girl warming food.

Young girl warming food.

What stayed with me is the difference the vision and strength of one young girl can make. Macrina now hosts groups from around the world. The underlying dynamics of life pierced our conversation when I referred to her as “Señora,” to honor her age and accomplishments. Señora also assumes one is married, the equivalent of Mrs.

“Yo soy Señorita,” she said. “Miss. I never married.” She lifted her eyes to look out the window and then turned back to me. The look she gave me felt like the conveyance of a cost for being the independent and brave girl who left the village against all to become a world-renowned artist and business woman.

Macrina Mateo Martinez, Woman of the Red Clay

Barro Rojo pieces

Macrina and I spoke for several minutes, surrounded by the beauty of her pottery and art. Sufri mucho, mucho (I suffered and suffered), came through in our conversation again and again, most of her story not said, but felt. The strength of her voice whispers back to me over the miles, the border, the time since I left Oaxaca. I think of this woman who through sheer talent and determination brought the beauty and artistry of generations of Zapotec women to the world.

I gathered the pieces of pottery that I could carry back with me on the plane. Tucked into the woven palm leaf bag, each piece wrapped in clothing, so too came Macrina’s story.

The pieces now adorn our table. Every time I walk by and see them at the center, I think of Macrina’s hands running the corn cob along the lines until the piece emerges. The beauty of each piece carries with it the generations of womens’ hands and life stories, and the strength of Macrina’s spirit, to lift and inspire.

As I pass, I run my fingertip along the rims.

With las Mujeres del Barro Rojo © Randy Grillo

With las Mujeres del Barro Rojo © Randy Grillo