Falling Stars and Irene’s House

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A couple of days ago I went with my friend Iren (who is an amazing artist and has lived here for many years) to search for more petroglyphs. First we climbed a steep hill at the top of which a solitary burnt umber rock stood out because it was the only (small) stone in the area. This rock had no patina, so on my own I never would have thought to examine it. A baffling picture emerged as I bent over to see the figure etched into the eastern side of the rock. It could have been a cross or a kind of stick figure, I still don’t know.

Next we climbed the Mesa and descended deep into the canyon below which at this time of year is shaded and somewhat protected from the wind. We saw tracks of at least one elk and those of a mountain lion. Huge rough barked cottonwoods stood like gnarled sentries along the way.

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The first petroglyph I saw was in the sun fairly high up on the canyon wall and had a spiral on one side of it and on the other a pecked picture of what might have been a falling star or the path of its trajectory. One source on Pueblo warfare (Warrior Shield and Star) suggests the star is a multivalent symbol of Venus, the War Twins, and the Morning Star. An equilateral cross was also pecked into the cliff. The four directions? Other figures were unrecognizable because the rock face was gradually disintegrating. People who visit this fragile environment don’t realize that the sands are literally shifting beneath their feet, the rock faces are changing shape with every seasonal rainfall and biting winter winds carve the stone pillars into even more fantastic shapes even as others collapse, huge hunks of earth tumbling into the wash. Nothing stays the same here, and the transient nature of life is in evidence at every turn. I love the feeling that I have of being in “right relationship” with the Earth when I am experiencing her in this manner. Changing Woman Lives! There is something utterly mysterious about wandering through a desert wash. At such times I feel as if Nature is all that is…and I am at peace.

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Further on we encounter another petroglyph. I think I discern is a creature with antennae? Later, softening my gaze as I looked at this photo I suddenly glimpsed a human -like figure with raised arms. The antennae might be feathers? Beyond this picture we come upon serpents who are swimming horizontally along the canyon walls. I am unclear as to the meaning of so many serpents but I do know that they are associated with the powers of water. While in the Peruvian jungle Indigenous people taught me about Sachamama (land) and Yakamama (water), the two serpents that brought the people to earth from the Milky Way and gave them everything they needed to thrive in the jungle including Ayahausca, a visionary plant concoction that they could use to enter the spirit world. Native peoples traveled and traded extensively through North and South America millennium before Europeans arrived. I can’t help wondering if the myths and stories of Indigenous peoples were influenced and even conflated by this ongoing contact? Another unsolved mystery.

IMG_0640.JPGThe canyon cliffs looked as if they had been painted and allowed to dry naturally with some colors bleeding into others in some places. The colors, ranging from oyster, buff, a dull orange to a gravelly charcoal gray were absolutely stunning.

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When we turned around to go back up the canyon one side was completely shaded, allowing me to see the beautiful multicolored stones embedded in the cliff and the sand that shifted from baize to rust without the glare from the sun. I imagined the force of the water that sometimes gushed down the arroyo tumbling boulders, uprooting trees, drowning everything in its path. As we wended our way back up the canyon and climbed the Mesa, we headed for Iren’s house where, I soon discovered, I was in for another surprise.

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First we walked down to the river, which is fish – deep in places and wide and shallow in others. Both Iren and I love water and together we listened to the soothing sound of the river singing to her stones. In the late afternoon sun the river sparkled a deep cobalt blue… We saw and heard geese flying overhead. Iren has created paths through the brush for meandering, and as we walked, bits of potsherds, and glittering chert (used for making arrowheads etc.) could be seen embedded in the ground. I picked up a few small pieces with reverence. This land was situated just across from the Mesa where at one time 15,000 pueblo people lived. I could almost see the indigenous women who came to this part of the river (perhaps to gather clay) and formed beautiful clay pots working at the river’s edge. I was struck by the sense that this piece of land held a story. The Power or Spirit of Place was palpable here.

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When we arrived back at Iren’s house I was positively overwhelmed by the beauty of the adobe home that had been built by her husband and the massive amounts of Iren’s art work that seemed to be everywhere I looked – a feast for hungry eyes. It seemed to me that Iren worked in every medium. Various intriguing metal sculptures, windows crafted out of colored bottles, stones, artfully placed captured my attention. This house, unlike so many others in this area, was not separated from the land by walls or gating but was built into the earth and open to the surrounding desert. There was an attached tower that looked out over the river and valley. Iren had planted various junipers and pinion, a climbing wall had been built into the side of the adobe, and this is when I learned that Iren also climbed sheer walls. “It’s good exercise,” she remarked smiling. What an understatement.

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Entering the house was an overpowering experience because the house meandered – room after room – and was impeccably crafted with smooth clay tiles on the floor. Iren’s paintings and other pieces of art like a magnificent deer headed Kachina adorned the walls or stood on tables. It was all I could do to keep up with what my eyes were seeing! Eventually we sat down in the porch to sip a glass of wine from stunning crystal goblets that chimed. I loved this sunny cactus and plant filled room that looked out on the wild grasses and natural desert scrub. What a great place to watch for birds and to gaze at the stars at night. Iren pulled a book down from one of the many bookshelves and opened it to a page that had a photograph of a petroglyph that had been found in Italy. Both of us had Italian roots but I had not known that these petroglyphs existed until Iren told me about them. I was astonished and delighted. What a lovely way to end another petroglyph hike!

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Petroglyph Fever

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A couple of days ago I went on a hike with a friend who took me to see some petroglyphs. These pictures that are pecked into stone were created by the Pueblo people that settled in the surrounding river valley along the Chama River probably a few hundred years ago. Perhaps some figures were pecked earlier and others created later after the Spanish Invasion and the Indian wars?

Unfortunately anyone that searches for petroglyphs will see that some people can’t seem to view these mysterious images without adding their own names, or in some cases shooting at the rocks or otherwise defacing the surfaces.

At the first rock very close to the river there was a strange creature that my friend thought might be a mole. I thought it might be a dead antlered animal with humans dancing under it. After my initial impressions I attempted to identify some of the figures without success unless I included the two mountains, the sun and the moon, and largeIMG_0606.JPG serpents into the mix. Both the horned serpent and other snakes were etched into the stone. I felt confusion rising. This rock was probably telling a story, but I couldn’t understand what was being said. I didn’t know the language.

After pausing for a while at this site discussing possible meanings we began to climb up the steep rubble of nearby hills and the further up we traveled the more beautiful the landscape beneath us appeared. The hills beneath us became part of an undulating fabric that draped itself over the land like a soft blanket. I struggled mightily to keep a foothold on the rocky ground while my adventurous and skilled climbing friend seemed to move effortlessly in front of me. I was afraid that I would not make it to the second petroglyph at all!

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Eventually, we reached the summit of the last peak, and after I gasped at the sight of the startlingly white snow – covered Rocky Mountains to the northeast, we began a slippery descent into a small valley in between the knolls. Here was a second lichen covered rock with the same dark patina and another set of petroglyphs. This stone seemed to be in a straight line with that of the river rock, now so far below us. I don’t think it was an accident that beyond the second petroglyph rock the sky opened into a magnificent valley that led to Copper Canyon many miles away.

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If possible this second set of petroglyph images was more baffling than the first! It was dominated by a large filled in circle, strange lines and stranger figures one of which (a scorpion like animal?) I thought I recognized from the other site. I looked for other similarities and found few beyond serpents. I was startled to note the obvious Christian crosses. Although they appeared to have been pecked at the same time I suspected that the crosses had been added after the Pueblo people had accepted Christianity as their religion. I re-called from prior petroglyph hunting in Arizona that sometimes one set of images or “story” was superimposed over another. Both of these rocks faced east although this second one seemed more open to the sky.

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The wind was fierce and relentless and I welcomed our descent into the valley; the sun was low on the horizon and it was getting colder.

I arrived home exhilarated with my head full of unanswered questions. I was ever so grateful to my friend for taking me on this particular hike. I had been hooked again by the “petroglyph god” and couldn’t wait to peruse the books that she had so thoughtfully brought me hoping to answer some of the questions about what I had seen. And of course, most of all, I hoped for another such experience. Soon!