Monday, October 22, 2007

Indians and October

Indians have been on my mind this month, being a Red Sox fan and all. But it was only today that I realized Jacoby Ellsbury, the fabulous rookie center fielder called up from the farm team earlier in the season, is Native American himself--the first Navajo to play in the majors. Where have I been all season? Not paying attention, apparently.

The other Indians-and-October connection is Little Runner of the Longhouse , an older Harper/Trophy "I Can Read" book from 1962, by Betty Baker with pictures by Arnold Lobel (whose talent definitely ran to toads and frogs, rather than children--these illustrations aren't without charm, but I would never have connected them with the enchanting and droll images of the Frog and Toad books). We read it last night, and it's the story of a young boy, Little Runner, and an Iroquois custom of older boys putting on masks and old clothes, and going from longhouse to longhouse demanding maple sugar--or else. Sound familiar? I was kind of blown away by the similarity to trick-or-treating. I haven't yet been able to find the name for this Iroquois custom, or determine whether these masks worn by boys were considered false faces (carved from living trees) or were some other kind of mask.

We drive through Iroquois country on the way to and from my in-laws in upstate New York, and now I'll look at the snowscape and the trees a little differently. Next time we pass that way we may stop at the Iroquois Indian Museum near Howe Cave, NY, where, on April 1, 2008, they will open an exhibit titled "Baseball's League of Nations: A Tribute to Native American Baseball Players." (Take that, Chief Wahoo.)

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