SNOWMASS VILLAGE --Oral storytelling is an art form little understood, Merrilee Hindman will tell you.
"I like telling stories because when you tell a story to a child ... you remove that third wall, and you have just you and the other person and the story," Hindman said.
Hindman started telling stories in the '70s, when there was a movement to bring back the oral tradition. The Carbondale resident went on to earn a master's in storytelling from East Tennessee State University, and now takes her talent to local schools and the Ice Age Discovery Center for some apres-ski family time.
Hindman says when people listen to a story they imagine it in their own way more than when they read it on a page.
"When you're hearing it you remember it more than if you're just seeing it in front of you," she said. "I always say if I'm telling a story to 300 people, I'm not telling one story, I'm telling 300."
To keep her repertoire fresh, Hindman reads stories constantly. When she finds one she wants to tell, she studies it and reflects on it, and then retells it in her own words. Often that means changing a third-person story into a first.
"I go away, and what's left is the story," Hindman said.
Hindman has been telling stories apres ski in Snowmass for several years now. The storytelling has had different homes in Snowmass over the years, but the Ice Age Discovery Center is one of the more conducive to listening because it's indoors, Hindman says. On Wednesday afternoons, she perches on the hearth of the fireplace there and sets out stools and chairs in a semi-
circle in front of her.
She tells mostly folk tales from various cultures, including Native American, Australian and Western stories. Last year, in the wake of the fossil discoveries in Snowmass, she told historical stories about the Ice Age, but this season she says she's returned to her traditional catalog of stories.
When she's telling stories in Snowmass, she usually has a different group of visiting families every week, so she has to pick from that list on the spot.
"I have to gear to who's here," Hindman said. "You have to be really flexible so that you can meet the age level."
She doesn't necessarily choose her stories based on age level though. Last week, several Australian families were present, so she told a folk story about why koalas have short tails. A Spanish-speaking family also joined, and the parents helped her interpret some words for their children.
Storytelling is free and open to the public. Children must be accompanied by an adult.