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Entries in Arizona (18)


Blue Highways: Navajo Bridge, Arizona

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapAs we blaze new frontiers with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM), in this post I reflect upon the idea of frontiers and how they are disappearing in a world growing smaller.  Perhaps this blog is another manifestation of a frontier - a literary, geographical, reflective frontier.  I'll let all of you Littourati out there be the judge of that.  Click on the thumbnail of the map to learn where on the frontier the Navajo Bridge sits.

Book Quote

"Somewhere out there was the Colorado River perfectly hidden in the openness....

"The highway made an unexpected jog toward Navajo Bridge, a melding of silvery girders and rock cliffs.  Suddenly, there it was, far below in the deep and scary canyon of sides so sheer they might have been cut with a stone saw...

"In 1776...a Spanish expedition led by missionaries...wandered dispiritedly along the Vermilion Cliffs as they tried to find in the maze of the Colorado a point to cross the river chasm.  They looked for ten days and were forced to eat boiled cactus and two of their horses before finding a place to ford; even then, they had to chop out steps to get down and back up the four-hundred-foot perpendicular walls.  My crossing, accomplished sitting down, took twenty seconds.  What I saw as a remarkable sight, the Spaniards saw as a terror that nearly did them in."

Blue Highways: Part 5, Chapter 3

Navajo Bridge from inside Marble Canyon. Photo at the site of the Federal Highway Administration. Click on photo to go to site.Navajo Bridge, Arizona

How amazing it is when one comes across a piece of grandeur that strikes one suddenly because it is unexpected!  I wrote in an earlier post about this theme, and now is as good a time as ever to expand upon it.  I've never been to this area where the Grand Canyon begins, but I've had just this sort of experience in New Mexico when, driving across what appears to be a limitless expanse of desert west of Taos, a thin dark line suddenly turned into the gaping Rio Grande Gorge with its majestic, soaring and terrifying bridge, all steel girders and archways, seeming yet so flimsy as it tremored ever so slightly in the wind and as cars drove over it.  As I looked over the edge to the Rio Grande's waters flowing toward the Gulf of Mexico far below, I literally felt weak-kneed and had to back away from that abyss.

LHM doesn't stop to look over the side of the Navajo Bridge and writes that it took him all of 20 seconds to cross sitting down.  How he contrasts it to what the conquistadores faced upon gazing at the 400 foot sheer cliffs of the Marble Canyon in that desolate area of Arizona is what's interesting to me.

I've often, in times of deeper thought about this subject, lamented that I was born in a time when the physical frontier seems to have receded.  What do I mean by frontier?  I think of frontiers as a kind of limit that is also an invitation.  The frontiers of my experience are where I can find something new that excites me or causes wonder.  In finding that limit, I can explore it, and push my frontiers to new limits somewhere just beyond my perceived horizon.  Frontiers are not barriers.  If one cannot go around, above, under or through an obstacle, then the obstacle stops one from exploring further.  It is not an invitation, and if one sees a barrier then by necessity the frontier ends there.  If one initially perceives a barrier, but after exploration finds a way past it, then the barrier represents what was once the limit of one's frontier but was just another obstacle to overcome.

I realize that frontiers are what we make of them, and that often the places that we think of as frontiers have most likely been explored before.  Yet what makes a frontier, to me, are those places where we can at least think that we are the first or one of the few people to have forayed there.  Those places seem now to be few and far between.  Wherever we go, someone who has been there has put a sign up of their passing, hoping that it will mark their achievement for eternity.  West of where I live is the Petroglyph National Monument, where natives of the area inscribed their signs and symbols on the ancient lava rocks to inform and warn others.  Over some of those inscriptions have been carved newer ones - names of settlers in the 1700s and 1800s.  Over those have been spraypainted graffiti.  Multiple generations of "tagging," if you will, have made it abundantly clear that this area is frontier no more.

In contrast, I think of those conquistadores who, according to LHM, wandered about the "maze of the Colorado" looking for a place to cross.  As they gazed out upon the canyon, in what must have been a mixture of awe at the harsh beauty and sheer terror at whether they would make it out alive, they were pushing a frontier.  It looked like a barrier, but in overcoming their terror and carving steps down and up the sheer sides of the cliff, they turned it into an obstacle that they overcame, and pushed their frontiers farther.

Granted, the Hopi had been there before but for all intents and purposes, the conquistadores were exploring an area that nobody in their reality had ever seen before.  It was so impenetrable that in the mid 1800s explorers were still trying to understand the geography and topography of the area and discovering places where few people had ever been.

What it must be like, for just a brief second before our petty human interests get in the way, to be an aborigine standing for the first time on the shores of Australia, or a Marco Polo gazing upon a new country that would one day be named China, or a Columbus landing at Hispaniola, or a Neil Armstrong setting humanity's foot for the first time on a different world!  In those moments, I think, something in us pauses, just for a brief instant, to understand that there is wonder in what lies before us in the unknown and in that moment our horizons are pushed farther away and lead us to speculate and imagine all the promise and possibility before us.  That brief pause for reflection therefore seeds new exploration and new frontiers.

Horizons are always being reached, and new frontiers conquered, not only in the physical realm but also in the sciences and philosophy and whatever else we can think of.  Someday, we may find new frontiers to explore in our solar system and beyond.  In reality, I push new frontiers every day personally, professionally and otherwise.  I don't often think of those as frontiers - at least frontiers that I can physically feel and touch.  So for now, I lament that as our world gets smaller, its physical frontiers are rapidly disappearing, and I treasure those moments when I can imagine that I am the first to see a beautiful landscape or a geographical wonder.  In those times I can feel that I too am an explorer, standing somewhere between the awe and beauty of what's before me, the fear of what happens next, and the hopefulness of what my discovery might mean for my life.

Musical Interlude

When I was in high school, Journey was one of the hot bands.  I had Journey's Frontiers album, and I remember this song, Rubicon, speaking to the hope, anger and possibilities of my youth.  Needless to say, I blasted it a lot until I wore out my cassette tape"Rubicon" refers to Julius Caesar crossing a river in Northern Italy to make war on Pompey.  To me, it also refers to decisions where one takes a step over what was a barrier, and thereby pushes a frontier and writes a new future for oneself.

If you want to know more about the Navajo Bridge and its environs

Excellence in Highway Design: Navajo Bridge
Marble Canyon Photo Gallery
National Park Service: Navajo Bridge
Navajo Bridge Photo Tour
Wikipedia: Navajo Bridge
Wikipedia: Marble Canyon (community)

Next up:  Cedar Breaks, Utah


Blue Highways: Tuba City, Navajo Nation

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapA stop in Tuba City, Arizona on the Navajo Nation gives me a chance to recognize my fascination with the complexities of language and how Native American languages helped win the Pacific War in World War II.  Thanks, William Least Heat-Moon (LHM)!  Click on the map thumbnail at right to see where Tuba City, largest community in the Navajo Nation, is located.

Book Quote

"Tuba City, founded by Mormon missionaries as an agency and named after a Hopi chieftain although now mostly a Navajo town, caught the sandstorm full face....

"....I've read that Navajo, a language related to that of the Indians of Alaska and northwest Canada, has no curse words unless you consider 'coyote' cursing.  By comparison with other native tongues, it's remarkably free of English and Spanish; a Navajo mechanic, for example, has more than two hundred purely Navajo terms to describe automobile parts.  And it might be Navajo that will greet the first extraterrestrial ears to hear from planet Earth:  on board each Voyager spacecraft traveling toward the edge of the solar system and beyond is a gold-plated, long-playing record; following an aria from Mozart's Magic Flute and Chuck Berry's 'Johnny B. Goode,' is a Navajo night chant, music the conquistadores heard."

Blue Highways: Part 5, Chapter 2

Downtown Tuba City in the Navajo Nation, Arizona. Photo located at Wikitravel. Click on photo to go to site.

Tuba City, Navajo Nation

It is very interesting how synchronicity sometimes enters into the picture when one is searching for a topic for a blog where he's done 125 or so previous posts already.  I was trying to figure out an angle for this post, and then the faculty and staff newsletter at the university where I work had a story on a Navajo professor of linguistics who has been studying the Navajo language.  To see the full text of the article, go here.  Otherwise, I'll give you a quick synopsis.  Before I do, however, I have to say that I love the idea of languages and linguistics.  I have never studied them in much depth - I can say a few words in Spanish and German - but I am amazed at the way language can influence a person's view of the world.  Sometimes, I feel shackled by knowing only English, and that I could grow so much if I only knew another language fluently.  I guess that is for the next life.

According to the article, Navajo is more in use as an everyday language than ever before, despite the inherent difficulties in translation to and from English.  In Gallup, New Mexico, right next to the Navajo Nation reservation, a radio station sportscaster does play-by-play of local basketball games in the Navajo language (known as Diné).  In Pine Hill, New Mexico, a local radio newscaster translates the national NPR news into Diné in real time.

I'd always heard that the Inuit lnaguages have some insane amount of words to describe snow.  LHM writes that Navajo is related to those languages, and therefore it makes sense that a Navajo mechanic would have 200 or more words for auto parts at his or her disposal.  I can't even imagine having so many words available to me for one concept.  In English, rather than having separate words describe the many facets of one thing, we add qualifiers - adjectives - that gives us the quality of the thing being described.  Snow is powdery, or fluffy, or wet, or cold, or any of a number of ways snow can be.  The adjectives can be used in other contexts as well, such as fluffy bedding or powdery sugar.  In that way, we take some shortcuts to be efficient.  We learn adjectives and nouns separately and combine them as we see fit.  It seems that in Navajo and languages to which it is related, you learn the adjective and noun together in one word.  You would then have a word which means fluffy snow, which is quite distinct from the word that means powdery snow, and so on.

Not only that, but evidently, according to Professor Paul Platero at the University of New Mexico, a linguist and Navajo himself, the verb structure of Navajo is even more complex.  We have a subject-verb-object structure in English, as in, for example, "I see the dog."  We change the verb a little to indicate tenses, such as "I saw the dog," or "I will see the dog."  However, Navajo adds prefixes onto the verb, up to nine in all, in order to indicate tense and other types of qualifiers.  One must translate the subject, verb and all the prefixes to get the intent of the speaker and do it fast enough in order to understand and move on.

Not only that, but Professor Platero says that there are regional dialects of Navajo.  Northeastern and Eastern reservation Navajo sound more nasally than Navajo from the central reservation region, and western Navajo have a vowel sound unheard in the rest of the reservation.  Should you visit Tuba City, you would probably hear that type of dialect from people who are more local, though you would probably hear some of all dialects (and Hopi) since Tuba City is the largest community in the Navajo Nation.

It is that complexity which encouraged the US military to use Navajos in the Pacific Theater in World War II as "code talkers."  The language was so complex and so difficult to translate that the Japanese never broke the code.  We had broken the Japanese code relatively early in the war, and were able to know where their troop movements and ship movements were going.  The US military even used its understanding of the Japanese code to intercept Japanese naval commander-in-chief Yamamoto's (the architect of the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor) and shoot down his plane while he was on a tour of military operations in Southeast Asia.

The US military Navajo code was never broken by the Japanese.  Primarily used by the US Marines, it was used to transmit secret tactical information over radio.  The Navajo code talkers were extremely accurate, and Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division signal officer, commended them by saying that the US would have never taken Iwo Jima without them.  The Navajo code was also used in the Korean and Vietnam Wars until it was retired.  Other Native American languages were also used, such as Choctaw, Comanche, Cherokee and Meskwaki, but the Navajo code became the most famous out of all of them.  The US did not acknowledge the Navajo or other Native American code talkers and their achievements until President Reagan's commendation of the Navajo code talkers, and it took up to 2007 for the other tribes that provided code talkers to be recognized for their war efforts.

Should a friendly extraterrestrial life form discover the Voyager spacecraft and hear the gold plated recordings, let's hope that they are sophisticated enough to understand one of the most difficult languages on our planet.  Should they be unfriendly, let's hope that they find it too difficult, or we may be calling on the Navajo to help us again.  Now why didn't they think of that in the movie Independence Day?

Musical Interlude

I can now give you a selection by R. Carlos Nakai, Navajo and Ute flautist.  This is Creation Chant


If you want to know more about Tuba City

Navajo Times (newspaper out of Window Rock for the Navajo Nation)
Wikipedia: Tuba City
Wikitravel: Tuba City

Next up:  Navajo Bridge, Arizona


Blue Highways: Hotevilla, Hopi Reservation

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapA little bit of a rambling, somewhat disjointed post for you this time, covering cops, wind, tumbleweeds, and journeys as destinations.  Also a little bit of original poetry, and The Marvelettes.  What would a "thought" blog about literature be without some jumping around once in a while?  Click on the thumbnail of the map to learn where Hotevilla is located.

Book Quote

"A tribal squadcar checked my speed at Hotevilla, where the highway started a long descent off the mesa. The wind was getting up, and tumbleweed bounded across the road, and sand hummed against the Ghost. West, east, north, south - to each a different weather: sandstorm, sun, rain, and bluish snow on the San Francisco Peaks, that home of the Kachinas who are the spiritual forces of Hopi life."

Blue Highways:  Chapter 5, Part 2


Water tower in Hotevilla, Hopi Reservation. Photo by "nativeone28" and hosted at Panoramio. Click on photo to go to host page.Hotevilla, Hopi Reservation

I have been stopped by police twice in my life.  One was when I was in high school.  Our road had a new stop sign on it, but people in my neighborhood who were used to driving straight through with no stops usually ignored the stop sign.  It got so bad that they stationed a highway patrol car just out of sight.  One night, I think I was around 16 at the time, I did a rolling stop where I didn't really come to a complete stop.  All of a sudden there were flashing lights.  The patrolman did the patrolman thing - he asked me if I knew why he stopped me - and I knew but it was all new to me and I was a bit intimidated.  But he let me go with a warning.

The second time was about 3 years ago.  I was traveling back to my job in Lubbock from Albuquerque after a weekend of seeing my wife.  About 30 miles across the Texas line, I was pulled over by a state trooper.  He had clocked me going 75 in a 65 mile an hour zone.  There wasn't much traffic on the road and it was probably about 11:00 at night, so he let me off with a warning also.

The interesting thing about that drive was that it was very reminiscent of LHM's description of tumbleweeds and sand.  Tumbleweeds may be a symbol of the old West, but when you drive through a windstorm and there are dozens of them blowing across the road, they are a bit of a menace.  They can also do some pretty heavy damage to your car.  If you hit one just right, it can puncture a radiator or an oil pan.  At night, they seemed to often fly out of nowhere right at you.  When I would drive the stretch between Fort Sumner and Santa Rosa, New Mexico where there was lots and lots of open land and no buildings, it was almost as if the night were throwing the tumbleweeds at me, testing my ability to dodge and weave. 

Living in New Mexico is probably a lot like living on the Hopi Reservation.  The area is arid, and windy.  The wind usually blows from the west, kicking up the dry sand.  As I write this, today we are having sixty mile-per-hour gusts outside, and the horizon is obscured because of all the dust and grit in the air.  Walking outside leaves grit in your mouth and in your teeth.  To me, the four directions in New Mexico are as such:  north-coolness; east-mountains; south-hotness; west-wind.  The wind here, especially in spring, is a force to be reckoned with.  It gets into your head.  I ride a bike as my transportation to and from work, and the worst part of my ride in the spring is that in the morning, the wind is blowing against me on my downhill ride to the office, and in the afternoon it has switched around to oppose me on my ride home.

I imagine that living on a mesa, one might cling to the land because it might seem that if one stops clutching, one might be blown off the mesa into the ether.  If one believes in cloud people as the Hopi believe in the Kachina, I can see how easy it would be to believe that the wind could carry us if we don't hold on for dear life.  If it can carry the Kachina on their journeys to the Hopi people in order to teach and convey important messages, it might also take us ordinary folk away to places or worlds unknown.  It is better to hold ourselves down here than face that kind of unknown.

But for me, the choice is between being a stone, affixed to the earth and slowly being worn away by the elements piece by piece until there is nothing left of me, or being a tumbleweed and being blown about to places the wind wants to take me.  At times in my life, such as now, I want to be rooted to a place and not move.  At other times, I want to be like LHM, riding along in my van like a tumbleweed to places unknown.  Either way, as long as I'm happy in what I'm doing, it's all good.

I'll inflict another poem on you that I wrote, which gets to this kind of feeling and fits with my reflection on wind also.  I wrote it after breaking up with someone:

Autumn Thoughts

A click, and then a lifeless, droning hum
As I dropped my phone, now overcome with shock;
I walked outside, into the setting sun
And sat upon the grass with burdened thoughts.

A cavalcade of brightly colored leaves
Ran helter-skelter down the somber street,
Driven by a soft, yet forceful breeze
That pushed them onward to an unknown fate.

How I wished that I could join them there,
And also dance away my lonely grief,
Until, with growing pain, I was aware,
That life is but the wind, and I a leaf.

I thought of love and loss, and thus entranced,
Ran out into the street to join the dance.

Michael L. Hess

A friend told me today that her revelation is that the journey is the destination.  I'm still thinking about that and what it means, but somehow, it makes complete sense.  We are all on journeys, but sometimes, the journey and not the destination is what we need to understand ourselves and our lives.

Musical Interlude

Not sure why, but The Marvelettes' hit song Destination Anywhere is speaking to me right now.  Enjoy!

If you want to know more about Hotevilla

Final Message from Hotevilla by Hopi Eldest Elder Dan Evehema
Truth of a Hopi: How Hotevilla and Bakabi were founded
Wikipedia: Hotevilla-Bacavi

Next up: Tuba City, Navajo Nation


Blue Highways: Oraibi, Hopi Reservation

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapWilliam Least Heat-Moon (LHM) sees Oraibi, one of the oldest communities in North America.  The Hopi are a people extremely rooted to their place.  In this post, I'll examine what that may mean both in their context.  I'll also speculate on the lessons our modern society can learn from them.  Click on the thumbnail of the map to match Oraibi to your sense of place.

Book Quote

"Clinging to the southern lip of Third Mesa was ancient Oraibi, most probably the oldest continuously occupied village in the United States. Somehow the stone and adobe have been able to hang on to the precipitous edge since the twelfth century. More than eight hundred Hopis lived at Oraibi in 1901 - now only a few. All across the reservation I'd seen no more than a dozen people, and on the dusty streets of the old town I saw just one bent woman struggling against the wind. But somewhere there must have been more."

Blue Highways: Part 5, Chapter 2

An old photo of Old Oraibi. There aren't many new photos of Old Oraibi, and I assume it's because the Hopi issue licenses for its use (like many other tribes). Photo at Click on photo to go to site.

Oraibi, Hopi Reservation

All of the current pueblos of Arizona and New Mexico are very old, with roots that stretch back to the 11th or 12th century, and many abandoned villages and towns throughout the Southwest attest to older settlements that go even farther back.

There is some dispute among the pueblos as to which pueblo has the oldest continuous settlement in North America.  The first pueblo I ever visited was Taos Pueblo, when I was on vacation in New Mexico in 1999.  They claimed that they had the oldest continuous pueblo settlement in North America.  Naturally, I took them at their word - I didn't know anything about them at the time anyway.  However, after I moved to New Mexico, I visited Acoma Pueblo and they claimed to be the oldest continuous settlement.  They even prefaced their assertion with "Taos will tell you that they are the oldest settled village in North America, but...".  The tour guide at Acoma said that Taos was abandoned for a few years, while Acoma always had some residents, thus Acoma was the oldest.  And now that I've done a little research, the Hopi settlement at Oraibi also makes a claim for oldest continuous settlement in North America.  Which is true?

The answer probably is that we can't truly know, and to me it doesn't matter much anyway.  That these settlements are old is unquestionably true.  They were established for hundreds of years by the time that the Spanish arrived at Zuni Pueblo looking for the seven cities of Cibola.  In what almost seems to be a hilarious case of trying to get an unwelcome guest out of the house, the Zuni people, after the Spanish were disappointed to not find a gleaming city of gold, told the conquistadores that there was a cluster of seven cities farther to the northwest, thus sending them to the Hopis.  The Hopis were willing to consider that the Spanish fit into their mythology of the return of the Pahana, the long lost white brother to the Hopi people, but soon became disenchanted when all of the expected signs and symbols of the Pahana didn't materialize through the Spanish.

In the Hopi mythology, the Earth Caretaker spread the people far and wide but told the Hopi that after a period of migration they would, upon viewing a giant star, establish a village named Oraibi.  The location of the village would then be where the Hopi became a prosperous people benefitting forever from their surroundings.  The Hopi are therefore very tied to place.  In fact, all the pueblo tribes appear to be very connected to their surroundings.  Unlike a lot of Native American tribes, which were nomadic or semi-nomadic and followed the game that sustained them, the pueblo peoples rooted down, built dwellings, and dry farmed.  In one section of this chapter of Blue Highways, LHM writes that he's not sure how the Hopi live in such a "severe land."  A trip to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, ancient ruins of the ancestors of the Hopi, or Bandelier National Monument in the same state, or Mesa Verde in Colorado, or Walnut Canyon in Arizona, seems to only reinforce this mystery. These places today are very dry and hot.  The answer is twofold.  First, the climate was a little wetter back in the time that these places were being established.  However drought and climate changes occurred that severely affected the ability of those communities and in some places led to the abandonment of many settlements.  Second, the people perfected the art of dry farming.  Dry farming is farming without the use of irrigation - the dry farmer learns to farm where there is little natural rainfall, saving a surplus in abundant years for those years that are lean.  Unless there is severe drought, dry farming can sustain small communities.  By subsisting on agriculture, a people must become attached to their chosen place because it is the soil and the climate that will sustain them.

Oraibi is also the locus of the return of the Pahana, the lost brother of the Hopi upon whose return they expect to gain much wisdom from what he will teach them.  The Hopis have been awaiting the Pahana for some centuries - he was prophesied to return sometime in the 16th century.  Many contenders, first Spanish and then American, who have visited the Hopi have not proved to be the Pahana.  However, this belief in the Pahana's return also ties the Hopi to their place.  If they leave, how will the Pahana find them?

Finally, Hopi ceremonies and traditions further bind them to their place in the universe, though as modernization continues, traditions die out.  According Scott Peterson, in his book Native American Prophecies, the traditional ceremonies of some Hopi villages have disappeared, though the Kachina ceremonies have remained in all villages.  This may be a sign of koyanisqatsi - a loss of balance in the world.  Such a sign may signal the imminent return of the Pahana, and perhaps the dawn of a new world.

Most of us in one way or another are tied to place, whether it's the home where we grew up or where as adults we make our meals, lay down to sleep and raise our families.  Some of us "light out for the territories," to quote Mark Twain, in order to find a place that we are pointed toward that we hope will be our physical, mental, and spiritual home.  Some of us await the day, on a personal level, when we will be visited by inspiration or the answer to our inner questions about ourselves and our lives: a revelation or, perhaps, our personal Pahana?  Some of us await the arrival of a prophet or a Messiah or some other spiritual leader who will purify the world, elevate those of us who are elect and create a new one out of the ashes.  On a more mundane level, we go about our daily lives, doing what we need to do, some more successfully than others, and in the end we hope that our lives are meaningful to one or to many.  We cultivate our salaries, others' wisdom, personal learning, understanding, others' love and assistance.   We hope to store up a surplus of those things for the lean years.  When life gets out of balance, we suffer.  Some of us remain in our pain and misery.  Those of us with insight and courage strive to put the world back into balance and our lives right once again.

The Hopi, perched on the edge of mesas in the desert, have much to teach us about ourselves and our societies through their beliefs and their prophesies.  If we don't heed their lessons, however, we benefit anyway because, as Peterson writes, "the practice of Hopi religion is considered to be absolutely essential for the survival of everything on earth....That is why Anglos and other visitors have traditionally been permitted to view many of their ceremonials which are held throughout the year.  Because the Hopi dance and pray for everyone."

The Hopi stand large for the burden they take on for the rest of us.  It's not often that a whole culture advocates with the cosmos for the well-being of all their fellow humans.  The Hopi do it every day.  For that, and for myself, I thank them.

Musical Interlude

This group came to mind as I was doing this post.  The San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble (SAVAE) did a an album called Native Angels, which was music written in the Aztec language, in many cases taking Christian themes.  It has the distinction of being some of the first Christian music ever performed in the Western hemisphere. While the Hopis, to the frustration of missionaries, never completely converted to Christianity, the language of this music is Nuahatl, the language of the Aztecs and related to the Hopi language.

If you want to know more about Oraibi Oraibi Basket Dance at Old Oraibi
Southwest Crossroads: Oraibi Before the Split
Wikipedia: Oraibi

Next up: Hotevilla, Hopi Reservation


Blue Highways: Hopi Cultural Center, Hopi Reservation

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapWe stop with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) at the Second Mesa where the Hopi have their Cultural Center.  While you rest there, I will muse and ponder on some religious, philosophical questions, based on a little knowledge of Hopi myth, about balance in self and world.  I humbly beg your indulgence, and hope it might cause you to think about balance in your own life.  Are you able or not to keep balance in your life?  Click on the thumbnail of the map to your right to see where we are currently balanced on our literary journey.

Book Quote

"Like bony fingers, three mesas reached down from larger Black Mesa into the middle of Hopi land; not long ago, the only way onto these mesas was by handholds in the steep rock heights.  From the tops, the Hopi look out upon a thousand square miles.  At the heart of the reservation, topographically and culturally, was Second Mesa.  Traditionally, Hopis, as do the eagles they hold sacred, prefer to live on precipices; so it was not far from the edge of Second Mesa that they built the Hopi Cultural Center.  In the gallery were drawings of mythic figures by Hopi children who fused centuries and cultures with grotesque Mudhead Kachinas wearing large terra-cotta masks and jackolantern smiles, dancing atop spaceships with Darth Vader and Artoo Detoo."

Blue Highways: Chapter 5, Part 2

View from Second Mesa near the Hopi Cultural Center. Photo by Susie Vanderlip at Legacy of Hope. Click on photo to go to site.

Hopi Cultural Center, Hopi Reservation

To prepare for this set of posts, I read a little on Hopi prophecy.  Okay, I happened to be at the library, saw a book on Native American prophecies, Native American Prophecies by Scott Peterson, opened it, and found a chapter on the Hopi prophecy of Pahana.  It was quite fortuitous, because I really wasn't sure what I was going to write about since I have never been to the Hopi Reservation, and my knowledge of some of the other pueblos to which they are related was only going to go so far.

After reading a synopsis of the Hopi creation story, and about the prophecy that helps define their culture and how they view the world, and then how historic and modern events play into or jar against that prophecy, I am left with some broader philosophical questions.  Perhaps these would be answered by a visit to the Second Mesa and the Hopi Cultural Center, or perhaps not.  But, since I am not really taking a trip but am riding shotgun with LHM by reading about his journey, I hope you will indulge me a little philosophical speculation and musing.

First, a quick rundown of the Hopi creation myth and prophecy.  The Hopi believe that we all live in the Fourth World, and before that, humans lived in the Third World inside the earth.  They were happy until that world got out of balance due to selfishness, greed, power, and licentiousness that affected everyone from the leaders on down.  The leaders, seeking another and better world, sent out animal and bird emissaries, and a sparrow found a hole in the sky and flew through into our world, which was dark.  There the bird met the Earth's caretaker who initially refused the people's entrance into this world but eventually relented when told that only the good ones would come.  The people planted a bamboo reed and climbed inside it up to the hole in the sky and crawled through the sipapu into our world.  There, they were taught how to plant and to live simply and in balance with the earth.  The caretaker gave gifts of corn to all of the people, but only the Hopi showed the wisdom to choose the smaller ears of blue corn.  The caretaker then scattered the people to the different directions, and the Hopi were told that after a period of migration, they would see a star and the star would guide them to a place, on the backbone of the earth, where they were to build their village and live in harmony with each other and in abundance from their environment.

What really strikes me about this creation myth is that it seems to touch upon common themes that accompany many other creation myths.  It seems that there is a powerful message in these synchronous myths - one that we continually fail to heed.  The long and short of it, to me, is that humans once lived in an almost perfect state, and then we screwed it up.  Whether humans came out of the earth after messing up the Third World, or were cast out of Eden after screwing up there, or any other creation story where humans have to fall or fail before rising again, it seems that over and over we are reminded of how things once were better until we started getting arrogant and upsetting the balance.  Balance is important in the world, and we often forget the whole in our minimal perception of the part that affects only us.  The effects of our choices on our physical and social environment, even to those we cannot see, especially harmful ones due to our selfish actions, is something that is continually addressed in our creation myths, and we ignore them.

These creation myths also, for me at least, point to our inner selves.  We were born into a state of innocence.  At some point, when we start making choices, we lose that innocence, especially when we learn that a choice is bad and suffer some kind of punishment for it.  Sometimes, our innocence is taken by others.  Childhood abuse is a way we lose our innocence, for example.  Or when we are adults and some violence is visited upon us.  But at some point, even if we've had hardships in life, our choices become our own.  We've all known people that seem to create their own miseries.  They live out patterns that may have been started by a traumatic experience that is not their fault, but through their choices they continue to create trauma and drama in their lives and others' lives.  I relate to that, because I too was a victim in early life, but as an adult, I cannot fall back on that excuse any more.  My abusers can't be blamed for any of my decisions as an adult.  Any bad choices I have made of my own free will that have upset the balance in my life and have caused me pain, and I've made a few of them in my life, are my responsibility alone.

I'm beginning to understand that when we make choices, we start to live the lives we make.  Many of us can make happy lives, a few of us make ourselves miserable over and over again and put the responsibility on others.  We can cast blame about for the terrible things that have happened to us that are out of our control, but when we make choices we can continue the patterns of trauma or stop the self-destructive tendencies that permeate our lives and put us out of balance.  We are capable of making good choices or bad ones, and if we make bad ones, then what happens after the choice is made cannot be laid at anyone's feet but our own.

My sister, who is a sort of wiccan mystic and clairvoyant, told me that she believes that souls are reincarnated over and over because they are curious and want to explore almost every possible experience.  She tries to encourage my soul to move to a better place.  Buddhists, it is my understanding, believe that our actions in a present life determines whether we are reincarnated with more understanding and wisdom.  For Hindus, reincarnation allows us to move from lower lots in life to higher ones if we don't screw up - then karma will send us tumbling back.  Judeo-Christians, of course, believe that when we die, if we were good in life we will be rewarded with everlasting life in heaven.  All of these beliefs add up to a belief in a progression based on doing well, on staying in balance in our inner and outer lives.

Peterson's book says that the religious beliefs of the Hopi about inner and outer balance govern almost all of their actions.  I, for one, could learn much from their world view, because I suffer when my life gets out of balance, and I am happiest when it is in balance.  The Kachinas, which LHM mentions above, are the Hopi equivalent of saints who live among the mountains and fly down as clouds and take human form among the people.  They warn the Hopi of the consequences if they lose sight of the balance of world and self.  I could use some Kachinas in my life, especially during my times of distress.  Perhaps they are around me, and try to help me, but I just don't listen when they speak to me.

Musical Interlude

I wanted to put a different Bruce Cockburn song here, called Hills of Morning, which I thought actually fits a little better, but I couldn't find it online.  This one, Creation Dream, will do nicely.  Though sung from a Christian perspective, I think it captures the essence of creation...a power or reality beyond our imagining and all for good.  If creation is corrupted, it is we who corrupt it.

If you want to know more about the Hopi Cultural Center

Hopi Cultural Center Website

Next up:  Oraibi, Hopi Reservation