In the Cretaceous mud we found a shattered dinosaur thigh by following fragments of petrified bone scattered down an arroyo.
But—I think I’ve explained this before—if you find a tiny piece, how can you tell whether it’s a dissolving dinosaur?
Lick it. If it’s bone, rather than some other stone like agate or silicified wood, the porous vesicles left by once-living cells and capillaries will wick up the moisture of your tongue, and it will stick.
At Zuni Pueblo, a storymaking workshop for 3rd, 4th, 5th graders. Writers can’t be restrained from doodling while they think, so we covered the new library tabletops with yellow butcher paper. When we cleaned up on Friday—the kids long gone—among the smudgy misspellings and graffiti was this drawing, unsigned.
Her quiet face.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Stephen James emigrated from Wales to work as a shipbuilder on the Great Lakes. Though he didn’t know his great-great-granddaughter would one day teach at Zuni Pueblo, he bequeathed to her the legacy of the unvoiced, or aspirated, L.
Llewellyn. Llangollen. The tongue forms an L, but the vocal cords rest and let the breath take over. English-speakers struggle, but Zuni-speakers are right at home with Grandpa’s double L.
Me’shoko eshe llabissho.
It means “donkey lips.” If you can say it, you’re Zuni…or Welsh.
My mother was a teacher. I spent a long time avoiding that calling.
Then a cherished friend, Ken Hause—curriculum designer for Outward Bound and longtime teacher of mathematics and Eastern thought—said to me, “Teaching has to do with the soul of the teacher.”
There! I’ve been teaching all along.
Scene: Two Zuni first graders, noses almost on their desks, intently freewriting and helping each other with the hard bits:
Zoe: How do you spell cute?
Brandon (deadpan): Q-U-A-C-K.
Zoe: T’ank you.
Scene: Zuni Pueblo, a kindergarten/first grade writers’ workshop. Chatting with Serena, who is writing about her family.
Serena: I can spell Melissa. That’s my sister’s name. Only we call her Medusa.
Me: Does your sister have hair like snakes?
Serena (after a stare): She doesn’t have any hair. She’s bald. She just got born.
Zuni: The kindergartners are dictating (and I’m illustrating) their story about a baby mouse carried away from her parents on a kite. I ask them, “What would her parents do?”
Abigail, five, mimes the mouse’s father: Scowling, fists on hips, she shouts, “Get down off that sky!”
In the Mexican state of Oaxaca, thirteen indigenous languages are spoken. (This in addition to Spanish.)
In Oaxaca city, working with a group of preschool teachers who were making handmade readers for their students, we posed a question: How, in your various languages, would you express quantity: words like “lots,” “a few,” “some,” “a bunch”?
They grinned and asked us back: What are you referring to? Because in our languages it depends whether you’re talking about a lot/few/some/bunch of:
Long, skinny objects
Stuff that is neither close nor far away
Things we used to have
Things we might have someday
and so on.
I was humbled. Until then I had felt smug about the precision of my prose.
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