Sunday, April 17, 2011

Amazing April

March might have been busy with many talks and interviews for One Book Arizona 2011, but it was nothing compared to April! I have given presentations on Hopi Summer from one end of the state to another, from Bisbee in the south, and on up to the north: Prescott, Prescott Valley, Cottonwood, Dewey-Humbolt, Camp Verde, the Hopi Mesas, Flagstaff, Sun City, and Phoenix! Whew!

Each presentation has been unique, with opportunities to meet delightful people. At the Dewey-Humbolt Library I met a woman and her 80-something mother who told me that they had lived at Polacca on First Mesa for a year in 1952--their stories were wonderful. A woman at the Cottonwood Library told me about her grandfather who was a Mennonite missionary at Moencopi. She offered to share her grandfather's photographs and papers--another book? And one museum in northern Arizona is exploring the possibility of organizing an exhibit relating to Hopi Summer, and possibly borrowing some of the Hopi arts that Maud Melville purchased in the summer of 1927, along with Ethel Muchvo's letters, and some of the Melville photographs and journals.

And of course, the visits to the Hopi villages and with old friends there were memorable. There was an interview on KUYI Hopi Radio. Many people who I encountered up there told me that they had heard the interview. Vans brought many of the elderly people to Sipaulovi. Since the room was full half an hour before the scheduled presentation, and since the Second Mesa Sewing Group was already at the center for their usual weekly gathering, I quickly went through the Hopi Quilt presentation--showing all the pictures of the Hopi quilts and quilters. Some of those quilters are gone now, and it was so nice to be able to share their photos and their quilts with their friends and family.

Ethel's daughter, Vivian, came to the Thursday night presentation and it became very emotional when I talked about her mother and father, and all of the eleven children that they lost before they had Vivian, their twelfth child. Vivian had tears running down her cheeks through most of the talk, as did many other Hopi people who were family members or had always known Vivian. I always get a bit teary when I talk about all of Ethel's lost children, but that evening it was especially difficult to talk without completely sobbing. Still, it was such an honor to share the story and pictures with that audience.

The next morning's talk at the Health Center was just great, although not as emotional, just lots of fun sharing stories and pictures. Vivian attended the talk, along with 87 year old Mrytle, whose parents are also mentioned in the book. The two ladies so enjoyed the pictures, and as I showed images of the people and villages, they just chattered and told old stories. Everyone crowded around them to hear. I felt as though we were reviving--and sharing--even more Hopi history. What an amazing experience--for all of us.

At the Northern Arizona Book Festival in Flagstaff, many people filled the auditorium to hear about Hopi Summer. Again, I teared up when I showed Ethel's pottery vase. Karen Tootsie arrived for a day of shopping in Flagstaff and delighted many people who were able to talk with her. She also brought a box of Piki that people enjoyed sampling. Maddy and Cinco were also there to share in all the events, the book talks, paper folding, and the fun recycled art show at the Coconino Art Center. Such great times!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March Madness

No, it has nothing to do with basketball or sports. My March Madness is the One Book Arizona schedule with 3 interviews, 1 book signing, and 9 talks--so far. March has been a crazy month. But what fun it is, what a huge honor. I am the one who is so pleased, but when I walk into a library or a museum people announce that the One Book Author is here, and I realize that it is me. Wow! I get to meet delightful and interesting people, visit with some old quilting friends--and spend an hour talking about my writing--I should be the one paying them.

There was a delightful interview on Sun Sounds for NPR Radio, and Alberto Rios, a former One Book Arizona winner (Capirotada) interviewed me for KAET's Books & Company for Phoenix's public television station. I also spoke at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Every talk and every venue has been so different, and I am looking forward to April with more travel to Phoenix, Prescott, Flagstaff, and the Hopi Mesas. Exhausting, but a small price to keep sharing the wonderful story of the friendship between Ethel and Maud.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Prayer Feathers

For countless centuries, certain Hopi priests have made prayer feathers during the dark and bitter cold winters. They are an integral part of the winter ceremonies to bring back the sun. The feathers are ritually collected and certain feathers are used for each small bundle, depending on the characteristics of each species of bird. Some birds represent strength, others protect for health. The feathers are tied together with cotton string, in old times the threads were spun from cotton grown in Hopi fields. The feathers are given with blessings, some tied on a reed are to protect a home and keep all who dwell there protected from harm and sickness. A few small feathers are to be worn or kept in a pocket for personal protection. And today, there are even prayer feathers created to hang from a car mirror. These prayer feathers ensure blessings that the occupants can proceed on their journeys in safety, and will be watched over until there is a safe arrival.

It is bitter cold here on Second Mesa, winds slice right through all the layers of coats and vests and sweaters, patches of snow and ice dot the ground. Stars in the black sky are barely visible, even the crescent moon seems fainter and more distant in the heavens. The villages are silent, few people are outside, just a boy chopping wood, a woman hurrying down a lane. But in the kivas there are prayers and winter ceremonies, and soon there will be a time of renewal, the sun will come back and Hopi farmers will prepare their fields, and, with more prayers, there will be another harvest. It is an ancient cycle here.

When my friend gave me prayer feathers he said prayers in English and Hopi, and he explained that the feathers represented prayers for personal health and safety, and blessings for my house, my car--and travels. He laid his hands on my head and over my heart as he spoke. But Hopis also say these prayers for all of humanity. They are sending blessings across the country, and around the world. This is part of an ancient rite to bring harmony to the world--to the universe. In some ways, the Hopi blessings have "brought back the sun" for all living people, since time began.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Miracles

Last night I had dinner with Paddy, an old friend, and one of the most beautiful quilters I have had the privilege to know. Paddy has battled life-threatening cancer, and for years she has routinely taken chemotherapy drugs. When I had a cancer diagnosis 6 years ago, it was Paddy who told me to just follow the doctor's orders, and then get on with my life: write more books and stitch more quilts. She said that no one can tell you how much time you have on this earth. When she was diagnosed with her first cancer she was told she could expect to live 5-6 more years. That was 20+ years ago. Paddy has always been my model for someone who appreciates her life every day.

This week Paddy's great-granddaughter celebrated her first birthday, and is miraculously on her way to having a normal life. When she was born a year ago she was suffering from many neurological problems, and nearly constant seizures. Today she is a happy, high-spirited--healthy--little girl. And we reminisced about the Thanksgiving eleven years ago when we raced from Silver City to Salt Lake City to see our newest grandchild, Gabriel, who was born with a heart defect and had been air-lifted to Primary Children's Hospital.

Gabriel's surgery was scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving, and the pediatric surgeon later told us that he spent hours of that Thanksgiving Day watching and rewinding the video of the angiogram, trying to figure out what was wrong with Gabe's heart. All of the arteries were in the wrong places, and one artery was inside of another one. This amazing surgeon came up with a plan to rebuild all of the arteries and reconnect them in the right places. This was a surgery that had likely never been done before, but thanks to the miraculous and life-saving skills of the surgeon, Gabriel is a healthy boy today who collects Star Wars toys and plays soccer. His eleventh birthday was just this week.

Since my visit with Paddy last night, I have been reflecting on all of the miracles in my life, of the many reasons I have to be grateful this Thanksgiving week. I am a cancer survivor; four years ago this fall, my son John Henry survived emergency open-heart surgery at the age of 26, and this week I spent time rocking his two-month-old son, my newest grandson, Cinco. Life gives us many reasons to give thanks, sometimes it takes a good friend like Paddy to remind us to be grateful every day, to be aware of the everyday miracles. Now excuse me, I have another book to write, and many quilts to finish.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dawn Ceremony

We just returned from a marvelous trip up to Hopiland. Unfortunately, the Basket Dance at Second Mesa had been cancelled. We visited several homes and saw stacks of sifter baskets and plaques that had been made in preparation for the dance. Since they were not required for the ceremony, my daughter and I were able to purchase several.

We visited old friends and went to Oraibi on Third Mesa in an attempt to identify a woman in a photograph taken in 1905. It was an unsuccessful quest, but I will keep searching to find her identity. As we walked through that ancient village I thought of an earlier visit in the 1990s with Emory Sekaquaptewa. He talked about the buildings and the homes, and how they once looked, and the people who had lived there. And one day there was a kachina dance in the plaza. We stood on the "hill" that was actually the tumbled walls of the three-and four-story pueblo homes that had been abandoned more than a century earlier. Behind us three or four more straight rows of rock and dirt indicated where the houses had once been filled with families, mothers and fathers, and children, running and climbing and calling out to each other.

As I stood on the crumbled wall of a Hopi home, with pieces of broken pottery strewn on the ground like gravel, a sense of the timelessness of the dance began to ooze inside of me through the pores of my skin. After a while, you did not so much hear the stomp of the dancing feet and the beat of the drum and the shaking rattles, as you felt it circling and lifting you up, and sometimes you had to look out beyond the plaza to confirm that there were still cars parked out closer to the highway, and not wagons, to confirm that you were still existing in this century, and had not somehow been carried to an ancient, earlier time.

It was a good growing season at Hopi this year, every house had blue and white and red and yellow corn drying in the sun--on the rooftops and on makeshift platforms. Beans were spread on sheets on the ground, and as the pods dried they split open and the colorful beans popped out.
These were eventually gathered in the sifter baskets to be stored for future meals. There were beans of every color: small red beans, yellow beans, speckled beans and large white beans. .

And every house had piles of Hopi squash stacked in corners. At one friend's house we ate watermelon, carefully saving all of the seeds for future planting

The cottonwood trees were in full golden color. When the sun hit them they were a trail of brilliant yellow lining the washes. From Walpi at the top of First Mesa they were like trails of gold leading to the villages. One friend rode with us over to Ganado to see Hubbell Trading Post. The art there always takes my breath away, and my fingers are itching to do some research on the paintings and Kopta sculptures--maybe a new project?

The daughter of an old friend at Second Mesa graciously invited us to come to her granddaughter's Naming Ceremony. On Sunday we watched as their in-law prepared Pikami, a special pudding that is made at this time. Cornmeal, wheat flour, and sugar was mixed with boiling water in a big wash tub (stirred with three cleaned reeds). When it was the right consistency it was spooned into a tin lined with corn husks and placed into a pit where it would cook all through the night.

We returned the next morning in the cold darkness as fires were being rekindled outside to cook the three wash tubs of Hopi Stew made of mutton and hominy. We all stood next to the fire and watched as the sun rose over the mesa, and the rooftops of Mischongnovi were slowly outlined with the dawn. The Naming Ceremony was tender and moving, and we were most honored and grateful to have been invited to be a small part of that morning.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Writing Through Portals of Time

My life has taken some amazing and wonderful turns this year. I have been writing history for more than 2 decades, and it is mostly solitary work: hours spent alone at the computer, visits to museums to search archives and pull together random information, and sometimes, trips to interview people who have knowledge about my research subject. I have also been fortunate to have had my work published, and occasionally have met people who have read the books--and enjoyed them. Yahoo!

Those random compliments kept me going, although I definitely would have kept on writing because the stories seemed to be forcing their way to the surface, pushing up to be put on paper and shared. Stories have always come to me, and over the years there were such amazing incidents, that I have come to believe that some of the people I have written about are just standing behind my shoulder watching as their words were being recorded. There was the time when I was writing the story of a New Mexico archaeologist, and looked at a photograph of Hattie Cosgrove's 15-year-old son standing at the entrance to Greenwood Ceremonial Cave in the Gila Wilderness. It seemed that I had seen the same image more recently, and when I pulled out some photos of a trip that I had made to the same site, there was a photograph of my 15-year-old son standing in the same spot, in the same pose, 75 years later. In that moment I felt Hattie leaning over my shoulder as we compared the images of our sons.

Perhaps 75 is a significant number for me. On a trip to Boston, I chanced upon a local village newspaper with vintage Hopi Indian photographs. I looked up the owner of the pictures and ultimately, using the photos and letters shared by the Massachusetts family, wrote Hopi Summer, the story of a friendship between a Hopi potter and an eastern professor's wife. The photographs had been taken in 1927, and I saw them in the Massachusetts newspaper--75 years later.

This book has now been chosen as One Book Arizona for 2011. An incredible honor, and it will be a joy to share Ethel and Maud's story with so many people in the coming year. It is an amazing gift to receive this credit, but as I wrote earlier, I would still be driven to keep on writing, the People from the Past keep urging me on.