Hear, hear! Please witness this fruitful display of young literary accomplishment. 

In a celebration Saturday, 49 local youth were awarded for their commendable submissions to the Redwood Writing Contest, a local competition for 3-12th graders. Their works of poetry, short story and nonfiction have been anthologized in a book illustrated by Cal Poly Humboldt student Lauren House and published by the Press at Cal Poly Humboldt. The anthology is available for purchase on Amazon for the humble price of $3.83, and a sneak peak of what’s in there is at the bottom of this post. 

The anthology, illustrated by Lauren House

Some of these local awardees also entered their work in a state-wide writing contest hosted by the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE). Two of them won: Fuente Nueva student Ian Sowerwine for the poem “Cave Music” and Arcata High student Kona Bettenhausen for the short story “The Perfect Clearing.” We’ve attached them below for you to check out!

The Redwood Writing Contest is a collaborative effort. It’s organized by the Redwood Writing Project, a Cal Poly Humboldt based non-profit that offers free professional development on teaching writing to local K-12 teachers and hosts youth writing programs. This year, the Redwood Council of Teachers of English helped judge the entries, and the organization Humboldt Sponsors bought every winner a copy of the anthology.

For the 2024 contest, students responded to the prompt: “Hidden Gems: write about a moment when a person, an experience, or the world revealed something unexpected to you. What was the impact of that revelation?” The contest received a total of 194 submissions – more entries than ever before, Redwood Writing Project Director Nicolette Amann told the Outpost. 

That said, the contest has inspired warming milestones in years past as well. Impressed by the 2023 contest entries of Hoopa Elementary students, 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo visited the school [via zoom] to host a writers workshop last fall last spring. Harjo created and judged and selected 4th grade student Avery Benson as the winner.  Then, two Hoopa Elementary 2023 CATE winners, 4th grader Avery Benson and 7th grader Carmen Ferris, were invited by the organization Turnaround Arts California to present their poems in Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center earlier this year. 

Anyway, attached below are a few of these pieces for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

[We’ve updated this story following feedback from a former Hoopa Elementary teacher.]


Cave Music
By Ian Sowerwine, 2024

The always noise:
dripping water
from the low cave ceiling
jewels glittering from
below the dark water
millions of tiny animals
with their own tiny noises
oddly peaceful and quiet
but still
the always noise:
Cave Music.

The Night of the Acorn Festival
By Avery Benson, 2023

My Dad had to go to work
far away

the night of the Acorn Festival
the first time my sister and I were going
to wear traditional clothing

The maple bark skirt scratched my legs
Maggie gave me a cap woven of white bear grass
and black maidenhair fern
to wear on my head

The deer hide belt hung heavy around my waist
heavy olivessa, abalone and clam shells
heavy pine nuts and deer hooves

The long necklaces
made of dentalia and glass beads
made a “tic-tic” sound
swaying back and forth as I walked

I felt a special part of my culture

I missed my Dad

the night of the Acorn Festival

I Come From A Place Called Hoopa
By Carmen Ferris, 2023

I come from a place called Hoopa
My home is on the Rez        
             where I go to the store
             and people say, “You are beautiful….
             just like your mother.”
I carry the swallowtail necklace my grandfather made for me
             on a silver chain around my neck
I offer the language of my people
             I know some words
             not all
             that’s better than none at all

I come from a place called Hoopa

I come from the bald eagle flying in the air
My home is with the black bear eating a steelhead
             by the river
I carry a salmon on the end of my fishing pole
I offer to care for my people

I come from a place called Hoopa

If I were not Native who would I be?

How could I ever try to change
and be someone else but me
how could I ever want to change
the color of my skin or
where I come from

how could someone not want
to be Native

like me

The Perfect Clearing
A short story by Kona Bettenhausen, 2024

Part I: The Discovery

I was 8 years old when we discovered the clearing. My brother, Mark, was 6. Our house was in a neat little neighborhood enclosed by a dense wood, and Crawford Elementary School was about half a mile away. To get there we traversed the forest via a pedestrian path before entering the district of grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and the constant hum of traffic.

In the early winter mornings, the forest was too dark and snowy. On those days we put on our gloves and wool coats and took the far route to school. Mark would clutch my hand as we crossed snowy intersections. In summer we stayed out late with our playmates, exploring the forest. One bright afternoon in May, my brother and I were out playing in the woods near our house.

“What’s that?” I asked.

My brother was holding something in his fist. His palm unfolded to reveal a small yellow-painted rock.

“Just a rock,” he said.

“Where’d you find it?” I asked. I grabbed it from his hand and examined its chalky surface.

“It was in Gracie’s garden!” He pawed at my hand to get it back, but I cranked back my arm and hurled it towards the canopy.

“Hey!” Mark yelled, and we both watched it arc through the tree branches and land in the distant underbrush with a clash. Mark took off toward the noise, leaping over ferns and logs and I ran after him.

“Slow down, you’ll get hurt!” I called out, but by then Mark had already stopped and was now surveying the forest floor. He stomped over to the base of a large stump and picked up the golden object. He held it in the air like a trophy.

“That was too easy,” Mark announced. He wheeled back his arm and chucked the rock as hard as he could. Thus, a game started, in which each of us tried to throw it the farthest without losing it for good. The bright object was never hard to find amongst the brown-and-green terrain. 

As we weaved through the forest, we ventured farther from our known world. The trees became more grand and vibrant, and the grass became tall. Up ahead, it seemed as though there was a wall of trees. Their branches tangled with each other and dense hedges surrounded their trunks. When it was my turn to throw the yellow stone, I catapulted it towards the thicket. Mark and I watched it disappear through a gap in the trees.

“You lost it!” he cried. We scampered over to the thicket and searched for the object, crawling under the massive hedges and dirtying our hair. Eventually, I found a tunnel through the hedge where I could see an empty clearing.

“Mark, come over here!” I saw the branches rustle and bend as Mark squirmed his way through the brush. As we pushed away the final leafy branches it felt like we had entered a portal. Our rock was lying in the center of a large dusty bowl, bordered by a lush, grassy creek. Large trees of all different kinds surrounded the clearing. Willows, cherry trees, beautiful blooming magnolias, and the tall oaks formed a wall around the entire place. Their branches seemed to arch over the clearing like a majestic gazebo of life. This was the most beautiful place I had ever seen in my life.

For the next two months, I would visit the clearing almost every day. After school, my friends and I would grab a soccer ball or some snacks and play in the clearing until our shadows stretched out across the dusty floor. Mark and his buddies would always tag along. My friends and I were older, so we tended to pick on them, claiming our territory and blocking it off from theirs. You needed the secret password to enter. Fallen branches were our swords. Old stumps were our fortresses.

Occasionally we would find garbage in the clearing. One time we uncovered an empty beer bottle filled with dirt. After emptying it, we used it as an instrument to sound the alarm for imaginary intruders. Other times, we used it to play keep-away or kick-the-can. Sometimes we just lay in the sunlight, in that grassy patch near the brook. No matter what happened, we always left the clearing with smiles on our faces.

Our fun was quickly extinguished when my father received a job offer in Boise, Idaho. Our family moved out within a month. I vividly remember our last visit to the clearing. The sun was already beyond the treetops. The clouds glowed above with the fading light of day. We took a final look around the clearing, before trudging back home. 

Part II: The Return

I had a dream last night where I was in the clearing. I was there with Travis, Zeke, April, and more of my friends from high school. There was some kind of controversy but I can’t remember. An oak tree here, some bushes there, an old stump we used to climb in—fragments of an ancient memory.

For the last two days, Mark and I have been visiting our Aunt Beth who resides in Crawford. I haven’t been here since we moved away almost 10 years ago. I’ve gone through middle school and high school without even thinking about this place. Yet as soon as I returned, those memories that had been locked away were restored.

My family and I are sitting in a cramped booth at Felix’s Diner. The restaurant is much older than me, but we seldom went out to eat during my childhood. This space is filled with clamor. Babies are crying, silverware is clanking, and the jukebox is playing a broken record. I’m beginning to realize why we never came here. I nudge my brother, Mark. 

“Look at them,” I murmur, nodding toward the family adjacent to us. Both parents have their heads bent down over their phones. I can see the screen’s colors reflecting off their eyes and faces. Mark leans his head out of the booth a little bit, and then quickly pulls it back in and puts his mouth to my ear.

“He’s watching TikTok,” Mark whispers. The couple’s child seems playful. She paws at the man’s arm, and we watch him produce an iPad from the bag beneath his chair. The child takes the iPad, and the family returns to their isolated state.

“It’s a good thing we didn’t raise them like that,” our mother says to Aunt Beth.

“Mark, you wanna go for a walk?” I ask.

“Sure. We’ll be right back, Mom.”

A bell jingles as I push open the glass door of the restaurant. Mark and I walk across the parking lot.

“Do you remember that spot we used to go to? In the forest?” I ask.

“Oh yeah, of course I do. Are we going there?”

“I just wanna see if it’s still there.”

We cross a barren road and set foot into the lush wilderness. The public forest has narrowed, due to the expansion of suburbia. The once-giant trees have shrunk down to saplings. I can see through the forest to an apartment complex on the other side. We follow the road down to a familiar cluster of madrones. The clearing should be in the center of this grove.

Mark and I walk through a gap in the wall of trees surrounding the clearing, and all of a sudden, we are children again. I remember my elementary school friends just as they were when I left them. Mark is 6 years old. He has a large grin on his face. His hands are muddied and his hair is tangled.

“Wow, this is crazy,” Mark exclaims, “it’s so much smaller than I remember.”

“Yeah I know, we were like this tall,” I say, raising my hand to my torso.

Mark starts strolling around the circumference of the clearing, looking at the trees and the changes to the landscape. I walk to the grassy area by the stream, remembering our old adventures here. Something clear and shiny catches a ray of sunlight through the grass.

We always knew that other people visited our clearing. There would sometimes be trash lying around, or abandoned clothing. I glance over at my brother. He is mature now, but I know he still has a pure memory of this place. I kick some dirt over the twisted latex condom lying on the ground. This is our safe space, and Mark should always know that.