Sunday, September 22, 2013

Second Mesa

A while ago I picked up one of those glossy Arizona tourism magazines somewhere and dog-eared pages all the way through it. Lots of dog ears for all over the state. But one place was pretty close by and it involved food, so last week a friend and I made a trip north to Hopi Land, on Second Mesa. Just an hour and a half away, pretty much the same distance as going to Show Low, but worlds and cultures apart. 

What drew me there was mention in the magazine of the Hopi Cultural Center's restaurant, which served blue corn pancakes. You might think that based on the photos I took of meals at La Posada in Winslow that I make a habit of photographing food, but that's not necessarily true. I'd love to do it all the time when there's a great meal in front of me, but I usually forget as soon as the plate hits the table and all I think of is digging right in approaching my meal with ladylike gentility. This is the case even when I've taken the camera out and put it in my lap as a reminder. And, alas, it was the case when blue corn pancakes were placed in front of me.

I had an idea they would be coarse, like cornmeal-coarse, but they were not. Light and fluffy and just delicious, they didn't stay on the plate long. Our server told us of two ceremonies involving blue corn that are practiced still, with young women celebrating puberty and their marriage. They are given a quantity of blue corn and it is their duty to grind it into flour. They stay in a room with no outside light until the task is complete. They may have assistance from their mothers or aunts, and they don't have to grind it all by hand, but it must be finished before they can leave the room.

I also ordered blue corn dumplings. Pass on these if they're ever offered to you. I tried hard to like them, adding a little Splenda, but they were more like marbles than dumplings. When the server asked how I liked them it was apparent not much because there were still plenty in the bowl. Then she told me people usually smother them with sugar because they're not flavorful at all. I knew I'd been missing something - lots of sugar.

After pancakes we went to the museum, just across the plaza. Wonderful, wonderful museum. The main attraction was scores of black and white photographs of Hopi at their daily life, taken decades ago, some by Edward S. Curtis. But there were also pots and baskets and kachinas and jewelry. I seem to go into a blackout when it comes to Native American jewelry because, just like at Hubbell Trading Post, I didn't take one photo of the gorgeous silver work on exhibit. 

Here's an interesting tidbit that has no particular significance at all: Fred Kabotie was the Hopi artist who painted murals and designed patterns to be painted on sky light panels at the Painted Desert Inn, and he was also a silversmith. He was part of a group of returning WW2 veterans that was taught silver work, as a way of making a living. Photos of this group were on exhibit with the silver, the first time I'd seen a photo of Fred Kabotie. The interesting part is that in the late 1980s I took a silversmithing class from his son, Michael Kabotie. At the time I didn't know his father or his father's reputation and it wouldn't have mattered anyway, because Michael was an accomplished artist in his own right in many media, and a poet. I have one of his books packed away somewhere. What a coincidence. Even more so when one day a few years ago I happened across Michael's obituary in a section of the newspaper that I rarely read. He'd died of pneumonia and was just in his 60s.

Back to the museum. It's small and focuses just on Hopi naturally, but it's so worth the drive from the park.

There are several cases with many different kinds of Kachinas, which serve different functions. This article is interesting and explains their importance to the Hopi and how they fit into daily life. Here's an excerpt:
Depending on what the Kachina represents determines the type of clothing it wears, the color and the designs that decorate the face and body, what it carries in its hands, the time of year it appears and the ceremonies it participates in.


Pottery was also well represented. It's amazing to me that the designs are drawn freehand and yet are so perfect. At the same place I took the silver class with Michael Kabotie, I watched a Navajo artist decorate a pot with a complex design, entirely without any tool but the brush in his hand, and it met perfectly when he'd gone all the way around the pot.

The yellow paint on this bowl is from clay and will fire red. The black is a mineral paint and it will remain black. Different clays will fire different colors. Gray clay will fire orange-yellow, while yellow clay will fire red.

Having seen this exhibit, it gives me an appreciation for a project one of the archeology interns started while she was here this summer. She collected clay samples from areas around the park and was analyzing them to determine whether any of them could have been used to make pots that have been found here. If not, of course the pots would have been brought in from elsewhere so the next question would be, where? She packed up all these samples and they went back to school with her.

This bowl is a Kayenta (a place north of here) polychrome and dates to 1250. Imagine! It's not in pieces.

More examples of the pots on exhibit. We really liked the display of pot sherds on the platform around the intact pieces and using broken pieces as an exhibit stand in the second photo below. I've never seen that before.

Here's another exhibit, much older. The second one from the left was probably used as a chimney top. The one on the right is remarkable for its uniformity. These pots were made with the coil technique - remember clay snakes? - and I don't know if that would make it easier or harder to maintain a consistent 1/16 inch thickness. In relation to its size, the thickness is eggshell-like. No pottery wheels, no tools other than their hands and stones, and they were able to turn out utilitarian objects of such beauty.

My favorite item was a photograph that I would have sworn was a charcoal drawing. I couldn't get a decent shot because of reflection and I've cropped it to remove a lot of the glare but it's still noticeable and distracting. Isn't she beautiful anyway?


Thought of the day:
The purpose of our ceremonies is not entertainment but attainment. Namely, the attainment of a good life. (from a placard at the Hopi museum)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Full moon rising

The moonrises the past two nights have been glorious. Wide open skies here allow the moon to be seen as soon as it breaks the horizon, when it's at its largest and warmest. It rises among clouds in a darkening sky, beaming silver bright, enough to drown out stars all night long.


Thought of the day:


I sit beneath the cliff, quiet and alone.
Round moon in the middle of the sky’s a bird ablaze:
all things are seen mere shadows in its brilliance,
that single wheel of perfect light…
Alone, its spirit naturally comes clear.
Swallowed in emptiness in this cave of darkest mystery,
because of the finger pointing, I saw the moon.
That moon became the pivot of my heart.

(Han Shan, Cold Mountain Poems: Zen Poems of Han Shan, Shih Te, and Wang Fan-chih)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A road trip to the past

Hubbell Trading Post is a National Historic Site on the way to Canyon de Chelly. It's been selling all the necessities of life to the community of Ganado, Arizona since 1878. I've been there twice now, the second time just a couple of weeks ago with my friend Summer from Tucson, who I stayed with for a few days when I first came to Arizona. 

Although it was sold to the National Park Service in 1967, Hubbell is still a working trading post and has managed to hold on to the charm of the past.

I couldn't find reference to it, but the profile over the door must be in honor of the Navajo people on whose reservation the trading post sits.

The front room of the store has utilitarian items, mostly, but includes these tiny soft-as-butter baby shoes and boots.

The two back rooms are my favorite, though. One has cases full of silver and turquoise jewelry (I must have been busy drooling because oddly enough I don't have any photos of that) and a ceiling full of baskets like stars in the sky. 
The remaining room has a wall lined with old books and is stacked with Navajo rugs. Oh, my.

Don't see any you like? Just start digging through the piles.

Imagine the work involved in this. No automation here; it's all done by hand.

And here is my favorite. This beauty nearly leaped into my arms. The colors and pattern pulse with life and it would have been perfect thrown over the foot of the bed.

But not for me. It was the month to render unto Caesar and my coffers were dry. Maybe next time.

Thought of the day:

A living spark of tension exists between object and [observer].   (Traditional Japanese philosophy, Sojourns magazine, winter/spring, 2010)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

You are the sky...

I can't get enough of the sky around here. Well, except for a couple of weeks ago when it was gray for about three days and I started crawling the walls - it felt so much like the Pacific Northwest and that was depressing beyond belief. But we've had some stunning sunsets lately, just like this one from the other night. Right, these are all from the same evening, just different parts of the sky, and within about half an hour. I love this place.


Thought of the day:

You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather. ― (Pema Chödrön)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Oh, Pat!

A couple of weeks ago, I watched out my window as the traffic on I-40, about a half mile away, came to a stop and stayed that way for a couple of hours. I found out the next morning that my boss, Pat, of the "Oh, Pat!" fame, was in that accident. She was coming back from Flagstaff with a load of plants for the park. It was a minor accident that turned disastrous when her vehicle was hit by a truck after she'd pulled off to the side of the road.

I don't know the particulars which doesn't matter, because nothing can change the fact that she's in the hospital in Phoenix and it appears she will be for some time. 

Being able to do just about nothing else, this past Saturday a few of us got together to stitch a quilt together for her.
Here are the blocks being previewed for placement. We'd already spent a couple of hours putting them together.

Swapping out blocks, turning them this way and that, to make the best arrangement.

The finished top with all the blocks sewed together and pressed flat, waiting for borders.

Route 66 fabric will be used for the outer border of the front and the backing.

And the thing that makes it all come together, Petrified Forest panels scattered across the top.

Someone else will do the quilting and then off it will go to Phoenix. I wish it was so easy to get her put back together. If group effort was all it took, she'd be here already.

If you're of a praying mind, please keep her there. She can use all the help we can give.

Thought of the day:
I'm touched by the idea that when we do things that are useful and helpful - collecting these shards of spirituality - that we may be helping to bring about a healing. (Leonard Nimoy)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

One last trip to Chelly

A friend came up from Tucson earlier this week for a couple of days and we went to Canyon de Chelly. We managed to get to a couple of new turn outs that I hadn't been to before, so it was like a first trip for me all over again.

One place was Spider Rock, on the south rim of the canyon. It's a bit of a hike back to the viewing area but worth every step. 

Anyone who knows anything at all about photography knows that the light makes all the difference. The light shadowplay on the mesas in the background adds texture to the view that would be missing without the clouds. 

Spider Rock, in the middle foreground, is about 750 feet high. According to Native American tradition, the taller of the two spires is home to Spider Grandmother. This from Wikipedia: "The Spider Grandmother is creator of the world in Southwestern Native American religions and myths such as that of the Pueblo and Navajo peoples. According to mythology, she was responsible for the stars in the sky, she took a web she had spun, laced it with dew, threw it into the sky and the dew became the stars."

This is my favorite photo from my last trip to the canyon, at least for this year. It will be interesting to see it under winter skies when I return after the first of the year.

Thought of the day:
Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts...there is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter. The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for scientists but are available to anyone who will place [herself] under the influence of earth, sea, and sky, and their amazing life. (Rachel Carson)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

All creatures great and small

After coming home one afternoon to find a gigantic snake heading for the shade under the picnic table, I now take a glance around before putting my foot just about anywhere, including bare pavement. It turned out to be a harmless gopher snake, harmless even though it was about 3 feet long. Somehow all my photos of it have disappeared but they weren't that good anyway because it was doing a good job of hiding.

Other snakes have either shown themselves, like the rattler we saw on the road during the night ride,

or leave just a trace behind, like this track I found on old Route 66.

Then there are the snakes that are caught as part of a wildlife survey the biotech performs all season, like these two that she brought to show me.

An Arizona elegans, obviously pretty 

I don't remember this one's name. It was a little on edge, so she left it in its bucket and I photographed from a safe distance. She weighs and otherwise documents everything she traps, then returns them to where they were found.

I saw this guy just the other day and should know its name but am honestly too lazy to find out. It was warming itself near Puerco Pueblo.

The same is true for this chunky one, distinguished by its turquoise belly, that I saw on the trail into the Painted Desert, aka The Trail from Hell.

This is a horned lizard, which I know only because my friend who was with me told me so. It has a gimpy front left leg; every shot I have shows it tucked underneath. It was also seen at Puerco Pueblo.

And my all-time favorite, a collared lizard. I was so proud to have gotten pictures of this one, thinking I'd found something unusual, only to find they're pretty common. Isn't it handsome, though? I spotted it early on in my time here, on the Long Logs trail.

Then we have the various flyers. This raven was trying its best to cool off on a day that didn't feel all that hot to me, but then I don't wear black feathers. It was sitting on a wall at Crystal Forest. Gorgeous.

Normally I wouldn't save, let alone show in a public place, a photo as blurry as this one, but I just couldn't leave it out. This is a hummingbird moth. I watched it flit from flower to flower, extending a proboscis just like a hummingbird, and thought it was the smallest one I'd ever seen. Then I saw the antennae which you can kind of see angling out on either side of its head and knew it was no hummingbird. It never landed anywhere and this is the best I could do on the wing.
I think I've seen more monarchs here than in my entire life combined. They don't stay still for long.

I think these are monarch caterpillars. I've rescued a few from the road and put them back in vegetation where they belong.

[edited 9/6: wrong on the ID on the "monarch." This is a monarch caterpillar: 
I still don't know what the fuzzy one is.]

I don't know what this one-incher is. I found it on old Route 66 one day.

Another unknown. They're all over and usually on the wing, so it was just chance I caught one at rest on Route 66 the same day I got the caterpillar above.

You just have to hand it to an ant. Look at the size of the seed this one's carrying - more mass than itself. I think I can, I think I can.

How totally cute is this little guy, spotted at Blue Mesa. A chipmunk? I don't know. What I call chipmunks other people call ground squirrels.

A really beautiful coyote, spotted near Newspaper Rock a couple of days ago, unsuccessfully hunting and pouncing on something in the grass,

but nothing as large as this jackrabbit.

And then we have domesticated animals. There are two horse-rangers that perform really good public relations in the park, Pintado and Trooper. They're ridden by people-rangers and are a hit everywhere they go. Pintado, on the left here, performed admirably by laying his chin on the girl's shoulder when her mother took her picture. Trooper used to be a race horse and had to be taught different manners when he was being taken out to the public. They're both gentle, calm animals that are great ambassadors for the park.

These rangers spotted me with the camera pointed their way and obliged with a friendly wave at the close of one beautiful evening on the road to the Painted Desert Inn.

Thought of the day:

Animals don’t lie. Animals don’t criticize. If animals have moody days, they handle them better than humans do. (Betty White, If You Ask Me)