Category Archives: On Creativity

Old Sun

Peralta Canyon, Jemez: pictographs in red ochre. Finger marks, in groups along ridges of rock next to the creek; one faint handprint; stars, turtles, and this pretty sun face.

Unlike those of the classic Zia symbol, all its rays are of equal length. The slanted ones may be feathers. It had been painted with a finger, and seemed to be subtly smiling.


Lightning, Wood and Iron

In the cobble hills above the Rio Puerco. Rain, snow, thunder. I was afraid of lightning, but Jan sheltered calmly under a juniper that bore the black scars of a previous strike. The wind smelled of wet stone.

In the sand lay an iron axehead, its handle long ago lost to weather. From the eighteen-eighties, maybe. The edge had a graceful worn curve, and the splayed butt showed it had been used as a wedge to split firewood.


Time and Fire

In the trackless mudstone of Piedra Lumbre, five or six hogan rings: stone foundations with east-facing doors, still holding what was left of the cribbed juniper rafters of traditional Navajo houses. Judging by the decay of the juniper, well over a hundred years old.  Beyond them, two circles of ash filled with fragments of trash, probably fires that burned the deceased’s possessions. The squashed casing of a cheap nickel pocket watch.



Writer-illustrator Betsy James, in conversation with older readers.

I watched a charcoal garter snake with two brown stripes navigate the puddles of a rain-soaked road. Sometimes it crawled, sometimes it swam, fluid either way. I understood why Puebloan water deities—Kolowisi, Avanyu—are serpents.

It lay still while I stroked it with a grass stem, then slipped away.


Center of the World

Standing in the middle of a dry field, the last blue-purple light in the sky, I thought: The world is round. The horizon is a circle, with the sky bowl over it like my grandmother’s domed paperweight of clear glass.

Wherever you stand is precisely the center of the world.



Unelectronic Media

The hullabaloo over e-readers has brought back a luscious memory of cycling (or attempting to cycle; it was wetter than the bottom of the sea) in Wales, sleeping in hostels and B&Bs. I had a paperback copy of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. Before I turned out the light each night, I tore off the pages I had just read and dropped them in the waste bin.

And pedaled on, lighter.


Eagle Mother

At Zuni Pueblo, a storymaking workshop for 3rd, 4th, 5th graders. Writers can’t be restrained from doodling while they think, so we covered the new library tabletops with yellow butcher paper. When we cleaned up on Friday—the kids long gone—among the smudgy misspellings and graffiti was  this drawing, unsigned.

Her quiet face.


There’s a Reason


Did you know rationality is solar?

That’s why you wake up at 3 a.m. and worry about the rent, who your kid is dating, and that weird spot on your nose. All the rationality on the planet is in China, and the Chinese are using it.

Just remind yourself of this and go back to sleep. Come morning, you’ll be rational again and the Chinese will be lying awake worrying about the rent, their kids, and their noses.


The River

Even when I don’t want to write, if I begin, the flow begins: very steady, like blood, or a river.

Year after year I hiked down Frijoles Canyon to the Rio Grande. The river is always there. In different seasons it is different colors—tan in March, emerald in October—and has different water levels, and the sky above changes color and temperature.

But the river itself is always there.