I always look forward to performing storytelling at the Elijah Iles House's Clara Irwin Strawberry Party. This year I had a little more time to help out, both before and after, the event.
Wednesday afternoon was the day for festivity preparations, and many of the volunteers were on hand to get everything ready. My occupation was to help "stem" the strawberries so that they could be later washed, cut up, and sugared. Someone had gotten creative, and came up with the idea of using plastic straws to push the stems out. It really helped to make short work of the many pounds of berries - though the table and the people were both sticky and berry colored.
The next evening was perfect - still clear, but with mild temperatures, and it stayed that way from the beginning of the party till its end.
It was as if the weather was trying to make up for many so incredibly hot and grouchy last year!
The Clara Irwin Strawberry Party ended about an hour before the city's fireworks were to go off. This time was filled with clean up, and afterwards, a few volunteers settled on the front porch to watch.
To me this was a perfect way to spend the last of Independence Day. What better way than watching fireworks on the steps of one of the oldest houses in Springfield?
Even more poignant was that one of our volunteers was an exchange student from China. And I couldn't help but wonder if there was any better way to show off our city by offering both a gentle, but fun, part of our history, and a evening of companionship to end the day?
Somehow it all made me feel as if we had been woven into a tiny part of the house's long history.
On this 2013 Independence Day I began reflecting back to a chapter I had read in Duncan Emrich's Folklore of the American Land about a mountain main named Jim Bridger.
This was a man who in his long career was one of the first to see the geysers of Yellowstone, and the Great Salt Lake. He came back from his various expeditions with tales of wonders - the Obsidian Cliffs and the Mammoth Hot Springs (with its bubbling mud, and water so hot you could cook in it).
While he never learned to read and write he could speak several languages, and could map with such detail that his maps were highly valued. He offered vivid and accurate descriptions of what he saw, but soon discovered that the wonders he saw were too wonderful for people to believe him.
Colonel R. T. Van Horn, editor of the Kansas City Journal, had, in 1856, a chance to scoop everyone with a story about Bridger's Yellowstone experiences. However, supposed acquaintances of Bridger's told Horn that he'd be laughed out of town if he printed any of Bridger's "lies."
Many years later Horn did apologize to Jim Bridger.
Because of the prevailing disbelief Jim Bridger decided if people wouldn't believe him then he would create stories that were even taller. His tall tales are still remembered today, but even in his greatest whoppers he embedded some truth.
All of this led me to ask a question - where in our country does Wonder exist today?
In Jim Bridger's day the land offered many awesome sights. Some staggering. Others mysterious. All demanding that the nation's sense of wonder be stretched. Now, we can see the most distant places in the world on our computers - often in real time; most of the world's grand beauty lays at our fingertips. And I have to wonder how that effects visitors to those lands - is the impact less because they have already viewed the place online?
Movies and computer-generated images can not only bring places and times to a large screen, and offer a nearer semblance to "being there." The technology also offers a way to offer other-worldly images too. Wilderness, space, history, and fantasy are all there for a visual feast.
Granted, if we are appreciative of Nature, we can focus on the smaller wonders of nature. The daily beauty that is offered, and I am not belittling it. Daily wonder is a precious emotion.
Yet I still have to ask, where is there any great, awe inspiring Wonder left to be found? Is there still hidden, to be found, true stories of nature so new, and so beyond belief, that they seem fiction?
I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.