Goodbye Columbus

In mixed-race America all of our individual histories and cultures matter, yet since 1937, on the second Monday in October, the day Congress named Columbus Day, Christopher Columbus was allowed to ride herd. 

My son bounds from his classroom. Eyes filled with brown warmth, he peeks out from under a cap of shiny dark hair, holding a milk carton cutout fashioned into the shape of a boat, with two smaller makeshift vessels trailing behind. Out of the corner of my eye I see children clutching newspaper sailor hats and Columbus’ Ships coloring pages. 

With his eyebrows curved in question marks my sons tells me that there is also a song about Columbus, sung to the tune of Oh, My Darling Clementine. And then we both laugh at the absurdity. It’s both funny, and not funny. 


We are a mixed-race, mixed-blood Native American family. My son has older siblings and he knows there is controversy surrounding Columbus and his Day of recognition. But at age seven it’s not his job to carry the weight. As his mother that responsibility belongs to me. 


Columbus Day first became a federal holiday in the United States in 1937. After strong lobbying from the Knights of Columbus, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Oct. 12, 1937, as the first Columbus Day. Over the years the holiday celebration has become controversial: The arrival of Columbus to the Americas — followed by the European settlers — heralded the beginning of devastating movements against indigenous people and the demise of their histories and cultures. 


As a European colonizer he set the genocide in motion. The story of Columbus’ discovery and the indigenous people he misnamed as “Indians” continues to affect us with a duel identity misunderstood by mainstream America. 


For more than five hundred years Native peoples have been measured and have competed against a Columbus fantasy over which they have no control. 


Others argue that Columbus should not be honored for discovering North America because he only went as far as some islands in the Caribbean and never got as far as mainland America. Yet for many Americans, the Columbus myth has become real and a preferred substitute for reality. 


Aside from the fact that I’m of Cherokee, Delaware, Seneca descent, I am something else too — I am a woman. Rape of indigenous women of color became rampant and was tolerated by Columbus. A reported comrade, Michele de Cuneo — who wrote of a relation between himself and a Native female gifted to him by Columbus — supports this information. There are also reported accounts of Native infants being lifted from their mothers’ breasts by Spaniards and smashed by rocks. The further I dig into history more horrific acts are revealed. One account reports that he wrote in his journal on October 14, 1492, three days after being greeted with kindness by the Lucayan people (the original inhabitants of the Bahamas): “I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men and govern them as I please.” As I try to disentangle truth from history I wonder why we celebrate the man in such heroic terms if so much about him needed to be hidden. 


Efforts to eliminate or rename Columbus Day in various states and cities have met strong resistance. In my hometown of Los Angeles, City Council voted to allow city employees to take Cesar Chavez Day as a paid holiday instead of Columbus Day, a move that prompted much objection. As a compromise, the council allowed city employees to celebrate either holiday. Finally the state eliminated the Columbus Day holiday as part of a budget-cutting measure, yet city and county offices still observe it. The Unified School District does not. Then in 2017 the Los Angeles City Council voted to eliminate Columbus Day from the city calendar, siding with those who view the explorer as a symbol of genocide for native peoples in North America and elsewhere in the world. Yet the day remains a paid holiday, regardless of the name. 


In 1992, the city of Berkeley was the first to declare the day Indigenous Peoples Day. More recently Seattle, Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Portland, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Olympia, Washington followed suit. South Dakota celebrates Native American Day instead, and Hawaii and Alaska, which also have large indigenous populations, don’t recognize it at all. 

Although alternatives exist, millions of Americans still prefer to celebrate Columbus Day and New York City’s Columbus Day Parade continues to thrive. 
To understand how deeply ingrained our U.S. collective modern fantasy of Christopher Columbus has become I turned to Google. A search for “Columbus activities for children” revealed 4,750,000 results (in 0.64 seconds) with lesson plans, songs, and teaching ideas. It is clear this compliant Columbus image, edited and embellished, is much preferred…and why not? His fantasy is colorful and brings something exotic to celebrate, like a visit to Frontierland. 

First published at Matador Network, 
It’s still important to challenge any recognition of Columbus Day 

Copyright © Terra Trevor. All rights reserved.

Author’s Note 
As a writer of mixed descent, including Cherokee, Lenape, Seneca, I neither presume to speak for any sovereign nation, nor identify with the dominant culture.

American Indians In Children's Literature

A small boy walked over to a display of books in the library. “Wait a minute.” He whispered to his mother, “I want to look at these Indian Books.” The boy’s eyes were blue luminous water as he thumbed through the pages of one book and then another. 

His mom came over to where we were standing and skimmed the row of books. “How about this one?” She asked. I tensed my shoulders and tightened my toes, she was holding a copy of The Education of Little Tree, a book I liked until I learned more about the author. 


“Actually, that might not be the best choice.” I announced. 


Prior to his literary career as "Forrest," Carter was politically active for years in Alabama as an opponent to the civil rights movement: he worked as a speechwriter for segregationist Governor George Wallace of Alabama; founded the North Alabama Citizens Council (NACC) and an independent Ku Klux Klan group; and started the pro-segregation monthly titled The Southerner. 


“It isn’t? How do you know?” The boy and his mother eyeballed me up and down. 

I opened my mouth, closed it and cleared my throat. “Because I’m a writer.” I said. “And my mother is a Children’s Librarian and we’ve read lots of books and have studied the authors and their backgrounds. 

Then I offered up my favorite online resources for reviewing children’s books by or about American Indians. 

Lucky for me this mother was delighted with my bold offer. She whipped out her phone and linked to the website addresses I gave her, which are the same ones I will share with you here. 


I read all the time. I can’t remember ever not reading. Listen to my mother and you will hear tales about me in diapers with a book in my lap. The only goal I had for my children was for them to love reading as much as I do. And I’ve achieved that success. All three were avid readers while growing up. As adults each time they move to a new city the first thing they do is get a library card. They buy books from their local bookstores, volunteer and teach, and contribute to literary. 

Reading shapes and changes us. When Native Americans are in children's and young adult literature, it can be difficult to know if the characters in the books are appropriately portrayed from a Native perspective. Equally important is to know about the author so that we can decide if we want that person to influence our children’s lives. 

American Indians In Children's Literature By Debbie Reese 
Offering critical perspectives of indigenous peoples in children's and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society.

Copyright © Terra Trevor. All rights reserved. 

River, Blood, And Corn Literary Journal


As a writer with four decades of writing and publishing behind me I've reached an age at which I spend a great deal of time working to make sure the diversity in writing I find important will continue. 
 
In 2010 River, Blood, And Corn Literary Journal was established and I began collaborating with writers, storytellers and artists, promoting community and strengthening cultures with storytelling, poetry and prose. Follow along with us. 

Terra Trevor, Founding Editor 

Tomol Trek: California's Indigenous Peoples




Our classes are held outdoors under a bead-blue California sky. We work on a patch of green grass, an occasional hawk sweeping over with light shining through her rust red tail. Back in 1997, when there was money available to be used for education, the Santa Barbara County American Indian Education Project began the series “Tomol Trek.”

After much hard work, the project put together an academy with federal (Title V) funding. Each year the academy had a different focus. In 1997 the year’s final outcome was aimed at producing a modern-day recreation of a traditional Chumash tomol. The children and teenagers attending ranged from elementary through high school. Many were Chumash, but the kids represented a variety of tribes, all with a common bond: every one of these kid’s lives in an area that made up the traditional Chumash homeland. We all hold the culture, traditions, and history of the Chumash people in our hands and in our hearts.

The tomol, a type of plank canoe, is unique to the Chumash. Tomols were used for trips between the islands and Chumash settlements. Originally they were about thirty feet long, and could hold four thousand pounds. Usually they carried six people but could hold up to twelve.

Our modern-day tomol was built by the children under the guidance of Peter Howorth, in his backyard tomol building workshop. There is a perfect balance between master and apprentice as the children sand pieces of the vessel throughout construction. A dozen hands move slowly across the handle, moving towards the paddle end of an oar. Small hands, young hands, skin so smooth and maroon, peach-colored hands, muted brown, every child with a tribal memory circling her or his heart.

A kind of palpable energy surrounds the tomol project. People seem to want to be a part of what’s going on. American Indian students from Cal Poly and UCLA arrive to volunteer support. Before I know it, I’m one of those helping out. The more I sand, the closer I am to the tomol. Sometimes I stop in the middle of the day and am silent in respect to the ancient peoples who left the witness of their lives, their visions, the strength of their faith for us to ponder.

My son is one of those kids helping out. He knows about the pleasure found in working hard, and seeing the good results of that work. As he sands the pieces of wood I watch him find his relationship with the plank canoe he is helping to create.

Our real goal is not only the finished tomol; it is also the season long process of working together. Still, everyone eagerly waits the day the vessel will be launched. When the maiden voyage takes place, within the harbor, there is only a small gathering of people. Before the “official” crewmembers begin their training we get to know the tomol. Her name is Alolkoy—dolphin in Chumash. She is twenty-five feet long, and made of redwood. Conditions in the harbor are ideal. The sun is warm; a soft, steady sea breeze blows at our backs. We fill sandbags for ballast, and then one at a time, we each have a turn sitting inside the tomol.

My son, feeling his connection with the Tomol he helped build

Alolkoy is much lighter than I ever imagined. Slowly I become one with her. I only have to “think” of shifting my weight left, and she responds almost before I even move. By the end of the day I understand we should not take photographs while we are with her, not yet anyway. First I watch someone drop a camera into the ocean, and then the back of my camera opens, exposing my film.

Remembrance weighs heavy on my mind, as it does for most Native people seeking to affirm cultural identity in a high-tech world. There is a comfort in being with those who understand. Our kids do not have to trade in their Indian values for education; the project carried ancient memory and cultural knowledge into their lives today.

First Published in the winter 1997 issue of News from Native Californiaa quarterly magazine devoted to California's Indian peoples. 

Postscript
A number of the children who participated in the Tomol backyard building workshop have grown up to become crewmembers making the crossings from the mainland to Limuw - Santa Cruz Island. 

Copyright © Terra Trevor. All rights reserved. 

Tomol Evening: California's Indigenous Peoples

When I return from Limuw—Santa Cruz Island, at first I only want natural light. It is past ten when I rinse the salt water from my hair. Moonlight falls from the open window, a flood of light from above. I am still under the influence of sea tides springing strong. 

I came to spend four days and nights on the island, to let come what may. I want to be helpful to my friend, eighty now and a deeply loved and respected, elder. Sometimes she needs a tiny bit of help fetching things and getting from here to there. I’m learning as she teaches me how to be helpful and grow old in a beautify way. 

Used to be, when you walked on the island of Santa Cruz and looked around, all the land you could see was Chumash Indian land. The island was once home to the largest population of island Chumash with a highly developed complex society and life ways. 

Marine harvest and trade with the mainland. Island Chumash produced shells beads used as currency. Grasses and roots for making baskets and other necessities for living were there for the taking. And so, apparently was the land. 

Historical records show that by 1853 a large herd of sheep was brought to the island. The Civil War significantly increased the demand for wool and by 1864 some 24,000 sheep over grazed the hills and valleys of Santa Cruz Island. Some of the early buildings from sheep ranching still stand. Now, instead of sheep for the next four days the island is again filled with Indians. 

We have come to honor the Chumash peoples' annual channel crossing from the mainland to the Channel Islands. A camp village is put up, where basket making, cordage making, song, prayer and storytelling take place. On day one we are about fifty Indians gathered. By Saturday, the day the Tomol arrives, there will be nearly two hundred of us, and the quote “a single bracelet does not jangle alone” describes us. The connectedness we have to each other is so much a part of our lives, it can’t be distinguished from our lives. 

For the record, I am not Chumash. I’m of mixed-blood Cherokee, Lenape, Seneca, German descent. Yet for 40 years I lived in an area that made up the traditional Chumash homeland. I hold the culture, traditions and history of the Chumash people in my heart. For my Chumash friends this is their heritage, their landscape of time. 

There’s real power here. When we leave the campsite village and walk to the rim of the island first there is silence. Raven and Sea Gulls at the waters edge dip and wheel and dive. Under a sky turned pink we go for a sunset swim. With much island and ocean and so few people there is the lazy wag of space. I float in the sea with my head surrounded by gulls and fledglings. 

At dawn we wake to sunrise singers. A high sweet trill of voices, abalone beads swaying, carrying songs from the ancestors. The singers are letting us know it is time to gather for sunrise ceremony.  

Next we wait for the paddlers to arrive. I stand with others on the shore and feel the sun rise from my heart. I’ve known two of the paddlers, a male and a female crewmember, since they were babies, and I’ve watched them grow to strong, beautiful, kind and responsible, young adults. Now I’m a sixty three year old grandmother, moving toward elderhood and I know the world that I will one day leave behind is in good hands. 

If only in my mind I am again back in 1997, back when these two young paddlers where small kids and the Santa Barbara County American Indian Education Project began the series “Tomol Trek.” After much hard work, the project put together an academy with federal (Title V) funding and the year’s final outcome produced a modern-day recreation of a tomol. Our modern-day tomol was built by the children under the guidance of Peter Howorth, in his backyard tomol building workshop. 

There was a perfect balance between master and apprentice as the children sanded pieces of the vessel throughout construction. A dozen hands move slowly across the handle, moving towards the paddle end of an oar. Small hands, young hands, skin so smooth and maroon, peach-colored hands, muted brown, every child with a tribal memory circling her or his heart. 

Remembrance weighs heavy on my mind, as it does for most Native people seeking to affirm cultural identity in a high-tech world. There is a comfort in being with those who understand. Our kids did not have to trade in their Indian values for education; the project carried ancient memory and cultural knowledge into their lives today. 

And now two of those children—now grown, are making the crossing. The paddlers leave the mainland at three a.m. There will be a careful change of crew three times. The moment the paddlers in the Tomol come into view my heart breaks open and I’m ageless and timeless and feel the welcome arms of the ancestors. The Tomol is brought forth from the sea and there is song and prayer. 



Back at camp we prepare dinner, while island fox keep a steady eye trained on us. A near Harvest moon rises. We eat, talk, joke, and tell stories of past crossings to the island, and “the old ways” moving through our evening together like dancers, stirring to the same rhythm. All of the people, the paddlers and those that help make the crossing and camp village possible, are honored. 

The day fades into liquid dusk and moonlight. Time is a continuous loop until our stay on the island comes to a full circle closure. Thankful for what I have been given, yet reluctant to let go, I prepare to leave and make the rounds to say goodbye to everybody who welcomed me. 

On the boat ride to the mainland we are soaking wet, laughing. A Humpback whale is sighted in the ocean navy blue. In the Chumash language my friends sing in the whale, and she surfaces. 

At home in earthen shadows, rinsing off the salt water and sand, I feel the light from the moon, full and wan. I braid a pungent memory and fill my lungs and my heart with it, knowing it will permeate my body and cling to my soul as a reminder of what I can feel when we are all together on the Island. 

Tomol Evening was first appeared in News from Native California, 
a quarterly magazine devoted to California's Indian peoples published by Heyday Books. This essays is included in We Who Walk the Seven Ways: A Memoir by Terra Trevor (University of Nebraska Press).

Copyright © Terra Trevor. All rights reserved. 

An Afternoon with Wilma Mankiller

This morning my thoughts center on a day back in 2006, when I was among those who gathered with Wilma Mankiller, former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. We had lunch together followed by an afternoon of  conversation, outside on the grass, with the trees and birds, gathered with Native people from my community, and I was comforted with our common Indigenous bond, our shared essence.

I've been thinking about how lucky I am. When I least expect it I've had teachers, always showing up at the right time, exactly when I need them. 
For every success we have I believe it's important to remember how we got there. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all that I have without the steadfast guidance from good people who gave their time to me, mentoring, shepherding and guiding me along, and I am deeply thankful.

 

"When people cease waiting for great leaders or prophets to solve entrenched problems and look, instead, within themselves, trusting their own thinking, believing in their own power, and to their families and communities for solutions, change will follow. In traditional indigenous communities, there is an understanding that our lives play themselves out within a set of reciprocal relationships. If each human being in the world could fully understand that we all are interdependent and responsible for one another, it would save the world.—Wilma Mankiller




From: all-employees-bounces@lists.cherokee.org 
[mailto:all-employees-bounces@lists.cherokee.org] On Behalf Of Chad Smith
Sent: Tuesday, April 06, 2010 11:13 AM
To: All Employees (mailing list)
Subject: Wilma Mankiller

Dear Friends,
Our personal and national hearts are heavy with sorrow and sadness with the passing this morning of Wilma Mankiller, our former Principal Chief. We feel overwhelmed and lost when we realize she has left us but we should reflect on what legacy she leaves us. We are better people and a stronger tribal nation because her example of Cherokee leadership, statesmanship, humility, grace, determination and decisiveness. When we become disheartened, we will be inspired by remembering how Wilma proceeded undaunted through so many trials and tribulations. Years ago, she and her husband Charlie Soap showed the world what Cherokee people can do when given the chance, when they organized the self-help water line in the Bell community She said Cherokees in that community learned that it was their choice, their lives, their community and their future. Her gift to us is the lesson that our lives and future are for us to decide. We can carry on that Cherokee legacy by teaching our children that lesson.

Wilma asked that any gifts in her honor be made as donations to One Fire Development Corporation, a non-profit dedicated to advancing Native American communities though economic development, and to valuing the wisdom that exists within each of the diverse tribal communities around the world. Tax deductible donations can be made at www.wilmamankiller.com as well as www.onefiredevelopment.org.

Autumn in Dixon, New Mexico




The land and the places where I have lived have shaped me. It serves as elder and friend. I walk in its grace, feel its solace and hear the stories it tells me.

For many years my long-loved friend lived in Dixon, New Mexico. His door was always open to me. The land where he made his home by the river is an ongoing character in my life. 

 




My friend has finished his walk on earth and has crossed over to the other side. From flesh and blood to souls and songs. 

I feel the wind spilling through the red and yellow leaves, and the fine dust from this red earth on my skin, as I walk the good land of the home I carry within.

 

Photos © Santa Fe Daily Photo. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Sunrise

A Small Wardrobe for a Lithe Life: Project 333


While growing up in a working class, mixed race neighborhood in Los Angeles, I had a small amount of clothing and usually only two pair of shoes. My grandmother sewed (wonderful) dresses for me, but only a few and yet I never felt lacking. Everyone I knew was scraping to get by, it was normal. I was dirt poor as a young adult, and yet I always felt that the few clothes I had looked great on me, and I was content. My early adult years were not focused on an over abundance of anything, and then somewhere along the way I took a wrong turn.

Then in 2011, I'd had enough and I joined a community of women and men committed to reducing the amount of clothes we buy and wear. My goal to cultivate a small wardrobe filled only with items I wear regularly led me to Project 333.

Although I frequently purchased items on sale and didn’t have any credit card debt, it occurred to me that I had too many clothes, and I was squandering my time shopping.

I’m moderately minimalistic in other aspects of my life. We grow a garden and I like to cook. The car I drive is an older economy model. I don’t buy a lot of gadgets. My home is decorated in an economical simple style, it’s comfortable and inviting, without a lot of stuff, and it is clutter free. But there was a time when my closet told another story. 

In addition to writing, for a number of years I worked in a fashionable corporate environment and I had frequent meetings to attend. I also travel to speak at conferences and lead workshops and had fallen into the trap of thinking I needed a variety of outfits. So at first gaining a collection of clothes and shoes that filled my average-sized closet was fun. Then it became stressful because I had too many choices. Packing for trips had become torture. I prefer to pack light with only a small carryon bag, and I agonized over what to pack because I had a multitude of options.

I had good clothing that fit me well and was of quality. But I also had far more clothing than I needed. And like most people I had my favorites and everything else just hung on its hanger waiting for a turn to be taken out and worn. Although I had begun to edit monthly, giving away things I was not wearing, I still had too much.

Since my husband, my friends and co-workers shopped too, I decided to allow myself to believe that shopping was an acceptable hobby, as long as I didn’t over spend and kept within my budget. Looking back I’m embarrassed that I let my thinking go haywire.

Currently I’m working from home in a casual environment, and my work wardrobe needs have changed and provide me with the freedom to wear casual clothing. But if I ever return to working in an environment that requires professional wear I will maintain a small core wardrobe for work. Because most of all I've changed. I no longer want or feel the need to have excess.

The Project 333 target is to select 33 items of clothing, accessories, outerwear and shoes to keep in your closet and commit to wearing only those items for 3 months. Clothing worn only at home or exercise wear, underwear and sleep wear, are not included in the 33.  However, the guidelines are not set in stone and can be adapted to fit your lifestyle. You can lower or up the number a bit if you prefer. The key point is to learn, reduce consumption and make positive changes.

Still, paring down was painstaking. I had a lot of good clothes that I always planned to wear, but seldom did. I spent days trying things on in order to make decisions. Finally I gave myself permission to let go of three large bags, all items I had formerly worn in the corporate work-world and no longer needed. It was hard because everything fit me, and all of it was good quality. But I didn’t need that many clothes and I no longer had occasions to wear most of it. 

It took a lot of doing but I forgave myself for making the mistake of using poor judgment in the past. I reminded myself that since I now know better I will do better in the future. And I’ve reached that success. Today I have a simple, small collection of clothes I enjoy wearing regularly.

But it was a rocky road reaching the good place where I am now. Truth to tell, I participated in Project 333 twice before I finally found my rhythm. The concept of selecting 33 items and boxing everything else up was daunting. I kept wondering if I’d made the right choices, always second-guessing myself. Thinking that perhaps there was a better choice boxed up and I could swap it out. 

So when the third round of Project 333 began, I decided not to box up or store any of my clothes other than the things that are seasonal. I gave away everything that I didn't love or didn't fit properly. 

When purging initially I took some of my quality clothes to a consignment store to sell, but then I began to understand that I’d rather give my things away and donate to a charity that gives the clothing to women in need who were working in low paying professional office jobs. 

Now that I have a smaller collection of clothes I’ve discovered that having less really does mean more. My closet and my clothes no longer overwhelm me. It is easy to get dressed every day. Now I usually find that I have the right outfit for every occasion. And on those rare occasions when I don’t, I do not dwell on it. I’ve learned that it is probably just a “moody” day for me, and it has nothing to do with my clothes. Instead of focusing on clothing lack, I journal write to discover what is lurking in my mind and deal with that.

Although I now have less variety in my wardrobe, I’m happier because it includes an outfit or two (or three) to cover all of my basic needs. I don't follow a strict 33 limit, instead I've opted to have a small wardrobe with everything kept inside my closet or my dresser drawers.

How many clothes do I have? Roughly I own about 80 items of clothing (about 40 items for warm weather and 40 for cold weather) that I could wear when I leave the house. 
My clothes mix and coordinate well, and since I stick with a few basic color combinations I find that everything works with other pieces to create a variety of options.  

It makes packing for trips easy. 
    I have less laundry, which is easier for me, and better for mother earth.
      I have better educated myself about the horrors garment industry workers face, and my responsibility to the planet.
          The changes I’ve made have brought me back to caring deeply about sustainability and interconnectedness, traditional Native values that I was raised with, but were slipping away from me.

          Our human brain is not wired for a multitude of options. Having lots of choices sounds delightful, but being faced with too many choices is stressful. 

          I've had a small wardrobe for a few years now, and I no longer think of Project 333 as an experiment in living with less. It has become a lifestyle for me. 

          Getting dressed is easier for me with less. I no longer spend a lot of time thinking, wondering and worrying about what to wear. I also no longer shop unnecessarily. Most days I’m happy. Happier than I have been in years. 

          Now that my load is lighter, my thoughts are lighter. 


          Minimizing and simplifying my clothing has also allowed me to see excess consumption in other parts of my life as well, and to make changes. Before I buy anything or bring a new item into my home, it’s important for me to ask myself: 


          “How much do I actually need it, in comparison to what it has taken from the planet and from workers, and from others in order to produce it?” 


          “How long will it last?”  


          “When and how will I dispose of it?” 


          The changes I’ve made give me a wide-open field of space and time to write, read, for long walks, to watch the sun rise, and set. To listen and give my full attention when someone speaks to me, to daydream, putter, pray to the earth, rest and renew my spirit.

          Copyright © 2013 Terra Trevor.  

          Photo credit Beyond Buckskin.com

          Deciding to Live with Less and Other Minimalist Lessons Learned from Fire

          I live near the ocean in California in a canyon area below the foothills in a high fire danger area. We’ve had a number of fires over the years that burned deep into our neighborhood. So far we have been lucky and our home was spared.

          There is a part of me that wants to move away, but we live in a wonderful place when fire is not present. And there is a greater part of me that wants to let go of my attachment to things. To enjoy what I have, to deepen my spiritual understanding with an awareness and mindset that if it were lost, it wouldn’t be the end of me. I’d be sad, deeply sad, but I would rise again.

          I’ve lived side by side with neighbors and close friends whose homes did burn, and they rebuilt their houses and their lives. When I stood beside them I never imaged myself as that strong.

          The first time we had to evacuate with a fire looming nearby we were given about an hours notice. I had three small children at the time and my first and only thought was to get them safely in the car. We gathered the dog and cat next, and then the police came to tell us not to leave yet, to wait until they came for us because they were escorting families out since the road way was jammed with traffic. My husband sat in the car with the kids and suggested I run and grab a few necessities for the children, and get some of our “special” things. But when I went back into our house what we had previously viewed as special, looked unimportant.

          What should I save? It was in the days prior to digital photography so I grabbed the photo albums. Next I walked from room to room surveying our belongings. I had a nice house filled with lovely things, but all of my prized positions looked like junk. In that moment I understood that what I appreciated most was the washing machine, our beds, the bathtub, the refrigerator. And our kitchen where hours earlier I was happily preparing lunch, unaware that by dinner time we would be in danger of loosing our home and possibly our lives.

          With each fire and forced evacuation I always manage to see the upside, but I also began to gain a sense of urgency, and went into a deep primal hunter and gathering, survival mode. It came from having to leave the dinner on the table one evening when flames were spotted nearby, and from having to comfort hungry children throughout the night. Four years later when the next fire occurred I evacuated with food supplies.

          This year the drought in California is severe, and once again we are facing extremely high fire danger. Yet I’ve begun to feel something settle down inside me. There is a quiet calm born of knowing that I no longer think of my possessions as an extension of myself.

          A few years ago I joined a growing community of women and men committed to reducing the amount of clothes we buy and wear. My goal to cultivate a small wardrobe led me to Project 333. Once I had tamed my closet and rid myself of excess, I began to examine and re-evaluate my shopping habits, and my consumptive nature in other areas of my life.

          While I will never be a minimalist in the sense of living as sparse as possible, I’ve come to understand that I enjoy the minimalist lifestyle of owning less. It provides me with freedom, calm, enhances and gives me greater satisfaction than owning an abundance of things ever did.

          I’ve also begun to understand that living with the threat of fire for the past 25 years has taught me valuable life skills, and I’ve learned good habits.

          We keep the dog leash by the front door. The cat carrier is in an easy to reach location. I’m careful to keep my car keys, cell phone, charger, my glasses and my purse organized and within easy reach. Gone are the days when I plunked things down without thinking about where I put them.

          There is this “idea” that when fire threatens, and given ample time and safety permits, a person would want to save the valuables. But in my neck of these city-woods we have learned that what’s most valuable when you are homeless is a pair of jeans, shoes, a jacket, a blanket—and a car that is not stuffed to the roof with useless belongings. Because chances are you will need to sleep in that car, along with the kids, the dog and cat.

          From needing to leave quickly to evacuate multiple times the lesson my family members, neighbors and I have learned is that when your closet (or your entire house) is jam-packed, it is impossible to quickly pull out a few necessary key items. And if you are given the luxury of time and safety, with fewer belongings it is much easier to find and grab what you need, and run out the door.

          I never imagined that I would grow to view fire, as a wise teacher and that I would embrace her lessons. Yet each time I clean and de-clutter my home my motto is, if I’m not using this item, then it is better to give it to someone who will. Because I won’t have a second chance to give it away if the fire takes it.

          I’ve also grown more aware of the right use of world resources, and the exploitation of garment workers and manufacture workers calls me to reflect deeply.

          Before purchasing or acquiring anything I’ve begun the habit of asking myself:

          How much do I actually need it, in comparison to what it has taken from the planet and from workers, and from others in order to produce it?

          How often will I use it, and how long will it last?

          When and how will I dispose of it?

          I know for sure, though, that you don’t have to experience a fire to learn the value of deciding to live with less. Yet for me living with fire has been a lens through which to examine my own life.

          Some day I will move away from this canyon area near the foothills, with skies filled with Red Tail Hawk, Owl, Golden Eagle and Raven. But I must keep my lens wherever I go. I must remember to see with fire eyes.

          Author's Note
          This essay was first published in the The Huffington Post and is part of HuffPost’s “Reclaim” campaign, an ongoing project spotlighting the world’s waste crisis and how we can begin to solve it.

          Copyright © 2016 Terra Trevor. 

          Project December

          I have a new December holiday tradition—we began doing less. The arrival of wide-open, unplanned hours meant that when a spur of the moment great idea pops into one of my kids’ head, I had the freedom to say yes, if I wanted, without feeling the need to struggle with dropping everything else, and we could take off and do it while the idea was still hot. Looking back I can’t imagine the great loss if I had ignored the call. 

          Typically, logical, linear thinking took hold of me during the winter holiday season. And aside from hating the fact that we were always too busy and I was often too tired, it remained one of my favorite times of the year. 

          What I didn’t like was that immediately after fresh cranberries and pumpkins began making their appearance in November, I became programed. Dependable. A slave to what was expected of me. And when I depended completely on following along with what we had always done, and were expected to do, year after year, it became predictable. Tiresomely sensible. Boring. 

          Our family celebrates Christmas, and my pattern was to make a list at the beginning of the month and I never had time to check it twice. I was too busy doing. My mother’s-mind had become programmed to think consequentially (supply and demand). If the cards didn’t get sent out earlier enough, or if they didn’t go out at all, I graded myself with a holiday F. On top of all else I aspired to the notion that the house ought to be cleaner than usual, with a perfectly decorated tree. When the cat batted the ornaments off the tree, and the dog (or the baby) chewed them, I lost hope. 

          Then one year in early December, many years ago, I heard a dark horse in my mind, calling to me.

          “Call and cancel.” It whispered.

          “Don’t take down the box of Christmas decorations this year. Do less, and do it with more love.” 


          Instead of pulling out the carton of our treasured things that we usually put up around the house and on the tree, I told my family that we were going to celebrate with a nature theme. The kids and I went to the florists and bought a gallon container of Baby’s Breath, and we strung the tree with white lights and tucked small clumps of the white Baby’s Breath into the branches. We placed a pair of red flowers on the table, to increase the energy of health and vitality. And that’s all we did. The effect was stunning, simple. It required little assembly, and the clean up after Christmas was easy. 

          I wish that I could tell you I learned about being more with less right then and there. But I didn’t. I also didn’t learn it the year my son had cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy, when I couldn’t stretch wide enough to cover all that needed to be done. That year the fear of the unknown gave me the incentive to do just a little more for the holidays. Sure, I wanted to have some wonderful memories for my three children to remember so that they would be able to recall more than hospitals and sickness. Yet my inspiration in the cancer years came from realizing that I like doing something a little bit special for my family whenever I can. Because I know my usual tendency is to get caught up in the tangle of everyday things braided with holiday responsibilities, and I rush through my days. 

          But I didn’t rush through anything when my son had cancer. I moved through each minute with careful thought. My mind was a camera capturing each second. The experience of cancer did have some unexpected good surprises for our family however. It taught us about the power of now, to pay attention to each moment. And it shook up our holiday traditions, teaching me to let some of our traditions go against the grain, to let them go haywire and to let go of the outcome. 

          Except the lesson didn’t stick. Every December my frenzy returned, and after my son grew healthy again I reverted back. Back to holiday doing. 

          Then one Christmas years and years later, age gave me what I have always longed for. Perhaps other people might live forever, but I am pretty sure I won’t. The memory that I want to last and be passed on is that I am a mother who is not always a busy, frantic woman with worry wrinkles around her eyes. I also want it to go down in history that I am also relaxed, and fun to be with. 

          Every year since I have de-cluttered my commitments and allowed myself some freedom and breathing space. There are the years when I do decorate the house, send the cards, bake the cookies, buy and wrap beautiful gifts, volunteer and go to-ing and fro-ing. But I NEVER do all of these things in the same year anymore. 

          Now I choose one or two things to focus on. My rule is that it must be tasks I want to do, no obligations, and I let the rest slide, so that I will have time to go ice skating or spend a lazy afternoon reading book after book to my three children, with a bowl of popcorn at our side. Or have time, after the kids are tucked into their beds, for me to gaze at the night sky, cold, clear and studded with stars. 

          The result is the December holiday season is no longer crazy making for me. I look forward to the one or two holiday inspired things I want to do with more love. The reward for me is in discovering what it is I want to highlight each year, and enjoying the unplanned things we dream up as a family now that I allow time to go with the flow. 

          This is what I want to claim as a mother and grandmother, for the time I give to be remembered. That is why I now wrap it, and not objects, and give my time as a gift to my family.


          First published in Adoption and Foster Parenting Today. Reprinted in the Huffington Post.
          Copyright © Terra Trevor. 

          Photo credit Santa Fe Daily Photo.

          The Clothes We Wear at Home

          It was one of those days. I couldn’t wait to get home from work and change my clothes. A heavy July fog rolled in and I was so tired I decided to put on my bathrobe.

          After dinner my husband sliced watermelon. It was my turn to wash the dishes. What could it possibly hurt, I thought, if I left the dirty dishes sitting on the table for a while? We generally kept our house clean, yet on this day the rest of the house was a mess, with sandy beach towels, the picnic basket and cooler from a pleasure-filled weekend strewn in the hall, so I decided to let the kitchen go too. What I really wanted to do was read my book. 

          My six-year-old daughter twirled around the room in a see-through lilac chemise rescued from a rummage sale box. She was wearing lipstick too, and blue eye shadow reached past her eyebrows. 

          My three-year-old son was still potty training. He could take off his underpants five hundred times a day, but never once would he get them back on again himself. Sometimes I let him go bottomless. That’s how he was on this particular evening, playing on the floor with little cars. Eyes filled with brown warmth peeked out from under a cap of shiny dark hair; his underpants, however, were nowhere in sight. 

          While I was relaxed in the untidy living room, nose in my book, the doorbell rang. My husband answered the door. “I’m a social worker from the adoption agency,” a male voice said. “I live a few blocks from here, and thought I’d drop by on my way home from work and meet you.” 

          I lurched bolt upright. The wood floor felt gritty on my bare feet. Before we had a chance to offer our visitor a seat, I heard the back door bang. In bounded our six-month-old Newfoundland puppy. Her bark had a friendly woof in it. All sixty pounds of her romped in circles around this man I had not yet met. 

          Out of the corner of my eye I saw the cat leap on the kitchen table and start licking one of the bowls. The scent of onions, garlic and roasted peppers from the pot of chili Verde I’d cooked for dinner drenched the air. I was grateful I’d picked a huge bunch of fresh daisies that morning; perhaps the flowers would catch the social worker’s eye and keep it off of the cat. 

          Fortunately we were experienced with the adoption process, and we knew surprise visits were not part of the procedure. The social worker from the adoption agency was only trying to be neighborly by stopping by instead of phoning. He talked with us for few minutes, and said he would call us on the telephone to set up a home-study interview appointment. 

          This story is excerpted from my memoir, Pushing up the Sky and it became a marker moment in my wardrobe. It got me thinking about the clothes we only wear at home. You know what I’m talking about. The gray sweatpants long past their prime. Sweat shirts and t-shirts that are faded and worn out, but never thrown away. Clothes we wouldn’t wear out in public, but are good enough to wear in that place we call home because they represent the comforts of home, and we feel good while we are wearing them. Or do we? 

          The problem was, I didn’t. Something about wearing worn, frayed, unflattering clothes made me feel tired, worn out. It was also hard for me to relax in my oldest worn wear because those are the clothes I put on when I’m doing weekend warrior projects, and cleaning out the garage, or for house chores and yard work. 

          That long ago evening (wearing my bathrobe) I took a pledge. I vowed that forever more I would own clothing to wear at home that was comfortable, presentable and made me feel as good as I did in my plush, turquoise bathrobe, yet appropriate for any spur of the moment event that might take place during daylight hours at home. 

          Why had I neglected home-wear clothing? 
          I had a professional writing-life work wardrobe that I wore for readings and author appearances, along with a few lovely outfits to wear for nicer social occasions, but I only wore those clothes at home when we had guests. What I lacked was clothing to wear on any ordinary writing-day at home that was comfortable and made my heart sing. 

          Forgive yourself if this portrait reminds you of yourself. It’s almost everyone’s secret, except for a few really honest people. Of course some of our friends are the type who always look their best, at home, or anytime, anywhere. We love these women, but for a few minutes let’s not think about them. Our souls long for acceptance, and when we start being honest we get our sense of humor back, and then we are half way home to being able to be kind to ourselves, to treat ourselves as we do a beloved dog, cat, friend, and family members. 

          Home. It serves as both origin and return, as haven. As a source of security and also platform for collecting, organizing and utilizing the things with which we maintain and express ourselves. For a number of years I have been working from home. My home has become the center of my universe. It is where I work, rest and socialize. When I first began working at home I adhered to a rigid early morning schedule of fixing my hair and putting on a bit of make up, and dressing myself in a manner that (the critics deemed) was appropriate business attire for working from home. 

          It didn’t take me long to figure out this was not who I wanted to be. That type of mandate was the reason I left the corporate business world and began freelance writing and dividing my time with a part-time job as director of volunteers for an animal shelter assistance program. I had the freedom of working from home and began to follow my own dress code rules. 

          I think many of us become nicer as we get older, less judgmental of ourselves and of others. Life tends to round off our sharp edges. 

          During my transition period of adjusting to working at home in 2010, I found Project 333 but I needed to think about it for a while. It sounded too restrictive, yet I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and eventually the idea of downsizing my wardrobe and becoming moderately minimal in all aspects of my life became irresistible and I climbed aboard.


          After I edited my closet, letting go of a sizable amount, releasing a number of items the wardrobe critics say every fashionable woman should have, including the white button-down shirt I never wore and I slowly began to find my style, my own true north, and it was rooted in simplicity. 

          Variety is important to me. I like plenty of spice. However, the wide variety I crave cannot be satisfied through clothing. It hails from living a diverse lifestyle and from the multiplicity of people I meet or spend time with, and the places I go with scents of lime or plumeria, sesame or curry, surrounding me. From the music I listen to and the books I read. Books with diverse themes serve as a passport, allowing me to glimpse into peoples and a terrain unknown to me, so that I can learn and grow, understand and see through the eyes of someone who has lived different than I have. There was a time when I thought it necessary to have a lot in common with a person in order for friendship to grow. Now I know it has more to do with my own growth and ability to reach out without having expectations. 

          Color is central to me, but it no longer dominates my wardrobe. Yellow and orange arrive in the form of long walks at sunset, from the Nasturtium blooming near the path to the beach. 

          Once I stopped focusing on always dressing for the outer world, and allowed my own needs and heart’s desire to come first, it was fun to cultivate a wardrobe of clothing I love and enjoy wearing at home. 

          I plan, select and purchase my at-home wear with important key factors in mind. My writing life is messy, filled with children, dogs, cats, pet hair, muddy footprints and sticky fingers. When I’m not writing, at my computer, or reading, I’m active at home—cooking, cleaning, yard work and pet care. Our house is subject to extreme temperatures, downright cold inside or sweltering hot, and I dress accordingly. If I lived in the city I might dress differently at home. Yet this old house on the Northern California coast defines my needs. 

          As columnist and author Molly Ivins said, Charm doesn't fade, wit doesn’t age, and knowledge is still priceless. If we live well, every year we become a year’s worth better, smarter, and wiser.” 

          For me, growing smarter and wiser includes knowing that I’d rather be comfortable at home than chic, and that comfortable does not need to equal frumpy. And while I still care about looking my best when out in public, I can accomplish it with a tiny wardrobe personalized by what works best for my life right now, in this moment. 

          I’m more successful in terms of how kind to myself I have become, what a wonderful tender friend I am to myself. I care enough about me to fill a vase with purple Astrids, and make myself a garden salad and pots of soup, even when I’m alone. And I’ve gifted myself a small collection of just-right-for-me clothing to wear at home.

          Copyright © 2015 Terra Trevor. All rights reserved.