Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Cats is Coming!

The Cats of Mirikitani, that is. The film will be shown at the Minidoka Civil Liberties Symposium June 24 and 25, 2010 in Twin Falls, Idaho. Its director and producer, Linda Hattendorf, will attend to participate in a panel discussion of art in and about Japanese-American Internment Camps.

Linda met the artist Jimmy Mirikitani while he living on the streets of New York City, where he drew cats, Hiroshima in flames, and scenes from the Tule Lake Internment Camp. When she found him coughing in the dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center, Linda brought Jimmy into her small apartment. She helped him apply for Social Security benefits, find an apartment, reconnect with the sister he had not seen since they were sent to different internment camps, and continue to create his art. Jimmy Mirikitani's artwork has since been exhibited at the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle and other locations around the country.

I saw The Cats of Mirikitani last fall and could not stop thinking about it. As a child I heard my mother's story of her friend teaching at the Tule Lake Camp. As an adult I visited the sites of camps in Arizona and Idaho. As a caring person I am embarrassed by the institutionalized racism that allowed American citizens to be interned.

I contacted Linda Hattendorf and told her I was working to bring her film and Jimmy's artwork to Idaho.

Boise poet, photographer, and publisher, Betty K. Rodgers, saw my first blog post about the Cats of Mirikitani and put me in touch with Dr. Robert Sims, Professor of History, Emeritus at Boise State University. When I met Bob for coffee on a morning just before Christmas, he had already visited his young granddaughters, read them a morning story, and walked one to her school bus. Bob had watched The Cats of Mirikitani the weekend before and joined me in wanting to bring The Cats to Idaho.

Bob Sims has researched and written about Japanese Americans in Idaho and, in retirement, is working on a book about the Minidoka Camp north of Twin Falls. This is where Jimmy Mirikitani's sister was sent over sixty years ago. The camp is now a National Historic Site, where the Friends of Minidoka and the National Park Service preserve the history of the internment experience. Former internees and their families return to Minidoka each year on a pilgrimage to remember their three-year incarceration during World War II.

The Minidoka Civil Liberties Symposium is held each year in conjunction with the pilgrimage. Bob has been part of the symposiums from the start and is often a featured speaker. Past symposiums have examined the role of journalism in times of crisis and presidential powers in wartime. Bob was tickled to tell me that this year's event would examine connections between art and civil liberties and focus on art in and about the interment camps.

Encouraged by my visit with Bob, I contacted Wendy Janssen, Superintendent of Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and the Minidoka National Historic Site. Before coming to Idaho, Wendy worked to preserve African American history at several national parks. She agreed that the film would be a valuable addition to the symposium and promised funding to bring it and Linda Hattendorf to Idaho. Unfortunately, arranging an art show is more complex; Idaho must wait to see Jimmy Mirikitani's artwork.

Earlier this spring, I was delighted to invite Linda and The Cats of Mirikitani to the Minidoka Civil Liberties Symposium. Linda will be able to squeeze a trip to Idaho into a summer filled with teaching and film work. She reports that Jimmy Mirikitani, now 91, is doing well despite a recent trip to the emergency room after a fall.

My To Do list:
Bring The Cats of Mirikitani to Boise? Check.
Bring Jimmy Mirikitani's artwork to Boise? Still on my list.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Standing in Line to Vote

Voting an absentee ballot to save time is for sissies. I voted the old fashioned way today: I went to the polls and stood in line. Admittedly there wasn't much of a line.

Secret ballots are one of my favorite things about the U.S. There were secret ballots in Senegal, but voters lined up in different places to vote for different candidates. Their preferences were hardly secret.

The year my Peace Corps village voted, two Senegalese soldiers arrived to guard the ballot box. They were delighted to learn that an American woman lived in their assigned village -- you know how those American women are! They hurried to my hut to see if I really lived alone and to introduce themselves. Their suggestion of visiting me again after dark won them a chilly reception. They left the next day with the ballot boxes but without visiting me again.

People waiting in lines are another of my favorite things about the U.S. When I wanted kola nuts in Senegal I would go to the guro stand and wait patiently for my turn. Men wearing grand bubus and Islamic caps jostled me as they stepped in front of me. Children squeezed under my elbow as they wormed their way forward to watch the kola nut seller fold back the moist leaves that lined the woven baskets of red and white nuts. When I found myself squeezed back out into the street, I would give my money to a friend who elbowed their way into the stall and emerged with kola nuts.

No one jostled me or squeezed in front of me when I voted in the Idaho primary election today. The woman sitting at the table with the ballot box pronounced my name correctly when she told the world that I had voted. She tucked her white sneakered feet under her chair and looked at me over her reading glasses. She did not suggest visiting me tonight.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I Visit the Great Basin Desert

Friends grimaced when I told them I was going to Winnemucca. They looked concerned when I told them I was going to enjoy it. My early spring visit this year was the latest in a series of winning Winnemucca road trips.

I left spring behind on the tail end of the Snake River Plain as I climbed through brown winter grass in the mountains above Homedale. In Jordan Valley, Oregon, I found cattle still snug in their green winter pastures. The low hills that lined the rest of the road to Winnemucca were wearing the green velvet of soft new plants. Above the hills bunt cake ridges were frosted with vanilla snow, which faded to a powdered sugar dusting on the mid peaks where the sun had warmed the south and west aspects.

Green vistas, occasionally dotted with puffs of pronghorn antelope, lasted for days as I visited several valleys around Winnemucca. I pondered why there has been so much less cheatgrass than before in some of them over the past several years. Other scientists, land managers and I are not short of theories, ranging from army cutworm to bacteria, fungus and drought, but we do not have a definitive answer yet. Science provides job security.

Last year's Nevada road trip was later in the season, when the valley bottoms were furnaces of shimmering earth covered with dried plants. After a day baking on the greasewood flats and sagebrush plains I reached state highway 305 where I turned north toward Battle Mountain.

I checked my DeLorme atlas of Nevada and saw that I would pass the "Great Basin Desert," according to the labeled "Unique Natural Feature" on the map. Interesting, as I had been in the Great Basin since I crossed the divide between the Snake River Plain and Jordan Valley. The Snake River flows into the Columbia near Washington's Tricities of Pasco, Kennewick and Richland and so is part of the Columbia Plateau. Rivers in the Great Basin flow into the Great Salt Lake or lose themselves in innumerable playas and salt flats in valley bottoms throughout the 200,000 square miles of the Great Basin; there is no outlet to the ocean.

I hurried on to visit the Great Basin Desert along highway 305.

I estimated the coordinates of the Unique Natural Feature in the atlas and entered them into my GPS unit. As the indicator on the navigation screen shifted from pointing ahead of me to pointing toward the west I got out of the car and followed the indicator on foot until I reached the Great Basin Desert.



The vertical orange fiberglass sign marked a survey benchmark inside the fence that separated grazing land from the highway right of way. I squeezed between the strands of barbed wire and found the benchmark, or triangulation station, placed by "Harry" from the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1958.



No, there had not been one last attempt to find an outlet to the sea from the Nevada desert. The Coast and Geodetic Survey began life as the Survey of the Coast in 1807. Established by Thomas Jefferson, it was the first U.S. civilian scientific agency, responsible for producing accurate nautical charts. This required knowing exactly where the U.S. was. Surveyors first precisely located points atop hills on Long Island by navigating from the stars. They expanded out by triangulating from these known points to new triangulation stations, such as the one I found in Nevada.

As the country expanded west the Survey of the Coast followed it on to dry land and continued to weave their network of triangles. Renamed the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1878, its work allowed the country to be mapped into townships, ranges and sections for homesteading. In 1970 the agency became the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) within the National Ocean Service (NOS) as part of the new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The original surveyors, shooting the stars in the early 19th century, could not have known that a Global Positioning System (GPS) would exist 200 years later. But their system of triangles, interlinked back to Long Island, allowed me find to the Great Basin Desert using my handheld GPS unit. I took a self portrait to celebrate.


I contacted Dave Doyle, the NGS Chief Geodetic Surveyor, who was willing to hazard a guess that there may be 30,000 triangulation stations in the Great Basin. (You can see Dave marking the population center of the U.S. after the 2000 census or ask him a question here.)

I'm tickled that my tax dollars were used to answer one of my burning questions, but Dave's answer just brings me to another question:

Why did the DeLorme company pick the triangulation station along Nevada state highway 305 south of Battle Mountain as the location of the Great Basin Desert?