Canyon de Chelly for the First Time

Spider Rock by https://www.josephfiler.com/

May 15, 1992, Canyon de Chelly.  It was my first time to be at the foot of Spider Rock on the canyon floor at the confluence of incredible energies.I was here with friends Ernesto, Doug and Fred and Dinè (Navajo) guide Daniel Staley.

 

Grandmother Spider or Spider Woman is a sacred being that is part of the creation story for many Indigenous people in the American Southwest. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider_Grandmother (Note that there may not be qualified Indigenous sources for this website article.)  I had a special relationship with the spider that went back to my days in graduate school at the University of Denver in 1971 when I met and fed yogurt to a little spider who visited my basement apartment.  In my personal memoir, I have detailed magical encounters with spiders through the years, including a black widow who worked on her web in the shower stall every time I bathed at my home in Chupadero, north of Santa Fe, NM. For many years I have worn a watch band made by Hopi artist Ross Joseyesva with a spider design that includes what he called the “friendship symbol.” Ross sent me the watch band in the mail before I had paid for it, which I consider an act of friendship and trust, much like that little spider accepting my offering of yogurt before she traveled on.

 

Daniel shared that there are many versions of the creation story, but if there ever is only one, it will mean the end of the world!  Other cultural lessons from Daniel:

  • When gathering plants for use, always select from the east side.
  • Likewise, choose a fire poker stick from east side of plant. The stick when not used is placed on top of house to protect it from burning.
  • The Juniper tree has a beaded pattern from which the early people learned how to make baskets.   Juniper bark was once used for diaper like material and to line infant cradles.

Annie Kahn with a Young Friend

Dinè elder Annie Kahn had given me permission to bring folks to her home, so two days after the Canyon experience, my friends and I sat in her hogan as the full Wesak Moon set and sun rose. We were to record dreams for four nights, then put them away until the new moon, forgetting them until then and retrieving them to see what has transpired.  Annie was a wonderful teacher, healer and storyteller. She shared a dawn prayer song which I have sung daily ever since, no matter where I am:

Hozho Ashado

I walk in Beauty, just for you and only you.

I talk in Beauty, just for you and only you.                                    

I sing of Beauty, just for you and only you.

Annie Kahn Passes (2010)

Annie spoke of the “two spirits” or nadleehi and dilbaa persons born, respectively, as males or females–who U.S. general culture might call “gay.”  This was my “tribe” of people and they were once a family responsible for changes and transitions in life Annie said.  The relatives of this family contain elements of both worlds of up and down, night and day, male and female she added.  Annie used the phrase “twice blessed” to refer to us. https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/documentaries/two-spirits/

We were given some self-care homework to practice at home: Breathe in the sun four times with arms taking in the horizon, allowing it to grow and be alive.  Remember that there must always be a spirit line, a place of surprise and mystery in all of life and listen to the wind, allowing all our senses to be aware.  Dinè people share a story, she said, but not all of it; it is up to each individual to add from their own experience.  Above all, don’t stick to the normal, government inspected and approved path–explore, experiment, touch taste, smell, see hear for yourself.  Let go of shame she advised, and use the parts of yourself that have been forgotten.  Take in “the other” (you define that for yourself) with your left side and balance with the right.

On the day we left, we enjoyed a breakfast meal with tablecloth on the floor.  Cornmeal mush was served in a woven basket, its “spirit line” to the East.  We fed ourselves like children with our hands, not worrying about social etiquette, happily spilling some if we did, and at the same time feeding all other Beings.

Natural History Museum of Utah

Winking at a Snake in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

 

I was on a solo journey to Chaco Canyon August 11, 2012, taking a favorite walk from the Great Kiva Rinconada to the mesa above the kiva and the ancient site of Tsin Kletzin.  The subterranean Great Kiva was once utilized for religious activities and ceremonies.  It had 39-foot passageways from the underground structure to above ground levels. Casa Rinconada is one of the many buildings in the Chaco area that have documented astronomical alignments.  Many know the Great Kiva for the archeoastronomy event that occurs on summer solstice. PBS video

On the walk all was silent save for the wind, whipping around me in a deafening roar. Suddenly I encountered two large deer, or possibly elk.  There were two farther on.  How they survived in this harsh environment could be a lesson to us all in this time of global climate disaster.  I felt blessed by their wild animal presence.  Back in camp, I sat in mottled shade of the nearby low growing cliff bushes and created prayer sticks for friends facing challenges as well offerings to my home.  Knees bent, “feet standing,” I silently wound colored yarn, feathers and other found objects into the sticks.

These “ofrendas” were a meditation practice given to me and others long ago at the LBGTQ Spirituality Gathering at Lama retreat center north of Taos, NM by Maria Elena.  Maria Elena was of Mexican Huichol ancestry and had the gift of being a “dream healer.”  She could enter into the dream world of a person and offer help and interpretation.  As a young child in Los Angeles where her Mexican parents had immigrated, she occasionally found herself in that dream world, seemingly floating above her bed and having other unusual experiences.  Experiences that her parents did not want her to have, as they had immigrated to the U.S. to forge a new and hopefully more prosperous life.  So, they put her in parochial school to help her forget the old ways.  But Spirit will have its way, no matter where we are.  At school, Maria Elena said made friends with an African American maintenance man and together they went out to the desert and did prayer and ceremony, helping to further deepen her healing abilities. This secretive time in ceremony and prayer helped her make sense of her natural talents. Maria Elena said that if she had been living in her Huichol community in Mexico, the elders would have recognized her gift and taken her to be trained in the ways of their people.  Fortunately for me and many others, she did not lose that gift and indeed was willing to share her healing ways.

cute <b>snake</b>&#39; Sticker | Spreadshirt

The ofrendas had also become a part of my healing and prayer practice.  As I sat there quietly making prayer sticks, slowly sliding out of the low bushes emerged a two-foot snake that just as quietly made her way under my legs, stopping briefly among the colored balls of yarn and feathers to give me a quick glance, then travel on her merry way.  For some indigenous cultures, the snake is the most sacred of animals as it travels with its heartbeat closed to that of Mother Earth.  I was both in awe and gratitude for this silent serpentine gift.

Earlier in the day driving into Chaco, the cell phone buzzed with a message from work at the public schools in Santa Fe.  As I listened, I recoiled and contracted, wanting to be as far from an increasingly difficult work situation as possible. But soon thereafter I heard this interiorized message:  “Say yes! to all that does not compromise you or your core values…keep your spirit shield firmly in place, beware delusional thinking, but do not contract in fear of change or letting go to new conditions or requirements or adaptations to the material world.”  Perhaps this was the message the snake was giving me in advance of our special encounter.

And all it took was a quick wink.

Chaco Canyon Calling! June 2023

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The Flute at Sunrise–Chaco Canyon

JUNE 16-18, 2023
(Just a few spaces left–register soon!)
On the mesa at Chaco. You. Native American flute plays as birds sing the day awake. First rays of sunrise warmly greet you.
If you’ve been to Chaco Canyon New Mexico before, you most likely want to return.  If you’ve never been to this profound World Heritage site, this is your opportunity for a wonderful immersive experience.  Chaco is vast, silent and filled with the voices of the Ancestors in ancient Pueblo sites, rock art known as petroglyphs and phenomenal archeoastronomy reflected in its buildings.  Then there are the stars at night!
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaco_Culture_National_Historical_Park 
In fact, this will be New Moon when the night sky will especially display her sparkling glory.  We will be in the Canyon close to Summer Solstice, when special features of the ancient buildings receive the first rays of light in a remarkable display of architecture and the natural world.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEoPXMstOxE
Cultural resource guide for  the group will be respected elder and artist Bea Duran of Tesuque Pueblo.  Bea considers Chaco to be ancestral heartland and homeland and her humor and goodwill radiates a warm welcome to all.

Bea Duran of Tesuque Pueblo

Prior to the two night camping trip, the group will meet  with Ehren Kee Natay, a local Indigenous multi-media artist and recognized member of the Dine Nation with Kewa Pueblo, Irish and German ancestry. Deeply connected to his ancestral traditions, Ehren will share his understanding of historical and contemporary Indigenous culture, dispelling myths along the way.     http://www.ehrenkeenatay.com/
His creative work has shown internationally and can be found at two New Mexico Heritage Museums. His current work further infuses his musical craft in Native American flute and drumming with visual aesthetics via live-performance. In his words, “I have a prayer, a spirit, a breath that is inside me.  It tells me to create. It cannot be silenced.  It can only be quiet by creating.”  

It is this spirit and breath that can be found in Chaco Canyon. I hope you will join us in this journey of discovery.

Doug Conwell, Earth Walks

For more details, cost and registration information contact info@earthwalks.org    There is limited space available so be in touch as soon as you can!

Diane Reyna of Taos Pueblo: Reflections on Covid & Other Matters

REFLECTIONS ON COVID AND OTHER MATTERS
Interactive Online Earth Walks
Monday, June 28 2021 6 p.m.
Free or by Donation

Limited Enrollment

From anxiety and stress to inspiring courage and spiritual strength, Diane Reyna, Taos/Ohkay Owinge Pueblo artist, shares a series of drawings that reflect her thoughts on the events and situations that occurred during the COVID-19 lockdown last year.  With pen and paper, hope, faith, and love, Diane created the drawings between March 16, 2020 and March 16, 2021. The ink drawings embody her experience in all its dimensions, including the cultural traditions that helped her navigate the year. She will guide participants through a hands on activity that will offer an avenue for individual insight and possibilities for the future.

Due to the nature of this event, there will be a limited number of participants. Register as soon as possible by contacting:  info@earthwalks.org  There is no charge, but a donation is appreciated. Everyone is welcome!

Diane was raised at her father’s village of Taos Pueblo in Northern New Mexico; her mother was from the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh. She is an experienced facilitator, college instructor, and trainer. She retired from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2015, where she provided comprehensive support and services to first year students. Prior to working at the Institute, she spent 20 years as a videographer, producer, and director in the field of video news and documentary production. She directed the PBS documentary, “Surviving Columbus”, which was awarded the George Foster Peabody in 1993. She has spent most of her adult life in engaged in the arts, education, and facilitation.

Watch Surviving Columbus online
Late one afternoon in May 1539, the world of the Indigenous Pueblo people changed forever when Estebanico – a Black slave from Morocco – and his 300 retinue of Mexican Indians marched into the Zuni city of Hawikuh. Through wild tales and exaggerations, Hawikuh would be transformed into one of the fabled Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, and a year later, Coronado and his soldiers would wreak destruction and violence on this peaceful world in search of non existent gold. Surviving Columbus is a search for the Pueblo people’s view of these first encounters with European civilization, told exclusively through the voices and visions of the Pueblo people themselves..
Due to the nature of this event, there will be a limited number of participants. Register as soon as possible by contacting:  info@earthwalks.org  There is no charge, but a donation is appreciated. Everyone is welcome!

Chaco Canyon, New Mexico Archaeoastonomy

(Join the Earth Walks program in a three day journey to Chaco Canyon October 6-8, 2018 camping under the stars, guided by a New Mexico Pueblo family who consider the site as their ancestral homeland.  For information on cost and registration: https://earthwalks.org/ )

Pueblo Bonito Kiva and Complex at Chaco

At an elevation of 6,200 feet, Chaco is a high desert, sun-scorched in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter. Despite these harsh conditions, evidence of human presence in the area stretches back to as early as 2900 BC. These groups were largely nomadic, until around AD 200, when the first farmers settled in the area and built small pit houses.

Then in roughly AD 850, a great change took place. The people began building in a radically different manner, constructing massive stone buildings unlike any that had been built before. These structures soared to four or five stories and contained up to seven hundred rooms and dozens of mostly circular underground ceremonial rooms.

The architecture was a feat of engineering, often built along celestial alignments, they included water-collection systems and were linked to outlying communities by an extensive network of roads. These elaborate buildings evidence a sophisticated and highly organized culture, with Chaco Canyon at its center.

Full moon over the Canyon

The people of Chaco demonstrated extraordinary observations of astronomical phenomena which they incorporated into their buildings by designing, orienting and locating their major buildings in relationship to solar and lunar events.  This required advanced architectural and design skills, scientific observation and social cohesion.  Some think the civilization that flourished here parallels that of Aztec, Mayan and Inca cultures.

New Mexico Pueblo Prayers

It was August 4th, 2018 and I was at Kewa (Santo Domingo Pueblo) south of Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend the annual Corn Dance Ceremony and Dances.  Really more like a prayerful event, in which hundreds of dancers of all ages participate from the village.  As I made my way through the maze of walkways into the central plaza area, I ended up walking next to a group of dancers who were headed in the same direction.  Not wanting to disturb their focus, I was silent.  Then one of them called to me:  “How are you doing today?”  That opened up a friendly conversation.  They were all teachers at the Santa Fe Indian School and I had worked in the Santa Fe Public Schools for many years.  It felt like a blessing and honor to be in conversation.

I shared with them an experience I had almost 40 years ago when I had attended the dances for the first time.  Taking a break, I took my sack lunch out to the parking area in an ocean of trucks and cars.  I found a concrete curb to sit on and began to eat.  Then from behind me somewhere a woman’s voice yelled at me:  “What are you doing?!”  Uh-oh.  I thought perhaps I’d violated some Pueblo rules or etiquette.  I turned around to see the woman standing in the doorway of her home, adorned with a kitchen apron and waving at me.  “Come in!  Come in and eat!”  And so I did, with strangers who felt like family.  That was my introduction to Pueblo generosity and friendship.

Helping Harvest Corn

Santo Domingo Pueblo, on the east bank of the Rio Grande about 40 miles north of Albuquerque, is the scene each August 4th of the largest Indian dance ceremonial held annually in the southwest. This is the feast day of St. Dominic, patron saint of the historic Indian Pueblo, and more than 1,000 Santo Domingo Indians join a presentation of the colorful Green Corn Dance.

Men, women and children, all in beautiful ceremonial attire, dance under the sun in the big plaza of the old historic pueblo to the sound of chanting and pounding drums. The Green Corn Dance at Santo Domingo Pueblo each August 4th attracts thousands of spectators from all parts of New Mexico and even from the far corners of the world.

Feast Day activities begin with a morning mass in the picturesque mission church at the east edge of the Pueblo. After mass, a statue of St. Dominic is carried in a procession from the Church to a place of honor in a bough covered shrine on the pueblo plaza. Here, St. Dominic will remain until the ceremonial dance is completed. Then it will be returned to the Church.

The Green Corn Dance begins in front of the Church by 10 am and will continue throughout the day. Members of the Squash and Turquoise clans will alternate in the dancing. Pueblo Indian potters and silversmiths will display their wares for sale on the tables and on the grounds in the Pueblo and food concessions and carnival rides will be set up. Since this is a religious observance, no photography, sketching, or tape recording will be permitted. No alcohol beverages/illegal drugs or contraband are allowed on the Pueblo.

As I drove away from the Pueblo, a huge cloud had begun to form over the Jemez Mountains to the East.  Looking back it seemed to be like a giant feather stretched over the wide New Mexico sky, spreading its blessings of coming rain over the Pueblo and dancers.  Ah-ho!

JOIN EARTH WALKS ON JOURNEYS THROUGHOUT THE SOUTHWEST.  TO SEE MORE GO TO: https://earthwalks.org/

Earth Walks to Jemez Pueblo May 31-June 3, 2018

THE END IS NEAR…AND SO IS THE BEGINNING!

“Tending the Garden”

Fields and Lands of Jemez Pueblo

As one seasonal cycle ends, another begins. Join Earth Walks for this exceptional opportunity to experience the time honored traditions of Jemez Pueblo and Bodhi Manda Zen Center. Both foster a vision of culture and life that nourishes body, mind and spirit.

Learning through service, Earth Walks will join hands and hearts with Flower Hill Institute in their fields at Jemez Pueblo and in the nearby Bodhi Manda Zen Center community garden to help prepare and plant for the summer crops. There will be a way for everyone to participate, regardless of physical ability or age. Pueblo elders and community members will guide us in their ancient traditions and Abbess Hosen will offer the contemplative Zen Buddhism experience. Children from the Pueblo will perform a Butterfly Dance to encourage pollination of the newly planted gardens.

Remarkable dialogues, laughter and sharing meals of food from the garden will accompany time alone for quiet reflection and enjoyable soaks in the hot springs at BMZC alongside the Jemez River. Bring instruments for music making and your favorite memories for storytelling!

Lodging: Dormitory style. Limited number of private rooms available for additional cost on first come basis. Delicious vegetarian home cooked meals.

Registration: $375 Includes: Nine meals from Thursday dinner through Sunday lunch. Lodging, dormitory style (additional cost for single room, limited availability). Access to hot springs pools. Honorarium to Pueblo elder. Workshop materials. Optional: instruction and participation in meditation practice. Transportation by carpooling or on own.

For information/registration:  info@earthwalks.org

Flower Hill Institute:  Flower Hill is a native-owned, community-directed nonprofit. Its objectives include preserving and enhancing cultural resources, preparing youth to inherit leadership, improving economic self-sufficiency, organizing inter-tribal movements, and improving climate change resiliency through experimental farming, seed banking and youth science camps.  Flower Hill organized an effort by the All Indian Pueblo Council of Governors to publish a response to the encroachment of oil and gas development into the area surrounding Chaco Canyon National Historic Park, an area of utmost cultural importance to the Pueblos.

Bodhi Manda Zen Center: The philosophy in the Bodhi garden recognizes and supports interdependent roles played by a range of organisms in a natural environment. Modern tools used employ practices that hearkens back to indigenous peoples throughout the world. Fresh healthy vegetables from the garden are shared at mealtime to honor all those who help provide sustenance for the health of our bodies and minds and support Buddhist practices of mindfulness and compassion for all beings.Visitors may enjoy the hot springs on site adjacent to the Jemez River.
Roger Fragua, Flower                                          Abbess Hosen, Bodhi
Hill Institute Director                                            Manda Zen Center

                                           
 Greenhouse seedlings at Bodhi–         Preparing plant seedings for fields            
 
       Diggin’ it at the community garden                   Hot Springs at Bodhi 
         
                                                   
                                                       Clearing the fields                                                                                                                                                               
                                      Doug Conwell, Earth Walks Director
                                                       Come Join Us!
               

Register for Earth Walks to Canyon de Chelly October 19-22, 2017

Spider Rock Canyon de Chelly

Includes:

Guided walk on trails into the spectacular red sandstone canyon (equipment brought by truck; transportation option for those who choose)
Two nights camping (final night motel/optional camping)
Traditional sweat “bath” (lodge)
Day of solitude at Spider Rock
Day of service on a weaver’s family farm in the Canyon
Cost:  $615   Does not include: transportation to and from Chinle, AZ, last night in motel (free camping option available), meals outside the canyon, gratuities to guides

To register:  Deposit to save a space for you on this journey is $200 (trip is limited to 14 participants).  Remainder is due September 19, 2017.  Make checks payable to:  Earth Walks/PO Box 8534/Santa Fe, NM 87504.  (A limited number of partial work exchange scholarships may possibly be available.)

Information:  Contact info@earthwalks.org

Itinerary:
Thursday, October 19  travel by carpool from Santa Fe, past Shiprock, NM

From there cross the Chuska mountains to the town of Chinle.   Dine (Navajo) friend Daniel Staley and his family will guide us into the spectacular red sandstone canyon to his family land where we will be camping.  Those who wish will hike to the site; others can ride vehicles which will be carrying our camping gear.  The first evening we will participate in sweat lodge, a powerful way to begin our stay in this land which has been sacred to local people for so many generations. (Those who wish can stay outside the sweat and assist with the fire and prayers.) Meals in the canyon will be a group activity (preparation and clean up.)

Friday, October 20 we travel by truck to the Spider Rock for contemplation and time exploring the spectacular area around Spider Rock in the quiet of the canyon.

Saturday, October 21  we visit Kathryn Pemala who has been a long time weaver on her family farm in the canyon.  An important element of every Earth Walks is “service learning”–learning about traditional cultures while we offer service and “return the gift” of living in this great land.  We may be clearing weeds from farm land and orchards, helping with the animals, doing repairs or a variety of other activities.  Kathryn will share her method and meaning of weaving with us and we will share lunch together as well.

Kathryn Paymella, Dine (Navajo) Weaver

Our final evening, participants have the option of staying at the Sacred Canyon Lodge near the entrance of the canyon.  There is free camping available adjacent to the Lodge. We depart on Sunday, October 22.

Contact Earth Walks for registration details and information: info@earthwalks.org

Walk in Beauty!     Doug Conwell/Earth Walks

Earth Walks Director Doug Conwell

Earth Walks Journey to Chaco Canyon 2017

May 19-21, 2017

Pueblo Bonito Kiva and Complex at Chaco

Join Earth Walks on both an outer journey to a remarkable ancient World Heritage Site and a journey of inner discovery in vast silence with the community of fellow travelers.

We’ll be guided by the Tesuque Pueblo sisters Bea Duran and Reyes Herrera and their family.   They consider Chaco Canyon as ancestral home ground.

Our time will include guided walks through the ancient sites, time alone to experience the vast silence of the Canyon and group sharing and conversation around the evening fires and meal times.  Bring a drum or musical instrument!

Cost:  Sliding scale.  $350 is the minimum, and if you can afford an additional amount it will help Earth Walks continue offering these journeys throughout the American Southwest.  Includes all meals, Friday evening through Sunday morning; guiding services; campground fees.  Does not include: transportation (by carpooling) entrance fees to Canyon, gratuities to guides.

For more information/registration:  info@earthwalks.org

Earth Walks has been leading journeys through the Southwest and Mexico for over 20 years.  For more information about our program, go to: https://earthwalks.org/

Full moon over the Canyon

Walk in Beauty

In September 2016, Earth Walks traveled to the spectacular Canyon de Chelly with 12 participants.  It was a deeply memorable time, which included camping in the canyon under a blanket of stars, Dine (Navajo) friend and guide Daniel Staley playing his beautiful flute music to the echoes of the notes and his  ancestors and a day of service on the family farm of Kathryn Pemala.  Canyon

 

Our canyon campsite was on Daniel’s grandparents’ land where he maintains a fruit orchard and a traditional hogan.

daniel-with-apples-canyon-de-ch-2016One magical evening found us around the campfire with Daniel playing his flute and singing traditional Dine chants in his native language.  One participant had just acquired her first drum and she sent it around the group, asking each person to add their own drum beat, song or words to empower it for future drumming.  The group spent a day of solitude near the powerful Spider Rock.  That evening the group participated in a traditional sweat lodge.Spider Rock Canyon de Chelly Our final day in the canyon was spent in a service activity on the family farm of Kathryn Pemala, long time weaver, who has lived her entire life in the canyon.  As she weaves, she hears the voices and stories of her ancestors which are woven into the fabric of her work.

Dine (Navajo) weaver

Dine (Navajo) weaver

The group help harvest corn and plums, pulled weeds and enjoyed conversation with Kathryn and family members.  It was all too soon that we had to leave.

Helping Harvest Corn

Helping Harvest Corn

One of our participants, Sallie Bingham, is a writer and published author.  Her blog on the journey is well worth the reading.  You can view it at:  https://salliebingham.com/the-beauty-way/#comments 

Earth Walks plans to return to the canyon in the fall of 2017.  We will also travel to Chaco Canyon, NM http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/353 in late May.  This coming spring, we will be based at Bodhi Manda Zen Center in Jemez Springs, NM http://www.bmzc.org/ helping with an organic farm in Jemez Pueblo http://www.jemezpueblo.com/  as well as making traditional flutes with Pueblo resident Marlon Magdalena http://www.aluaki.com/

If you would like to join us on these or other journeys or create a special Earth Walks for yourself, family, friends or business please be in touch.  Meanwhile, Happy Trails and may we all Walk in Beauty!

Earth Walks Director Doug Conwell

Earth Walks Director Doug Conwell