Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Growing Up With Navajo Bird Tales

My Grandmother used to tell us stories about the Navajo covered in mud. He would dance around and tell jokes. He was an entertainer, a joker, who made all the kids laugh while beautiful Navajo dancers would enact their rituals covered in feathers, painted masks and chanting in the New Mexican sun. She would tell us stories about the rugs hanging from her walls. How each thread meant something to the Navajo - how precise the thread pattern was. We wanted to play with the dolls in her kitchen. They were high above the stove on a tucked away shelf and unreachable by our little curious hands, like a stage for the spirits. And for good reason, her Kachina doll collection is still prized. But the most striking of her stories was the sand paintings... These captured my mind. She would dazzle us about Hosteen Clah, the Medicine Man, and how he would visit to talk about the drawings of my Great Grandmother - Francis Newcomb.

To us these images were unchangeable, and for good reason. They were striking in our minds, as though the sand burned through to our inner core. She would show us her books about the Navajo sand paintings, and during a story, we would see her get worked up about them. Now that I reflect on it, I believe that some of these sand paintings had more of an impact on her than just the passing of a story. It was a belief, a time of spirit. In her own colorful way, a ritual would emerge.

And it is here that I reflect on how my Oklahoma and Southern upbringing melted into my Southwest personality. Whether it is the gentle song of R. Carlos Nakai or seeing a Navajo rug, I'm drawn to the culture, the people, the song, the sands, the mountains of this great region. In large part, I am due for a journey into the spirit. And thanks to my Grandmother, I am keenly aware of what this means, and the hard work it will entail. She would encourage me to do so... If you've grown up with an indigenous culture and traditional American one, then you know what I'm talking about. There is a desire to move into the spirit, yet a desire not to go there... It is an inner battle - to be wild to be spirit. I would bet my family would agree - we are all a little crazy.

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