Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Reprise: Trapped in the Snow

(Photo by Angelo Christo)

Delaware Territory 1755

Nunganey trudged through the crusty snow searching for signs of beaver and other game. He longed for a blazing fire and his mother’s warm smile. But the villagers were counting on the hunters — the best of the tribe — to bring back fresh meat.

“Turn back!” shouted his father over the rising wind as a shower of white flakes fluttered down from the sky.

Nunganey’s heart dropped with disappointment. There would be no fresh meat. His younger brothers and sisters would cry with disappointment when their mother served hot watery broth, brewed from old bones, and meager portions of mashed acorns for dinner. His own hunger raged inside of him, and he longed for a piece of fat beaver cooked over a hot fire.

Suddenly, one of the hunters shouted, “Raccoon tracks!”

Nunganey’s father pointed at an old tree with a large hole in the center of the trunk. “Nunganey, follow those tracks and see if the raccoons have taken shelter in that tree.”

With the wind and snow blowing in his face, Nunganey followed the tiny footprints to the old tree, but the tracks led deeper into the forest. He knew he should turn back, but the boy was determined to find the raccoons.

The tracks disappeared at the base of another large tree. Nunganey climbed up the tree and peered into a large hole. He had found the raccoons!

“Yohoh!” he called into the wind. “Yohoh!”

Shivering with cold, Nunganey clung to the tree and waited for a response. He called again, trying to shout louder than the wind, but no familiar voice shouted back.

Where were his father and the band of hunters? Had they left him behind? He scrambled down the tree and trudged through the snow with the wind at his back, looking for dark shapes moving among the trees. No voices called his name or answered his desperate cries.

Lost and alone, the boy shivered with hunger, wet, and cold. If he did not find shelter soon, he would freeze to death. He had his bow, arrows, and tomahawk, but nothing to build a fire. Even if he found shelter, how would he stay warm?

Old Grandfather’s words echoed in his head: Be strong, and Owaneeyo, the Great Spirit, will guide you. 

He soon came upon a hollow tree with an opening large enough for him to crawl inside. The center of the tree was dry and wide enough for him to stand up and move his arms and legs. But the wind and snow blew fiercely through the opening, chilling him to the bone.

Nunganey crawled out into the snow and looked around. Nearby, a dead tree had fallen to the ground. He chopped off the top of the tree with his tomahawk and propped it up against the opening in the hollow tree, leaving a small entrance to get in and out.

He fashioned a small block of wood out of the trunk of the dead tree and gathered a large pile of small sticks. When he had finished, he crawled inside the hollow tree, drawing the block of wood behind him to close up the entrance. Then he used the small sticks to plug up any remaining holes. He was now snug inside the hollow tree, protected from the wind and snow.

With his tomahawk, Nunganey removed the rotted wood lining the hollow tree and pounded it into small pieces on the ground. He now had a soft bed to lie on.

But it was cold and dark inside the tree. How could he get warm without a fire?

Then he had an idea. He jumped up and down, waving his arms, whooping and hollering, and dancing wildly inside the tree, until beads of sweat trickled into his eyes and he could jump no more.

Using his wet moccasins for a pillow, Nunganey wrapped himself in his damp blanket, curled up in a little ball, and went to sleep.

When Nunganey woke up, he didn’t know if it was day or night. But he was warm and dry, so he lay still for a very long time, listening to the wind, and finally the noise outside began to die down.

Nunganey put on his moccasins and felt around for the block of wood marking the entrance to the tree. It was so dark he couldn’t see. But then his fingers touched the rough contours of the block, and he sighed with relief. He pushed his hands against the block, expecting it to move, but it wouldn’t budge. He was trapped inside the tree!

He beat his fists on the trunk of the tree, tears stinging his eyes. Would he ever see his family again?

Then he remembered Old Grandfather’s words: Be strong . . . Owaneeyo will guide you.

Pushing his back against the trunk of the tree, Nunganey kicked the wooden block with all his strength. This time the block gave way, and a great blanket of snow fell down on the ground. A blast of cold air rushed in, and bright daylight flooded the tree. He was free!

Nunganey crawled out of the tree into the powdery snow. Many of the older trees grew moss on the northwest side of their trunks. He followed the moss-covered trees for many miles until he arrived at the creek which flowed past his village.

Suddenly, a large buck deer crashed through the bushes. Nunganey grabbed his bow and arrow. Aiming carefully, he waited until the rushing animal was almost upon him. Then he released the arrow, holding his breath, and watched the buck fall slowly to the ground. There would be fresh meat for his brothers and sisters!

Old Grandfather would be proud.

Dawn Pisturino

May 1, 2012; December 5, 2021

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Reprise: Bigfoot!

(Still photo from Bigfoot film by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, October 1967)

Crack! The bullet zings past my ear, hitting an old oak tree.

I drop the salmon wiggling in my hands and run along the bank of the Mokelumne River, propelling my long, hairy arms for speed. Behind me, the hunters move carefully through the dense underbrush, tracking my movements.

Sharp green thorns snag on my hair and tear at my flesh as I struggle through the blackberry briars and wild grapevines. I hike deeper into the wilderness on two strong legs, climbing skillfully around granite boulders barring my way. In the distance, the jagged outline of Deadwood Peak rises above the trees. If I can only get there, I will be safe.

Rounding a bend I see her, tearing meat from a rabbit carcass with big, sharp teeth. Mama! Her shaggy brown head turns in my direction. With a low growl, she opens her long, hairy arms as if to embrace me.

And then she smells it, the distinct odor of musky sweat. The hunters are near!

We run, ignoring the stones piercing our feet, causing us to stumble. Behind us, the humans call back and forth, “Bigfoot!”

Together, we melt into the shade of a thick stand of pines, hoping to slow down and catch our breath. But our feet become tangled in nets concealed by pine needles, and suddenly, we are swinging up, up into the air, and dangling from the limbs of a sturdy pine tree.

Mama struggles inside her net, growling with rage. I struggle, too, yelping helplessly as the net swings back and forth above the hard ground.

“We’ve got them now,” says a bearded hunter to his companions. “Bigfoot! That TV show, Monster Search, will pay us big bucks for these babies.”

“We’ll be famous,” cries a husky hunter with red hair. “Scientists won’t laugh at us anymore. Finally! Proof that Bigfoot exists!”

“How are we going to get them back to San Francisco?” asks an old man with spectacles. “I mean, we weren’t really expecting to find anything.”

The bearded hunter pulls out his camera. “I’m taking plenty of pictures, just in case something goes wrong. They can’t call it a hoax this time!”

While the camera clicks and the three men argue over the best way to get us back to the city, I turn my head from view and gnaw on the net’s thick webbing with my teeth. Pretty soon I’ve made a small opening, large enough to stick my fingers through. I wiggle them at Mama, and she understands what to do.

The red-haired hunter chuckles as he pokes me in the back with a long stick. I give him a warning growl, but he keeps it up. My powerful jaws chew faster on the netting.

“We need some of that fur,” says the old man with spectacles. “We can send it to a lab for analysis.”

“Good idea!” says the red-haired hunter. “Then, if they get away, we’ll still have proof.”

The three men stand under the nets, looking up at our shaggy brown bodies hanging in the air. Suddenly the nets give way, and Mama and I find ourselves lying on top of the three men on the ground.

We howl victory cries and scramble to our feet. The men, tangled in the nets, shout curses at us as we run away.

The Miwok Indians tell stories about us — great hairy beasts roaming these desolate mountains. They fear us and protect our sacred habitat on Deadwood Peak. We are going there now, secure in the knowledge that we cannot be followed. Men from the city will continue to hunt us. But, with help from the Miwoks, they will never find us. And we will never let them capture us alive.

Dawn Pisturino

©2014-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Jurassic Park: The Movie

Photo: Universal Pictures

(Attention! Spoiler Alert!)

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 science fiction thriller, Jurassic Park, tells a linear story using continuity editing. The movie explores the ethics of scientific manipulation of nature and introduces the concept of chaos theory. The editing, done by Michael Kahn, is seamless and flawless. There are no superfluous scenes. Each scene is designed to support the story and the theme of the movie. The pacing of the movie keeps the tension building to the climax. The editor relays the story “clearly, efficiently, and coherently” (Barsam and Monahan), leaving no doubt or confusion in the mind of the viewer. Based on the book by Michael Crichton, the camera moves smoothly back and forth between situations and scenes (parallel editing), just like a book. The opening music, written by John Williams, is ominous and primitive, implying that the viewer is entering untamed territory.

The opening scene (the master scene) shows the expert hunter standing grimly by with his gun as workers unload a metal crate. This is on the Isla Nubar, 120 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. An accident occurs, and a worker is killed when the creature inside the crate is released and grabs the worker’s leg. The viewer never sees the creature. Its presence is inferred by the creature’s movements and vocalizations, the intense and horrified expressions on the people’s faces, and the scene where the injured worker is pulled from the grip of the expert hunter. The viewer understands that something predatory and dangerous was in that crate.

A “blood-sucking” lawyer (reflecting blood-sucking mosquitoes), arrives at the amber mine at Manos de Dios (hands of God) in the Dominican Republic. There is a lawsuit now against the project. A scientist (a “digger”) views a piece of amber that was just found, containing a mosquito. From his facial expression, the viewer understands that this is a rare and valuable find.

In the Badlands near Snakewater, Montana, Drs. Allen Grant and Ellie Sadler are working hard and painstakingly on a dinosaur dig. Dr. Grant is skeptical of new technology. He dislikes kids. Dr. Sadler is more flexible and is trying hard to convince him to have children with her. The scene with the fat kid is hilarious. The camera perfectly captures the changed expressions on his face. Dr. Grant shows that he has a sense of humor.

After John Hammond, the wealthy entrepreneur, arrives and convinces the pair to go to Costa Rica with him to view his “biological preserve,” the scene cuts to San Jose, Costa Rica. We see a sweating fat man (Wayne Knight of Seinfeld fame) at a café, meeting with a suspicious-acting man. It is clear that something criminal is going on. The man offers the fat man a lot of money in exchange for some “viable embryos.” The viewer does not yet know how this scene is related to the other scenes, but his imagination is captured, and he wants to know what’s going to happen next. The director is slowly laying the groundwork for the plot of the story.

In the helicopter, Dr. Grant (a paleontologist) and Dr. Sadler (a paleontological botanist) meet Dr. Ian Malcom, a theoretical mathematician who calls himself a “chaotician.” John Hammond is not impressed with his “rock star” personality. The other doctors have not heard of chaos theory. Malcolm flirts relentlessly with Dr. Sadler.

When the helicopter reaches the island, the camera reveals a lush, tropical paradise. The music becomes uplifting and upbeat, inspiring feelings of expectation and hope. There is a promise of adventure.

As the travelers are transported in a Jeep to the main center of the island, they witness huge electrical fences equipped with 10,000 volts, moats, and large concrete walls, which are meant for the “stability of the island.” If it’s just a “biological preserve,” why do they need all of this heavy-duty protection?

The Jeep stops at a truly beautiful and peaceful pastoral scene. The camera dollies in for a close-up of Dr. Grant’s facial expression. He reaches over and grabs Dr. Sadler’s head and turns it. Both of their faces show overwhelming awe, surprise, and excitement. They are looking at a live brachiosaurus! Dr. Malcolm looks awed but concerned. The lawyer gleefully says, “We’re going to make a fortune with this place!”

The camera shows a long shot of a lake with herds of brachiosaurs and other creatures. Dr. Grant is confirmed in his theory that these creatures roamed around in herds. The viewer is also overwhelmed with awe and admiration. There is no doubt that this is a splendid park that everyone will want to visit!

At the visitor center, the doctors watch a video presentation about the “miracle of cloning.” The viewer needs this information to understand the plot and the theme of the movie. Scientists in the film extracted “Dino DNA” from mosquitoes trapped in amber, but the DNA is incomplete and filled in with DNA from frogs. (The DNA, therefore, is corrupted, or mutated.)

Throughout this segment, the doctors are so excited, they break all the rules, and John Hammond cannot control them (a foreshadowing of things to come.) Overhead, we hear the announcement that the boat for the mainland will leave soon. At the same time, the doctors are witnessing a dinosaur hatching from its shell (the miracle of life.) These dinosaurs are impure, altered, corrupted, and laboratory bred. While the lab scientist (B.D. Wong) seems completely unconcerned, Dr. Malcolm is calculating in his head all the predictability/unpredictability ratios. The lab scientist reveals that all the animals are female and cannot breed because the chromosomes have been muted (implying perfection and control.) Dr. Malcolm refutes that with an impassioned speech about the history of evolution, the power of life, and the inability to contain it: “Life finds a way.” When Dr. Grant discovers that they bred velociraptors, a close-up of his face shows his mood change from elation to deep concern. Dr. Malcolm’s speech and Dr. Grant’s mood change portend danger and chaos.

The expert hunter confirms their concerns when he says, “They should all be destroyed.” The viewer recognizes him as the man with the gun in the master scene. He explains that these creatures are calculating problem-solvers who are always watching and waiting and testing the fences to get out (a foreshadowing of the future.) The hunter is a realist who has seen these creatures in action.

At lunch, John Hammond goes on and on about the significance and legacy of his theme park, and the lawyer goes on and on about the lucrative investment. Dr. Malcolm is appalled and points out their “lack of humility before nature.” He calls them careless exploiters who did not earn the right to use this technology. As a result, they have no understanding of what they have created and take no responsibility for the results. The theme of the movie is summed up nicely here when he says that the handsomely-paid Jurassic Park scientists were so caught up in “whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think whether or not they should.” And Dr. Grant and Dr. Sadler back him up about the unpredictability of the result (foreshadowing what’s about to happen.)

The chaos elements begin to reveal themselves: the grandchildren arrive, who are knowledgeable city kids but vulnerable in this environment; a tropical storm is imminent; and Dennis, the disloyal fat man, hacks into the computer system in order to implement his nefarious plan.

When the basic tour begins, Dr. Malcolm remarks that the huge gates to the park remind him of King Kong. Richard Kylie narrates information about dilophosaurus, describing it as a deadly creature that spits poison into the eyes of its victim (foreshadowing later events.)

The scene cuts to a conversation between Dennis and John Hammond. Dennis has financial problems, which is why he is willing to sell dinosaur embryos for money, and John Hammond responds that people should pay for their mistakes (foreshadowing future events.) When his plan is in place, Dennis makes a fumbled explanation of going to the vending machines, steals the embryos, and exits the building.

On the tour, the scientists have not seen any dinosaurs except the tame and sick ones. There is an illusion of order and peace. When the storm hits, however, the chaos begins. The park systems begin to shut down, including the cars containing the scientists, the lawyer, and the children.

The best segments in the movie, in my opinion, are the scenes involving the T. Rex and the car. The editing is seamless and flawless. There is no indication anywhere that the T. Rex is not real. The acting is superb, revealing the absolute terror and horror felt by the children. The children come face-to-face with the creature, as indicated by this photo (T. Rex point of view):

As the T. Rex terrorizes the group, every character is suddenly confronted with his own mortality and feelings of powerlessness. There are several shots where the T. Rex and a character come face-to-face and even meet each other at eye level (the eyeline match cut.)

The cowardly lawyer leaves the children alone and gets his comeuppance in a dramatic scene that reveals how powerless humans are compared to these creatures.

The viewer cannot help feeling glad that the lawyer got his just reward because he just wanted to exploit these creatures for profit. The editing here is a marvel of technology because it looks absolutely real, with no obvious separation between the physical scenery and the artificial creature.

When Dennis leaves the park and gets stuck in the mud, he loses his glasses and the shaving cream canister containing the embryos. When he meets the dilophosaurus, he treats it like a dog, calling it stupid, asking it to fetch, and remarking, “No wonder you’re extinct.” He has no respect for the power and danger that have been unleashed. The creature meets him face-to-face in the car, after outwitting him, and kills him. Dennis gets his just reward, and the embryos are lost forever in the mud.

As the characters deal with varying life-threatening situations, Dr. Grant protects and rescues the children, thereby learning that kids are not so bad after all. The characters learn that everybody is necessary in a survival situation, no matter their age or gender. John Hammond realizes that human life is more important than leaving behind a fantastical legacy for the world. Dr. Malcolm is proven right. And the hunter learns that weapons are not enough against a calculating predatory creature that was able to outwit him.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 22, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Spielberg, Steven, Dir. Jurassic Park. Perf. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard

       Attenborough. Universal, 1993.

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The Woman with the Blue Tattoo

Olive Oatman

Photograph of Olive Oatman

Olive Oatman became famous in the 1850s for the blue perpendicular lines tattooed onto her chin. She called them “slave marks,” and people all across America wanted to know how and why she had acquired them.

On the afternoon of February 18, 1851, while camped along the Gila River in Arizona, Olive and her younger sister, Mary Ann, watched in horror as a band of Western Yavapai Indians massacred their mother, father, two sisters, and three brothers. Held back as captives, the two girls, fourteen and seven, were forced to walk barefoot through the rugged desert to the isolated Yavapai camp. For a year they lived there as slaves, fetching wood, hauling water, and gathering food, until traded to the Mohave tribe for two horses, three blankets, vegetables, and beads.

The Mohaves (Aha Macav, “along the river,”) inhabited a lush, fertile valley along the banks of the Colorado River, the traditional boundary between Arizona and California.

Chief Espaniole and his wife, Aespaneo, welcomed the girls into the tribe and adopted them into their own family. They were proud to have rescued the girls from the cruel Yavapai and vowed to treat them well.

The girls worked alongside the other women of the tribe, gathering wood, fetching water, and planting seeds. They soon learned the Mohave language and developed close friendships with other members of the tribe.

Olive was variously called “Ali,” “Aliutman,” “Olivino,” and “Owich (cloud),” the clan name of Chief Espaniole’s family. Mohave women inherited clan names passed down from their fathers, and bearing a clan name meant Olive was considered a full member of the tribe.

Facial tattoos were common among the Mohave Indians because they believed the permanent marks guaranteed a place in “Sil’aid,” the land of the dead. Tribal members who died without tattoos would spend eternity in a desert rat hole. Since Olive and Mary Ann belonged to the tribe, they were expected to undergo the tattooing process.

The girls lay quietly on the ground while experienced tattooers drew designs on their chins. Since the tattoos were meant to be decorative, they chose designs that would enhance the girls’ faces. Using cactus needles or sharp sticks, the designs were pricked into the skin until the wounds freely bled. The sticks were dipped in the juice of a special river weed, then into a powder made from a blue river stone, and applied to the pinpricks on the girls’ chins. The process took several hours to complete and several days to heal.

With this rite of passage, Olive and Mary Ann became permanent members of the Mohave tribe and the first white females in the United States to wear tattoos.

A terrible drought in 1855 brought famine to the tribe. Many people died, including Mary Ann. Olive soon fell ill herself. Aespaneo saved her life by feeding her gruel made from cornmeal.

In January 1856, a Yuma Indian named Francisco arrived at the Mohave camp with papers from Fort Yuma ordering the release of Olive Oatman. Chief Espaniole refused to release her. But Francisco persisted, claiming that five million white soldiers were hiding in the hills, ready to attack and destroy the Mohave village. The Mohaves reluctantly gave in.

Once again, Olive was traded for two horses, blankets, and beads. She arrived at Fort Yuma ten days later, tanned, tattooed, painted, her hair dyed black, and wearing only a bark skirt. She was nineteen years old. Her brother Lorenzo, who had survived the massacre, traveled from California for a tender reunion with his long-lost sister.

Olive became an overnight sensation. Newspapers all across America printed stories about “the white Indian” and her blue tattoo. The Evansville Enquirer reported on November 9, 1859: “She will bear the marks of her captivity to her grave. Her savage masters having tattooed her after the customs of their tribes.”

In 1857 Royal B. Stratton published the first book detailing the Oatman ordeal, Life Among the Indians, which became an immediate best-seller. Olive and Lorenzo traveled to New York, where Olive promoted the book with autographed photographs and lectures. She openly displayed her tattoo while relaying the tragic story of the Oatman massacre and her life as a “slave” among the Mohave Indians.

When not delivering lectures, Olive self-consciously covered her chin with her hands to avoid the staring eyes of curious people.

Olive married wealthy cattleman John Brant Fairchild in 1865, left the lecture circuit, and eventually settled down in Sherman, Texas. She became reclusive, hid her face behind a black veil, experimented with make-up to hide her blue tattoo, and refused to discuss her life among the Indians. She died of heart failure in 1903. Afraid the Mohaves would claim her body, John Fairchild had her coffin sealed in iron and covered her grave with a thick granite tombstone.

Dawn Pisturino

October 17, 2012

Copyright 2012-2019 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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THE GIRL WHO HATED THE SUN

drought

she hated the sun

how it filled up heaven

with energy and light

too hot and bright . . .

The poem popped into Katie’s head as she stood on the front porch, eyes closed, arms wide open, daring the Sun to kill her. Kill me, she urged, like you spoiled our farm, drove away my father, and wasted my mother. Go ahead. Do it!

The Sun swallowed her whole, dissolving her in his fiery belly.

Now that she was part of the Sun, Katie could ride through the heavens and visualize everything that happened down below.

She saw the grim black hearse pull up to the farm, and wept, as two men in plain black suits carried her mother away on a gurney. She sailed freely over the dusty brown fields that no longer yielded crops. She mourned the beds of sunflowers whose heads sagged, like dying children, out by the barn. And she said good-bye to the rusty old truck that sat, without tires, in a patch of yellow weeds.

Soon, the Pacific Ocean sparkled down below. Dolphins leaped among the waves. Throngs of people crowded the streets of Beijing, scurrying around like busy mice. Katie soared above the icy peaks of the Himalayas and swooped down to burn the white sands of Arabia. She waved at the Statue of Liberty, rejoicing that she finally got to see it.

And then she was home again, viewing the crumbling barn in pinkish light that gradually turned to yellow. She counted the shingles missing from the roof of the old house and peeked through the windows of her shabby bedroom.

And the journey repeated itself as the earth slowly turned, like a giant spit — repeated itself, day after day, until Katie cried with weariness and pain.

Now, she hovered over the old farm, shining brightly against a piece of broken glass lying in the withered grass, until one small yellow flame burst forth, catching the grass on fire. A passing breeze nudged the fire toward the house. The splintered wood burned brightly, throwing sparks into the sky. The old barn caught the sparks and exploded, fueled by old cans of paint. Showers of burning wood and straw ignited the patch of weeds. The ripped out upholstery in the old truck burst into flame. The oil pan smoldered, sending black smoke into the sky. And finally, with one burst of energy, the fuel tank exploded.

With grim satisfaction Katie cried, “I’ve killed it! I’ve killed my past life!” She snuggled up to the Sun, melting deeper into his fiery depths . . . while down below, a tiny piece of the world disappeared forever.

Dawn Pisturino

November 14, 2012

Copyright 2012-2015 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Reflections on My Visit to Cuba 2000

Havana Cuba

I did not know much about Cuba; in fact, I never really thought about it until I had an opportunity to go there as a U.S. Delegate in 2000. Prior to leaving, I did research into Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and the Cuban Revolution — fascinating stuff!

I did not know, for example, that Che Guevara was a medical doctor who suffered from severe asthmatic attacks. Fidel Castro came from a land-owning family and studied to be a lawyer. Cuba had been marked by political upheaval for about 75 years prior to the Cuban Revolution. The final insult came with the Batista dictatorship, which was fully supported by the U.S. government and U.S. companies, who owned large amounts of land, industries, and other resources in Cuba.

Poverty was widespread among Cuban workers. The Batista government tortured and murdered huge numbers of Cuban citizens. A wide gap existed between rich and poor. Political elections were rigged to favor Batista and his cohorts.

Fidel Castro was a charismatic young man who became a major critic of the Batista government. He led a successful military campaign, along with Che Guevara and other guerilla fighters, which ultimately forced Batista and his supporters to flee the country.

With the Agrarian Reform Act, agricultural tracts were seized and divided up among the peasants who had worked the land and suffered great deprivations at the hands of large companies and land owners.

In retaliation, the U.S. government imposed an immediate economic blockade against Cuba. The blockade has been successfully kept in place for decades at the behest of Cuban-Americans living in the U.S., right-wing conservatives, and companies such as the Bacardi Rum Company.

Over 4,000 people attended the 5-day conference, representing more than 115 countries around the world.

The first two days were devoted to speeches by government officials who explained the blockade, how it was hurting the Cuban economy, and what steps were being taken to adapt to the continued sanctions.

The next two days involved participation in various committees and listening to speeches by delegates.

One afternoon, we were encouraged to visit various medical and educational facilities. I chose to tour the Latin American School of Medical Sciences. In the evening, we were treated to cultural events and a neighborhood block party.

On the last day, we participated in an outdoor rally attended by Fidel Castro. Speeches by delegates and performances by Cuban artists were featured. That evening, we attended a five-hour speech given in person by Fidel Castro.

He explained how loans by the IMF and the World Bank impose harsh conditions on Third World countries,which gives power over these countries to larger, prosperous countries like the United States. He adamantly reinforced that Cuba and the Cuban people would not bow down to these conditions. They would prefer to remain poor and continue to fight the blockade rather than give up their independence to a foreign power. Although the speech was long and tedious, quoting lots of statistics, the information he gave was very valuable.

We were told we could not leave Cuba the next day, so some of us participated in various tours. Some people drove out to the countryside to visit the Che Guevara Memorial and to investigate the agricultural industry. Others chose to visit a cigar factory. I went with some others to Old Havana to explore the Museum of the Revolution and the Floridito Bar, where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out. We also saw the beautiful old Bacardi Rum building, which is now used for other purposes.

We were never restricted from going anywhere or talking to anyone. The only limitation was language, since most Havanans do not speak English, and most delegates did not speak Spanish.

It was fascinating to be part of such a multi-cultural experience. There were many people from Latin America and Africa. Many delegates came from India and Bangladesh. Six hundred Americans participated in the event. My group donated a large supply of antibiotics, antifungals, and medical journals. Quite a large number of Canadians were present, as well as a few people from Australia and Great Britain. One delegate from Israel spoke about the atrocities being committed by his country against Palestine. About ten Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon represented Palestine and received great rounds of applause. Other delegates came from Italy, Germany, Spain, Norway, Russia, China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Iran.

Delegates represented all adult ages and socioeconomic groups. There were laborers, students, ministers, teachers, doctors, nurses, and retired folks. Disabled people included a 91-year old gentleman, a blind man who brought his seeing-eye dog, a man bound to a wheelchair, and a young man who could only communicate through sign language.

We were all required to wear special badges and could not attend events without showing them. These badges also identified us to the general population as participants in the conference. People would stop us on the streets and thank us. Children would cheer us and clap their hands. We were always treated like VIPs.

Delegates visited the homes of local Cubans and were hosted for dinner and lodging. One American girl lived with a family for three days.

During the conference, delegates were provided with transistor radios and earphones which could be set to receive the English translation.

Transportation and lodging were provided by the Cuban government, but delegates were free to walk around Havana at any time of the day or night. Although there were scores of police, most of them only carried a night stick. They did not hassle delegates. Their main function was to provide security and control the flow of traffic.

 My delegation stayed at the beautifully-restored Copacabana Hotel, which was a famous luxury hotel and yacht club prior to the Cuban Revolution. It was also one of the hotels controlled by the Sicilian Mafia, which was kicked out of Cuba by Fidel Castro after the Revolution.

Local Cubans were very open about their poverty and devotion to Fidel Castro. In their minds, the Cuban Revolution is on-going. They are very proud of what they have accomplished under difficult conditions. They reiterated over and over again that they would defend Cuba to the death.

There was a great deal of hatred expressed among delegates and by Cubans themselves toward the U.S. government, and the presidential election of 2000 became a hot topic when the possibility of election fraud came up. We watched the news coverage daily on CNN.

The Cubans have created a very stable society based on solidarity and mutual cooperation. The basic unit is the family. Families are assigned to neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are assigned to a district. Each district boasts a health clinic, schools, senior center, and police force. A committee elected by the people oversees the district. Committee members ensure that children are vaccinated, seniors are cared for, and families receive adequate housing and food.

Food is rationed, with pregnant and nursing women, children, and senior citizens required to receive an adequate amount of calories everyday. There is a ratio of one doctor to 170 residents. In the schools, classroom size is limited to 10-20 students.

Education and healthcare are free. 85% of Cubans own their own home, and there is no property tax. Rents are kept very low. The prices on basic commodities are kept at 1960s prices. The average wages are ten to thirty American dollars per month, and there is no income tax.

Travel is limited by a shortage of oil and gasoline. Tourists from Canada and Germany are commonplace.

November 20, 2000

Dawn Pisturino, RN

Copyright 2000-2015 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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I WENT TO CUBA

copacabana Copacabana Hotel, Havana, Cuba

In 2000, I went to Havana, Cuba with a group of activists seeking to end the U.S. embargo. This is the letter I wrote to the State Department, U.S. Senators, and several newspapers after my return to the U.S.:

“In a global economy, the U.S. sanctions against Cuba make no sense. They were imposed 41 years ago in defiance of the Cuban Revolution, which toppled the U.S.-supported Batista dictatorship and robbed American companies of great tracts of land and other valuable resources.

“The fear of a Soviet influence so close to home made it reasonable to impose such sanctions; but that threat no longer exists. The United States can no longer justify these radical measures.

“For four decades, the Cuban population has struggled with severe poverty and the great weight of bringing an idealistic social experiment to fruition.

“While the spirit of the Cuban Revolution continues to motivate and inspire the general population, the Cuban government has been forced to adapt the economy to the conditions imposed by the U.S. sanctions. According to Carlos Lage, vice-president of the Council of State, there is a new movement toward opening Cuba’s borders to tourism and commercial exchange. This year alone, 1.8 million tourists (including 100,000 U.S. citizens) are expected to visit, and this number is expected to rise by 19 percent annually.

“Cuba is now accepting foreign investments, with restrictions; entering into joint ventures with private companies; and contracting with private foreign companies to manage state-owned enterprises.

“Representatives of the Cuban government freely admit that the country lacks the knowledge and technology necessary to create profitable enterprises. Over the last few years, they have accepted $4.5 billion in foreign investments of capital, technology, and marketing expertise.

“While publicly upholding the ideals of socialism, the Cubans are gradually leaning toward the realities of capitalism. They prefer to use their own resources, if possible, and privatization at this time has been condemned. But they are realizing the need to market their products in a global economy.

“The current trend is to create associations (Rum Association, Tobacco Association, Nickel Association, etc.) with foreign companies that agree to market the designated product in exchange for cash or social services (doctors, teachers, etc.)

“Tourism is now being touted as the No.1 revenue-producing enterprise in the country so there is much new construction and restoration taking place. The government has mandated a dual economy that freely accepts and circulates both American dollars and Cuban pesos.

“The Cuban government openly acknowledges that inequalities exist and that complete equality between people is not possible. To pacify the anxiety of the Cuban people, prices on basic commodities are deliberately kept low and wages are being raised, especially in the revenue-producing sectors of the economy (such as tourism). There is no underlying feeling among the general population of widespread discontent; in fact, it is estimated that 80 percent of the population supports Fidel Castro as a leader and national hero.

“Fidel Castro is Cuba, and there is concern among the Cuban people that when Fidel Castro dies, Cuba, as they know it now, will also die.

“Ordinary Cubans do not understand why the U.S. government hates them and deprives them of necessary food and medicines. It is not surprising that the U.S. government is generally characterized as “an evil capitalist monster” that seeks to destroy the Cuban people.

“Like people everywhere, the Cuban people want to be recognized as a legitimate society within the global economy. They want to sell their products in the global marketplace and raise their standard of living. Therefore, the Cuban government is negotiating with other countries to create a Latin American-Caribbean Trading Bloc.

“The embargo has not stopped Cuba from procuring American brand-name products for resale to the general public. Familiar tobacco products such as Salem, Winston, and Marlboro cigarettes sit openly on vendor shelves. Coca-Cola and Sprite are sold freely in restaurants and stores. Kellogg’s cereals are proudly served in hotels and restaurants. Famous brand-name candies like Snickers and M&Ms are sold in shops. These products come into the country through private companies in Panama and Mexico.

“Even relatively new Dodge Caravans can occasionally be seen on the streets of Havana. Some of the corporations doing business in the United States that also have offices in Havana are DHL Worldwide Express and Benetton.

“The real losers in this political game are the American companies that are prevented by the U.S. government from negotiating lucrative contracts with the Cuban government for trade and commerce. Increased foreign investment into the country can only lead to widespread economic and social change.

“The recent vote in the United Nations (167-3) condemning the U.S. sanctions against Cuba prove that the U.S. government does not receive worldwide support.

“As a man from the United Kingdom expressed it, “It is America that is in the darkness . . . While Cuba is economically blockaded, America is morally blockaded and out of step with the rest of the world.”

Dawn Pisturino, RN

Member of U.S. Delegation to Cuba,

November 10-14, 2000

Copyright 2000-2015 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Published in the Kingman Daily Miner on December 1, 2000

Published in The Standard on November 29, 2000 

Published in New Unionist, January 2001 issue

Senators who responded to my letter:

Senator Jesse Helms and Senator Jon Kyl

Closing Thoughts: Other countries have been doing business with Cuba for decades. Obama’s push to ease sanctions may or may not benefit Cuba and the United States. As long as the Castro family remains in power, the possibility of democratization of Cuba seems remote.

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Sammy’s Sleigh Ride

Mouse and Santa's sleigh

by Dawn Pisturino

One winter night, Sammy Mouse ran away from home. He wanted to go to the North Pole and see Santa Claus. So he put his clothes in a suitcase, bundled up in his heavy winter coat, left a note for his parents, and sneaked out of the house.

Sammy peered into the darkness, shivering with cold. Up above, millions of stars looked down at him. Sammy trudged through the snow, guided by the light of the full moon.

Sammy thought about all the wonderful things he would do for Santa Claus: help the elves make toys, feed the reindeer, and pack Santa’s sleigh.

When Santa Claus was ready to leave, Sammy would jump into the sleigh and sit beside him on the seat. Santa would laugh, “ho-ho-ho,” and Sammy would laugh, too. Then, up in the air they would go. Sammy would look down at all the little houses below.

When Santa’s reindeer landed on a snowy rooftop, Sammy would help Santa climb out of the sleigh. He would help Santa lift his big bag of toys and watch him slide down the chimney. Then, off they would go again!

Sammy walked a long time through the snow. When the sun began to shine, Sammy could walk no more. He curled up under a log and fell asleep.

When he woke up, Sammy’s stomach growled with hunger. He nibbled on a piece of cheese and hurried on his way. He wanted to get to Santa’s house before nightfall. Tonight was Christmas Eve.

But the longer he walked, the more tired Sammy felt. Everywhere he looked, he saw trees and snow. Where was Santa’s house? Where was the North Pole?

As night fell, Sammy began to get scared. Christmas was almost here, and he had not yet reached Santa’s house or the elves’ workshop or even the North Pole!

Sammy sat down in the snow and cried. He was wet and cold and hungry. He was tired, and his feet hurt. Worst of all, Sammy was lost!

Overhead, the stars seemed to be laughing at him. The man in the moon wore a big, shiny grin. Suddenly, Sammy heard bells jingling. Up in the sky, he saw Santa’s sleigh and eight reindeer flying past the moon. Sammy’s heart sank. Now, he would miss Christmas.

But wait, here was Santa’s sleigh coming right toward him! Sammy could hardly believe his eyes when the sleigh landed in the snow.

“Jump in, Sammy,” Santa said, smiling brightly.

Sammy jumped eagerly into the sleigh next to Santa. “Where are we going?” he asked.

“We’re going to take you home,” Santa answered.

The reindeer began to run across the snow faster and faster until suddenly, they were flying up into the sky!

Up, up, up they went. Sammy looked down. The trees in the forest looked like frosty toothpicks. The moon and stars grew bigger and brighter.

“Ho-ho-ho!” Santa laughed, his belly shaking.

“Ho-ho-ho!” Sammy laughed.

Before he knew it, Sammy was home. He helped Santa fill the stockings and put special gifts under the Christmas tree. He made sure he didn’t see what Santa had brought him.

When Santa was ready to slide up the chimney, Sammy said, “Oh, thank you, Santa!”

Santa laughed and shook Sammy’s paw. “You’re welcome, my little friend. Merry Christmas!”

In a flash, Santa was gone. But Sammy could hear reindeer hooves on the roof, and he never forgot the sound of the bells jingling on Santa’s sleigh.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Dawn Pisturino

copyright 2014 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Bigfoot!

bigfootCrack! The bullet zings past my ear, hitting an old oak tree.

I drop the salmon wiggling in my hands and run along the bank of the Mokelumne River, propelling my long, hairy arms for speed. Behind me, the hunters move carefully through the dense underbrush, tracking my movements.

Sharp green thorns snag on my hair and tear at my flesh as I struggle through the blackberry briars and wild grapevines. I hike deeper into the wilderness on two strong legs, climbing skillfully around granite boulders barring my way. In the distance, the jagged outline of Deadwood Peak rises above the trees. If I can only get there, I will be safe.

Rounding a bend I see her, tearing meat from a rabbit carcass with big, sharp teeth. Mama! Her shaggy brown head turns in my direction. With a low growl, she opens her long, hairy arms as if to embrace me.

And then she smells it, the distinct odor of musky sweat. The hunters are near!

We run, ignoring the stones piercing our feet, causing us to stumble. Behind us, the humans call back and forth, “Bigfoot!”

Together, we melt into the shade of a thick stand of pines, hoping to slow down and catch our breath. But our feet become tangled in nets concealed by pine needles, and suddenly, we are swinging up, up into the air, and dangling from the limbs of a sturdy pine tree.

Mama struggles inside her net, growling with rage. I struggle, too, yelping helplessly as the net swings back and forth above the hard ground.

“We’ve got them now,” says a bearded hunter to his companions. “Bigfoot! That TV show, Monster Search, will pay us big bucks for these babies.”

“We’ll be famous,” cries a husky hunter with red hair. “Scientists won’t laugh at us anymore. Finally! Proof that Bigfoot exists!”

“How are we going to get them back to San Francisco?” asks an old man with spectacles. “I mean, we weren’t really expecting to find anything.”

The bearded hunter pulls out his camera. “I’m taking plenty of pictures, just in case something goes wrong. They can’t call it a hoax this time!”

While the camera clicks and the three men argue over the best way to get us back to the city, I turn my head from view and gnaw on the net’s thick webbing with my teeth. Pretty soon I’ve made a small opening, large enough to stick my fingers through. I wiggle them at Mama, and she understands what to do.

The red-haired hunter chuckles as he pokes me in the back with a long stick. I give him a warning growl, but he keeps it up. My powerful jaws chew faster on the netting.

“We need some of that fur,” says the old man with spectacles. “We can send it to a lab for analysis.”

“Good idea!” says the red-haired hunter. “Then, if they get away, we’ll still have proof.”

The three men stand under the nets, looking up at our shaggy brown bodies hanging in the air. Suddenly the nets give way, and Mama and I find ourselves lying on top of the three men on the ground.

We howl victory cries and scramble to our feet. The men, tangled in the nets, shout curses at us as we run away.

The Miwok Indians tell stories about us — great hairy beasts roaming these desolate mountains. They fear us and protect our sacred habitat on Deadwood Peak. We are going there now, secure in the knowledge that we cannot be followed. Men from the city will continue to hunt us. But, with help from the Miwoks, they will never find us. And we will never let them capture us alive.

Dawn Pisturino

©2014 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

BIO: Dawn Pisturino’s poems, limericks, short stories, and articles have appeared in/on Danse Macabre du Jour, Brooklyn Voice, Underneath the Juniper Tree, Working Writer, and several newspapers and anthologies. She currently resides in Arizona.

Please visit my website: http://www.dawnpisturino.org

Thanks!

 

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Trapped in the Snow

angelo-christo-snowcovered-forestDelaware Territory 1755

Nunganey trudged through the crusty snow searching for signs of beaver and other game. He longed for a blazing fire and his mother’s warm smile. But the villagers were counting on the hunters — the best of the tribe — to bring back fresh meat.

“Turn back!” shouted his father over the rising wind as a shower of white flakes fluttered down from the sky.

Nunganey’s heart dropped with disappointment. There would be no fresh meat. His younger brothers and sisters would cry with disappointment when their mother served hot watery broth, brewed from old bones, and meager portions of mashed acorns for dinner. His own hunger raged inside of him, and he longed for a piece of fat beaver cooked over a hot fire.

Suddenly, one of the hunters shouted, “Raccoon tracks!”

Nunganey’s father pointed at an old tree with a large hole in the center of the trunk. “Nunganey, follow those tracks and see if the raccoons have taken shelter in that tree.”

With the wind and snow blowing in his face, Nunganey followed the tiny footprints to the old tree, but the tracks led deeper into the forest. He knew he should turn back, but the boy was determined to find the raccoons.

The tracks disappeared at the base of another large tree. Nunganey climbed up the tree and peered into a large hole. He had found the raccoons!

“Yohoh!” he called into the wind. “Yohoh!”

Shivering with cold, Nunganey clung to the tree and waited for a response. He called again, trying to shout louder than the wind, but no familiar voice shouted back.

Where were his father and the band of hunters? Had they left him behind? He scrambled down the tree and trudged through the snow with the wind at his back, looking for dark shapes moving among the trees. No voices called his name or answered his desperate cries.

Lost and alone, the boy shivered with hunger, wet, and cold. If he did not find shelter soon, he would freeze to death. He had his bow, arrows, and tomahawk, but nothing to build a fire. Even if he found shelter, how would he stay warm?

Old Grandfather’s words echoed in his head: Be strong, and Owaneeyo, the Great Spirit, will guide you. 

He soon came upon a hollow tree with an opening large enough for him to crawl inside. The center of the tree was dry and wide enough for him to stand up and move his arms and legs. But the wind and snow blew fiercely through the opening, chilling him to the bone.

Nunganey crawled out into the snow and looked around. Nearby, a dead tree had fallen to the ground. He chopped off the top of the tree with his tomahawk and propped it up against the opening in the hollow tree, leaving a small entrance to get in and out.

He fashioned a small block of wood out of the trunk of the dead tree and gathered a large pile of small sticks. When he had finished, he crawled inside the hollow tree, drawing the block of wood behind him to close up the entrance. Then he used the small sticks to plug up any remaining holes. He was now snug inside the hollow tree, protected from the wind and snow.

With his tomahawk, Nunganey removed the rotted wood lining the hollow tree and pounded it into small pieces on the ground. He now had a soft bed to lie on.

But it was cold and dark inside the tree. How could he get warm without a fire?

Then he had an idea. He jumped up and down, waving his arms, whooping and hollering, and dancing wildly inside the tree, until beads of sweat trickled into his eyes and he could jump no more.

Using his wet moccasins for a pillow, Nunganey wrapped himself in his damp blanket, curled up in a little ball, and went to sleep.

When Nunganey woke up, he didn’t know if it was day or night. But he was warm and dry, so he lay still for a very long time, listening to the wind, and finally the noise outside began to die down.

Nunganey put on his moccasins and felt around for the block of wood marking the entrance to the tree. It was so dark he couldn’t see. But then his fingers touched the rough contours of the block, and he sighed with relief. He pushed his hands against the block, expecting it to move, but it wouldn’t budge. He was trapped inside the tree!

He beat his fists on the trunk of the tree, tears stinging his eyes. Would he ever see his family again?

Then he remembered Old Grandfather’s words: Be strong . . . Owaneeyo will guide you.

Pushing his back against the trunk of the tree, Nunganey kicked the wooden block with all his strength. This time the block gave way, and a great blanket of snow fell down on the ground. A blast of cold air rushed in, and bright daylight flooded the tree. He was free!

Nunganey crawled out of the tree into the powdery snow. Many of the older trees grew moss on the northwest side of their trunks. He followed the moss-covered trees for many miles until he arrived at the creek which flowed past his village.

Suddenly, a large buck deer crashed through the bushes. Nunganey grabbed his bow and arrow. Aiming carefully, he waited until the rushing animal was almost upon him. Then he released the arrow, holding his breath, and watched the buck fall slowly to the ground. There would be fresh meat for his brothers and sisters!

Old Grandfather would be proud.

Dawn Pisturino

May 1, 2012

Copyright 2012-2014 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

PHOTO BY ANGELO CHRISTO.

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