In a tarpaper cabin Dad rough-carpentered into livability on an abandoned Indian reservation on Schooner Cove, Long Beach, Vancouver Island in 1956, to a crackling woodstove fire and coal-oil lanterns, with the roar of the Pacific surf always present and wild robins and raucous blue jays loud in the deep forest behind the cabin – age 4 and 5, curled up in pajamas against my mother’s warmth as she read us three kids poems with lines like:
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
There the wrinkled old Nokomis
Nursed the little Hiawatha,
Rocked him in his linden cradle,
Bedded soft in moss and rushes,
Safely bound with reindeer sinews;
Stilled his fretful wail by saying,
“Hush! the Naked Bear will hear thee!”
Lulled him into slumber, singing,
“Ewa-yea! my little owlet!
My mother’s voice bringing magical cadence and invoking visions in a magic land before schools brought all that down.
But what inspired me to learn to read was my mother’s reading aloud of the Classics Illustrated comic The Time Machine, based on the H. G. Wells story.
Robert Bly said: “On the level of one to ten, it’s about a two to read great works on the spirit from the page. On the level of one to ten, it’s like a nine to hear a human being speak it, especially one you love – that brings the spirit inside the house, inside the family, inside your genetic line.”
I wanted two things: a tape recorder so that I could record my mother reading that wonderful story, and the ability to read it myself. So I was ahead of the game when I started school. I started on books at 8 or 9, and got my first tape recorder at 11. Now I work and play with recordings of the living voices of people more than I read text, though of course I will never give that up. I think digital media has re-opened and universalized a path to oral forms (both oratory and reading aloud) that links us again past Gutenberg and Plato with the pre-Socratics and shamanism.