Monday, May 28, 2012

Kewet (Fiesta) at Malki Museum

On Sunday we drove to Banning and the annual Kewet (Fiesta) at the Malki Museum, located on the Morongo Indian reservation. It's just a couple of miles off the I-10, but a world pass through a guard gate and into a landscape that recalls the California of days gone by.

The museum itself is tiny, focusing mainly on baskets by local tribes. However, the museum also publishes many interesting books about those tribes, as well as an academic journal. They call themselves "The Biggest Little Museum on Earth." The day's many wonders included buying a copy of California Indian Shamanism and getting it signed by the venerable ethnographer Lowell John Bean--also, a demonstration of how to make egg tempera by artist Debra Vodhanel, who did the remarkable illustrations for A Story of Seven Sisters.

Next door to the museum is a lovely garden with native plants and trees, including the biggest white sage bushes I've ever seen. All the specimen plants seemed extra large and extra healthy. The photo above shows a stream running through the garden; below, a view of Mt. San Gorgonio in the distance.

There were lots of arts and crafts for sale, plus a lunch of pit barbecued beef, beans, corn, and tortillas. The entertainment was outstanding: above, father-and-son hoop dancers from Taos Pueblo; below, an eagle dancer from the Maricopa tribe in Arizona. (Thanks to Bill for the eagle dancer photo.)

May the circle be unbroken.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Oatmeal, Spurtles, and Wenden, Arizona

Apparently, there's a crisis in the world of bulk organic oatmeal. Our local health food stores haven't been able to get it for weeks. Since I eat oatmeal (aka Breakfast of Champions) nearly every morning, I've substituted Bob's Organic Extra Thick Rolled Oats--a delicious (though expensive) solution.

In fact, these extra thick rolled oats are so delicious that they won the Golden Spurtle Award in Scotland in 2009. I had never heard of a spurtle--turns out it's a Scottish wooden stirring stick, favored for oatmeal ("porridge" to the Scots). Coincidentally, within a week of learning this, we found a genuine spurtle in Wenden, Arizona, made by an artist named Charlie Sandall. That's it in the photo above. It came with a friendly warning: "Stirring counter clockwise is said to invoke the Devil and bring bad luck." Good thing I've always stirred clockwise.

Wenden is located on Route 60, basically in the middle of nowhere. A woman named Bonita Powell has refurbished an old motel into artists' studios called The Courtyard on 60. Turns out there's a whole community of snowbird artists who winter in the area. They come from all over the western states. You'll find friendly people here and lots of fun art--including spurtles! (Note: The Courtyard is closed in July & August)

Our Arizona road trip was also spectacular because the saguaros were blooming along Routes 71 and 60. Route 71 has great forests of them--always a beautiful sight, and more so with their flower topknots.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot

We're just back from visiting my folks in Prescott, Arizona. While there we all took a day trip to Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot, two national monuments that are around an hour's drive north. Above: Montezuma Castle, with raven in flight--there was a nest in cliff, with many comings and goings to feed the new babies. The structure dates from around 1200-1400 AD.

The last time I was at the "castle" was in the 1960s. Not much has changed--the lower, reddish area of the structure was replastered in the 1990s using clay from Beaver Creek, which runs near the foot of the cliff.

Tuzigoot is an ancient village site that was reconstructed in the 1930s. The walls were reassembled from piles of stone--very little of the structure is original. Nevertheless, it's an impressive site, on a ridgetop overlooking the Verde River--hence all the greenery in the photo below.

The small museum on site is worth a visit. I was fascinated by these stick figures, which are dated between 2,000-4,000 years old.

Monday, May 14, 2012

What's Blooming

At last...temperatures in the 80s and 90s...and the flowers are out!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hillside Hot Tubs at Sycamore Mineral Springs

Two Sundays ago, I was headed home on Hwy. 101 from a trip up north and had some extra time on my hands. I used it to stop at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort in Avila Beach and soak in one of their hillside hot tubs--one of the best ideas I've ever had on that particular road trip.

You don't have to be staying at the resort to use the tubs, or to go to their yoga classes. When I showed up they had tubs available, so up the hill I went. Bill and I have stayed at the resort lots of times and always had a room with its own private hot tub...therefore, no reason to check out the tubs on the hill. It's a steep climb up multiple staircases, but a very pretty setting.

Here's my tub, which was called "Retreat." Nothing fancy, but private--no bathing suits required. The resort also lets you take food and wine in with you (as long as you have plastic glasses and containers)--in fact, they sell bottles of wine in the spa and will pour it into plastic glasses for you.

The view from the tub--heavenly! After a nice soak, I had lunch in the restaurant, followed by a stroll on the Avila Pier and another stop in Los Olivos. All together, it was my all-time most relaxing drive down the 101.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

White Raven

"The White Raven," Yucca Valley, September 2008. Photo by Julianne Koza

There's a white raven here in the high desert. Among the local birders I've talked to, this raven is well known but hasn't been spotted for the past couple of years. Fortunately, wildlife photographer Julianne Koza has captured it for posterity. Many thanks to Julianne for letting me include her photo here.

Several people mentioned to me that they thought the white raven deserved a poem. I thought so, too, and in the process of writing it, I learned a few things about white ravens. First, they are not albinos, but rather the product of a genetic mutation. They often have blue eyes. They are rare but not unheard of, with sightings reported in many parts of the world.

They are also key players in many human legends. The Haida people of the Pacific Northwest tell how White Raven stole the sun, moon, stars, fire, and fresh water from Gray Eagle, who had hoarded all those things. White Raven hung the sun, moon, and stars in the sky and dropped fresh water to earth. He held a firebrand in his beak before dropping it to earth, too, and the smoke turned his feathers black. To the Haida, a White Raven is a "Spirit Raven."

In Hebrew folklore, a white raven was the first bird sent out by Noah from the ark to search for land. The raven did not come back in a timely manner, and was punished by being turned black and being forced to eat carrion forever.

There is even a white raven in Ovid's Metamorphoses, which is turned black by Apollo as a punishment for delivering a message from an unfaithful lover.

What's up with all this punishing? That's a question I ask in the poem.

White Raven

Spirit-bird, daughter of cloud and sky,
body of pure white, mirroring
a trace of blue, the father in your eye—

Body of rain, riding the wind,
rare bird, what is your place
in the unkindness of things?

Are you a prophet, in the flock
but not of it, the purity behind
the black night of the soul?

Or are you only a bird in midair,
calling on the downbeat, consumed
by the need to eat, fly, sleep?

You dream of swans and seagulls,
never having seen them, not knowing
what those dreams mean—

You, the original sinner, who stole
the sun, moon and stars from Gray Eagle,
who dropped fresh water and fire to earth—

You, the sacred messenger, who Noah
sent from the ark to find land,
and who did not return soon enough.

These stories are burdens that do not
concern you—tales made up
by spirits without wings

to explain the origin of blackness,
to blame an outside force
for their fate.

Uncontrolled, you remind us
of what has gone missing
in our lives—

When all the stories fall away,
we are left with the fact of you
or your absence.

I'll be reading this poem at the Red Arrow Gallery this Saturday, May 5, as part of our reading to celebrate "A Bird Black As the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens." Other readers will include Enid Osborn, Jim Natal, Jeanette Clough, Ruth Nolan, and Noreen Lawlor. Plus an open mic. It all starts at 7 pm. Hope to see you there!