Monday, May 28, 2012
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 away...you 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.)
Saturday, May 26, 2012
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.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
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
Monday, May 7, 2012
Thursday, May 3, 2012
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.
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!