Monday, May 28, 2012

Chapter XXIV (from "When Women Were Birds") - Moderator Terry Tempest Williams

Changing Woman was impregnated by The Sun and gave birth to The Twins, Monster Slayer and Child of the Water.  In the Navajo pantheon, this is the holy family I met when I traveled to the Four Corners in the American Southwest.

Geology became genealogy. Lava field became the congealed blood of demons who died on these battlefields, brought down by Monster Slayer to save the People. Shiprock became Winger Rock, much more than a remnant plug of a volcano. The morphology of plants, animals, rocks, and rivers is not answered simply by science but constitutes and contributes to the cosmology of the people who inhabit a place. And it is spiritual.

Earth. Mother. Goddess. In every culture the voice of the Feminine emerges from the land itself. We clothe her as Eve or Isis or Demeter. In the desert, she appears as Changing Woman. She can shift shapes like the wind and cut through stone with her voice like water. And when she approaches us with her open hands carrying offerings of white shells in arid country, she reminds us that there was a time before drought when ancient seas covered the desert. She is not to be classified. She is not to be controlled. She is the one who gathers seeds and plants them in the sand as dreams and calls forth rain. She is the one who embodies the Moon, honoring the cyclic nature of life. And it is Changing Woman who is honored in the ceremony of first blood. Kinaalda is her ritual, initiating each Navajo girl into womanhood. I wish someone had told me when I was young that it was not happiness I could count on, but change.

The Dine mentored me in story. When I saw a coiled basket in the desert, it uncoiled like a snake. When I found a flicker feather caught between the fingers of sage, its burned red shaft spoke to the bravery of this bird who flew directly toward the Sun to retrieve fire for the People. And when I saw Mountain Lion move across the redrock cliffs like melted butter, it was not a catamount, but powerful medicine that asked for the sprinkling of corn pollen on the place where one is graced by presence.

The question What stories do we tell that evoke a sense of place? became my obsession. Through the generosity of the Dine, I heard how voice finds its greatest amplification through story.

For many years, I wandered through the desert in search of a narrative that was not mine. I did not feel I belonged here. I was borrowing a landscape until I found my own. But when I stopped searching and settled into the erosional peace of the redrock desert, I found myself quietly held by an immensity I could not name. I took off my cloths and lay on my back in a dry arroyo and allowed the heat absorbed into the pink sand to enter every cell in my body. I closed my eyes and became simply another breathing presence on the planet.

Reprinted by permission of the author



What are the patterns that connect throughout the book regarding our relationship toward place? 

What different meanings do the desert and the sea have as described in the book?

How does home contribute to voice?


Anonymous said...

I am fascinated my the idea of "place" especially the "place" where we grew up and how that connects us and follows us to where ever we travel in our life's journey. I have now lived in Rhode Island many more years than where I grew up but the Bronx neighborhood is still so real I can feel it in my blood. I know the seasons, the sounds, the smells, and the cracks in the sidewalk.

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