A Place Below the Cattails

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As a woman with Passamaquoddy roots when I first came to Abiquiu I was invited to participate in the seasonal celebrations that occurred in each of the six pueblos that were located along the Chama/ Rio Grande River. These gracious invitations made me feel blessed, grateful, included, and at “home.”

 

My own people’s lives and traditions were destroyed by colonial peoples centuries ago.

 

Yesterday, I was invited to attend a river blessing on what I call Red Willow River a tributary of the Rio Grande by folks of Spanish and Indigenous descent who live here in Abiquiu on the mesa. These people, although local, are of mixed descent and do not follow the seasons and cycles of the year as the surrounding Pueblos do. There is a heavy overlay of Spanish colonialism along with a restrictive (to me) Catholicism that sets this village apart from the pueblos.

 

Still, I was looking forward to this local celebration.

 

It was supposed to be led by Tewa Women United from the neighboring pueblos. It was a beautiful day, and of course we were all on “Indian Time” which means practically that ceremonies start when the time was right.

 

However, this blessing of the river didn’t come together at all. People milled around aimlessly. Some left. The children some of whom were dressed in regalia played for a while and eventually got hungry. Some complained they had to get back to school for a game.

 

Because this celebration was supposed to honor the waters and the river, I had brought one of my Zuni bears to be blessed.

 

I approached one of the head honchos of Abiquiu village to ask if I could include my little bear in the blessing, and was told curtly that it was my job to watch.

 

Stunned and deeply distressed, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I am a ritual artist who has been celebrating the eight spokes of the year (akin to the Indigenous way) for almost 40 years. I removed my little bear from my neck and walked down to the river.

 

Kneeling by her waters, I submerged my small bear three times praying that the wild bears that were being slaughtered throughout this country of unspeakable violence would be spared suffering as they were killed…

 

My tears of grief spilled into the slowly meandering gray sage green river. On my return to the group I heard the drum…

 

It was at that moment I saw the gift. Retrieving it instantly I recognized it as an eagle’s breast feather.

 

Someone had heard this prayer.

 

Maurice, from Abiquiu village was leading the children and some of the other Genizaros (self defined name the mixed blood population of Abiquiu) in some circle dances after which he invited the public to join in.

 

Maurice is a dancer that is filled with the Spirit. His feet never touch the ground. Every time I witness his dancing I am struck anew with wonder. I loved watching the children with their colorful ribbons flowing in the wind. The dancing ended abruptly after a few minutes and the people went home.

 

Although the focus of the gathering had been aborted, it was fun talking with friends under the shelter of the cottonwoods.

 

As a woman who thrives on rivers, brooks, warm summer rains, and abundant moisture I felt satisfied that I had come to do what was in my heart and to honor the gift of water that brings me life.

For Love of Cranes

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We know from fossilized records that the Sandhill Cranes are one of oldest birds in the world, and have been in their present form for 10, 30, or 60 million years (depending on the source). They have apparently maintained a family and community structure that allows them to live together peacefully and migrate by the thousands along a central flyway twice a year. Sandhill Cranes mate for life, and in the spring the adults engage in a complex “dance” with one another. During mating, pairs vocalize in a behavior known as “unison calling.” They throw their heads back and unleash a passionate duet—an extended litany of coordinated song. Cranes also dance, run, leap high in the air and otherwise cavort around—not only during mating, but all year long (Even young birds begin dancing and throwing sticks and grasses into the air while jumping around enthusiastically).

In their northern habitat, the female lays two eggs a year in thick protected areas at the edge of reed filled marshes. Before nesting these birds “paint” their gray feathers with dull brown reeds and mud to reduce the possibility of being seen by a predator. Born a couple of days a part, the second chick rarely survives. The remaining fuzzy youngster, if it survives the first year, stays with its parents for about three years before reaching sexual maturity and striking out on its own, but even then the adult stays within the parameters of its extended family, and it is these families that comprise the small groups of cranes that we see flying together. During migration, a multitude of these groups travel together by the hundreds or thousands. There are no leaders and often it is possible to observe what looks like an unorganized random group (but isn’t) or diagonal thread made up of cranes flying (up to thousands of feet) above the ground.

 

In every watery roosting place there are a few cranes that remain awake all night alerting their relatives to would be predators, and in fact I have been awakened during the night by crane warning cries that sound higher pitched than normal. I think it’s significant that these very ancient birds have survived so long in their present form. Could it be because they understand the value of living in community, perhaps acting as models for humans who, for the most part, seem to have forgotten what genuine community might consist of?

 

Most recently these birds have been a presence in my life since last November when they first arrived, I believed for a brief stopover, before moving south to places like the Bosque del Apache to spend the winter. When I first came to New Mexico almost three years ago I was astonished and bewildered by their haunting collective cries even when I couldn’t see them which was most of the time during the month of November…

 

This year the cranes not only stopped by but many decided to spend the winter here much to my great joy, perhaps a result of Climate Change which is shifting their migration patterns and created conditions like the extreme drought that dramatically lowered the level of the river over this last year.

 

My hypothesis is that the resulting shallow riffles in Red Willow River (one of which just happens to be below my house) provided many cranes with the safety they needed to roost there all winter long. For three precious months I listened with awe and wonder to pre-dawn crane murmuring and on sunny mornings watched groups of cranes take to the air with their haunting br-rilling cries. Every night I would stand outside to listen to that same contented collective murmuring just before dark as the cranes settled in for the night. When they are all talking to one another (cranes need to be in constant contact with each other) it is hard to distinguish one voice from another because listening to the whole is a symphonic masterpiece. But this winter I slowly learned to identity various cries by listening to smaller groups as they took to the sky. The highest pitched belong to the youngsters, the lowest and most full bodied calls come from the males and the females speak in tongues from the middle.

 

Sandhill Cranes are omnivores and feed on land or in shallow marshes where plants grow out of the water during the warmer seasons. They prefer a diet of seeds and cultivated grains but also include berries, tubers, crayfish worms, frogs, small animals and insects. In the field next to me they fed on wild sunflower seeds and grasses.

 

As previously mentioned Climate Change is shifting migration patterns. Some groups are now spending their entire lives in one place like Florida (these are endangered), others are no longer migrating further south than Tennessee, although they also fly north in the spring. It is unusual to have cranes living in Northern New Mexico, although I understand from local fishermen that a few have occasionally remained here throughout the winter. I recently learned that Sandhill Cranes have even been seen in parts of Maine.

 

Their normal migration routes take them from Mexico as far northwest as Siberia into the Canadian Shield and Alaska to breed with one major stopover in Nebraska at the Platte river where 600,000 cranes meet to rest themselves before making the last leg of their arduous and dangerous seasonal journey (another group that settles further northeast makes a stop in Mississippi). In the fall all northern populations will make the trip south for the winter because of inclement weather and lack of food.

 

New Mexico and Texas have the dubious distinction of being the first states to legalize crane slaughter and now every state along their central flyway except Nebraska engages in spring and fall hunting. We can thank the state Fish and Wildlife organizations for “managing” the crane population by issuing licenses to kill these magnificent birds to bring in even more money when these organizations are already extremely well supported financially by the NRA and our taxpayer money. A Caveat to those that don’t know: All State Fish and Wildlife agencies, that purport to support wildlife have a deadly hidden agenda: to kill birds and animals at their discretion.

 

Although at present these birds appear to be maintaining a stable population the low survival rate of even one chick a year alerts us to the fact that uncertain survival rates and delayed reproduction factor into the difficulties inherent in crane conservation, and to that we must now add Climate Change – the ultimate unknown. It is prudent to recall that by conservative estimates we have already lost 50 percent of our non – human species.

 

When I first began to hear the cranes I never imagined that I would start to see them or watch them make gracious descents into a neighboring field at all times of the day, every day for months. Watching them cup their wings, drop their long legs and spread their tails as they parachute to the ground is a gift that I have never taken for granted. A solitary musical rolling rill, a haunting cry that raises the hair on my arms is a sound that now lives on in my mind and body.

 

Spring migration has begun and the largest aggregations of cranes are moving north. Some days the bowl of blue sky feels too empty, but some small flocks are still visible especially during the early morning and again at dusk. I noted the sudden loss of large flocks just before this last full moon and wondered if these birds also migrated at night. Further research confirmed that Sandhill cranes sometimes do migrate after dark during the week before and after full moons.

 

A few days ago the Core of Engineers opened the Abiquiu dam raising the river and the protected riffles below my house disappeared, so during this last week in February I am without the morning joy of listening to nearby pre-dawn murmuring, but can still see and hear some cranes flying by. According to my friend Barbara R. some flocks remain at the Bosque del Apache, so hopefully we will be hearing their haunting cries for a while. It isn’t until April that all Sandhills reach the Platte River …

 

Pueblo people say that humans were once Cranes who lived in the clouds… they came to earth and danced for joy in the rain… Cranes also watched over ceremonies and remain a part of some Indigenous rituals today. Sandhills also act as Guardians for the People easing transitions from life to death and beyond….

 

Cranes are Elders in every sense of the word, ancient relatives and they continue on, some adapting, others following unknown scripts or patterns that stretch back to antiquity. The way they live, migrating out of seasonal necessity, returning to home – places, celebrating through community and song in life and death is a way of being that embodies flowing like a river… And for that, their magnificent beauty and inherent wisdom, I thank them.

 

I close this narrative with a Zuni prayer about the relationship between Cranes, Water and the Rebirth of Spring.

 

“When our Earth Mother

is replete with living waters,

When spring comes

The source of our flesh –

All the different kinds of corn

We shall lay to rest in the ground.

 

With their Earth Mother’s

Living waters,

They will be made into

New Beings…

 

That our Earth Mother

May wear a fourfold green robe

Full of moss

Full of flowers

Full of pollen,

 

That the land may be thus

(S/he has made you)

I have made you into living beings.

For Love of Water

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Each morning I awaken to the soothing sound of water flowing over stone and remind myself that this is July in Maine, definitely the hottest month, and usually the driest at least before climate change began to create havoc with our weather.

 

By this time of the year, my brook is usually barely audible, but this year with the increased rainfall it is still running, has a large pool with iridescent rainbow brook trout swimming happily, and the mink leave teeny little prints in the mud after finishing their morning ablutions.

 

Fat tadpoles are swimming about in the “almost vernal pool” I dug for them next to the brook and yellow swamp iris were still in bloom on my return from Abiquiu.

 

Best of all, the scent of water is overpowering and whenever I walk down the mossy hill that meets tall mint spires, round pincushion moss and sage green sphagnum mounds I am overcome with gratitude for this precious gift because water is life.

 

I am glad that both my brother and my father’s ashes are buried there.

 

Kingfisher’s family rattles up and down the winding brook hunting for food; last year the terrible drought left him without adequate fishing territory.

 

When I have the courage to listen to local news the low water table that I witness uneasily as I scan the edge of the brook translates into the drought that is still with us.

 

As of June Maine is at least three plus inches below “normal” rainfall for this time of year. It is easy to be lulled into believing that the drought is over, but of course, as the trees will tell you, it is not. The white pines have new shoots growing as if their lives depended on it and they do. All the grasses are seeding up and my very wild flower jungle is a visual feast with deep crimson fiery orange, lemon yellow, and delphinium blue… Tiny toads and garter snakes abound and the thick fog laden air is so sweet I can hardly bare it.

 

I feel as if I have acquired two “home places” or more accurately, they have acquired me. This one in Maine has been my sanctuary for thirty years. Abiquiu has been a dream that finally came to fruition last summer, when I fled to a mountainous New Mexican desert from a blistering world of withering flowers, falling leaves, and crumpled dead grasses that left me wondering if life would continue here in Maine. There, I discovered people with oh such generous hearts who literally took me in.

 

I came to live on Red Willow river and fell in love with elephant armed cottonwoods, lizards and snakes and the wildflowers that adorned the high desert scrub. Each day as I walked down the river path, I would stop a moment to give thanks for the gift of that torrent that would bring the farmers the precious water they needed to grow their crops. I watched the sun rise over a fog bound serpent who rushed to the sea. In my mind, the two places have become two pieces of one whole in my life. I belong to both.

 

Here I cannot rest in the dappled light, so golden at the edges of the day, under trees with emerald leaves so heavy with fruit, without thinking of that other home to the south of me…

 

That home where water is too scarce and thunderheads do not bring the rains the people must have to live. When I left there in June, temperatures skirted 100 degrees – a great wall of heat that literally took my breath away. By then the birds had raised at least one clutch and hummingbirds buzzed like bees around feeders that I filled twice a day. The magenta cholla were in bloom as were the crimson and yellow roses that my neighbor tends to with such love.

 

I confess, my body cannot take the heat of summer in Abiquiu, though the other three seasons work well for me. It occurs to me that perhaps this is how it is supposed to be. I am meant to return in the spring to this piece of land, my own lilacs, fruit trees and wildflower gardens, and hopefully to the sound of a healthy brook that still runs clear.

 

For the moment, I am at peace, though I miss my Abiquiu friends – people who have stolen my heart much like the sage gray green high desert has.

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Every day I call out to the frog gods to bring the rain to this high desert with its reptilian mountains that is also my home. Never mind that it took 72 years to find it.

 

Every day I give thanks for the precious gift of water that brings all of us life.

 

Every day I wonder when people will see the gift of this water, and once again honor it as Indigenous peoples have done since he beginning of time…

Seed Ceremony on Earth Day

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(Above) The seed basket I was given to place seed offering – curiously I have a little dog basket like this one at my home in Maine.

On Earth Day I attended a Genizaro/Tewa all day presentation called “Seeds of Hope and Healing” which espouses a way of thinking that acknowledges the sanctity and power of untreated seeds to create uncontaminated food for all people.

In the pamphlet given to each participant it states that “The New Mexico Food and Seed Alliance was formed in 2006 following the Seed Sovereignty Declaration in which farmers from tribal, Pueblo, acequia communities, and other farmers signed a declaration to defend seeds from genetic contamination.

 The name of these annual gatherings in three languages beginning with Tewa recognizes Indigenous peoples as seed savers and guardians of countless generations of seeds. It also recognizes that land- based people have borrowed from and added to these traditions with seeds and food traditions from around the world. The Indo –Hispanic people who are mestizo, or of mixed ancestry (Genizaros) have evolved a land-based culture after centuries of growing food in their respective villages…

 The seed exchange and gathering is an affirmation of the unity that is possible between cultures and this unity is necessary to defend seeds so that future generations can continue… to save seed and grow their own food.…

Four Northern Pueblos participated in the 12th Annual Owningeh Tah Pueblos y Semilles Gathering and Seed exchange: Abiquiu, Santa Clara, San Juan, and Taos. The group’s mission statement includes saving not only seeds but extends to protecting animals, fruit trees, and wild plants for the purpose of sustaining a way of life that has been in existence long before Europeans set foot in this country. It is only in this way that The People can continue to resist the global industrialized food system.

In the large room a sacred circle was created by the women, who put beautifully embroidered wide sashes and hand woven baskets in each of the four directions on a beautiful handmade blanket. The women also sprinkled corn pollen in the circle. There were two empty baskets to contain the seed offerings. In the center a beautifully painted white and black clay bowl was surrounded by two ears of corn on each of its four sides. People were asked to line up in four lines choosing the direction they came from: North, East, South or West.

The ceremony began with the leader who blessed the space, and added a prayer for the dead. He called forth the four lands and four waters making offerings to each of them. We all sat in a circle around the simple altar. Small handmade baskets were handed out and we placed a few seeds in our baskets, and when it was our turn to enter the sacred space, we were asked to speak our names, state where we lived, and what seed(s) we were offering for a blessing. We moved around the circle counterclockwise (the indigenous way) leaving it after adding our seeds to the other offerings. The ceremony was solemn, and the experience was deeply moving.

What came next was a total surprise. The sound of drums beating in the distance gradually became more insistent as the Santa Clara dancers emerged from another room. Those that were gathered together witnessed an astonishing Rain Dance, (the first I had witnessed) that filled the room with its vibrant colors, sounds, and prayers that centered me so completely, that I too, became part of the dance. Every day we look to the sky in hopes that the rains will come.

The seed exchange occurred afterwards with people leaving with small envelopes full of seeds grown by another. A feast had been prepared for all the participants. Later in the afternoon three women spoke about the hope that comes with the seeds. How each contains new life, and that each seed is a miracle, a perspective that is also my own.

The young are the hope of the future and I was struck by the young women’s presentations from the Youth Alliance all of whom honored their mentors and were committed to passing on the traditions of the pueblos to which they belonged.

 

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The men spoke too and I remember mention of the spiral and how important this symbol was to the People. From the DNA spiral to the way a sunflower seeds up, to the shape of galaxies, the spiral is a universal life form.

Acknowledging “Truth of Place” one man spoke earnestly about how this land was their church. This land, her mountains her waters all sustained his people generation after generation.

One member of Abiquiu pueblo talked about the history of the Genizaros who until recently went unrecognized, although Abiquiu was given a Land Grant in 1754. Genizaros were Indian children and young women who were sold or traded and became Hispanicized, losing touch with their Native roots for a time. Today both Indian and Hispanic festivals are held in Abiquiu to acknowledge these once invisible people.

The day ended with Los Genizaros de Abiquiu closing the ceremony with an Eagle Dance. The two participants, Dexter Trujillo drummer and singer, and the Eagle Dancer, Maurice, dressed in flaming orange and red feathers were spell binding to watch as they moved towards and away from each other. The eerie sense I had was Maurice actually became an eagle.

A seed pot made by Indigenous artist Roxanne Swentzell was presented to Abiquiu Pueblo in recognition of its Genizaro status.

For a person like myself, who has been something of an “earth mother” tending to, and saving seeds for much of my adult life, this ceremony felt like the first recognition of the importance of this work over the span of one woman’s lifetime; I am 72 years old. Even though I will be returning to Maine before the summer begins I will carry this ceremonial recognition close to my heart. I couldn’t help thinking about the datura and redbud tree seeds that I had tenderly been germinating for the last month. Most, if not all, will find homes here in the desert, but I am content, knowing that I have participated in the spring planting for one more cycle. I am absurdly happy that wildflower seedlings are popping up where there were none before! Soon, I believe, redbud trees will follow.

Eagle Day

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It was zero on my outdoor thermometer when I took the dogs for their early morning walk under a brilliant January sun, grateful that today there would be no wind because Bruce and I were going to spend at least two hours outdoors on a look out point spying for eagles.

The drive to Abiquiu lake was stunning. All the hills were covered with a fine coating of snow that seemed to etch and pull each rounded peak forward, highlighting the layers upon layers of mountains that lay behind one another – creating an undulating earth tapestry. Here and there patches of red were visible. As always the colors of the stone cliffs that lined the highway on one side captured my attention. Bruised purple, lavender, pink, ochre, buff and red rock provided a continuous visual feast for hungry eyes.

Below: red hills and mountains from look out

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Many people turned out for this bird watching/counting event, and a brief power point presentation inside the Core of Engineers’ office discussed some of the reasons for this event. I recalled that southern bald eagles were smaller than those in the northeast, but neglected to ask what the differences amounted to in weight. I learned that no one knows why there are so few bald eagles in New Mexico. I puzzled over this conundrum because there are many areas of open water and the Rio Grande flows through the state. I was discouraged to hear that eagles were still being shot in this state and that lead poisoning was still the second cause of death for these majestic predators. We were also told that eagles were quite “lazy” a word I wouldn’t use to describe eagle behavior because I know from personal experience that these birds are opportunistic choosing to steal fish or game that has been caught by others if they have the chance, in order to conserve precious energy, but who also hunt extensively on their own. I think this flexible attitude of theirs speaks to eagle intelligence. To cite another example – it is well known that Corvids like crows and ravens all use the same techniques for hunting if they can get away with it. These birds also use tools and have been studied extensively for intelligence (see Biologist Bernrd Heinrich’s work).

Before the group dispersed – some went on two boats and the rest of us were directed to look out points on land – we got a chance to meet Maxwell, a captive adult male eagle who could not be returned to the wild because of a wing injury. I have spent a lot of time in my kayak watching the eagles on North Pond (in Maine) raise their young, but I had never been this close to a live eagle before. Poor Maxwell seemed very nervous, and who could blame him? We were all enthralled, and busy snapping too many pictures for his comfort. A couple of times he tried to fly up and away. His great talons looked deadly and I was surprised to learn that he could only carry two pounds of prey. I knew for a fact that northern eagles made away with unsuspecting cats and adult loons who often weighed much more than two pounds! I had personally witnessed an adult cat capture on a neighbor’s field in Maine, a few years ago.

Maxwell’s sharp curved beak was huge (and larger than that of the golden eagle whose territory overlapped that of the bald eagles in this area) but it was his ice blue eyes that bored holes through me when I looked into them. The other thing that struck me forcibly was the sight of his pure white tail feathers, which fanned out both times Maxwell tried to escape. The feathers were Sangre de Christo mountain white, the color of newly fallen snow. Almost blue.

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Dispersing to the look out point that Bruce had chosen I felt excited by the prospect of sighting eagles soaring in the air. When we reached the top of the knoll (almost) about ten or fifteen of us we all began to scan the horizon. We were in radio contact with all the other folks and it wasn’t long before the first eagle was spotted. I found it difficult to find this particular bird that was perched on what seemed like a very low snag. He looked small in the distance. We had seen a couple more eagles when someone spotted a female mule deer running down below us. I was thrilled. I have lived here since last August, and although I have seen tracks, I have yet to spot a mule deer in the flesh. I had forgotten how mule deer bound – almost bounce along – because it has been 20 years since I last saw one in Arizona.

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Above Abiquiu lake from our look out point

To my utter amazement, a few moments later we glimpsed a male mule deer, with a full set of antlers, enter the water just below us and begin to swim. I was dumbfounded! The Park Ranger remarked that he was trying to get away from us and I concurred. People hunt both deer and elk and because of that they both have learned to fear humans. (I just hoped that men hunted them primarily for food, as the Tewa do). Watching the buck through binoculars, I was riveted by the sight of this majestic animal almost completely submerged except for his rack of antlers. I tried to count the number of points but he was swimming across the lake to the other side, and my eyes simply couldn’t keep focusing long enough to see. But it really didn’t matter. The sense of wonder I experienced was overpowering. I have lived around white tailed deer in the north most of my life and feed about 30 during the winter but I have NEVER seen a deer swimming across a lake before! When the buck reached the other side he seemed uncertain as to where he was going next. By this time my binoculars felt too heavy and I stopped watching him, just grateful to have been part of this astonishing experience.

What a day full of adventures! All in all 12 eagles were counted and this seemed like a respectable number to me. When Bruce and I drove home we saw two more of these birds sitting in a cottonwood down by the river.

Later, reflecting on the experience as a whole, I was struck by the sense of balance inherent in the sighting of the eagle, a magnificent predator of the sky, and the male buck with his beautiful rack of antlers. It seemed to me that both sky and earth had conspired to gift us with the sight of two animals, both of which are held in great esteem by Indigenous peoples and by others of us who are not.

Close up shots of Maxwell taken by Bruce Nelson

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Feast Day at the Pueblo

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I arrived at the square in front of the Adobe church just as the bells were being rung just inside the open door. Mass was over. When the drumming began the bells seemed to be ringing in harmony. The hair stood up on my arms and involuntarily I looked up into a cobalt blue sky remembering the story…

Abiquiu had a unique heritage… no one knows exactly when the village was settled but the story goes that in ancient times ancestors of the Tewa Indians had come from Mesa Verde in Colorado and some peoples called the Asa settled in the Chama valley around Abiquiu. There are at least ten prehistoric pueblo sites that can be found in this area. In the 16th century ( perhaps earlier) the Asa left their homes and began to migrate south to Santo Domingo and west to Acoma, Zuni, and Hopi villages. Sometime later the Asa were forced to leave Hopi country because of severe drought and joined the Navajo in Canyon de Chelly. Here they were treated well and food plants like peach nuts were exchanged. As often happened, some women married into the tribe and later the people returned to Hopiland and built new homes at Walpi, defending the Pueblo’s south side.

From the Great Pueblo revolt beginning in 1680, the Hopi’s were secure on their mesa top and were able to resist Spanish domination for a long while. Other tribes were not so fortunate. Eventually sometime in the 1700’s some Hopi’s began to listen to the Catholic friars and agreed to move eastward. A group of descendants of the old Asa people, about 400 people, returned to New Mexico and settled at Abiquiu for the second time, for this was the place from which their ancestors had departed centuries earlier. Other Indians – the Pawnee, Wichita, Apache, Comanche and Kiowa – had been raised from childhood in Spanish households as servants. In New Mexico both Hispanicized members of these nomadic tribes and Pueblo Indians like the Hopi who broke with their own cultural tradition became known as Genizaros. The Hopi settled in one area of Abiquiu away from the plaza and were known as El Moque. The other group, descendants of Plains or other nomadic Indians clustered around the plaza and village church of Santo Tomas Apostel. The women and children of the Ute and Navajo were often taken in battle and adopted by Abiquiu families adding additional Indian blood to the mix. In 1754 Abiquiu was recognized as a legal community when the village was issued a Land Grant to its Genizaro Indians. Today the villagers think of themselves as Hispanics but they also acknowledge and honor their Native roots that extend back to the southwestern soil with two yearly celebrations, the Feast of Santo Tomas, always held during the last weekend of November and the Feast of Santa Rosa that is held in August…

The drumming became more insistent as the procession appeared at the church door. Santo Tomas led the procession as four young girls dressed in bright red regalia complete with brightly colored ribbons danced in circles along with (led by?) one gifted male dancer named Maurice. The girls had bright red spotted cheeks to signify their purity and held turkey feathers in each hand. This dance honored the young Indigenous girls that were taken as slaves during raids and battles between Native peoples, Mexicans, and Spaniards. New Mexico’s history was so bloody and lasted for so long that I was amazed that these Indigenous peoples survived with any traditions intact. Later, in the evening, the women that were also taken as hostages would be honored at a dinner held in one of the buildings on the plaza.

I joined the people following the pageant around the church. Each time they stopped the dancers circled around, and loud whoops punctuated the air as a gun discharged its bullet. I wondered if the roar of the gun was symbolic of the Spanish Invasion but I read in one of local histories that the point of the Civil war gun blast was to ward off evil spirits. Both could be true. After circling the church the dancers dispersed and disappeared quite suddenly. It was a beautiful morning as my new friend Iren led the way up a steep and winding hill past village houses with astonishing views and crossed Abiquiu creek (which we walked through!) to one of the homes where a celebration was already under way. A table was set up outdoors with Posole as the featured dish. The corn and the sauce were separate and even though I wasn’t particularly hungry I appreciated tasting yet one more rendition of this delicious Mexican dish. Traditional cookies were passed around a number of times with two kinds of cake afterwards. Coffee and wine were also offerings. Three musicians gathered around the metal tables to sing songs and then all were invited to dance. I felt awkward not knowing the steps, and after a few turns left the drumming circle so I could watch everyone else dancing. The general effect was hypnotic.

Eventually the clouds closed in and it became quite cold (it felt like snow) so Iren and I started down the serpentine hill. When we passed the cattails on either side of the road I could understand why this location was chosen for a village because the creek (whose waters were crystal clear) once provided the entire Pueblo with it’s drinking water, and the upper fields were watered by Acequias from the same creek. Below the fields were irrigated by acequias from the winding Chama river. Iren told me that cattle were still raised here, and I saw a horse munching grass in a small pasture with surprisingly thick green grass. I loved the way the houses were perched on flat areas that were surrounded by mountains on every side. When Iren and I parted to enter our separate cars, she thoughtfully waited to make certain that mine started because I was having serious engine/brake issues.

It wasn’t until I got home and began reflecting on the day that I experienced a peculiar sense of kinship with the village of Abiquiu. Each time I visited the Pueblo I had this same experience, either at the library or at my friend Beatrice’s house. I felt honored to have been invited to this gathering of people that included folks with such varied ethnic backgrounds. I wondered about my own Native Passamaquoddy roots and wished that the oral traditions of the northern Indigenous peoples had survived…

I know how grateful I am that Abiquiu Pueblo is attempting to bring back more of its earlier traditions. The Abiquiu Library and Cultural Center (totally dependent upon grants) is doing what it can to help the people here any way it can. “People of Abiquiu…have never refused to shelter anyone, regardless of their obscure or humble origins,” wrote Giberto Benito Cordova author of a folk history of Abiquiu. The Pueblo itself sets an example for the rest of us. Although times may be hard for many people in this country there is a sense of determination and pride present in these Indigenous people that reflects their strength and character – providing a cross cultural beacon of hope for all of us to live by.

Photo Taken by Iren Schio –

Abiquiu 1

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We have been living here  in Guadalupe’s little round stone house for about two weeks making the acquaintance of many rabbits and hares, three kinds of hummingbirds (ruby, black chinned, rufous) and the canyon towhee, a rose colored house finch, flycatchers, and a multitude of gorgeous desert lizards – the stunning blue green collared lizard, a yellow and red striped fellow that I think is the chihuahuan whiptail, and my favorite, the sagebrush lizard who seems to like hanging around the house. These friendly little lizards like the stone ledges to  bask in the sun. The desert cottontails come in for seed in the early morning and evenings. Black tailed jackrabbits (hares) meet and greet one another, leap around the scrub, fragrant sage and rabbit brush at the edges of each day. They too feast on sunflower seeds. Yesterday a juniper titmouse called out to me from its tree in the wash. Juniper and pinion pines seem to dominate the landscape but there is one juniper or cedar (cypress family) that reminds me of the northern white cedars of Maine that I can’t identify. Wildflowers are abundant and the wild mounds of Datura with their violet tipped trumpets are sweetly fragrant in the early mornings and are humming with bees. I have huge clumps Datura everywhere outside my door and will sow seeds around Guadalupe’s house as soon as the thorny pods are dry and brown to usher in the coming of autumn. I also have diminutive clumps of sky blue blossoms with a yellow beak, bushy mounds of delicate yellow star-like flowers and masses of Russian sage.  I also discovered a barrel cactus under its nurse tree, a helpful Juniper. I dug this up and planted it in a pot. The washes are full of little mounds of magenta flowers. Tiny plump bushes of asters dot the landscape. Yesterday while watering my small juniper I saw an emerald green praying mantis amidst the thorny leaves and the broad winged katydids bring in the night with sounds so soothing they put one to sleep. Ravens squawk from the highest buttes. I have seen night – hawks soaring, scissor -like at dusk and heard the hooting of the great horned owl on the full moon. Huge puffed up cumulus clouds rise up in the afternoons; every day the desert folk, animals, plants and people pray that rain, carried by shark gray clouds and flashes of lightning will come to sooth the parched cracked earth. Abiquiu, like much of the rest of the country is suffering from drought. The mountain ranges and little red hills are astonishing in their beauty – peppered in subtle sagebrush grays and greens –  sunsets catch the sky on fire.

 

We have a community dog named Snoopy that belongs to this cluster of houses. Mine is set off from the others and has it’s own long winding road. This is probably a good thing because Snoopy has not been welcomed by one of my Chihuahuas, who, because of her behavior has been named the “Barracuda” by one of my closest neighbors! Wild dogs are a nuisance and bark at night while coyotes sing up the stars.

 

I have met two wonderful people who have helped me in so many ways already that I feel that I will be indebted to them forever! It is such a gift to have so much in common with these kind generous hearted folks. And for me, having people I depend upon for help finding my way by car has become necessity because of my severe directional dyslexia. I was told by someone who knows me and lives in Abiquiu that I would have no trouble negotiating the driving to get groceries and other necessities. That assessment was incorrect. I am so used to fending for myself that it is hard to depend so much on others for such basic help, but I have no choice. Thus, I feel doubly blessed by these neighbors and their offers of  assistance…

 

What follows is a list of the birds that I have seen and I think I know by name:

mountain blue bird

pinon jay

mourning dove

raven

crow

turkey vulture

scrub jay

great horned owl

black chinned hummingbird

ruby throated hummingbird

black chinned hummingbird

flycatcher

nighthawk

canyon towhee

house finch

coopers hawk  (landed on Lily B’s outdoor cage terrorizing him)

juniper titmouse

 

August 19th

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