Writing, Reading and Living

   

Welcome and thank you for dropping by. I’m an essayist and memoirist, the author of two memoirs, numerous essays, and I'm a contributor to 15 books. My essays and memoirs are infused and shaped by my Native roots, my identity as a mixedblood, and my connection to the landscape. 
 
Within my blog posts, essays and insights offered here, my stories illuminate our humanity, remind us to be open, to connect, to hope, to question—or bring change. Some of my essays are serious/substantial, and are balanced with lighter topics. Most of all, my writing is timeless (vs timely). 

Earth and the Great Sea Journal


For me, writing is a way of reaching out to others, to people I don't know. I sit alone, in silence, but all that time I’m out there, connecting with whoever reads my words.

My online journal at Earth and the Great Sea, is my open field to explore, tell stories, think out loud, find inspiration, and share updates. 
Long walks and journal writing is my practice, mediation and prayer. Along with open spaces of stillness and solitude. There is much more to discover. Wander along with me.

At Home on the Mountain


A soft mist fell this morning, the sky looks silver-blue in this light, and the wind has cleared. The redwood trees are still, nothing is moving across the mountain. 

Growing up in the kitchen. In our family my daughter's kitchen is the place to be. The days we gather and the time we spend cooking dinner is greatly important because it’s just about the only time we have together after our separate work and school schedules, community volunteer agendas, house chores and yard work duties. Not all of our meals are complicated. Yet the days when we cook from scratch, gives us more time to focus on gratitude. The dogs are at our feet, watchful, my grandkids help chop, mix, stir, then dash off, lost in play, and return to the kitchen. We clear the days clutter off the table, sit down, eat slowly and savor every bite.
 
Sunday. We are making tomatillo Soup, with chicken bone broth, sliced, peeled and roasted carrots and sweet potatoes, fresh lime juice, roasted garlic, sea salt, a couple of heaping handfuls of fresh spinach leaves, and fresh picked tomatillos. The summer garden has faded, but we still have tomatillos clinking to spent vines. The tomatillos will be husked, diced, roasted, made into a thick salsa, then added to the pot of soup. We make a triple batch of soup. Enough for both families to have a meal, and plenty to go into the freezer for another day. At the table we garnish the soup with chopped cilantro, Serrano peppers and diced avocado. But first the soup will simmer on the back of the stove. 
 
While the soup simmers, we make enchiladas with the tomatillo salsa, and fish, fresh caught Wahoo, barbecued. I fix a big pan of New Mexico-style, stacked enchiladas, along with a pan of rolled enchiladas to go into the freezer to eat next week. 
 
Monday. Today I am at home in my small place where I live near the ocean. A pounding all-day rain urges me to settle down at my desk and meet pending writing deadlines. At noon I want a cup of tea and while the water is boiling, I check my email, and receive good news. My new memoir manuscript has been accepted for publication by a university press I greatly value. 

Outside my window I hear waves, half a mile away, pounding the shoreline. The air is heavy with eucalyptus, and I hear the cormorants in the lagoon. They have become more active with winter, riding the ragged ocean tide all afternoon, diving under the surge, fishing for their dinner. In the evening they come home to the lagoon to rest. 
 
When late afternoon rolls around, with my work completed, I have the freedom of knowing we have the enchiladas for dinner. After its rest in the fridge the flavors have melded and it will taste even better. I can round out the meal with a green salad, freeing me from cooking, offering time to read. Currently I'm reading Braiding Sweetgrass. Taking my time. Reading one chapter, then closing the book and stepping outside to feel my feet growing up from the ground and let my thoughts float on air currents. I feel the rain falling on me. Then I duck under the porch roof, and listen to beautiful rain dropping on the thirsty drought ridden ground.
 
Next week we will gather on the mountain again, to make a big pot of Winter Minestrone Soup, with pancetta, carrots, celery, butternut squash, garlic, thyme, tomatoes, spinach, chicken stock, cannellini beans, pasta, good olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan for serving. Ina Garten’s recipe. 
 
Now that I’m dividing my time in two spaces, days at home near the ocean, and days at my daughter's home in the mountains, and with my grandchildren, I belong to both the land and the sea. And I’m discovering something has wholly shifted for me. It’s my newfound understanding of home. 

Home. It serves as both origin and return, as haven. Security, and as a platform for collecting, organizing and utilizing the things we maintain and express ourselves. I need, appreciate, and love, having a central dwelling, a place to hang my hat, a stable home to return to, and a fixed address to call my own. It’s the thing I desperately missed after we sold our house in Santa Barbara, and moved from the city where we lived for forty-three years. While staying in the trailer, surrounded by redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, while we searched for a new home to buy, being temporary, and not having a permanent home of my own, was hard for me, terribly hard. I had shelter, a safe, beautiful, comfortable, place to sleep. All of my needs were met. But I could not enjoy it fully. Too much time was waisted trying to find things that were packed up. My plan was to have just the basics in the trailer. Just what we needed. It didn’t work out that way. All of the “what if I need this” items got mixed up with the necessary stuff. Instead of calm, I felt chaos. 
 
Now, seven months later and settled into my new home space, gives me a grand view when I look back. Now I understand. It was all of my boxes and boxes of belongings, the furniture stored, the stacks of stuff I had no permanent place to keep. I was not craving my own home, near as much as I longed for a place to keep, use, and display all of that stuff. 

Yet now that I have released at least half, if not more, of all those things, I feel a freedom as wide as the sky. My new home currently houses only needed items, and the things that bring us great joy. If something is going to live here, it must be an important part of the tapestry of our lives, instead of something that takes up valuable space while waiting to see if we might need it eventually. 

With less, I’m finding my center of gravity, coming to terms with myself in a new stage of life, in a new landscape. Finding myself feeling more at home, paradoxically, after letting go. 
 
These days when I pack up my overnight bag and drive up the mountain, instead of the great big carry-all, I once required, now everything I need fits inside a small tote bag. 
 
My thoughts return to the mountain. Yesterday leaves from the acorn tree blew in the wind, yellow and orange, blending with redwood giants. After my afternoon walk, I stood on a carpet with forest green fallen branches at my feet mixed with muddy earth. My shoes caked with the land I frequent, and carry within.

Race, Ethnicity and My Face


As a woman of Cherokee, Lenape, Seneca, German descent, I came of age understanding that I'm not totally Native nor am I totally white. I'm a border woman dwelling between the boundaries. 

I have light skin, light enough that some people think I’m a white person. My dad, a Native man, and my mother, a white woman, had me when they were teenagers in 1953. I grew up in Compton, California, a mixed race suburb of Los Angeles. The family next door was Bolivian and they loved me like a daughter. My best friend was Japanese and Mexican. Still, when I was 10 years-old, my dad sat me down to have “the talk” with me about race. He told me about how to navigate the streets, about how to stay safe. He wanted to make sure I understood that in order to be accepted by certain white people it mattered who your friends were. 

By that point, however, I already knew. 

I had discovered that when I went to play at the houses of my white friends after school I needed to be aware of how I was holding myself at all times. I learned to stay alert and watch for clues: sometimes there might be an older brother who pulled his eyes in an upward slant and said something mean about Chinese people; or a father that casually spouted racial slurs at people of color. When this happened, I knew I had to make an excuse to go home and I’d never go back. Sometimes I’d make up stories when asked about my darker skinned, mixed-race family in order to protect them. But if the mothers of my white friends didn’t feel satisfied with my answers, I wouldn’t be allowed to stay at their houses for long. 

Things would be different when I went over the houses of my friends of color. Their mothers would always take me in without hesitation. And if there was a grandmother at home who spoke English with an accent, or didn’t speak English at all I could usually be certain they wouldn’t ask me if my daddy had a job. In their homes, I felt safe. 
 
As a child I had things all figured out. But when I reached my late teens and early twenties it became more complicated. 

Hanging out with my friends of color meant witnessing them get treated poorly and face multiple instances of discrimination by white people. Being out with my white friends, however, meant that we could expect to be given preferential treatment no matter where we went. When I began dating and went out with Native boys or other boys of color in my community, I was considered “white trash” by white America. I could even expect to have a white man point to my date and ask me what I thought I was doing being with the likes of someone like him. But when I dated the first guy that was white, I was allowed to be white by association and had access to the privileges of white America because of that. In stores or restaurants, we were always served or seated first, before people of color. When we acted up or got into mischief in public, it was laughed off as opposed to being taken seriously with the assumption that we were up to no good like it had been for other teens of color. 
 
My early adulthood was charged with decisions to make: Should I mention my Native identity? Should I let white people I don’t know well and may not ever want to become close friends with, assume I’m white? Keep my racial identity private from employers and others who would discriminate against me if they knew I’m a mixedblood Native American woman? With dark skinned family members and dark skin friends? With strong ties to Native America and rooted within a community of color? 
 
Then, at age twenty-three, I suddenly found myself employed full-time in a company that was predominantly white. So white, that my intuition told me if my boss had known I was anything other than white, I would have probably not been hired. My white co-workers seemed to only accept people of color who adhered to white social norms and didn’t challenge their biases. They could not accept how vastly different the culture values, thought processes, and social norms of ethnic people were from white America. 

I wear the face of a woman with light skin privilege. While keenly aware of the advantage it has given me over my friends and family who are not able to pass, I always make the decision to disclose my Native identity to anyone who asks. I never try to pass. Passing would mean turning my back on my Native family, friends and community. Following my experiences working in a predominantly-white company at 23, I began to make sure that at each interview I had for a new job, I’d take a “racial temperature check” to ensure that people of color who looked like my friends and family were always welcomed. And I’d proudly list all the positions I’ve held within American Indian and Asian-American organizations on my resume. 
 
Later on in my life, I married a man who was white and we had a daughter together, before adopting two Korean children. Two of our kids had apparent ethnic features and their black hair and darker skin often caused people to mistakenly assume they were Native American. I knew that blending into white society would never be an option for them. So it was always a toss on whether they would be able to ride on the wings of my white privilege, or be subject to the racism that ruled America when they were out on their own. In turn, I did my best to connect them with their Korean roots by becoming deeply involved with the Korean community in our town. For thirty years, my heart and soul was shaped by my connection to this community for which I am grateful to be a part of. 
 
Now, as I near age 70, my gray hair and wrinkled face reveal the many years I have lived. Yet what has not changed is what most cannot see: I am still a border woman. Borders are set up to define or to separate, but I am neither part white, nor part Native. My blood is a mix between two worlds, Native and white merging together to form a third: a woman dwelling between the boundaries. 
 
A border woman—that is me.

First published in Santa Clara Review.

Back in Those Days in Compton

My bags and the boxes are unpacked, and I’ve moved away from the city where I lived for forty-three years, and relocated 265 miles north. While unpacking my box of keepsakes, the carefully saved material things I’ve attached meaning to, I lifted the lid and peered at the contents. This is when I became aware of what is not inside my box of treasures, what can’t be seen and can’t be packed up and placed in a box. It’s the nearly forgotten memories tucked into the margins of my mind, now floating on air currents, of the events that have shaped me into the woman I am today. I’m reminiscing and my memories caught me by surprise when they began rolling all the way back to when my family moved from Compton, California. 

Dancing to Remember


I am gathered with friends and family under a bead blue California sky. Powwow weekend. Santa Ynez Chumash Inter-Tribal. My shawl is folded over my arm. I listen to the wind, spilling through the tree leaves. 

Time merges with timelessness. Memories circle and carry me to a day forty years ago, when I stood on this good land, near the oak tree for the first time, with my young children gathered about. The same tree I am standing under today. 

I lean my back against this oak. This tree, giver of life. She has raised a community with song, dance and prayer. We return to this land, to this tree, in October every year. Laughter, flirting and romance in lives young and old take place all around her. 

She stands sentry. Her autumn softened leaves, swept up from a cool mountain breeze, fall gently on American Indian fathers holding sleeping babies. Mothers trading stories, their shiny cut beads reflecting light while braiding their children’s hair, with feathers in the colors of the earth, trailing. 

There were difficult times too for this oak tree, when she witnessed wild fires raging, drought years with dust rising against the clear sky. The times when her branches sheltered human arguments and angry outbursts, but mostly she is surrounded by love and caring. 


I stand high upon a flat rock, my eyes roaming, taking in the day, the years. Filling my lungs with sweet fragrances of the damp Mother Earth. Feeling my body grow light, like the feathers of the red tail hawk touching the soft clouds. 


For the record I am not California Indian. I am an Indian born in California, mixedblood Cherokee, Lenape, Seneca, and for forty-three years I lived in an area that makes up the traditional Chumash homeland. I spent those years walking gently, a guest on this good land and I hold the culture, traditions and history of the Chumash people in my heart. For my Chumash friends this is their landscape of time. 


I remember the words of my aunties and my grandmothers, about how each person is a connection to history and when we gather around the area and form a circle around the drums, singers and dancers we are all connected, and it's our way of saying that American Indian people are still here. This is our celebration of life past, present and future. 


First published in the Spring 2019 issue of News From Native California a quarterly magazine devoted to California's Indian peoples.
© Terra Trevor. All rights reserved.  

In Writing Motherhood


Before I was a mother, I have always been a writer. I'm well into grandmotherhood now, leaving a trail of my motherhood footsteps behind with twenty-one of my favorite previously published essays.

The other day a good writer-friend asked me, “Have you considered writing a book about motherhood after the kids are grown?” A sequel to my memoir Pushing up the Sky? Hmmm. I wonder what that book would be about? 
 
Another writer-friend came up with the perfect title 'Sex and the City Indian' a collection of narratives written by Native women about romance, family and marriage, and you can count me in. But kidding aside, I have written a second memoir about love, aging from youth into beauty, with reflections on the deep power of female friendships, and reconciling complicated roots. 

My new memoir, We Who Walk the Seven Ways, will be published by University of Nebraska Press in 2023. And when I was in the early stages of writing the book, I discovered that first I needed to explore how my identity as a mother has grown and changed over the past four decades, and in order to move forward, I had to go back. 
 
Please join me at In Writing Motherhood. Or maybe you would rather read 'Sex and the City Indian.'

Yellow Medicine Review: Women’s Wisdom, Women’s Strength

“Remember that I am just a woman who is living a very abundant life. Every step I take forward is on a path paved by strong Indian women before me.” 
—Wilma Mankiller 
 
From our grandmothers and aunties and sisters to the women who write stories, lead states, and sit as poet laureate for the United States, we turn to Native women for their strength, wisdom, and leadership. 
 
“Oh woman 
Remember who you are 
Woman 
It is the whole earth.” 
“The Blanket Around Her” 
—Joy Harjo 

I’m deeply honored to have my work included. Growing Old in a Beautiful Way, page 59 is an excerpt from my memoir, We Who Walk the Seven Ways, forthcoming from University of Nebraska Press, Spring 2023.

A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, and Thought

Take A Stand: Art Against Hate

I'm honored to have my work included.

Take a Stand: Art Against Hate
A Raven Chronicles Anthology

“The poems and stories in this anthology offer necessary anecdotes against hate. They are inscription, instruction, witness, warning, remedy, solution, even solace. This anthology is relief.” 
 —Diane Glancy 
Winner of an Amerian Book Award and the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry 

“We can regard Take a Stand: Art Against Hate as a print-form peace march, an ongoing campaign for justice for all of the struggles embodied in these writings and depicted in the artwork included here.” 
 —Carolyne Wright
co-editor of Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace

Take a Stand: Art Against Hate, contains poems, stories and images from 117 writers, 53 artists, with 69 illustrations, divided into five fluid and intersecting sections: LegaciesWe Are HereWhy?Evidence, and Resistance. We begin with Legacies because the current increased climate of hate in this country didn’t begin with the 2016 election, and to find its roots we must look to U.S. history.