Tonight I watched the film on Netflix, Crip Camp. This was the history behind the passing of the Americans With Disabilities Act. My memories were refreshed. I remembered the fervor with which I jumped into my career in special education. Meeting some of the heroes in this story at the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley in the early 70s was the impetus for my career decisions.
When I was in college I, like everyone else, searched for a destination for my life. A summer working with summer programming at a church in Watts, the year before the riots there, followed by a summer in Chicago, demonstrating with Martin Luther King turned me into an activist. I believed I was going to dedicate my life to bringing equality to all. I simply needed a minority group to identify with.
I spent two years with children in South Stockton, five miles away from the University of the Pacific. With the help of the local Methodist minister, I established a girls’ club for girls 9 to 13. We met weekly for arts and crafts, dancing and a few field trips. Their reaction to the Pacific Ocean was that someone had sure wasted a lot of laundry detergent. They were incredulous when the water tasted salty.
Another time I took them camping. They woke up in the morning with white fuzz clinging to their hair. Then they stuck logs into the smoldering campfire and when they became smoky, danced and sang. Several nerby camping groups packed up and left early.
I did a survey of other schools in the South Stockton. I recruited over thirty other students to run sports teams and homework help clubs. Then I went to Chicago. I was transformed by Dr. King. I could single-handedly change society. But Black Power looked askance at my skin color. I found a bowling league made up of children with physical limitations. I came away with the third lowest bowling score in the group! And I was laughing. Now here was a group I could relate to!
That summer I was the Girls’ Head Counselor at Camp Merry Heart, run by the March of Dimes in New Jersey. I loved the kids. Remembering back to my summer camp days, I helped organize swim meets and dances. I remember a lot of laughter and ribbing.
Before I could go further with my plans, I joined the Peace Corps for two years. When I returned, I enrolled in a program for a teaching credential for the Orthopedically Handicapped, and as it was referred to them, the Mentally Retarded. At the beginning I taught a number of children from nearby state institutions. I was horrified by their tales of neglect and non-education.
The summer after my first year of teaching I spent working with the House Republican Research Committee. My husband had a friend who ran the group. I spent that summer writing a comprehensive report about the needs of the physically handicapped. I met Federal workers who were injured vets, and together we spelled out the needs these people faced. In my spare time I worked to document the architectural barriers within the Federal Government. I listed everything from stairways and curbs blocking access to the Supreme Court to the height of the urinals there.
I came back to Berkeley, taught for a year, and shared my reports and data with the Center for Independent Living, where Judy Heumann was organizing “Crips” and would eventually work to eliminate these barriers.
At this point, I moved away from Berkeley and settled into my teaching career. For four years, as my husband pursued a teaching position at Indiana University, I taught a feisty group of students who lived in North-Western reaches of Appalachia. The school where they were bused was situated in the middle of Indiana University. The school educated an elite group of students whose parents taught at IU. The needs and abilities of my students contrasted greatly with the students around them.
This was before the bill mandating special education, so I was not burdened by Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs). I was free to set my own curriculum. Since there were few resources my students could use at University Middle School, I took my kids out into Bloomington. We did math lessons in the local drug store. We navigated the somewhat limited bus system and went roller skating across town. We even took a camping trip, then returned home and wrote a three-page poem which we got published in a local poetry journal.
My students moved into high school, and many of them dropped out. I moved on, when my husband headed to another teaching position in another state. As IEP’s took over, my ability to bring children into the community, to teach them what I felt were survival skills was lost. I had to teach to standards which would bring my students as close as possible to the measurable skills leading to high school diplomas, or I was forced to teach these students “certificate skills” that did nothing further to prepare them for living independently as adults. As much as possible I supplemented fraction lessons with cooking projects, incorporated newspaper ads into math lessons. My poetry lessons were supplanted by memorizing the names and dates of historic Virginia leaders so we could memorize enough facts to pass the fourth grade Virginia standardized history test.
Instead of learning to read newspapers and cookbooks, I taught students how to pass standardized reading tests by skimming and scanning for answers way above their reading comprehension levels. And I helped them to memorize a basic form which, when done right, created a passable essay for the standardized writing test.
Although bureaucracies and the resulting standards inhibited my teaching, over and over I found ways to work around these. I can now look back with pride at what I accomplished in over forty years of teaching in ten or twelve different programs. And, the fervor I found in Center for Independent Living in Berkeley certainly inspired me throughout my career. And now, too!
You toil with one eye on the parade of sunsets,
moonrises, sun rises, and errant clouds
round you, another on the atonement
of the trees, split and stacked,
ready to yield their final sacrifice
to the making of art.
You must recognize the inclinations
of wind, it kicks up dust,
then chases flames into your stacks
and out through your vents in pursuit
of chaos. And you sense the ghosts,
the spirits who clutch the softening
cones, impede their falling inclinations.
Yes, you know these. So well!
You must keep a paternal watch
on those minions gathered
to assist you in this sacred ritual,
the wise workers who,
with perhaps a tang of reluctance,
yield to your leadership,
the exuberant who await
your knowing guidance,
as they reach, from time to time,
to maintain the rising rhythm
of the licking flame,
and the old lady in the corner
who asks too many questions,
just because she needs to know.
You must summon your own body
for this experience: your aching muscles,
your smoke-bleared eyes,
your sleep-craved mind, the tedious,
yet stimulating stokes, one log,
then another. You do not peer into the flames.
And above all this,
you find your ability to unite
these forces, the personal, the impersonal
and the Divine to work
towards this goal shared by all:
Fire’s sealing kiss onto the surface
of its soil, now sculpted into art,
pots meant to carry your legacy,
the artists’ visions, the endowment
of many tongues of flame
out into the admiring world.
And then you must wait,
wait until the packed-in heat abates
to partake of the yield
of your endeavors.
In honor of Grayson Fair and Jeff Heeg today,
and to all other fire-makers who come to Reitz Ranch,
Ann Metlay 3/1/2020
Tuesday 6:30 p.m. The wind was brisk, the night pitch black. The temperature had already fallen into the upper 20’s, very cold for Cottonwood. I dashed from my gallery to my car. Shivering, I pulled the door shut. I saw a figure coming towards me, out of the dark. A light on his head gave him an eerie look. As I put the key in my ignition, I heard, “Ann! We are back. It’s Pat!”
I looked beyond the figure to the parking lot next door. There was that big, boxy truck. I remembered it from the last time I saw Pat and his wife. I looked closer at his face. “Pat?”
I hadn’t seen Pat for the past 15 months. In October, 2018, he stopped by, told me he had wood for me down in Camp Verde, and would bring it back after a trip to Henderson. He never came back, then.
He spoke. “Maureen and I have that wood for you. It’s back in Camp Verde. We can come by Thursday. Be around then?”
“Sure, what time?”
As I drove off, I heard his scratchy truck engine as he started his truck..
Wednesday night, around 7, the door to my gallery opened. “Hey, Ann. You in here? it’s Pat.
“Wow! Your gallery has certainly changed!”
I showed him around, picked up the pieces I had with wood attached, so he would know what I wanted. “I stopped using wood for several months, but have begun using it for only some of my stuff now.”
Pat fingered the pieces I showed him. “What ya’ working on tonight?”
I showed him one piece which I was struggling to hang. It had three ceramic masks attached to a branch of wood.
“Let me get you some hooks I have. Ya can put one into this wood. Maybe it’ll help”
He went out the door and returned with a handful of different hooks. We tried several. Then we moved onto another piece giving me problems.
As we talked, Pat began to speak of several of the treasures he had in his truck. “I have these dinosaur eggs. They got DNA in ‘em. And I gotta deal with Homeland Security on this. I ain’t allowed to own them unless I can prove they were willed to me, ya’ know, mine forever, not just gotten now……Got three of “em, but one has other buds in it. Each bud has eggs. Each egg could be worth more than $100,000. I need to get to Henderson to speak with an attorney about this.”
“Oh,” he went on. “Remember those circus sideshows where they had weird stuff. And people paid to go look. I got an embryo of a cyclops pig in formaldehyde. Coulda’ been in one of those shows. Let me go get it.”
Pat returned with a jar. Inside the jar was grayish liquid and floating in the liquid was an animal with a snout and one blue eye, shining in the middle of its forehead. He also brought in one of his dinosaur eggs.
“See this?” He pointed to the outside shell on the rather shapeless mass of rock. “I thought this was the shell of the dinosaur egg, but it is the ground that was under the shell. This is the shell.” He pointed to another layer of stone. “I think this needs to be in the Smithsonian. and if I can authenticate it, I‘ll give it to them.”
“Oh. Wanna see something else? I got this enormous dildo. The guy who sold it to me said it was from some cave back in 2400 BC. It is the world’s oldest sex toy!”
He returned with a two-foot long piece of very hard, heavy stone, clearly carved with a glans at the tip. “See?” Pat brought out his phone. He flipped through several pages to show me a photo of a replica of the piece he held out to me. “Says 2400 BC!”
Pat went on to tell me about an African mask. “This preacher said it came from South Africa. He had a room full of masks. I went to p[ick this one up. When I went to put it back on its hook, I couldn’t get it on. The preacher said to me, ‘Uh-oh, you been cursed. It won’t go back on the hook. You gotta buy it.’ Paid $40 for the mask.”
My ears pricked up. An African mask? I love African masks! “Can I see it?”
Pat went back to his truck and returned with a wood carving of a face. It looked genuine! I handled it with reverence. “Could I buy this from you?”
Pat replied, “Let me think about that.” He left my studio.
He was gone for twenty minutes. I was almost ready to go home. “I had to check this out on the internet before I could let you have it.” Pat pointed to the mask sitting on my table. “It is authentic. I didn’t want to sell you a fake. I paid 40, I will give it to you for 40.”
“It’s getting late. We have that wood for you back in Camp Verde. What time will you be here tomorrow morning? We’ll bring it by then.”
“Great. See ya’ then.”
The next afternoon, Pat’s wife, Maureen, entered my studio at 4:30. “Pat is at the DMV getting the registration for the truck. He said for you to come out, look at the wood we brought you.”
She and I went through about 100 chunks of wood. I picked out the ones I wanted. “OK. when Pat gets back, you ’n him can decide on a price. and we’ll put it in the back of your studio for you.”
An hour later, when Pat returned, he and I settled on $100 for all the wood I’d selected. We went back to my wood enclosure “I see you have some huge pieces here. Probably too big! I know you’re limited in space. What if we pull those out before we put your new wood in?”
Pat and his wife wrestled the big limbs out of my space, and threw it over the fence so they could tie it down on the trailer bed behind their truck. They stacked my new wood for me in my enclosure.
“We gotta go,” Pat announced. “Got an appointment tomorrow in Kingman with that attorney about those dinosaur eggs. Maybe I’ll get rich! We’ll catch ya’ next time we come through.”
A I Long before I discovered my passion for using clay as a vehicle to show others the stark beauty of the land around me, I was a poet. From the time I learned to recognize words, I crafted these words into imagery that came alive, as it depicted the world around me.
This month, as featured artist at the Muse Gallery in Cottonwood, I will share these poetic depictions of the beauty I have found here in the Verde Valley, and those I have experienced throughout my life. I hope you can join me for this on Saturday, February 8 between two and five.
As a preview to this other side of my creativity, I want to share with you several of my poems. I will have many more next Saturday.
Tonight I stand, a rugged tree,
seemingly alone in the stillness
of God’s valley.
My patient roots
have learned to push
clods of dirt,
protecting me within their toughened skin
They grasp the fickle soil
not allowing it to wash
away in torrents of anger,
in floods of fear and hatred
in this alone-place,
in this internal struggle
to stand upright,
I can look above my precarious perch
to the jagged cliffs
the soaring peaks,
the cloud-splattered sunrise
now brightening the horizons..
Tomorrow, in renewed strength
I will become the river
that can nourish us, the trees.
I will move up, through my babbling
depths to kiss the sun.
Then I can become the clouds
that float above. I can bring
to this crumbling desert
and its thirsty roots.
All will thrive in the oneness
of God’s spectacular valley.
I live with the sun, undeterred by thirsty sand.
as I bake within its relentless rays, the scorching noons
and the chill of vacant starlit skies.
I accept the challenge of presumed emptiness,
and monotones flattened into endless blue.
To survive within desert’s vast vacuum of inhospitality,
one develops a prickle of spines, an impenetrable
armor to guard against a neighbor’s ravenous lust.
I maintain my green tones of life within a landscape
guised in dyes of brown. I flower in brilliant shades
painted by the setting sun, adding sunrise’s forgotten
shades of rose. No harsh wind nor biting clouds
of dust can permeate my sword-sharp shell. I listen
to the tedious tones of arid desert and hear silences impossible
to detect in the busy-ness of life. Even in my own barren
spaces, I warmly greet the friendly tumbleweeds drifting by.
Blessing to You, my Friend
May you discover how
to live among
these beams of sunlight,
this temple filled with all creation.
May you know warmth
within the embrace
of everything beautiful.
May you thirst for meaning
in your life,
even at the times,
when it blows through
you like a gale of monsoons;
May these reveal
to you the face of Love,
even when it blinds you.
May you live with Holy grace,
even as you stumble
on the rocks that lie
along the way.
For almost four years, I have had a studio. Early on, I recognized my art and I needed space to pursue my new-found passion. The tools I needed would never be contained in a single room in my house. I would not have the self-discipline to
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"