TECHNOLOGY DANCE — SESSION 13

GHOST DANCER

Written by Ken Westgate 7/6/2016 ©

This is the final story in my Technology Dance Series. The story is based on my actual experience during the Summer of 1971 while working at the Lutheran Camp Miller/Hagan along the Delaware River in Eastern Pennsylvania.

The road was dark and narrow. Just as it had always been the past four summers. It hugged a mountain ridge on one side and followed the flood plain of the Delaware River on the other. Along this road lay the three Lutheran Camps that I worked for and beautiful farmland that had been abandoned with the Federal Government’s condemnation and purchase for the pending Tock’s Island Dam Project. Tall trees hung over the road where the farmland didn’t exist and formed the edge of the forest on this section of the Appalachian Mountains in Eastern Pennsylvania. The night air hung thick with evening mist off the river and was filled with the delicious sweetness of the forest scents. The moon was full and the stars shown brightly through the forest canopy and across the farm fields.

I drove my yellow Chevy Chevelle Coup Convertible down the road relishing the cool wet breeze providing refreshment from the long hours in the ninety degree sunshine. While the dual racing corroborators on my car made it possible to easily do 110 miles per hour on this usually very quiet road, I drove only about twenty-five per hour savoring the ride to the Dairy Queen in East Stroudsburg. There I could take my time with an extra large soft vanilla cone after a long days work. It was always best to do well under the thirty-five mile and hour speed limit on this road at night. Forest creatures and Ferrel cats and dogs crossed the road frequently and could appear almost instantaneously out of the darkness. I had no desire to hit a deer or any other creature that night. This car was my first. I had bought it with the money I had saved from the time I started work at age eleven until I was eighteen. Now at age twenty-three this car had served me well and I wanted to keep it that way for as long as I could.

There was an old farm house about a mile ahead of me where a squatter commune had formed, so I began to slow down approaching the curve before the farm. Like many of the abandoned farms along both sides of the river, large groups of squatters had moved in and taken over the properties. The group whose farm I was approaching was a group that was keeping the farm up nicely. They had repaired all of the buildings, planted the fields and were doing their best to live off the land. All the men had jobs off the farm working as auto mechanics or in the building trades. All of the women and children tended the fields and gardens and the chickens and goats they raised. This group was very different from most of the others along the river. The others came and planted corner on the parameters of their properties to hide the huge fields of marijuana they grew, sold, and used.

As I entered the last curve before the farm, I slowed a bit more. Sometimes some of their pets would be out by the road and then there were the rumors about the “Ghost Dancer” that had been spotted near this farm. Those rumors had been circulating all summer long. Several of the other camp staff had reported seeing the ghostly shape of a woman dancing on the road about a quarter to a half mile from this farm on moonlit nights. Some sad it was the spirit of the daughter of the farm owner who had died in a tragic farm equipment accident years before. Others said it was the spirit of one of the young women from the commune who had gotten sick and died suddenly. A few suggested it was actually the spirit of a Native American Maiden who had thrown herself form the rock ledge above the farm after her lover was killed by early white settles to the area. All of these scenarios seemed interesting accept the last one about the Native American girl, because all of the sightings claimed the girl was wearing some sort of sparkling light blue dress as she danced and then disappeared into the shadows.

I passed by the farm without incident and proceeded toward town. About another third of a mile down the road my headlights caught something moving in the middle of the road. I lowered the high beams in the event that it was a deer hoping that the dimmer light would encourage it to cross the road safely out of my way. I continued to back of the gas as I got closer. The object definitely appeared to be spinning and waving its arms toward the sky. It certainly appeared to have human form. AS I braked and got to within about 50 feet of the moving figure it suddenly turned toward me and stopped moving. It was the shape of a woman. She was wearing a light blue dress that seemed to sparkle in the moonlight. Her long hair was a sort of white and gray mix and her face, arms, and legs were completely white. Her yellow eyes stared back at me sending shivers up my spine. I stood on the brake wondering what I should do and then as suddenly as she had appeared she slipped off the road into the forest thicket. I edged the car forward, going barely five miles per hour, groping for the flashlight I kept in my glove compartment. When I reached the spot where the figure had been, I put my flashers on, put the car in park, and used the flashlight to try and scan both sides of the road, but there was no one to be found. Concerned that other cars might be coming up behind me, I dropped the flashlight on the seat beside me, took the car out of park and gunned the engine doing nearly sixty down the next stretch of road. I finally slowed down just before the turn off for the Shawnee Post Office and General Store. I took a slight right on to the road connecting to Route 209 into East Stroudsburg. Before I pulled on to 209 I composed myself and tried to put the image of the “Ghost Dancer” out of my mind. The heavy summer evening traffic on Route 209 quickly refocused my attention. I finally relaxed as I pulled into the Dairy Queen parking lot.

Some of the other staff who had been in town for their day off were gathered outside talking with staff from one of the other area camps. This was a favorite hangout for “townies” and “vacationers” alike. As I walked over toward the window to place my order, one of the staff from our camp, Jim Zick, spotted me. Jim and his brother Bob were working at the camp with me that summer. I had been very close with the Zick family for years. These two young men like their other siblings were trying to recover from the devastating loss of their mother to cancer that Spring. I had invited them to come work with me that summer to get away from the sadness and pain for a while. It seemed to be working as both were doing very well. They were relaxed, engaged, and their laughter had returned. They still missed their mom, but the daily sorrow of the past four years was being impacted by the dynamic interplay of the peace and restfulness of the forest, and the fun and excitement of working with the kids at the camp.

“Hey, Ken, I could use a large vanilla cone”, Jim called out as I added myself to the back of the order line. “So, could I”, I shot back. “Oh, hey man, I’m broke, can’t you spot me until next pay?”, Jim called. “Yeah, I got it, hang on until I get through this line”, I replied. When I reached the order window, I ordered two large soft vanilla cones and headed over to where Jim and the other staff were still chatting with the group from the other camp. Handing Jim his cone, I stood listening to the conversation.

“Bob said he saw her two weeks ago coming back from his day off. He said it was about 10:30 pm and about a mile from Herbie’s farm near Camp Miller.” “That seems pretty far down the road from where Beth an Patty say the saw her. They said they saw her about 200 yards from the Camp Ministerium curve,” added one of the girls from the other camp. Jim stopped licking his cone long enough to chime in. “I think it must be one of those crazy hippie’s from the farm on the Road into Bushkill. You know, the one with all the tee pees. Or maybe it is one of those girls from the Cloud Farm across the river in Jersey who are always dancing around naked on the river bank at night”, Jim concluded. “No man, I’m telling you she had some kind of blue dress on and was pale white. She disappeared as soon as my pickup got within about twenty yards of her”, shot back one of the staff from the other camp. I just kept eating my ice cream cone and let the conversation roll on. What I had seen I couldn’t explain for now and I wasn’t in the mood to add to the conjecture being thrown about.

The camp truck arrived a minute later and our staff climbed aboard and headed back to the camp. I ambled back over to my car, finished my cone and took a long drink of water from the thermos I carried under the front seat of my car. I sat staring at the noisy crowd still milling around. Looking at my watch to check to see how much time I had to get back to the camp before staff curfew, I turned the key in the ignition. It was 11:15 and I had just forty five minutes to make it back to camp. I was dreading the ride back to the camp. What should I do if I saw it again? I couldn’t stop the car and go diving into the woods after it. The road was too narrow and there were no shoulders to pull of on.

I pulled out of the parking lot at the Dairy Queen and headed back toward camp. I unconsciously started to slow down right after I passed the Shawnee Post Office. For some reason my brain couldn’t decide whether I wanted to push the pedal to the floor and just speed past or the the apparition or chug slowly along in the anticipation of seeing it again. After a few minutes of driving at fifteen miles per hour, I decided I would ignore it if I saw it again and pressed the gas pedal down until the speedometer met the thirty-five mile per hour speed limit. Thirty minutes later I pulled into the camp parking lot unscathed by the Ghost Dancer.

The cool night air enveloped the camp grounds and a thick night mist enveloped the camp grounds blanketing everything except the faint outlines of the cabins and camp buildings. The lights other than the stars and moon were the camp entrance sign and the light above the infirmary door. I picked up my flashlight from the front seat of the car again and made my way across the parking lot toward the stone path that lead to the camp office where I lived. I opened the door and headed back to my bedroom grabbing my pajamas as I made a quick stop in the bathroom to brush my teeth. Laying in bed with the ceiling fan spinning quietly above me I tried to process what I had seen on the road but just kept coming up with the same answer; I didn’t know exactly what I had seen. Rolling over on my side, I tucked the pillow tighter under my head, closed my eyes and tried to put it out of my mind.

The rumors continued for the next several weeks as did the sightings. Despite frequent trips down the rive road I had no further encounters. Early August rolled in with the usual steamy heat and humidity even here in the Pocono Mountains. Most of the time I was either on the river canoing or in the mountains hiking with the counselor trainees. My job was to train them to care and lead the campers. Safety and proper food preparation, wilderness survival skills, insuring camper hygiene, encouraging activity participation, and helping the campers prepare their required letters home all fell under my charge. During August there were a number of special camp celebrations that required extra materials. When I wasn’t doing training activities, supply runs into town became a part of my job description.

It was the middle of August. A very hot and steamy day along the river. My morning assignment was to go into town and pick up some additional craft supplies. I put the top down on my convertible, revved the engine a bit and headed out the main gate. The sun was bright so I adjusted my clip on sunglasses so I could see the roadway better. Heat waves were already rising from the macadam road surface. I was in no real hurry so I took my time enjoying the lush green scenery around me. I slowed down as I passed the farm just below Camp Ministerium. Children from the commune were often playing near the road or chasing the free range chickens roaming across the road. Not one hundred yards from the turn in the road below the farm, I saw her. She was wearing a beautiful pale blue dress. Her long blond hair rested softly off both shoulders and her smile was bright like the morning sun. She stood on the side of the road with her arm out thumb raised in hope of getting a ride. A brightly colored cloth shoulder bag hung over her left shoulder ad she wore simple leather sandels on her feet. I slowed and brought my car to a stop directly beside her. “Where too?”, I asked. “Downtown Stroudsburg if you are going that far”, she replied. “I am, hop in”, I answered. We didn’t speak for the next few minutes but inside my head my thoughts were racing a thousand miles a minute. Finally, I just couldn’t contain it any more. “Are you the woman that dances on river road at night when the moon is bright?”, I asked. She started to giggle and then laughed out loud. “You really think I’m that woman?, she asked quizzically. “Yes, I do!”, I shot back. “Well…, she paused and I waited, that’s me”, she said smiling broadly. “Oh, thank goodness, what a relief,” I said. She laughed again. “ I guess I’ve been the talk all over the area”, she said. “You bet, and you nearly scared me to death a few weeks back”, I replied. “Sorry”, she said, still half laughing. “I’ve seen this bright yellow convertible a lot this summer”, she said. “Yes, I have to make a lot of runs into town and I like going to Dairy Queen often”, I replied. “My name is Ken”, I added. “Mine is Caroline”, she replied. “Do you live at one of the communes?”, she asked. “No I work at one of the camps up the river from the farm where I guess you live”, I replied. “Well, I don’t actually live there, I am just visiting my sister this summer, she lives there with her family”, she said. I have to head back to New York City soon,” she added. “Who will scare the heck out of us when you are gone?”, I asked sarcastically. She laughed and then I laughed.

The rest of the ride into town was spent in conversation about what I did at the camp and what she was doing in New York City and why the “Ghost Dancing”. It turns out she was studying dance in the city. It was too hot to practice dancing during the day ans she often helped watch her sister’s children while her sister did farm chores or cooked and cleaned around the commune. The ghost idea came to her after members of the commune were sharing some ghost stories around the camp fire one night. She also felt it would be a good way to keep curious drivers from bothering her while she practiced her dancing in the cool of the night on the road. There was a lot more laughter on the way into town and I promised not to share her secret.

I pulled into a parking space on the main street of town. We both got out of the car and as I stepped up on the side walk she came over and kissed me on the cheek, thanked me, and waved goodbye as she walked off in the opposite direction from where I was headed. I never saw her again after that day, either on the road at night or passing the farm commune during my many trips into town during the day. There were only two more weeks left in the camp season so things got very busy and hectic during those final weeks. The time I thought about her was as I was leaving the camp after closing up for the year. Heading down river road for home, I slowed down one last time as I neared the farm commune hoping to catch one last glimpse of the beautiful ghost dancer, but all I saw was a group of children and barking dogs chasing chickens down the hill.

Technology Connections:

What in the world does this story have to do with technology?”, you are probably asking.

1. Sometimes in our journey to use technology as an effective teaching tool we are suddenly confronted with the unexpected, the startling, the surprising, and even the frightening realities that our students actually know more than we do. They may be familiar with better tools, or tools that offer more options and choices. They may know tricks and shortcuts for doing things easier and more efficiently. They may even know how to alter or customize a program by using the preferences or options. Better yet, they may know how to make changes in the program by writing new code instructions.

2. We often view this knowledge and skill they have acquired, often on their own, as dangerous or harmful. At a bare minimum we are often annoyed that they are interrupting the class by showing other students something we don’t know about and can’t control. We are being haunted by the fear of the ghosts of our own inadequacies. We can’t possibly admit that these are not ghosts were are afraid of but real people, our students.

3. If we are truly going to be able to embrace and utilize technology tools in the classroom we need not to be afraid to take advantage of and utilize the skills of our digital native students, we must learn to embrace and engage with them in real, deep, and valuable learning experiences. We must be unafraid of the ghosts that would prevent us from moving forward into true 21st Century teaching and learning. Often times our students are far better resourced then we are in our schools. I love BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) for this reason. I can learn from their bringing new tech tools into my classes that I don’t have hands on experience with. Having students teach me, teach us is exciting, and they are often excited by it as well. What better way to model learning for them. Think of how we can model questions, how we can model different learning strategies, how we can demonstrate critical thinking and reflection, collaboration, feedback, and even self-assessment of what we are learning.

4. Let us do some Ghost Dancing ourselves by actually shocking our students by giving them the opportunities to teach us some of the things about technology that they know as we help them explore and critically think about the value of what we and they may be using. Let us strive to see the students we teach as people who are valuable right now, not just as shadows of their future selves. Remember learning is a life long process for all of us. Let us not miss the opportunities we have to teach and learn together right now.

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