Good Ancestors: A Writing Workshop
Dec 17 - 21
Lamar Buffalo Ranch
Chris La Tray
"Walking, I can almost hear the redwoods beating. And the oceans are above me here, rolling clouds, heavy and dark. It is winter and there is smoke from the fires. It is a world of elemental attention, of all things working together, listening to what speaks in the blood. Whichever road I follow, I walk in the land of many gods, and they love and eat one another. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.” - Linda Hogan, Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World
We are all ancestors. We are ancestors as beings made of spirit before our births and again after we live our lives and return to the spirit world. We are ancestors as physical beings inhabiting a lifetime. The actions of each influence how we exist in the other.
“In every moment, whether we like it or not and whether we know it or not, we are advancing values and influencing systems that will continue long past our lifetimes,” write the editors in the introduction to What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want to Be? (2021, University of Chicago Press). “These values and systems shape communities and lives that we will never see. The ways we live create and reinforce the foundation of life for future generations. We are responsible for how we write our values, what storylines we further and set forth—the world we choose to cultivate for the lives that follow ours. So how are we to live?”
So unfolds a simple question: what does it mean to be a “good” ancestor? What are the values we will choose to write? How do we honor those who came before, and those to follow? Should we even care? Do we? These questions and others will form the basis for the winter Yellowstone Forever workshop at Lamar Buffalo Ranch: Good Ancestors.
What is the future you are co-creating through your actions?
What is the past you have responsibility to uphold, or to reconcile?
We will turn our elemental attention to the mighty Yellowstone National Park. Monumental history has been written in this massive ecosystem for thousands of years. What are the stories we tell from the historical basis of all our ecosystems, even if we’ve never before experienced this one personally? How do we tap into that? How does reflecting on these places, connecting to them and the uncountable lives they provided for, influence our work today? Does it anyway, even if we aren’t aware? As the great Katherine May (author of Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times and most recently Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age) has said (I’m quoting loosely here): “There are many wonderful workshops out there to make you a better writer. This isn’t one of them.” This is a perfect example of how I view my workshops. We aren’t going to “workshop” your pieces to make them better. My contention is that at the point of the process we are talking about with this kind of work – in a truly wild place, discussing, considering, making notes – is that what ends up on the page is the least important. The real thing is happening in your head, in your heart, and in your gut. The nuts and bolts stuff comes later. There will be opportunity to write and discuss and share, if you want, but it isn’t a requirement. I do encourage it, though!
About the instructor
Chris La Tray is a Métis writer and storyteller, a walker, observer, poet, teacher, and pillar of the Montana literary community. His first book, One-Sentence Journal: Short Poems and Essays from the World At Large (2018, Riverfeet Press) won the 2018 Montana Book Award and a 2019 High Plains Book Award. A second book, Descended from a Travel-worn Satchel, was released by FootHills Publishing on September 21st, 2021. His next book, Becoming Little Shell, will be published by Milkweed Editions in Summer, 2024. Chris is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
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