Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Travel Tuesday: Howe Caverns and the Iroquois Museum

(Me and my mini-me)
Imagine 100 fourth graders packed into three coach buses for three hours to explore Howe Caverns and The Iroquois Museum. The noise is deafening as the kids happily discuss the trip, seating arrangements, and the exciting and mundane details of their lives. My daughter snuggles up to me and tries to watch a movie while I catch up on some reading. Occasionally, we share snacks and giggles. The noise level reaches fever pitch as our bus turns off onto a small road and parks in front of The Iroquois Indian Museum.

Howe Caverns and the Iroquois Indian Museum lie about an hour west of Albany. The Iroquois Indian Museum is nestled among green fields. Shaped like a giant long house, it reflects the heritage and customs of the Iroquois Indians. Kids pour out of the bus and we are directed to the storyteller amphitheater.

Settling ourselves on the bleachers under the tent, we look at the spears, arrows, bows, rocks, etc. displayed on the table. The group quiets when a woman with striking cheekbones and tightly slicked back hair sits down on a chair in front of the table. She is a storyteller and begins to share some tales of her people. It is the custom that when a child asks a question, the question is answered with a story.

It seems that many cultures find interesting ways to scare children into keeping safe. Fairy tales from Europe such as Hansel and Gretel serve as cautionary tales. The Iroquois nation also follows this pattern. The Story of the Flying Heads (which is gruesome and gory) reminds children to always tell someone where they are going and take along a buddy. The Story of the Half Blanket is a poignant reminder to serve and respect the elderly. Why Dogs Sniff Tails is a funny story illustrating a particular trait of dogs, but also a good reminder that when you play tricks, you can't always guarantee the outcome. The Skeleton Woman reminds children to keep out of other people's business, tell an adult when you notice something is wrong, and to get help when you are sick.

The storyteller holds her audience of 48 children plus adults captive. It's no easy task as the sun is shining brightly and the kids are exciting. Somehow she manages to weave magic around us as she relates these old stories. The charm of these stories is that while they may be old, they are still relevant.

After the storyteller finishes, her father, an upright man with white, long hair pulled into a ponytail demonstrates the different uses of weapons for the Iroquois. His knowledge of the past and the area are extensive. At one time, New York was the grazing ground for gigantic mammals. It is hard for me to imagine as the trees cover New York so densely that the landscape would be entirely different without them.

After the lecture and demonstration the kids explore the museum for a few minutes. The children are captivated by the live turtle living in a little pool.

We load up in the bus again, drive the short distance to Howe Caverns, disembark, and eat our lunch. Then we put on jackets and coats to travel into the Caverns which stay at a chilly 52 degrees. Howe Caverns is filled with some wonderful geological features.

We take a boat on an underground river, which reminds me of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  In order to maintain the features, a pathway runs through the cavern and visitors are led by a guide. It is a very interesting place.

Back up topside again, the children hit the gift shop and then we get on the buses to go back home.

The best part of the day was being with my daughter, who is so charming, light, and full of joy.


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