Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Writing, Teaching, Language, Landscape, Life


Wild Waters: Landscapes of Language

Tarahumara Skirts @ Curtis Doelle

The land spoke in the brilliant-colored layers of Rarámuri women’s skirts. @ Curtis Doell, 2012

Wild Waters: Landscapes of Language

                                                                                                                     Dawn Wink

          …in the bottom of a dark canyon, I stood in a shroud of voices. They spun up the canyon walls, radiating through the dusky interior…The voices were part of a complex language, a language that formed audible words as water tumbled over rocks, and one that carved sentences and stories into the stone walls that it passed…

          If you want to study water, you do not go to the Amazon or to Seattle. You come here, to the driest land. Nowhere is it drawn to such a point.

          In the desert, water is unedited, perfect.

                                     – CRAIG CHILDS, The Secret Knowledge of Water

The summer rain danced in sentences across the tin roof in the night. Shards of lightning rent the black fabric of the desert night, pulling thunder in its wake. Moisture misted in under the metal overhang, carrying the scents of creosote and wet earth. Another voice joined the staccato whispers on the roof—the rush of water down a nearby canyon. Cracks of rocks chimed into the desert’s conversation, as the water tumbled them across the canyon floor through blanket of night, rain, and thunder.

With Mom, Cascabel, 1978.

With Mom, Cascabel, 1978.

I was eight-years-old, and sat on the low stucco wall under the porch of our ranch house, my legs curled up in front of me and my back pressed against the rough stucco of the column behind. My younger brother sat across from me against the next column. Mom and Dad rocked on the front porch swing, the slow glide of the hook rubbing against the eye ring creaked its own rhythmic voice into the night. Lightning illuminated sheer bluffs rising above the river behind the house, their face lined with shadows of the crooked paths of water’s journey downward over thousands of years. The muddy, chocolate-colored waters of the nearby canyon poured into the northward bound river. The staccato whispers of rain on tin.

The desert speaks a symphony of sounds.

Fluidity. Nourishment. Destruction. Strength. Death. Life. All are commonalities that language and culture share with water. Here in the Southwest, the power of water underlies all. Agua es vida. Water is life.

Reflections of memory. Cascabel bluffs. © Joan Wink, 1983

Reflections of memory. Cascabel bluffs. © Joan Wink, 1983

I grew up with this language on a cattle ranch in a river valley framed by sheer sandstone bluffs in the Sonoran desert in the southeastern corner of Arizona. Those bluffs frame my life—then and now. The San Pedro River runs north with water through the summer monsoon season, and with luck, through January and February. Most of the year, the river is a dry bed of satin sand, lying dormant in the carved forms created by run-off after the last rain. Tiny flakes of clay bake in the sun. When the much prayed for rains arrive, the riverbed and surrounding washes spring to life. Water stained a muddy brown moves along its bed, tracing familiar curves and paths and, forging new ones. The river rises on the parched land.

Growing up, my brother and I had few rules carved in stone, and instead explored our outer and inner landscapes with relative freedom. The rules we had, though, we understood were not to be breached:

          • Never climb into the corral if there’s a bull in there.

          • Always leave a gate as you find it.

          • Never, ever enter the river or a wash if it’s running. Every summer, tales of people   swept to their deaths punctuate the media of the desert.

Textures and colors of Rarámuri @ Curtis Doell

Textures and colors of Rarámuri @ Curtis Doell

Life eventually took me away from this ranch and immersed me not in the desert, but in languages and cultures. First, to Ciudad Chihuahua, Mexico, where the land spoke in the brilliant-colored layers of skirts of the Rarámuri women, lush mango on my tongue, and the pulsing thud of headaches as I struggled to understand and be understood. On to Spain, with its language of cobalt blue Talavera tile, the taste of dense olive oil melting into toasted bread, and shape of Andalusian mosques. Then to Germany, where language breathed from the throat, rather than rolled from the tongue. Here, language spoke in heavy scents of green hills and weight of history.

Twenty years came and went. Still drawn to language, I wrapped myself in its tapestry, followed their threads, drawn to their textures, colors, and how each felt on my tongue and in my ear. I taught bilingual education in the central valley of California, where my students included the children of migrant farm workers, who spoke only Spanish in their homes, the children of English-speaking parents who wanted their children to be bilingual, and I taught the teachers who worked with these students and more.

Language felt like the fine ridges of brightly-patterned oilcloth. @Dawn Wink, 2015

Language felt like the fine ridges of brightly-patterned oilcloth. @Dawn Wink

During these years, language felt like the fine ridges of brightly-patterned oilcloth beneath my fingertips and under my coffee cup, as memories of Mexico, of laughter and of tears mixed with the air and tingling nostrils from red chile enchiladas baking in the oven, and tasted on my tongue of warm arroz con leche, sprinkled with cinnamon and raisins. These years sounded of the rustle of polished suits at parent-teacher conferences with attorneys, doctors, and professors, and the sight of newspaper print held aloft to cover the face of the person who didn’t want to hear how to teach students who came to school speaking languages other than English.

Through it all, I yearned for the desert. “My home is a red desert that trembles with spirits and bones,” writes Amy Irvine McHarg in Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land. When I read this, a wave of emotion swept over me to curl me over and leave me clutching the book to my chest. So is mine, I whispered. So is mine. Until one day twenty-five years after that night of rain dancing on the tin roof, I returned to live in the juniper and piñon dotted high desert of northern New Mexico.

Back to the land where water is life or death. Back to the desert’s symphony of sounds.

* * *

Too many seek to silence the languages of the land. “Speak English!” bark voices in the desert now. I ran along a trail through the desert and jumped a narrow trench sluiced through from the run off of the rain of the day before. Like the water cutting through the earth, the national rhetoric and tone focuses on sweeping any language other than English, or any culture not deemed as “American” in some misrepresentation of history, away with it. The word ‘bilingual’ has been expunged from the vocabulary of the Department of Education, replaced now with ‘English Language Learner.’

While we hear how in order to compete globally, our citizens need to be bilingual, apparently that only means if you’re first language is English, and then you learn a second at some later point. What historically has taken three generations to acquire regarding acquisition of English, is now expected to be done by five, six, and seven-year-olds in nine short months.

The beloved borderland of my childhood seems intent on a downhill slide into intolerance and the politics of hatred. Anti-immigration rhetoric has reached new heights, and people are dying in the deserts by the hundreds. It’s now legal for police officers to pull over any person they think might not be in the country illegally.

Stella Pope Duarte, author of If I Die In Juárez, spoke of being pulled over in Phoenix by a police officer recently, who asked her, “So, how long have you been here ma’am?”

“Well, let’s see, on my mother’s side, we’ve been here about 20,000 years, and my father’s family were some of the original founders of Tucson. How about yourself?” she asked and smiled brightly.

The wet sand crunched beneath my running shoes, as I rounded a corner and climbed the rocky trail lined with the ashy green chamisa shrubs and juniper trees. Mile six slipped behind me, sweat ran out from under my cap and down the back of my neck, my thoughts filled with the tangled, sticky, love-and-hate-filled webs of language, how rife with humanity we all are, and all that brings with it. Language cannot be dissected into a totality of mere sounds and syllables, much as many current reading programs in schools would like to do so. Language is love; Language is family; Language is memories; Language is our ancestor’s legacy to us.

Language is power.

* * *

San Pedro River © Annie Wilkinson

San Pedro River © Annie Wilkinson

When allowed its own life, water flows naturally. It will adapt, flow, follow the curves of the earth and rocks. It can nourish or destroy. As do languages. We are a land of many languages. We always have been. “Language expresses itself in the rivers,” writes Jay Griffths in Wild: An Elemental Journey. “Rivers flow like language—we say that someone is “fluent” in a language, their speech flows like a river. Languages, like rivers, run roughly the same course, but always change in their details; you never step into the same language twice, because the meaning has newly shifted here, a connotation has just been formed there. Rivers and language are both gloriously wild.”

The wildness of the land and the wildness of languages are intimately intertwined, the richness of one infuses the richness of the other. The loss of either diminishes the wildness of the other.

As the desert sun has warmed rocks over the centuries, the desert speaks in the language of water, of wind, and of rain. Speaks in the language of quail, and of mountain lions perched on ledges above a valley, the language of ants, of jaguars, and of blue butterflies, each named by its own unique shade. The land whispers in yucca pods rattling in the wind, and Nahuatl, Diné, Apache, Spanish, English of every brogue and lilt. The sun sets, the rocks cool, and the moon rises above the continued cadence of language and water, of the chorus yips of coyotes, murmured hushes telling loved ones good night in whatever language of the heart, and the soft gurgle of flowing water in the moonlight.

I listened to the desert.

I listened to water.

This is what I heard.



Langscape Volume 4

Langscape Volume 4

This essay was originally published in the journal Langscape, Volume 4, Issue 1, Summer 2015, The People’s Issue – Part One: Flows and Bridges.

I am especially over the moon with this publication, for Langscape’s focus on educating minds and hearts about the importance and value of biocultural diversity. The ideas from around the world, combined with the gorgeous photos and aesthetics of the journal as a whole, create a feast for the senses. For more information on their work, table of contents, how to become members, or purchase PDF or print copies, please visit their homepage here: Terralingua.

Wild Waters is a piece especially close to my own heart.



Boys on the Ranch

Luke on south porch

Luke on south porch.

This summer I read a marvelous book about boys on the cusp of adulthood growing into men. Boys in the Boat details the journey of nine boys scraping their way through the Depression and life and into the 1936 Olympics. In our life, this summer would be titled Boys on the Ranch.

Wyatt and Luke, 2001

Wyatt and Luke, 2001

Wyatt and Luke drove to the ranch to spend weeks living and working with Grammie and Bop Bop. As they headed out at 4:00 am one morning, I marveled at the different chapters of life. For 19 years, I’ve loaded up one, two, then three children into various car seats, packed around them with snacks and books, all their suitcases, loaded the dog, and headed the 28 or 14 hours north (depending on where we lived) to the ranch. For the first time in 20 years, I won’t make it to the ranch this summer. Work, the move, and life have kept my own 4:00 am headlights from heading north to South Dakota. 

This year I made Wyatt and Luke coffee, poured into thermoses, waved good-bye, and watched their headlights cut through the darkness. 

Of their time there, I received photos and brief phone calls. In the images received, the life stories of the boys shone through. 

Wyatt, Bop Bop, Grammie, Luke

Wyatt, Bop Bop, Grammie, Luke

Bop Bop and Wyatt, branding day.

Bop Bop and Wyatt, branding day.

Gone were the little boys who ran around there ranch in hats, boots, and nothing else. Gone were the boys of early teens, trying to find their way in the world. In their place, young men coming into their own walked, laughed, and worked across the prairie. 

Wyatt mowing.

Wyatt mowing.

Boys wrestled calves for branding. It had been a year since they’d done this. Better to remember in the corrals, rather than branding day. 

Boys tackling calves

Boys wrestling calves.

Boys wrestling calves.

Boys wrestling calves.

Neither of the boys ever had much use for toys, it was always about something real, a task with purpose. On a ranch, everything is real and has a purpose.  

Luke branding

Luke, branding day.

Alongside them in every chapter, my mom and dad, walked, laughed, and worked with them. 

Wyatt, Tommy, Bop Bop - branding day.

Wyatt, Tommy, Bop Bop – branding day.

Ranch life wears a fellow out.

Wyatt nap.

Wyatt, nap.

And sometimes a guy just needs a nest… Luke spent every moment not working, reading on the couch by Grammie‘s desk.

Luke's place.

Luke’s nest.

Within these images, I see not only my sons and parents, but generations around the world who have shared all chapters – the joyous and the dreadful – to create this messy, wondrous thing we call life.

Wyatt, Luke, Bop Bop

Wyatt, Luke, Bop Bop

Back in Santa Fe, new rose after a monsoon rain. A storm-birthed rose.

Storm-birthed rose

Storm-birthed rose.


New Horizon

New horizon.

New horizon – view from our new home.

So, we moved. 

We are still in Santa Fe. We moved into the home that Noé built with his own two hands years ago. Upon entering the home, dear friends from Mexico said, “Es como estar en un rancho en México,” (It’s like being on a ranch in México), which of course makes my heart shine.

Our new home.

Our new home.

The Moving Crew

The Moving Crew

When Noé and I married, we each already had a home. For lots of reasons, we decided that the home that came with the kids and me would be our home after the wedding and we rented Noé’s in the intervening years.  Four years have come and gone, with one child already in college and two more kids hot on his heels, we wanted to streamline our lives and finances. For lots of other reasons, Noé’s home makes the most sense for us to move into. 

We moved in May. Dear friends helped and for a weekend, we all resembled pack mules edging the trails of the Grand Canyon – back and forth, back and forth. Wyatt came home from college, just in time to join the festivities.

Moving the trampoline.

Moving the trampoline.

Sky in the mirror.

Sky in the mirror.

The first few weeks held the usual surprises of moves –our well appeared to go dry and we had no water, discovery of a snake in our home (still haven’t found again, something very present in my mind when I walk through the dark to coffee in the morning), the septic tank backed up, the car quit working and needed an overhaul, and no internet at home for other a month. It was just like life on the ranch! All we needed were for the bulls to get out on the highway to make the week complete.

The skies blessed our home one late afternoon when the sun shone and rain fell. On our ranch in Arizona, we learned from ranch foreman Armando that when these two things happened together, somewhere in the desert, “Los coyotes se están casando.” (The coyotes are getting married.)

Los coyotes se están casando.

Los coyotes se están casando.

Wynn painting

Wynn painting.

This home has been rented from much of its 20-year life. We hurled ourselves into painting with a flurry and Wyatt, Luke, and Wynn were absolute champs. Noé and I left for work in the mornings, leaving lists that usually started with “1. Paint” and we returned in the evening to find another section gleaming. After a week of this, the kids really didn’t think there was a need to paint and after the first couple of weeks, mutiny boiled beneath the surface of the crew of our ship. How to prevent a full-out rebellion…

For years, I’ve wanted to buy a pool table for the kids. We grew up with one on the ranch in Arizona, and like a tinaja (natural pool of water) in the desert, it was the gathering place of family and friends. After searching online for months, I’d found exactly what I wanted, a pool/ping pong table with felt the color of desert sand, on super sale – in Farmington, New Mexico, three hours away. We arrived to discover this hulking behemoth would’ve crushed our car. What to do? One rented pick-up (not easy to find on Fourth of July weekend) and several new 2X4s later thanks to Noé’s thinking, four huge young men loaded the table, we lashed it down, we headed back to Santa Fe – eyes on the horizon at the storm clouds. Untold pool tournaments and ping pong games later, it was worth every second and every penny. So far, this seems to have quelled the simmering rebellion.

Getting the pool table home.

Getting the pool table home.

Road from Farmington.

Road from Farmington.

In the midst of all, I taught two courses of Orientation to the Teaching Profession with students that made me smile, muse, laugh, explore ideas at a deeper level, and I felt my heart well with tenderness at these valiant souls now entering teaching. Little did they know how their stories and energy inspired me.

Due to its rental nature, this home had no landscaping. Loads of soil to turn and holes to dig. We’ve started the perennial bed, climbing heirloom roses, and lilacs for Cascabel and Grandma Grace on the ranch. 

A day to plant.

Perennial bed.

Perennial bed.

Hollyhocks and lilacs.

Hollyhocks and lilacs.

One of the gifts of a garden in summer and fall is that of giving bouquets from one’s own garden. The bouquet from this year’s garden.

Summer bouquet.

Summer bouquet.

I mused on the different chapters of life and how all compose the book of our life.

Luke off to Shanghai.

Luke off to Shanghai.

Luke is off to Shanghai, flown on the wings of homemade apple pies.

My apologies for being out if touch. The rhythms of life exploded like the grand finale of a fireworks show and have not quite yet settled back into place.

I’ll plant more flowers. This helps everything.

This morning, I sat out under the piñon tree and a hummingbird flew to the feeder. In many traditions, hummingbirds represent beauty and joy.  The scarlet back of the bird glistened in the sun, the whirl of its wings pulsated through the air when it lifted to flight. Beauty and joy.

On to the next chapter of life.

Early morning hummingbird.

Early morning hummingbird.

* * *
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Reading Journeys: No Single Path

Reading together, 2003

Reading together, 2002

Reading Journeys: No Single Path

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty.  It should be offered to them as a precious gift. —Kate DiCamillo

(originally published in Tumbleweeds, Summer 2015)

“Mom, I’m stupid.”

Wyatt slumped over a book at the kitchen table. Homework had become an ever-increasing experience in tears over the past year for my 7-year-old son in second grade. He wasn’t reading. He didn’t follow what research said he would do. Raised in a home filled with books, read to aloud for hours every day since birth, Wyatt should’ve been reading by now, according to all the research studies. Yet he wasn’t.

I didn’t understand what was happening, and the months slipped by. I talked with my mom, a professor in education and expert in literacy, for hours, trying to figure out what was happening. Nothing fit. What I did know is research that showed the most effective way to create a reader is pleasure reading and a balanced approach to instruction, which weaves together both a sight word and phonetic approach.

Redwall series, Brian Jacques

Redwall series, Brian Jacques

Wyatt bombed at standardized tests and prescribed reading programs. Yet we spent three hours a day reading aloud. He inhaled the Redwall Series, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings aloud. He LOVED to be read to. The mystery of what was happening grew. The school began talking about “reading intervention” programs. Everything in my 20 years of education and my maternal intuition told me that a prescribed reading program would extinguish any hope we might have of Wyatt not only learning to read, but loving to read.

I did something I never thought I’d do. I’ve spent 20 years working for and promoting education. I pulled Wyatt out of school in January of second grade—to read.

I wasn’t sure what we’d do, but I did know what we would not do. We would not test. We would not use a deadening prescribed reading curriculum that leaches away any relevancy or love of reading away through lack of context and story. Wyatt would never be forced to read aloud, in private or public. We would only read what Wyatt wanted to read.

Which brings us to my own paradigm shift. Mom, the professor in education, said to me over the phone one day, “He can’t read any of the books you read to him. They’re too hard.” I scanned our shelves of Tolkien, Jacques, the classics. Wyatt had the verbal vocabulary of a doctoral student of literature, but within these books there was nothing he could read. “I’m sending him the Captain Underpants series,” she said. My own literary snobbery reared its ugly head. “Mom, you can’t! The primary vocabulary word in those books is ‘poop!’”

Captain Underpants

Captain Underpants

“I can. There will be a box addressed to Wyatt. When it arrives, you are not allowed to touch it.”

The box arrived. I gave it to Wyatt. He pulled the series of graphic novels for young children, the primary literary focus of which is the body sounds and functions that so delight young boys the world over. Filled with drawings, these books convey story even for a young reader who can’t read every word. I hesitantly began to read them aloud to Wyatt. He giggled, thrilled in the inappropriateness, pointed at the underwear – and delighted in reading. I left the books scattered randomly around the house, where he would find them.

Wyatt began to read. Captain Underpants, the weird little dude running around in his tighty-whiteys, did what no prescribed reading program or standardized test ever could: he drew Wyatt into the world of reading for the sheer pleasure of story. I heard him giggling as he read Captain Underpants’ mantra of success, “Tra-la-laaaa!”

Wyatt went back to school the fall of third grade. He’s been reading wheelbarrows full of books ever since. He soon made the leap from Captain Underpants to Harry Potter to J.R.R. Tolkien on his own, and I’ve long since lost track of the tomes of adventures, places, emotions and ideas that have become a part of him through reading. He is now a freshman at Adams State University in Colorado and continues a voracious reader.

 Which brings us to the prescribed curriculum and standardized testing so rampant in today’s schools. Research study after research study demonstrates the most effective way to create fluent readers is self-selected reading (pleasure reading!) and a balanced approach to literacy instruction.

Literacy occurs best for both kinds of learners, when it is relevant and meaningful. Relevancy, meaning and critical-thinking tend to be lost in prescribed reading programs. Research demonstrates again and again that self-selected reading (pleasure reading!) is one of the most effective ways to develop literacy. We don’t need more tests, we need more libraries and time every day in schools for students to read for pleasure. Let kids choose what they want to read and create time for them to do so.

This research includes children in this country whose primary language is one other than English. Research demonstrates that the most effective way for English Language Learners to learn to read in English is let them read what they want in whatever language they choose. Literacy in an additional language is based in literacy in the primary language. Want Spanish-speaking kids to read well in English? Let them read as much as possible in Spanish. We only learn to read once. Then, we apply that to whatever language we’re reading.

The tsumani wave of standardized testing doing its best to destroy public education in recent years is based not in pedagogy but in profit. No research proves its efficacy. None. This wave of standardized testing, dressed up in finery of “accountability” and “standards” (who could possibly be against those?) is founded in profit for testing and publishing companies. Requirement of standardized tests, their accompanying study materials, and prescribed curricula have turned public education into a multi-billion dollar industry. The results include not only an exponential loss of time to learn. The results include not only an exponential loss of time to learn, there is the loss of the humanity of all that creates a depth of learning, a reveling in ideas for their sheer brilliance and potential, an opening of the world.

As a professor in the field of teacher education, I see the effect that standardized testing has on teachers and children. Third grade teacher, Missy, said, “My students barely survived the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA). I was prepared to grit my teeth and bear it. I was not prepared to be in tears within an hour of starting the test. One little third grader, who has been struggling to write this year, and who was doing better with gentle encouragement and clustering, broke into tears and was literally sitting in front of her computer crying within 40 minutes of starting the test. Crying Sobbing.”

I wish I could give teachers like her a solution. Instead, I tell them that standardized testing doesn’t equate with learning; standardized testing often doesn’t even authentically evaluate knowledge. What it does do is detract from exponential amounts of quality instructional time that students could be exploring, learning, experimenting, and growing. The most powerful dynamics in education are not found on Scantron forms. They are found in the hearts of teachers and students.

I thank the stars that the madness of the Third-Grade Reading Retention Bill did not pass the state legislature in the 2015 session. The average age around the world when children learn to read is 8 years old, when their brains have reached an age-appropriate level of development. There is no single path to reading. There are kids who learn to read at 3 years old and others who learn at 9. The beauty and mystery of the human brain is there is no single time that this occurs in all children.

Wyatt, reading by fireplace.

Wyatt, reading by fireplace.

I think of all of the little Wyatts in schools today, all of the boys and girls drowned in standardized tests and prescribed curriculum and content, rather than lifted to the world of thinking, of reading, of ideas, of exploration, of brilliance. All of the children telling their parents, “I’m stupid,” based on a test unfounded in pedagogy. I think of all of the teachers who enter the profession for the love of ideas, content and children, whose hands are now bound, their expertise questioned and stripped away, by standardized and prescribed curriculum created not by experts in education who understand pedagogy, but by business profiteers.

What I know in my heart is that had I left Wyatt in school, subjected him to a prescribed reading program, he never, ever would have known the magic of reading. Yes, he would have learned to read technically, to decode, and would have struggled the next steps of the trail, but he never would have stood at the top of the mountain to drink in the vast view from its peak. He would not have become a reader.

There are very real human costs to education for profit. Families choose to leave public education to give their children an educational experienced focused on ideas and learning, rather than testing and rote memorization. This creates inequity in education, as it is only families with financial means able to avoid standardized testing. This should not have to be a choice. The poorest among us endure the most standardized testing and prescribed curriculum.

It will take us at least a generation to recover from this testing and profit-making era of education—a generation of individual children and teachers left to pay the price.

Luke and Clyde

Luke and Clyde

What can we as parents do? Fill our homes with books, leave them scattered everywhere around the house, let our kids read what they want (even if the main vocabulary word is “poop”), go to libraries, talk about the story of books (not the sounds of syllables), and read our own books in front of them and talk about what we love about the book. Keep the power and the magic of reading alive.

Reading and learning are meant to be meaningful ways to transcend time and space, to grow and explore, to travel anywhere anytime, to be reminded that, no matter our circumstances, we are human and walk a shared path. Reading opens the world of ideas, emotions, events and experiences. To reduce reading to a prescribed curriculum, rote memorization, or an experience in shame when one is forced to read aloud or made to feel less-than another, is a travesty and betrays all that reading is meant to create and encompass. How marvelous that we learn to read best by reading what we want! Dav Pilkey, author of Captain Underpants wrote, “If you read, you can explore and experience all kinds of new and exciting things.”

That is what reading and school should be all about.

* * *


Krashen, S. (2004). The Power of Reading: Insights from Research, Libraries Unlimited.

For more information and research on pleasure reading see: http://www.sdkrashen.com/

Freeman, D. & Freeman, Y. (2011). Between Worlds: Access to Second Language

            Acquisition, Heinemann, NY, NY.

Wink, J. & Wink, D. (2004). Teaching Passionately: What’s Love To Do With It?,

            Pearson, NY, NY.

Information on standardized testing: Susan Ohanian: www.susanohanian.org





Calving Season – A Cowboy’s Heart

Dad with calf

Daddy with Calf. Art by Adam Bunting


It’s calving season on the ranch. This painting of my dad conveys the essence of his spirit and heart. Tears sprang to my eyes the first time I saw this piece. A surprise gift for my parents, Bunting conveys Daddy’s spirit and heart. A treasure. Artist Adam Bunting painted this portrait from a photo taken by Sherry Bunting

It’s calving time on ranches all over the world right now. Not only do these calves represent life, they represent generations of bloodlines, untold hours of caring for their mothers, the mothers before them, and on and on… In honor of the heart, spirit, and weeks without sleep that comes with calving, art and poetry to honor all. In honor of the history and hope that is calving season:

Daddy with calf. ©Sherry Bunting

Daddy with calf. ©Sherry Bunting

A Cowboy’s Work

by Tirzah Conway

A cowboy’s work is never done,
Like Sheppard’s among the sheep
No matter what, up with the sun,
Not really much time for sleep
You stay up all night to help out the weak
Even ones that won’t make it through
Let’s face it, that’s what makes you unique
Without it, you wouldn’t be you
You may not cry when you lose a calf
But it’s not because you don’t care
You hold strong for other’s behalf
And inside you feel only despair
You know deep down you can’t save ‘em all
And it’s not really up to you
It’s never stopped you from hitting a wall
‘Cause that’s what helps pull you through
But instead of giving in you move to another cow
It’s how you know calving season is here
You just step by her side, furrow your brow
‘Cause that’s life out on the frontier
You will always be there for her
That’s what being a cowboy is all about
Stay by her side till her calf is astir
No matter your fears or doubts
And seeing the calves running around
Was worth your all sleepless nights
You watch the play without making a sound
It’s what helps you keep fighting the good fight

I grew up watching Daddy bring calves in to be warmed, to be fed, to be cared for if their mother wouldn’t take them. On the prairie, this means calves in the kitchen, calves in the tub, calves warming in the oven, and calves in the mudroom. I see my dad, his Carhartt’s and cowboy hat dripping with snow, bringing Mom a calf to warm. In Cascabel, on the Arizona on the ranch of my childhood, this meant Daddy telling me to approach the cow slow and quiet, curling on my knees on the ground and remaining still. This meant trails of afterbirth glistening in the sun as I marveled at the intricacy of the colors. 

In all places, the life blood of the ranch and of those who make their lives on this land, course through these newborn veins. 

Cascabel Ranch, 1978

Me, Cascabel Ranch, 1978



Team Shanghai and the Apple Pie Adventure

Infinite apple peels.

Infinite apple peels.

Luke’s friend, an exchange student from China, invited him to come to Shanghai this summer. As we often appreciate more the things we earn, Luke (and our family) made homemade apple pies for Easter to sell to raise funds to go. 

Wyatt, London

Wyatt, London

The Apple Pie Idea emerged a few years ago, when our oldest son, Wyatt, was invited to be a People-to-People Student Ambassador in the UK. This invitation happened during Wyatt’s freshman year, a time when he was really struggling. Our family sat in the invitational meeting, hearing about all of the wonders of this trip to Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland. Wyatt has always been entranced with this area of the world and read books about all by the wheelbarrow. Then, the numbers of what the trip would cost came up on the screen. There was simply no way. I looked at Wyatt, flashed on his struggles during that time, and deep inside me I knew that in ways I didn’t understand, we had to make this happen. Now, how?  What did our family have to offer? I make a very fine apple pie. When might people want one? The next holiday was Easter. Easter it was. Over the course of the next months, we experienced a transformation in Wyatt that left us speechless. 

Then came Luke’s invitation to go to Shanghai. It had been three years and we’d almost recovered from the last round of baking. Our hope is that in making this an experience that Luke works for, those greater life lessons will be an integral aspect of this experience. In addition to all he’ll learn through international travel and experiencing other cultures, we hope that through the making and selling of these apple pies, he will learn that life is about relationships, giving, working to create a life, and being gracious and grateful. He will give a presentation of photos and what he learned to gain experience in speaking in front of people. For all those who bought pies, we tell Luke that one day it will be his turn to give. That this is life. 

Luke wrote a letter to announce our upcoming sale of pies and Team Shanghai prepared. 

Luke - peeling and slicing.

Luke – peeling and slicing.

Wynn and Noé—the crust makers.

Wynn and Noé—the crust makers

Wynn and Noé—the crust makers

Wynn and Noé - sifting flour.

Wynn and Noé – sifting flour.

The apple peels, sliced apples, baskets and bags of all slowly took over our kitchen. I mixed, rolled the crust, and put the pies together.

How many more pies??

Late one day—How many more pies??

I never measure anything when I make apple pies. For all to help, I had to figure out more-or-less the measurements. I scribbled on a piece of paper and set in the middle of the table. 



We discovered good music was essential. We played stations of The Four Seasons, Motown, 80’s Rock, current hits, and everybody’s favorite, which Luke described as “weirdly perfect,” Disney soundtracks. Wynn and her best friend, Erin, sang all.

Erin and Wynn led the singing.

Erin and Wynn led the singing.

Two and a half days, 400 apples, 45 batches of dough…and a partridge in a pear tree later, we emerged with 70 pies. 

Luke heading pies into town.

Luke heading pies into town.

One of the tables of pies. ©Elizabeth Hinds

One of the tables of pies. ©Elizabeth Hinds

We returned home to survey a home still covered in apple peelings, butter, sugar, and flour on every surface. The boys dove into a chess game, Wynn went to her room humming a tune, Noé and I poured a glass of wine and collapsed on the couch. Whatever unfolds remains to be seen. Our hopes that this will be an experience in gratitude and learning Luke remains. Whatever happens, our family came together to peel, bake, sing, dance, work together to create a dream, talk, and laugh together for three days.

For this moment in time, that means everything. 

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Good Friday Pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayó

Dawn Wink:

Good Friday in northern New Mexico means walking the pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayó.

Originally posted on Dawn Wink: Dewdrops:

Santuario de Chimayó Santuario de Chimayó

Spring has many traditions in northern New Mexico, with the annual pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayó as one of the deepest held. Every year, thousands of people walk to the Santuario on Good Friday. People walk to give thanks, with specific prayers, to honor loved ones who have passed, to honor their faith, and a myriad of other reasons centering on gratitude. Please take the time to read the history of theSantuario here. “It is a story that spans over one thousand years and three contents.” It is a story that in so many ways conveys the essence of our history and dynamics in northern New Mexico.

Noé and Dawn, 5:00 am Noé and Dawn, 5:00 am

Noé and I walked the pilgrimage two years ago. Come with us on our journey. We walked to give thanks for Mom’s recovery from breast cancer. It had been five years since her diagnosis…

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