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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Canada (01/29/09)

TITLE: "A Totem Pole Tale"
By Coleene VanTilburg


"A Totem Pole Tale"

“Zimmerman, last but not least. I'll bet you've heard that a few times, ey."

"As a matter of fact, I have," I said smugly to the coach as we gathered our potential team on the track that crisp, early fall afternoon.

I like running, and the cross-country team seemed to be the spot that I might just try and fit in. This is what my mom suggested anyway. As independent as I try to be, lonely is still not a good place. I still preferred running for myself, by myself. I just do not seem to be too much of a "people" person, so this would be my challenge.

Growing up in British Columbia, Canada, on Cormorant Island, has definitely allowed me to have an appreciation for the great outdoors and God's revelation of Himself through the grandeur of His creation. My father was a forest ranger who died in a tragic kayak accident when I was only seven years old. In the short time he had spent with me, he imprinted his passion not only for nature but also the Creator. I stayed connected to my dad's spirit by running; sometimes up to ten miles a day through the trees, down along the beach and over to the totem poles at the Namgis Burial Ground in Alert Bay. The hand-carved monuments of Indian culture arise to the heavens, telling their stories of family, tradition and pride. I spent a lot of time soul searching there after my runs.

My mom managed to care for my two younger sisters and myself, but I grew up pretty quickly and without many friends. I would hear the name-calling and wisecracks about the "quiet kid who liked the totem poles." I was stronger than that, but I now know I was partly to blame, resisting being close to someone.

"Yeah, I hear he talks to his dad's spirit there and does some weird chants..."

"I hear he makes some brew out of things he finds in the forests and drinks it before he runs."

They called me "low-boy" behind my back. I think it started one day after being called on last again (because my name starts with "Z"), and someone shouted out that I was the "Low man on the totem pole." Everyone laughed and thought that was so appropriate. I just retreated into myself more.

I was taking this big step now to get out of my comfort zone. I wanted to become a part of something other then myself. Something inside of me would give me the courage and strength. It worked and I bonded with my team mates and learned many new things about camaraderie and competitiveness. We had won our first two meets and the coach wanted to have a meeting. He called us together at the totem poles, there in the park along the beach.

"After two and a half weeks now, we are doing well and I am quite proud of you boys. We have decided we need a captain, ey."

To my surprise, the team overwhelmingly chose me. The coach made me stand as he talked to our team.

"Well, young man Zimmerman, you have inspired our team and you have actually taken on a leadership role and I know this has not been easy for you. As we stand in this place, and gaze upon these original carved works of art, I am reminded that it is the Master Carver who supervises the bottom part of these totems. If you notice, the "low-man" is actually the one holding the other figures up on his shoulders, lifting them up to their potential. Zimmerman, you may come last in the alphabet, but your team mates are proud to acknowledge your leadership and example. Thank you for letting us into your world."

At that point, a bald eagle swooped overhead, calling out to those below. I know longer feel the weight of the world on my back. My Creator taught me that day that fellowship has its purpose; to lift one up and encourage the spreading of wings, knowing we have support on the ground below.

Isaiah 40:31 …Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

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Member Comments
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Sara Harricharan 02/05/09
A great short glimpse on a coming of age story. I liked it, especially the ending with the eagle over head. Good job. ^_^
Karlene Jacobsen02/06/09
I enjoyed this. I'm glad your MC stepped out of his comfort zone and reached out and that those around him realized he needed them as much as they needed him. You tied it in nicely with Isaiah as well.
Karlene Jacobsen02/06/09
Oh, I was off reading others and had a thought. This is a great lesson for those who are discouraged about being the "low man on the totem pole"
I've heard that with a negative connotation. This really flips it for me. Thank you.
Lynda Schultz 02/08/09
Great analogy and application.
Valarie Sullivan02/11/09
I liked the analogy of the totem pole and the 'low man'. Great job!
Catrina Bradley 02/11/09
I really like this! Your writing is crisp, and I felt real emotion for your MC. I, too, love the totem-pole analogy. Great job!
Deborah Porter 02/20/09
Hi Coleene. You may already know this, but I wanted to make sure you knew that apart from your 2nd place win in Level 1 for the Canada Challenge, you also made it into the Highest Rankings over all. You placed 19th in the Top 30. Congratulations. That's excellent for a Level 1 entrant.

If you'd like to check the highest rankings for yourself, you can find them here:

The highest rankings are posted every Thursday evening on the Message Boards.

Congratulations! With love, Deb (Challenge Coordinator)