Saturday, April 09, 2005

Chellis Glendinning: A Map--From the Old Connecticut Path to the Rio Grande Valley and All the Meaning Inbetween

(courtesy of Walking as Knowing as Making)

A Map: From the Old Connecticut Path to the Rio Grande Valley and All the Meaning Inbetween
by Chellis Glendinning
The E.F. Schumacher Society

I come to you from a place where the earth is pink. Where the sky rises like a cathedral of blue. I come to you from a place where the river weaves through the villages like a string of sheep’s wool. Where men’s jeans are made threadbare by seasons of mending fences. Where women know the plants. I come to you from a place where people speak a language that is called Spanish but to the student of language is in fact indecipherable because it’s peppered with the history of Aztec and Tewa and Navaho—all blended together like green chili stew.

I live in Chimayó, New Mexico. In the Tewa language the place was originally called Tsi Mayoh. It’s disputed whether that means “flaked obsidian” or “the place where two rivers meet.” The Santa Cruz River snakes down from the Sangre de Cristo mountains and flows through the village. Everywhere smaller waterways weave. They are called “las acequias” or irrigation ditches, canals dug with shovels to divert the water to the houses and the fields and then back to the river again. From an ecological perspective, these canals extend the riparian areas with their birds and small animals into the dry terrain.

The land is desert uplands, about 6200 feet above sea level. Surrounding us are the badlands, “los cerros y las barrancas,” and in the midst of this desert is Tsi Mayoh, an oasis of cottonwoods, of pi–on and olive, of chili, corn, tomatoes, and apples. We have a system of barter that is centuries old. Each village has a specialty: Velarde, apples; El Valle, sheep; Chimayó, chili; San Luis, up in Colorado, potatoes.

The people in the village are a beautiful mix. Some of the blood comes from Europe: Spanish, Moorish, Jewish; some comes from Mexico: Aztec, Mayan, Toltec; and some from those who have inhabited the land for ages: Tewa, Navajo, Apache. In the slang of the Pachuco, which is the urban Chicano renegade culture of the 1940s and 1950s, the village is called Chima. And Chima is where I live.

It has become indistinguishable from who I am. I had a visitor from California recently (“Califas” in Pachuco), and all she wanted to do was talk about what’s inside the skin—feelings, perceptions, analyses—which I found to be a familiar mode, having moved to the area from Califas, but a mode that had grown foreign and old and small. When I first came to New Mexico, I had an inkling this would happen. Once, when talking with the Tewa scholar and author of Tewa World, Alfonso Ortiz, I asked, “When Native people get together, do they talk about themselves? Do they say: I feel this, I had this experience, in my childhood this happened?” He didn’t give me an answer; instead, he laughed uproariously. So sure enough, in time, with the help of the pink earth and the barrancas, the vaqueros and the curanderas, who I am has expanded beyond this skin to become the land and the village and the history and the purpose and the soul of the place. As my friend the poet and social activist Jaime Chavez writes in a poem called “Ventanas”:

Camino encapotado en hierbas
bebiendo de las aguas
dando a la tierra;
cada estación llena
las huellas de este jornada
reclamando vida
entre las cosas simples
hambriento con la esperanza
y promesa
escondido en la tierra

I walk cloaked in herbs
drinking from the waters
giving unto the earth;
each season fills
the tracks of this journey
claiming life
among simple things
starved in the hope
and promise
hidden in the land

We all have stories about relationship to place. In 1991 I went to the World Uranium Hearing in Salzburg, Austria, a gathering of indigenous peoples: Mongolians, South Pacific Islanders, people from Chile, from Africa, Alaska, and the American Southwest. All these indigenous people from all over the world came together to talk about the effects of nuclear technology on their lands, cultures, and health. I made a pilgrimage to this gathering as a member of the Board of Listeners, and my job was to sit in the audience for five days and listen. So I took my cowboy boots, and while I was there, I spent time with the Native peoples from the Southwest, from my own bioregion—Navajo, Apache, and Pueblo Indians. I was especially struck by one man named Rex Tilousi, who was startingly calm and humble. He was the governor of the Havasupai, the caretakers of the Grand Canyon. But I saw him only when he was on stage. I asked a Keres man from Acoma Pueblo why that was, and he said, “He’s homesick; he feels so out of himself, so disconnected from the Grand Canyon that he is grieving in his hotel room.

Rest of the Lecture

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