I've been home for barely an hour, and I simply must qvell about my trip to the Golden Raven Storytelling Circle in Union, Maine. Just as I did last year, I took a bus up from South Station to charming little Waldoboro, where Roland was waiting with fresh-picked corn for our dinner. We greeted each other like old friends (which we are), the intervening year since I'd last seen him vanishing as fast as that corn did at the dinner table a couple hours later.
On the way to his home, he showed me the blue-flecked hill where the local blueberries reside, and a desperately beautiful view at the top of a winding hillside road of the St. George River valley and Sennebec Pond (here's where I got the photo just above) in which the Golden Raven Storytelling Circle resides. Those blueberries, by the way, ended up in Carol's freshly baked muffins, which I devoured hot out of the oven this morning!
When we got to 715 Sennebec Road, there were Carol Watier (Librarian, Food Pantry Director, Matriarch) and Debra Ballou (Professional Storyteller, Environmental Educator, Musician) and Windsor (Full-Time Dog), busily preparing for an evening of storytelling. Telling stories is hungry work, so Carol made sure we were all well fortified with plenty of Maine home cooking. Topped off with homemade cookies and raspberries fresh off the bush behind the house, Debra and I felt that the time had come to pay for our supper, so out we went to the Circle.
It was still light out when Roland led us in a brief opening ceremony and lit the fire chamber. We settled ourselves on the comfy chairs he had purchased recently to augment the Circle's tree stump, and Debra took us into Story-Land. Her cedar flute and Native American drum were right at home amidst the river stones and the sparks from the fire, and pretty soon we were all making frog sounds as we helped her tell Margaret Read MacDonald's "Frog Talk".
We were relaxed and at ease, chatting between stories, sharing ideas, experiences, revelations. There's a kind of magic at the Golden Raven; the combination of a real fire, real stories, and real people creates a kind of alchemy in which ideas are born and words come easily. This simple act of sharing stories under the stars by fire light is something which most of us experience rarely (or never) in our lives, even though our ancestors probably considered such evenings commonplace.
When it was my turn to tell, I found myself turning to a tale which I had been keeping hidden away in a notebook, too nervous or awkward or lacking in courage to it aloud until last night. Standing before that fire, it suddenly seemed the most natural thing in the world to tell the story of Arrowhead Finger, a Penobscot tale which I have privately studied and venerated for months, but which I had hitherto shied away from telling for a number of reasons. It was one of those "difficult" tales: challenging to tell both for its length and complexity, and also for the content, which includes scenes of torture and redemption, sacrifice and love. Not an easy tale to tell, or so I thought. Yet last night it spilled out of me, scene following scene, unhurriedly moving like the St. George River as it flows from one lake to the next.
Arrowhead Finger is a girl who undergoes a literal trial by fire, and in so doing discovers that her character becomes her salvation. But I didn't really understand this until I had the courage to tell her story - including the scenes of horror and pain, along with the scenes of healing and love. We tend, these days, to shy away from stories that have violent content. Yet it seems to me that it is precisely in these times - when war, torture, and terror surround and threaten us - that we need to explore them, learn from them, and tell them. At the end of her story, Arrowhead Finger becomes a leader and a teacher among her people; her story can continue to lead and teach, but only if we tellers take heart from her courageous example and tell her story, and stories like it.
Thank you to Roland, Carol, Debra, and the Golden Raven Storytelling Circle for making this telling possible. And thank you to Arrowhead Finger.