Share |

Talking Stick

Island Life

A few years back when some filmmakers were passing through with a screening and presentation in tow, they did something interesting for the discussion circle afterward. Order was maintained in the group and circle by handing a small stick from person to person and granting each temporary bearer of the stick a solitary voice in the room as long as they kept possession of the stick and had something to say. I liked the way that this plain and unassuming object granted anyone it visited a certain degree of power. It wasn’t a microphone or a megaphone or anything that amplified a voice by physical or electronic means. The stick was a symbol, and as such could have been just about anything that was relatively easy to pass and hold. I found it interesting, when checking the google, that the native tribes of the Northwest were seen as the earliest and widest users of this form of speaking democratically. As the filmmakers were from the east, I liked that they were showing us something about our lesser known local traditions.

I was recently gifted a found object meant for use in storytelling. It was a flip-type video camera that had been found with no identification attached and had been stuffed in a drawer and forgotten, only to be recently rediscovered. I had always liked the smallness and simplicity of this type of camera, and was amazed when I flipped it open and it turned itself on, in spite of having sat neglected for a few years. I played with it for a bit, scanning through the menu and figuring out its basic capabilities and functions. Then I took it upstairs and plugged it into the USB port on my computer and the battery filled back up with electric life. In the truest sense, even if the camera had been broken and irreparable it could have served as a talking stick of sorts in the right situation. But as a functioning camera that recorded both still and moving pictures, it had mountains of advantage over a stick or a feather in that it could also speak with sounds and visuals meant for both telling and remembering people and events- no matter how uneventful- that it grabbed and held in its electronic matrix.

There were people and events recorded on this device, but most of them were blurry and badly exposed. This was not the fault of the camera, but rather it seemed to be a case of operator error. There is a switch on the side of the camera with an icon at both the top and bottom of it. On the top is a set of twin peaks with the torso of a human next to them- at the bottom there is a flower. My assumption here is that the former owner was shooting flowers when they wanted to be shooting mountains, so everything had a blurry cast to it. This reminded me of ancient times when I repaired simple cameras for a large and formerly great photographic concern in upstate New York. Sometimes we got verbal descriptions of the various problems we were to solve. Two of the most memorable of these for me were- "camera dropped from 200’ tower- does not work", and, "egg broke in camera". I did complete rebuilds on both of those. Then there was the one that came with a set of color prints that mostly contained a series of blurry brown and black lines that ran from the top to the bottom of the print. There were also a few pictures at the bottom of the stack that still had the lines, but at the edge of the frame there was blue sky and ground with sections of houses that were small and distant. My initial diagnosis seemed to be correct when everything else on the camera checked out okay. My suggestion to the user was to turn the camera around and quit taking pictures of the hair on the side of their head, and the scenery that was 180 degrees from their object of interest. This to me seemed a better way to tell the story they had wanted to tell.

Back in present time, as luck would have it, my sister and brother-in-law made a surprise visit just a day after I received my talking stick camera, so I decided that I would put it to the test of storytelling when we did a day of traveling off to the farthest northwest corner of this state. With a larger blank memory card and what seemed to be a full charge, I began recording short snippets of scenes and objects along the way and back. I did have another still camera along for the more "serious" shots, but when we returned and I put the card in the reader I found that I had grabbed 90 scenes in my flipping and clicking of the view screen and shutter button. A few hours later, 40 of those scenes had been strung together in a timeline and burned to a disc. A day after that I went back in and cut almost three minutes from that to make for a better flow. As I have pointed out to a few others, this story and presentation is not the Merry Pranksters, but it is a story of sorts, and if you’d like, you can view it on the youtubes either by looking up "the road to neah bay", or by going to this link:

If, after a viewing, you would like for me to let you hold the talking stick and speak your peace concerning what you have just witnessed, you most certainly could do that here: