Archive for the ‘Bandelier’ Category

Everything’s connected; everything’s changing. Pay attention!

March 8, 2018

photo by Annelise Makin


This morning I saw three juvenile bald eagles. Their graceful swoops looked more to me like play than competition. But I still have a lot to learn about bald eagles.

The moment after I watched them disappear into the blue, my elation collapsed. “I am an apex predator who’s terrified,” I thought to myself. It seemed, suddenly, a horrible waste of evolutionary preeminence.

Our mind has as many possibilities as the sky, which can bring winds and sun, stars, and magnificent birds. Into mine the next thought arrived, sweeping up like the eagles:  of Bandelier National Monument and its Frijoles canyon where indigenous puebloans lived from somewhere around 1000 AD until 1500 AD.  Last year I was privileged to learn and then to share with park visitors a little about how the inhabitants might have experienced their lives.

For my guided walk of the canyon’s pueblo, cliff dwellings, and petroglyphs, I chose to structure my observations around the theme of time. I knew even then that I was interested in the subject more for what I didn’t know about time than for what I did. Like the tarot pack’s Fool, I was walking off a cliff, cheerfully hoping the steps would arrive when I needed them.

I would start my talk with historical time – covering the history of the park service and gesturing to the pueblo revival buildings built by the CCC – then move to geological and biological time, which led to agriculture. When we reached the first kiva, constructed in the circle the puebloans had brought with them from Chaco, I would talk about cosmological time as they would have brought the Chacoans knowledge of the night sky with them as well.

Since new rangers are thrown into their talks much like early christians were to the lions, that’s about as far as I initially dug into the excavation of time. But I remember the feeling of dissatisfaction I had those first few weeks. There was something just out of reach, a lesson that would, once grasped, allow me to articulate the feeling I had when I walked through that canyon –  of something that was intangible but also singularly present. It was like an echo one wasn’t sure one had heard.

When rangers do their walks, supervisors pummel them into working out their transitions from one stop to the next. At first, when you’re trying desperately to learn everything from geology and botany to hiking trails to excel spreadsheets to coworkers’ sensitivities, the harking on seamless transitions is a form of torture. But by leaning into that struggle to link the stop at the creek to the next stop, the kiva, I found the door into the realm I’d been sensing.

Archaeologists know that the puebloans had fields scattered on the mesa tops. Given the scattered rainfall patterns, having plots in various locations ensured a greater chance of harvest. But they also would have had plots in the canyon bottoms, using either irrigation systems or hand-watering the crops vital to their tribe’s survival. When we were stopped at the creek, I’d ask visitors how they would feel if their job was to water the corn plants. Would they be irritated because they had other things they wanted to do?  In our culture, that would be a normal reaction since there are so many other tasks we are push ourselves to accomplish.

These indigenous people, I suggested, knew that their tasks, no matter how small, were intimately connected to their lives, to their tribe’s success, to the lives of their ancestors and descendants. The corn itself was understood and celebrated as a gift from their gods. Through their acts of tending it, they were living in sacred time, where they were the center of the universe – in the middle of a circle – not strung out on some linear spectrum where some work was more valuable than others.

As it is with any circle, I can’t be sure exactly where this thought had begun, only that once I possessed it, it encompassed and enchanted everything else, carrying me along to the kiva’s circle and to the concentric circles etched again and again in the walls above the cliff dwellings. And the theme of sacred time led me to my final, and favorite, stop – the Macaw petroglyph.

I loved the chance to ask visitors what they thought the image was. “Anteater,” I’d get more often than you’d imagine. “Horse” or “donkey” were others.  Each guess, no matter how far-fetched, offered the opportunity to remind them how people couldn’t draw what they’d never seen. Since anteaters weren’t native to North America and horses & donkeys were not reintroduced to North American until the Spanish arrived, those possibilities were eliminated. And it also built to the significance of what they were seeing: a tropical bird native to rainforests 3000 miles away.  Since the brilliantly colored macaws could fly and talk, they were considered birds of spirit, and their feathers were objects of trade. But the person who drew this image didn’t see a macaw feather, I would point out. “He saw the whole macaw.”

At this point, as I spun out an imagined scenario of how this ancestral puebloan might have made the trip to central American to capture these birds, how it might have been the most thrilling part of his life, how he’d chosen to commemorate it with this massive drawing and how he might have been known by other tribe members as the guy who would go on and on about the time he brought back the macaws, I could look out beyond my visitors and see much of the canyon stretch below. That people had chosen to live here, to love here, to die here, and to make their art here was, I hoped, as present to my visitors as it was to me.

“Today we don’t all experience sacred time,” I would remind them. “And even when we do, we are able to achieve it momentarily through meditation or through religion. Or we might experience it through art, through music or movies or images. Think of how when we hear a song we loved when we were younger and how time suddenly becomes vertical, not linear. We remember the first time we heard it and maybe another time and another time. That’s how these people lived their lives all of the time. And when we look at this macaw, at this work of art, we have the chance to experience what they did every minute of their lives.”

I wasn’t at Bandelier for long, but something about that canyon moved me, or helped move something within me. I took what I learned there and used it at my next park, George Washington’s birthplace, imagining more experiences that were hidden from plain sight but were waiting, like ghosts, to be brought into the light: the enslaved families and their ways of existing and resisting.

I’ve continued to build a foundation of perception that our contemporary culture would prefer none of us possess. For it is a powerful and revolutionary act to see spirit all around you, to choose your ancestors, and to know how you act in honoring them matters across dimensions your mind cannot access alone.

Those three eagles were not an accident, my Bandelier spirits whisper to me. I will never figure out all the secrets to time, but I’ll keep walking and talking, writing and sharing, and trying to discover new doorways that will, I know, offer more beautiful sights and inspired insights, like steps revealing themselves just in time on The Fool’s path.

Double rainbow

August 5, 2017

I’m scheduled to give my first (and only) Evening Program at Bandelier’s amphitheater tonight which means it will be a long, long day.  If I decide to come home afterward, once I’ve successfully managed to dodge the elk and mule deer on the road over the Jemez Mountains, I won’t fall into bed until well past 11.  Then I need to get back on the road by 8:30 for Sunday’s shift.  I did manage to get some sleep last night but was awake by 4:30.  Combining a persistent low level exhaustion with the fact that my Evening Program isn’t anywhere near completed as I type this, I think it’s safe to say that a very interesting day lies ahead.

As I prepare to wrap up this part of my life and move back to Virginia, so many thoughts/plans are running through my head.  Adding to all of the usual miseries of relocation, over the past 45 days or so, my car has been having issues that have only within the past 2 days been diagnosed:  a leaking head gasket.

I have a rental car reserved for my cross-country drive, but there’s a part of me that thinks the leak is not too severe since the car never overheats.  So I’m going to try one more fix:  a product that seals leaking head gaskets.  Sure, one issue that’s inspiring me to try one last fix is money, but I also have this feeling that this car & I are not quite at the end of our relationship.  Arguably silly, I’ll agree, but I’m just not one to buy into our disposable culture.  Plus I tend to anthropomorphize inanimate objects; it may be a genetic thing:  to this day my mom acts as if she coax her car into lasting longer by not driving it often.  As if one can bargain with a car!

So this morning while I’ve been researching the gasket lead and repair possibilities on-line, I’ve also been roasting a chicken for the week ahead.  (the best recipe

As I was walking in and out of the house, running the car engine, noting the white smoke blowing from the tail pipe, checking the fluid, etc., the tantalizing smell of a roasting chicken filled my adobe’s airy rooms.  The sun struggled to rise above the bank of clouds hanging low in the east as a few sprinkles fell.  Standing over the car engine, coolant in hand, I looked up and saw a double rainbow.

My thoughts have been busy unpacking that dark closet full of all the things that could go wrong, and I’ve forgotten to appreciate all that has gone, and is going, right:  a job here and one awaiting me in Virginia, long-time friends who are looking forward to seeing me again, more adventures on the horizon, a black cat who manages to hang on regardless of what happens next, a sweet little home, a car that (still) works, money in the bank to cover (some) emergencies, a chicken roasting in the house, and much, much more.

Just as that double rainbow – just a simple trick of light – has reminded others of what holds their lives together, it arrived to arc across the New Mexico sky and remind me.  It won’t make all those dark problems, today’s and tomorrow’s, go away, but it does tell me I have the strength to endure and the capacity to enjoy.