by Martin Murie
(Swans - November 5, 2007)
We delight in the diversity of these texts. Women whose lives differ from ours demonstrate that the West is no fantasy paradise where everyone dresses, votes, and thinks alike. As editors, we must present the truth, because we answer to our contributors. Some of these women are downright cantankerous!
So speaks Linda Hasselstrom, who writes the introduction to Crazy Woman Creek. (1) This is the third anthology edited by Hasselstrom and her colleagues, Nancy Curtis and Gaydell Collier. The others are Leaning Into The Wind and Woven On The Wind. The three books are about women speaking out, being obnoxious, revealing life and language you will never see on the screen.
Reading this third in the series I find a vital service to that limping profession known as journalism: words from the open range, from ranch houses and apartments and campsites and pickups and single-wides: words from "ordinary" people, from the ranks, from non-celebrities. Actually, as my neighbor scolded me one day, "We are all somebodies." Well, of course, and somebodies deserve to be heard. This is the added and valiant service provided by Crazy Woman Creek and its predecessors. Journalists, listen up!
Lynne McCarthy writes that she and her husband moved belongings and animals from Montana to a ranch in New Mexico and then to a ranch in Missouri. Why? Because New Mexico ranch-owners did not tolerate a woman outdoors roping and working with animals alongside the men. It just wasn't done in those parts. So, on to Missouri, animals and all. Here's the ending of the story:
Not too many people can say they've had their rope tangled in Montana sagebrush, New Mexico mesquite, and Missouri oak sprouts while chasing the same dad-gum cows. We've built a corral, a barn, and a house, and we're surrounded by an incredible group of riding, roping friends, men and women both. (2)
And this story, from Hasselstrom's introduction.
"There's your mom's creek: Crazy Woman Creek." He encouraged their kids to call it Mom Creek. She's not married to him anymore and she grits her teeth when she tells that story. (3)
Women getting together and forming communities is good and necessary. Moving some of their words into the world's cultures is a triumph. Of course, separate or parallel communities of men and communities of women isn't the ultimate goal of a nation striving toward full democracy. Are we striving? Time will tell -- the clock is ticking and we haven't even passed the Equal Rights Amendment.
Of course we are all oppressed by the powers that be and we men have lots to bitch about, but lack of trusting comradeship between men and women is that taut-wire fence keeping us prisoners. Can we men begin to shrug off that heavy, centuries-old burden of pretense?
At yesterday's antiwar demonstration a woman urged me to believe that in reality everybody is equal because we are all human, and that war divides us and destroys us. Her eyes widened as she spoke, she was emotional, she meant every word. I stood there staring, somewhat riveted, yes. Later I decided to get out my old protest poster: IRAQIS ARE PEOPLE.
Here's the finale of a story from Pat Ogle and Bess Arnold, a World War II account.
A lot of the girls married railroad men, and we kept in touch with one another. Very nice people worked at the railroad. It was a brotherhood of women and men. (4)
Crazy Woman Creek has 158 pieces of writing from 153 contributors; tales about community. The variety of happenings and arrangements is astounding. These writings come from places west of the Mississippi, including Alaska and western Canada. Sometimes community doesn't work as well as it should. Raw truths, good and bad, are told. These stories do not mince words, real life is portrayed, tragedies weathered by mutual aid, and sometimes not; joys of companionship creating life. Here's hoping that these three anthologies continue to find new readers in ever more widening circles. Is there a fourth in preparation?
What marvels we could build if men and women, not necessarily forsaking their one-sex-only meetings and traditions, could meet with men in mutual respect and confidence and, above all, trusting, work. We could build a nation we could be proud of. Where might such miracles happen? Any place of work or action, the needs of the moment overcoming disabling habits of the past.
When? Now. The window of opportunity is here, but it won't wait for us.
Oh, but we must hoard our resources, our energy, for the long haul.
I'm Afraid I Can't Attend The Next Meeting
Because I don't want to
hear any more bold imaginative new ideas,
revisit the mission statement,
Because I'm tired of partnerships, coalitions and
checking the e-mail.
Because I don't need another
bigger than life item on my resume,
a membership card,
Because I want to
effect change rather then discuss it,
have a bake sale instead of doing lunch,
do something, anything
have another meeting.
Listen up sister
it's time to toss the Day-Timer,
get off the internet and into the streets,
because meetings may be cool,
that ain't where it's at.
—Sureva Towler (5)
1. Linda Hasselstrom, Gaydell Collier and Nancy Curtis, editors, Crazy Woman Creek. Women Rewrite The American West, Houghton Mifflin, 2003. (back)
2. ibid, Have Cattle, Will Travel, Page 65. (back)
4. ibid, The Brotherhood of Railway Workers, Page 146. Locale: Cheyenne, Wyoming RR yards. (back)
5. ibid, I'm Afraid I Can't Attend The Next Meeting, Page 132. (back)
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