The interviews in this section are part of an oral history project I began with my middle school students in 1996. Our idea was to talk to the elders of the community, particularly the ranchers and long-time residents who seemed to have a special connection to the land. We discovered that something different happens when people talk to kids. The old-timers remembered things they hadn’t thought about in years — important things like rainy Christmas mornings, the best spots for catching steelhead, and what it was like riding along the muddy roads to school in a horse drawn sulky cart. We began to see ourselves as the gatherers of stories that would otherwise be forgotten, and this became an ongoing labor of love continued by students each subsequent year.
“Everyone lives a story,” said one of our first interviewees, Caroline Henning, a woman who made her home in Gaviota’s local mountains for much of her life. And indeed, as time went on, we discovered that many people we knew and worked with every day, both young and old, had unique perspectives and remarkable experiences to tell about. The age of our subjects suddenly seemed much less significant than their willingness to talk and share. Our own lives grew rich with new memories. Borders blurred as we wandered through time and place, learned of work and wisdom, and vicariously faced adventure, both epic and small. We taped everything, and I typed it all.
The result is an eclectic collection of conversations with all kinds of fascinating people – from a cowboy to a Congresswoman and everything in between. What do they have in common? First and foremost, each agreed to sit down and talk with a group of middle school students; that in itself is a special kind of graciousness, though I have yet to meet anyone who was not afterwards glad to have done it.
Beyond that, what they share is incredible passion and spirit. They have taken vastly different paths, but each one tells us, in word and deed, to find our own mission and embrace it fully. “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” asks the poet Mary Oliver. Be open to the answer. And when you do it, do it well, with all your heart.
There’s no magic without the kids. Almost all of these interviews were done with the help of students from Vista de las Cruces or Dunn Middle School. I thank every student who participated in this project over the years.
To see the interviews, tap Zacate Canyon on the black menu bar above, then Interviews, and a drop-down listing of interviewees will appear to the right. Scroll down and choose. You can also find people by typing their names into the website’s search space. There are additional interview-based stories and articles within the blog, Still Amazed. Linger awhile. I hope you come upon people and places that interest you.