Storytelling on Quadra Island is a double CD of a storytelling evening that took place July 7, 2009, on Quadra Island. On a stormy West Coast night, sitting around a wood-burning stove, Dan Yashinsky and Ron Evans shared their friendship, love of stories, and a lot of fresh oysters with a circle of neighbours and travellers, two dogs, and a ring-neck dove.
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On July 7, 2009, I was on Quadra Island, on the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. I was doing a project called The Listener’s Tale, and I’d come to Quadra to interview Robert Bringhurst, a poet, scholar, and translator of myth (read his A Story As Sharp As A Knife — The World of Classical HAIDA Mythtellers for a wonderful introduction to mythtelling traditions on the west coast of Canada). By an amazing coincidence, my old friend Ron Evans was spending the summer just down the coast of Vancouver Island. Ron is a Métis oral historian and story-keeper, and one of the finest traditional storytellers I’ve ever known. He and his friend José Brown met me on Quadra Island, and we all stayed at Heron Guest House, on Heriot Bay.
Ron is a “storm fool,” a wandering storyteller, teacher, and leader of ceremonies. He told me once about the itinerant storytellers of his youth, who would visit people even in the middle of the worst blizzards to tell them stories. They were known, affectionately and with a touch of awe, as Storm Fools. He himself follows these nomadic ways, and is as likely to be found in Belgium, Holland, England, or Spain, as in a campground on the coast of Vancouver Island, where he and José pitched up before making their way to the summer Sun Dances in Alberta and Saskatchewan. I’m a storyteller, teacher, community organizer, and the author of Suddenly They Heard Footsteps — Storytelling for the Twenty-first Century. Our paths have criss-crossed often over the thirty years of our friendship, and it is always a privilege to spend time with this wise and generous master of oral storytelling.
Before going down to the ferry dock to meet Ron and José, I mentioned to Linda Inrig, proprietress of Heron Guest House, that Ron and I were storytellers. She asked if we’d tell stories that night to the other guests and maybe a few neighbours. I said I’d be happy to, and thought Ron would also agree. The next thing I knew, Linda had ordered oysters from a friend’s oyster farm, put the wine on to chill, and begun spreading the word. That night, in the middle of a real “storm fool” rainstorm, twelve people, two dogs, and a ring-neck dove sat around her wood-burning stove. They were from England, California, New York, Toronto, Northern Alberta, and Quadra Island. This CD is a recording of our storytelling gathering.
It was, as you’ll hear, a night of “Scheherajazz” — following an instinctive, impromptu rhythm, with stories told in response to the listeners, the moment, and the themes generated from one tale to the next. We began the soirée by asking our listeners what kinds of stories they’d like to hear. Among the company was Mia, an eight-year-old girl, who spent the evening comfortably ensconced in blankets on the floor. She piped up with a request for “fiction,” and things rolled on from there. As you listen to this somewhat rough recording you will hear: the hiss of the fire in the stove; the rain, at times heavy, on the roof; the occasional cooing of Linda’s ring-neck dove; the padding and settling of her two dogs, Pearl and Tuna; the extremely squeaky chair in the corner; the phone, and Linda taking a reservation for the Guest House; the giggles of the girl on the floor; the conversation and teasing that flowed around the storytelling; the waves coming up on the beach a few metres from the house. The mbira-like instrument I play a couple of times is my sansula, an original instrument made in Germany.
The stories themselves travel widely in time and space, from Ron’s heart-breaking account of his grandfather’s experience during the Riel Rebellion, to stories from Pittsburgh, Turkey, Russia, Jewish tradition, fourteenth-century Tuscany, and the myth-territory inhabited by the trickster Weesakachak. We encourage you to learn more about the historical events and people mentioned in Ron’s story about his grandfather. Poundmaker, Big Bear, and Louis Riel are genuinely tragic and heroic figures in Canadian history, and there are many excellent sources of information — on-line, in print, and in oral tradition — about them. The story of The Tsar’s Dreams is adapted from Georgian Folk Tales, by M. Wardrop, and from Ride With The Sun — An Anthology of Folk Tales and Stories from the United Nations, edited by Harold Courlander for The United Nations Women’s Guild in 1955.
Putting oral stories into the preservative forms of print, page, or CD means they do not come to you directly in the voice of a living storyteller. In Ron’s tradition, the live and intimate connection between teller and listener is inseparable from the meaning of the stories. Stories are chosen for how they speak to particular listeners and particular communities at particular moments of our individual and collective lives. They are primarily teachings, not entertainments. They are also — or should be — moving, humorous, and, yes, entertaining; for how else could the old-time storytellers ensure that their stories would be heard and remembered? We hope that this CD captures some of the spontaneity, responsiveness, and sense of community that anchor his — and my — philosophy and practice of oral storytelling. I feel honored to have joined Ron, one of my storytelling friends and heroes, on a night of storms, stories, Quadra Island hospitality, and the finest oysters in the world. We send this CD into the world with the hope that it will kindle new story-fires.
Thanks to Linda Inrig (www.quadraisland.ca/heronhouse), our listeners, and José Brown for her love of Ron and stories. Thanks to the Ontario Arts Council’s Chalmers Arts Fellowship, which allowed me to spend 2009 travelling the world doing research and doing storytelling. We have tried to contact most of the participants to request — and receive — their permission for their voices to be included on the CD. Apologies and retroactive thanks to those we were not able to reach. The CD is copyright to The Tellery, and we ask that the stories on the CD not be reproduced in any form other than the spoken word. As is the respectful custom of oral storytelling traditions around the world, if you’d like to retell a story you hear on the CD, please credit the source. Dan Yashinsky
Toronto August, 2009