As we walked a low ridge we came upon a mystery: a dozen square feet of desert pavement formed by gray Archaic potshards and eleven fragments of chert knives, none from the same knife.
Patricia said: Nah, no mystery. Some Archaic woman, PMS-ing, had busted her eight pots and eleven knives, hollering, “I’ve had it! Mend your own damn loincloth!”
No trace of habitation. Had we stumbled on a sacrificial place, where pots and knives were broken to send their spirits onward with the dead? Was it the site of a solstice ritual like Zuni’s, when pots were smashed? As a theory I like Paleo PMS.
Where we hiked Jan had found many mountain lion tracks. I learned that lions focus on small animals: I’m 4’11”. Small animals with high voices, actually. I dropped my usual backcountry shout by a good octave.
In Zuni the lion’s name is hokdidasha. Hokdidasha is—I think, but what do I know?—the beast priest of the north. The fetish shown is unsigned.
At Zuni: We borrowed a clutch of neighbor kids and went hiking in the windblown sand south of the pueblo. The kids were itchy and wild, flinging themselves off the red dunes, playing cowboys and Indians—funny, given that they were all Indians.
One of the adults, a fast hiker, disappeared for awhile. We wondered aloud, “Where’s Andy?” Small Brandon said seriously, “Prob’ly those Indians got him.”
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.
In Zuni, if I have it right (and often I don’t), you go through several incarnations after this human one. The first are as food-giving game animals like deer or antelope. But the last—right before you go to heaven to dance for eternity—is as sho:mi:do’kya, the little black stinkbug that raises its tail on our desert’s red earth.
I once had a stinkbug crawl into my old Intellifax 1270 and die there. This caused a paper jam and permanent scratches on the drum, but I felt kind of touched that somebody went to heaven from my fax machine.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Stephen James emigrated from Wales to work as a shipbuilder on the Great Lakes. Though he didn’t know his great-great-granddaughter would one day teach at Zuni Pueblo, he bequeathed to her the legacy of the unvoiced, or aspirated, L.
Llewellyn. Llangollen. The tongue forms an L, but the vocal cords rest and let the breath take over. English-speakers struggle, but Zuni-speakers are right at home with Grandpa’s double L.
Me’shoko eshe llabissho.
It means “donkey lips.” If you can say it, you’re Zuni…or Welsh.
Scene: Two Zuni first graders, noses almost on their desks, intently freewriting and helping each other with the hard bits:
Zoe: How do you spell cute?
Brandon (deadpan): Q-U-A-C-K.
Zoe: T’ank you.
As we rumbled down a dirt track south of Zuni, a young eagle burst from the roadside chamisa. Rising, it dropped the limp body of a rabbit, then circled through the hosting ravens and repossessed it.
We started a half dozen antelope, who paced the truck to 25 mph. When we slowed they burst ahead, clearly racing us.
Long wandering on foot brought us to a wide, quiet ravine whose walls were covered with petroglyphs: many macaws, prehistorically revered and carried on foot from Mexico. Only bushtits there now, whispering in flocks. I started a big jackrabbit; as it zipped under the brush it folded back its ears, the way a cherrypicker folds to fit under a freeway bridge.
Scene: Zuni Pueblo, a kindergarten/first grade writers’ workshop. Chatting with Serena, who is writing about her family.
Serena: I can spell Melissa. That’s my sister’s name. Only we call her Medusa.
Me: Does your sister have hair like snakes?
Serena (after a stare): She doesn’t have any hair. She’s bald. She just got born.
Zuni: The kindergartners are dictating (and I’m illustrating) their story about a baby mouse carried away from her parents on a kite. I ask them, “What would her parents do?”
Abigail, five, mimes the mouse’s father: Scowling, fists on hips, she shouts, “Get down off that sky!”