A White Man’s History?

26Mar15

OakTree3

I’ve received personal letters and have read reviews of my book, AS AN OAK TREE GROWS, that describe it as a “white man’s history”. That I’ve glossed over the displacement of Native American people by white men, and that it shouldn’t be read to children (and as an author, those last words are probably the worst words to ever hear).

Most if not all of the criticism points to the line:

 “The boy grew up and moved away.”

referring to the young Native American boy and his family who all but vanished within 25 years. As best as I can figure, the preferred language would be something like:

 “the boy grew up and was removed.”

I see how the language I chose could be interpreted as minimizing a profoundly notable event in history. Most of us know this transformation wasn’t simple or harmless. In my role as author of AS AN OAK TREE GROWS, I chose to just present the facts: that within the course of 225 years, the landscape and culture of the locale  (somewhere in the Northeast United States) changed beyond recognition.

AS AN OAK TREE GROWS is about the lifetime of a 225 year old oak tree. The tree began its life when a young Native American boy planted an acorn in the earth. It’s also an account of how the surrounding landscape changed in those 225 years. I wrote AS AN OAK TREE GROWS as if narrated by a big rock in the foreground, just out of view from the reader. The rock and oak tree are witnesses to these changes. Like all rocks and trees, they have no opinions. In my book it is fact that the young boy moved away. What’s not in my book but also fact is that Native American people had lived in this place for tens of thousands of years and in all that time the landscape would have looked relatively unchanged.

For ages, the rock has watched all of this unfold. In short time it saw forests disappear, buildings go up, disrupted animal patterns, and dirty air. The rock saw a complete change in the human population as indigenous people of so many years became displaced by a different group of people. The rock also saw a lot of fighting between those people. (Though I wanted to, I chose to not show battle scenes in any of those 25 year snapshots. The only remaining references to any war are a cemetery and a war memorial). The rock sees people live and die. It has no opinion of that, it just sees without judgement.

I also chose to not show how life changed for the displaced Native American boy and his family. That’s a story worthy of many books but not the one I chose to write. I hope that my book will sit alongside those books. I hope there are discussions about the events that took place and how people were affected. I hope that teachers and parents use my book as an impartial starting point for this discussion.

Today we are witness to rapid and dramatic changes in the earth’s climate and ecosystem due to human behavior. In no way do I mean to diminish the achievement of Native American people who have for millennia cared for the earth in a way that would preserve it for future generations. On the contrary, I’m deeply appreciative. I hope Native American children will read AS AN OAK TREE GROWS and feel pride. Though the oak tree is the main character, the young Native American boy is the catalyst. He planted the seed.

So yes, AS AN OAK TREE GROWS can be considered a “white man’s history” since the 225 year window in which my story occurs was dominated by white men. The rock and I think this particular window of history was an extraordinary one. The impact of human behavior on the earth and the wide scale cultural shifts in this relatively short span of time are historic.

ps – personally, I’d rather look out my window and see scene A and not B.

OakTreeScene A

OakTree2

Scene B

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