A Nebraska Sand Story
It is my understanding that sand stories are indigenous to some people living in Australia and are mainly told by women and girls. The storyteller draws designs related to the story in the sand as the story unfolds. When the word “shake” appears in the story, the sand is smoothed so it can accept the next design. IIn my reading I find that it is customary to end sand stories with something going into the ground. I have respectfully written this story and hope that borrowing this format from another culture does nothing to demonstrate anything but respect for the people who originated the concept of sand stories.
I was a farm child, and our farm had a grove of catalpa trees at the bottom of the hill. The trees, planted by my father’s grandfather, were old and gnarled. Each year they twisted nearer and nearer to one another for comfort, but still they continued to thrive, and every year they bloomed in celebration that they had survived another year. (shake)
In the middle of the grove was a small slender ditch which collected the offerings of the trees and all others who wished to contribute. (shake)
In the fall, the ditch filled with leaves, and I stomped on the leaves and waded through their depths, listening to their dry songs. (shake)
Sometimes there would be a gully-washer rain. Then the rain would fall in such rude torrents that the land refused to let it enter, and the water was forced to run away. (shake)
Then the water, in retribution, took away the rich soil from the land and carried it elsewhere, far from the boundaries of its home. (shake)
After a gully-washer the water rushed through the ditch like a wild thing, and when I ran beside it, I became a wild thing too. (shake)
When my dog followed me to the catalpa grove, it was more intruder than I. It was never still, even when the grove rested. Because it had been taken from its mother at an early age and given to people, it had forgotten wild courtesies.
The dog hunted during the hot resting times of summer, finding garter snakes in the cool shade, and shaking them until they whispered their broken secrets just before they died. (shake)
One day my dog found a wounded possom, who claiming its right to deception, was hiding in the grove. (shake)
Against the will of the dog, I carried the possom to the coolness under our front porch with the thought of making it well, so that it would be grateful and want to be part of my human life. but my mother said that it was part of the trees, not of people, so I reluctantly took it back to play at sleep in the shelter of its home. (shake)
Sometimes my father would walk with me to the grove and tell me of when he played there as a boy. And I knew that his father before him had lingered there too, and that we all understood how the wildness of the grove matched the wildness that children sometimes feel within. (shake)
Once my father told me that some people thought him foolish because he didn’t uproot the grove to plant something more useful, but that those people didn’t know there is more than one way to pay the rent. (shake)
After he told me that, my father took me to the very edge of the grove where the branches hung heavy and low, and the weeds beneath them believed, with patience, that they could grow tall enough to bridge the distance between. There was a hold, dark and deep, and smelling of a wildness even more than we would understand, and my father said that this was a place where coyotes went into the ground.