Day 18: Notes from the Field

We were visited three times last night by a Great Horned Owl,  and once alerted to the presence of a nearby human by the screeching of a car alarm. Although the second sound definitely brings out the worst in me (there is a reason they call it a panic button) I no longer imagine the worst.

In my sleepy state, I envision someone stopping by the river to photograph the moon. It soon stops, and I fall asleep without worry. Oh, the fears we are taught to carry, that can get in the way of a good night’s sleep. I think of the real estate these fears have occupied in my psyche over the years, and how happy I am to have moved back into that space.

We eat dinner-for-breakfast in the rising sun and research our route for the day. Our first stop is the Apache Cultural Museum on the San Carlos reservation, where our host Marlowe Cassadore- a local Apache man – gives us a personalized tour of the exhibit.

Among other things, I learn about a community pack-rat hunt this past weekend and how the heart of the desert Agave plant is used to make the Apache Violin; a musical instrument. I listen with great interest about the nuts and berries the Apache have traditionally harvested from the area, and aboutfour kinds of bread made for rituals.

Many of the Apache people at San Carlos were forcibly moved there from elsewhere by the government. As a result, many have lost knowledge of their genealogy and are actively tracing their lineage. Language is being revived and preserved and children are being taught traditional teachings and spiritual principles in an effort to heal the generational trauma of an abusive and cruel residential school system.

I learn more about the Sunrise Ceremony – the Gaan Bineyu , which celebrates a young girl’s arrival into womanhood. Many special foods and gifts are shared, and both men and women pray for the young girl to become a powerful force in her community. I think of the absence of any such ritual in my own culture, and imagine how powerful it must be.

I’d heard of this ceremony once before. When I arrived in Superior, I camped at Oak Flats and saw signs about it, but didn’t know what it was. I learned Oak Flats is sacred to the Apache and home to such ceremonies, but is now National Forest and at risk of being mined.

Beneath these rich cultural expressions (as is sadly endemic around the globe) is the heart-wrenching story of a culturally diverse community who experienced, and still experience, brutal systematic racism by a dominant culture. There is also powerful determination to return to the wisdom of traditional teachings, language and community in an effort to heal from the many horrendous acts perpetrated against them.

I lean in as I take in the hard stuff, asking my brain to pay attention to places, dates and names. I used to attend to human suffering as a part of my life’s work, but since my own injury, sometimes struggle to focus. I breathe deeply and ask for eyes to see a path that would help me be part of healing, and not part of suffering. 

I am drawn to the baskets of the Apache, which are used in the Na’ii’es, the Sunrise Dances, to pour food gifts over the head of the young girl who is becoming a woman. The entire tribe prays for her health and vitality, recognizing her unique gifts and divinity.

A page from an Apache Lunar Calerdar showing traditional baskets used in ceremony.

 I decide to buy a traditional woven basket to remind me of my time in Arizona, on ancestral land, and maybe even to help me celebrate my own life-passage.

It’s long tassels make a tinkling sound as the wind passes through, and each time I hear it, I think I will say a little prayer to remind me to be my best self during this transition to elder-woman. Which sometimes just makes me cranky. Inside the basket I will put reminders of who I am, and who I want to become during this transition. It will remind me to nourish myself. 🙂

I am thankful to Marlowe for sharing how he and his community are returning to their traditional teachings to find healing and hope, and find myself strengthened by the Apache’s connection to the Mother.

The rest of the day was all about flowers – with orange poppies creeping up the mountainsides around Globe, and great swaths of yellow flowers decorating much of the rest of our drive. We stop often to stand among them, appreciating the snow-capped mountains as a backdrop.

Late this afternoon we arrive at Hot Well Dunes, a BLM land charging a small fee to stay ($3) which includes dawn-till-dusk access to the two solar-pumped hot tubs maintained here. There are both established campsites with picnic tables, trash disposal and fire pits as well as an option to park out in the desert. We choose a numbered site, pay the small fee and head directly for the tubs. 

We join a couple from Texas and a fellow Canadian from Toronto. I tie Pippa to the gate and she happily curls up in her bed while we soak. The water is hot and soothing, and I know I will sleep deeply tonight.

We sit out until well after dark, listening to birds and watching the moon rise. It’s almost full. There is a small creek running behind the site, with lots of brush for animals and I suspect it’s going to be a great spot for wildlife-watching.

Oh, I almost forgot!

I saw javelina for the first time today, when a group of four or five crossed in front of the van. I even got a picture of these elusive little creatures, which are not pigs, but peccaries. An entirely different creature. Which looks a lot like a pig to the uninitiated. But we all know it’s just because I’m not looking carefully enough.

I’m learning to look more carefully.

This is NOT a pig, but a Peccary. Five of them took advantage of local traffic flow to cross the highway in front of me.

One thought on “Day 18: Notes from the Field

  1. I am journeying with you in spirit via this journal, Kit, and look forward to each day’s message. I learned about some of the ways and worldview of the Navajo people from reading the novels of Tony Hillerman. There are quite a few of them and it is good to read them in sequence. I have also come across some sharing by the First Nations People in Cape Breton online that is fascinating for their deep knowledge about nature. Here’s something I’ve wondered about: native singing, drumming and dance is much the same at pow wows all over the U.S. and in Canada…how did that come to be?

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