Photography, Stories Told

You know your bonfire is outrageous when the EPA gets involved

The EPA demands that an impact statement be filed before it is lit. The local airport routes landing airplanes around it. Its intense, radiating heat evaporates falling raindrops well before they hit the ground and repels all but the boldest spectators. It’s the homecoming bonfire at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and it’s massive.

2015 Rose-Hulman bonfire

Stepping back, the fire illuminates those who’ve come to see it, casting them in glowing silhouette.

People watching the bonfire

It’s only when you move back far enough to get the licking flames fully in the frame that you see this fire’s enormity.

People watching the bonfire

The flames are so bright that the surrounding trees are lit as during the daytime.

People and trees well lit

My first bonfire was my freshman year at Rose, in 1985. We swiped railroad ties from rail yards all over west-central Indiana. I feel sure now that the railroads knew what we were up to and gave tacit approval. You can’t steal this many ties without attracting attention! Today, I’m told, the ties are purchased and trucked in. We also used to pilfer the outhouse that is always placed atop the structure. I’m sure the last outhouse within a hundred miles was filched 20 years ago. Today’s outhouses must be purpose-built.

2015 Rose-Hulman bonfire

I went to all four bonfires during my time at Rose, and maybe one or two more while I lived in Terre Haute in the several years that followed. It wasn’t until my sons were teenagers that I went back — I wanted to spark their interest in higher education. What better way to start than to share one of the most audacious events at any school anywhere.

This year, I took my youngest son, now 16, and my girlfriend and her 14-year-old son. That young man just started high school — and has engineering aspirations and aptitudes. He’s right up Rose-Hulman’s alley!


I’ve shared the bonfire from a few past years, too: 2009, 2010, and 2012.

Advertisements
Standard
Life

Potawatomi dancers at the pow wow

Potawatomi dancersI’ve known for most of my life that I have Potawatomi and Cherokee Indian ancestors. I’ve always felt more connected to my German roots, but I’ve been curious about my Indian side just the same. So when the opportunity came up to see a Potawatomi pow wow, I took it.

The Pokagon band of Potawatomi Indians (or, as they say, Pokégnek Bodéwadmik), has this pow wow every Labor Day weekend on its land near Dowagiac, Michigan. Potawatomi from all over gather to dance and sing and celebrate their heritage. It’s also an opportunity for many tribes, not just Potawatomi, to sell handmade goods. Of course we checked out the booths, and I even bought a colorful piece of pottery. But the dancing was where it was at.

This young lady’s feet barely left the ground as she danced. It is supposed to symbolize her connection to mother Earth.

Potawatomi dancers

In contrast, this flamboyant fellow really twisted and twirled, his fringe always flying.

Potawatomi dancers

Wait, what? A blonde-haired Potawatomi dancer?

Potawatomi dancers

I soon figured out that the more elaborate the regalia, the more active the dancing.

Potawatomi dancers

I’ve always thought my Potawatomi ancestors came from my mother’s mother’s family, but I’ve been mistaken. Talking about it in the car on the way home, Mom said that her mother’s family had Cherokee ancestors, but Grandpa’s grandmother was full Potawatomi. That made Grandpa a quarter Potawatomi, but you never would have guessed it as he looked like he came straight off the boat from Germany. Even though I’m just one sixteenth Potawatomi (and probably an equal measure Cherokee), I look far more Indian than my grandfather ever did.

Last year about this time I attended the rededication of a monument to Potawatomi chief Menominee. Check it out.

Standard