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Writing Ruminations

Writing is such an internal process. Why not make those private ruminations public? This is how stories take shape and grow.

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Location: Happy Valley, Oregon, United States

I've been supporting myself as a writer for many years and am watching the changes in the publishing world with fascination. For me, sharing the craft, teaching, is as creatively satisfying as the writing process itself.

Monday, August 29, 2005

If A Tree Falls....

I’ve been listening to the news, waiting to see if Katrina bailed all of Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans. Didn’t happen. But people are dead and the media doesn’t have their names yet. But it will. Tomorrow. You know, we’ve always had human disaster on a monumental scale, mostly at the hands of Mother Nature, although not always. But now we all get ringside seats. with visuals and cell-phone on the spot interviews.

My Chinese family – the one whose kids I’ve tutored for years – visited the remote family village in far northern China, as they do every year, and found a hillside where the farmers get fresh dirt for their plots of land. It’s where mud has piled up during floods for millennia, so it’s very rich. And full of human bones. Nick brought home two skulls and couple of skeletal bones. He and I have reconstructed our version of what happened. The skull is from someone fairly young, we have decided (with my very rudimentary forensic skills). Not a child. (The wisdom teeth have erupted, which is why we guess young adult). So how did he get here and when?

The family village has been there for 17 generations, so he’s old. There is NO history of a major flood and massive deaths among residents locally and in China, oral history goes back forever. The bodies are not buried, there are no remains of walls and it is on a bend in the river where flood debris would have piled up. No jewelry, no artifacts. Looted long ago, before the village? Lost in the flood waters upstream?

So we guess that he (the dental bite is almost Nick’s size, probably too big for a woman of long ago) drowned far upriver one day, was carried downstream with family and villagers, pigs and strangers, and ended up here, far from home, where nobody came to claim his remains. His teeth are worn but in good shape…they have always eaten stone ground grain in that part of China. Lots of grit to wear teeth. We have figured out how Nick could go about tracing that possible history, should he want to do it…visiting upstream villages to learn their oral histories, figuring out when things happened more or less, (time is measured in generations there) and listening for the story of the big flood that happened a long long time ago. There are a LOT of bones in that huge, thick layer. No media, not a clue in the rest of the world that hundreds and hundreds of human beings were drowning. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear, does it make a sound?

Our young adult has become a very real person to both of us at this point. It has made Nick think about past, heritage, and mortality and even his own mortality a bit, since he really wants to think of it as belonging to a boy his age. So maybe, yes, even when nobody is there, that sound happens. Even if it gets heard later. Even with no media.


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