Thomas Doty – Storyteller

News: Doty in OR School


Landscape as a language

By Eric A. Howald
October 1, 2010

Travelers headed south on Interstate 5 might drive past the the table rocks and recognize that they're actually 4.5-million-year-old lava flows, but for storyteller Thomas Doty those same rocks are much more.

"That's a fine story," said Doty. "But to know that they're the dragonfly brothers at the end of their journey up the Rogue River and the center of the Takelma [tribe] universe, that's a whole other thing."

Doty visited Forest Ridge Elementary School last week to share a variety of stories from the native tradition with students at the school.

In an early morning session, he told the gathered students an origin story about the sun and the power of dreams, the tale of a father and son who walked into the moon and sun, and Bear wanting to fly.

The question of the day for many of the students gathered was: are the stories true?

When Doty replied, "yes," there were outbursts of disbelief.

"It doesn't matter if you believe what happens in the stories but what the stories tell us about life and being alive, like Bear trying and trying until he learns to fly, are very true."

After the day of storytelling, Doty elaborated on the statement.

"People gain appreciation for the world around them through stories, and when we know a place's stories, we tend to take care of it better," he said.

Moreover, he hopes the kids he speaks to are inspired to create their own stories and share them with one another.

"Through stories we learn to be a participant in the world rather than an intruder in it," he said.

In conjunction with the words of each tale, Doty calls upon an arsenal of gestures to create a sense of action and events.

"Several are traditional Northwestern tribe gestures, some are Native American sign language, some are based on rock writing and then some are totally spontaneous," he said.

He decides which stories to tell each class on the fly, but all of his story telling performances start in the same curious place -- breathing.

"A lot of people go through life breathing shallowly, but I started playing trumpet at an early age and learned early on you had to breathe deeply to make any sound," Doty said. "If you breathe deeply, you're a lot more focused, your movements are more graceful and you have more control over the volume and the quality of your voice. If you're in that breathing place, everything goes a lot more smoothly."

Thoughts from students

Sydney Gate: "I went home and performed all the stories for my family including all the motions Mr. Doty used and my family said I should be an actor."

Daniel Mathews: "I liked the story about Bear best because it taught me to follow my dreams."

Michelle Gee: "My favorite was the The Boy Walked into the Moon and the Man Who Walked into the Sun because it is a father and son story and you grow day by day and reach your goals."

Wyatt Tegan: "I liked The Boy Walked into the Moon and the Man Who Walked into the Sun because it's like life. You grow up day by day and night by night."