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September 8, 2005


Spinning Legends


photo of Dan O'GaraFrom Irish Leprechauns to Yurok Oo-Mah-Ahs, storyteller Dan O'Gara slings stories from around the world, while attracting master storytellers to our campfire.

Trinidad's Sixth Annual Storytelling Festival by the Sea, founded by O'Gara, takes place at Patrick's Point State Park, Friday night and all day Saturday, Sept. 9 and 10. Headliners are award-winning African-American master storyteller Diane Ferlatte from Oakland, and master storyteller/balladeer Dan Keding from Urbana, Ill., both of whom have been invited to the presigious National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn.

Left: Dan O'Gara

Karuk scholar Julian Lang and artist/singer Lyn Risling offer local tales. Others from North Coast Storytellers will join the fray for ghostly tales, stories for kids and the storytellers' version of an open mike.

"I like a story that makes you think," says O'Gara, "and I love a story that has a twist to the ending. I do like stories that are true, and kind of phenomenal, very close to unbelievable, but it could have happened. Those are the stories I love."

O'Gara plans the logistics of the event, a year-long process from contract negotiations to booking flights for out-of-town performers, as well as scheduling ancillary performances at local schools.

"Every year I think this will be my last one," O'Gara says. "It's so much work, and preparation. Last year it rained, so we filled up the Trinidad Town Hall. It was so warm and comfortable and nice in there and the storytellers were great. The day after,

I started calling storytellers for this year. Almost immediately I was committed to another festival."

O'Gara's personal back-story was built teaching for a dozen years in Sumatra and Columbia, gathering regional stories and legends in the process. Today, he collects Irish tales, as well as local California Indian stories.

"Being an O'Gara, I can't pass by an Irish story.

I just love Irish legends and stories about seals who befriend babies or people! I like a story where you think it actually could have happened, but it's really strange.

"But, I also live in Yurok country, and I am very interested in the great Yurok stories of this area.

I just love to hear Yurok tellers. There are some Yurok stories people have forgotten ... you hardly ever see them in the collections. That's where we thought about having the California Indian stage. We've got Karuk tellers, Tolowa tellers, Wiyot tellers; they're just a pleasure to have."

O'Gara says local Indian myths have a lot in common with those of his Irish ancestors, and include versions of Leprechauns, magicians and monsters.

"They talk about little people all the time. They have fantastic stories about a sorceress, and the word for her is (pronounced) Oo-Mah-Ah. Oh, and she can be so mean. Most of the time, in Yurok culture, it's a woman, but sometimes a man. She could turn into whatever she wanted. There's a story that I'm working on about two women that lived in Trinidad. They were supposed to have ... to hold an Oo-Mah-Ah, kept in a basket. The thing that is alive and powerful in that basket is called an Oo-Mah-Ah, but so is the woman who holds that basket, and with it they could travel with the speed of light.

"They have stories about all kinds of animals. How the vulture lost the feathers on his head. How the fox was so selfish on Crooked Creek and wouldn't share. A lot of their stories are about characters that are selfish, that never share -- there's a consequence for that. They use stories often to get ideas across to children and they tell that story many times. One thing I really like about Indian stories is they don't tell you what the moral is. I think that's a mistake. Most kids could think of a better lesson if you just let them think of it. Don't tell them what to think."

O'Gara, now retired from teaching, says his love of stories sprouted in the company of his oddball Irish grandfather who infected him with blarney and love of the craft.

"My grandfather, he'd say, 'Watch out when you go down to the barn, Danny. Jack Frost will bite your nose!' Who is Jack Frost? And he'd have you believe in it. Banshees. This woman that would sing when something bad is going to happen. I really didn't know what to believe.

"He did everything. He was a person bigger than life. He had been a cattle driver, he ran away from home at 15 and joined the Spanish American War, went to Cuba. He was a fantastic horseman, and he was a policeman, a constructionist for movie sets, a stunt man -- and he was pretty good at developing a story, too. We were just researching our family and you can see that a lot of the stuff that he said was true. There were a couple things that maybe weren't true (laughing), or that he made sound a little better than usual. But he did more than most people did in a lifetime. I hope it was all legal."

The Storytelling Festival by the Sea takes place at Patrick's Point State Park north of Trinidad, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 9 and 10. Friday's events include "Stories Under the Stars" with Diane Ferlatte and Dan Keding at 7:30 p.m. and "Mostly Ghostly Tales" at 9:15 p.m. by the Northcoast Storytellers.

Saturday's fest begins at 10 a.m. with "Children's Story Circle," including stories by O'Gara, followed by "Lighthearted Tales" from Keding and Ferlatte at 11:15. A catered lunch at noon is accompanied by "Story Swap" open to anyone with a brief tale to tell. Ferlatte returns at 1:45 p.m. with "Have I Got a Story To Tell." Keding offers "Stories and Ballads" at 3 p.m. Risling and Lang take the California Indian stage at 4:15 p.m. A dinner break, again with an optional catered meal, brings another "Story Swap" before the 7:15 p.m. "Festival Finale."

Admission is $30 for the entire festival, $20 for kids and seniors; or an all inclusive "family pack": $70, for two adults and two kids. There are also individual prices for morning, afternoon and evening sessions. For further details call Dan O'Gara at 677-3840.

Bob Doran


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