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The Amphitheater is part of “Grounded in Faith” published in White Shell Water Place, Native American Reflections on the 400th Anniversary of the Founding of Santa Fe, by F. Richard Sanchez (Author, Editor)

White Shell Water Place is an anthology, a companion to the Santa Fe 400th Anniversary Commemoration publication, All Trails Lead to Santa Fe, which affords Native American authors the opportunity to unreservedly express their ideas, opinions and perspectives on the historical and cultural aspects of Santa Fe using their own voice and preferred writing styles that are not necessarily in accord with western academic and writing conventions. One cannot truly contemplate the history and culture of Santa Fe without the voices of the Native Americans--the original inhabitants of Po'oge, ''White Shell Water Place.'' Indeed, much of Santa Fe's story is conveyed from a western colonial perspective, which, until fairly recently, has predominantly relegated Native Americans to the fringes. However, over the last thirty years colonial narratives regarding Native American history and culture have been, and continue to be, disputed and amended as the pursuit of academic, intellectual and cultural self determination gains momentum in respective Native American tribal and academic communities. The Santa Fe 400th Anniversary Commemoration has created an opportunity for the Native American voice to be heard. This anthology is a ceremony of Native voices, a gathering of Native people offering scholarly dialogue, personal points of view, opinions, and stories regarding the pre and post historical and cultural foundations of Santa Fe.

Page Contents:

Pecos | Survival | Bandelier | Tesuque | Chimayo | Nambe | Sunday Excursions | The River 

For Santa Fe Preparatory School



We packed Moma's tackle box with small, barbed hooks, weights, fishing line, pliers, and a knife, and climbed in the back of our green GMC truck, rain or shine. As we drove past Glorieta, Daddy said, "The Earth's skin is red here from the Indian blood spilled in the fighting with the Spanish." The wind whipped our hair, and deposited a layer of powdered dust on our faces.

Driving over metal roofed bridges, the Pecos flowed noisily below us, as we traveled deep into the faulted, limestone Canyon that was Moma's home, past the man-made Lakes where she never fished. (Her sister drowned in the Pecos, carried off by the strong, swift current. Her Dad died, too, in the nickel mine at Terrero, the birthplace of the Pecos. She quit school then to help raise her four younger brothers.)

We parked where the River wasn't too high. We dug for yucky, brown earthworms, coiled on top of each other, which I hated to hold, and I squirmed and shook as I picked them up, and Moma waded off in the River with them and her rod.

Navajos didn't fish. When their comfortable Fourth World was flooded by Water Monster, out of fury at the theft of his Babies, those lost in the flood became Water People. Daddy didn't want to be a cannibal, so he hung out with us, and we built dams and played, looking for the mermaid Moma had seen. The salty water was cold, and the rocks were slippery from the larva that lived on them.

Moma kept the trout she caught on a sharpened willow branch, shoving it through their mouth and chin, laying them in shallow water along the embankment, cautious not to lose them to the River. When she came back to camp, she put them in a metal bucket, filled with River water. Since the Pecos was her home, she only had to drop her line for the trout, like a magnet to steel, to be drawn to her. A ghost, she was invisible to the trout, until she reeled them in.

Getting mad at us for playing with their slippery, slimy bodies after she caught them, which splintered their bones and made them harder to clean, had no effect, because we still had to peer into their gold-rimmed, dead eyes, open their mouths wide, move their gills and pet their sharp fins and tail. We pretended they were leaping, flying upstream through riffles to spawn, or hiding, buried in the gravel in the River, or suspended in a deep, dark pool, refusing to take any bait.

After slitting their bellies, and gutting them, we fried them over an open fire, with corn bread coating.

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In the Fall, we went pinon picking, south of Santa Fe, in the amphitheater of the Sangre de Cristo, the Sandia and the Jemez Mountains. Daddy gave us our annual eye exam, "If you can see the Sandia's, you don't need eyeglasses." We shook the trees, and caught the pinons in coffee cans, chewing the brown, sticky pitch for gum. Once I saw a tarantula hobbling across the pinon needles on the ground.

Daddy whistled like the eerie, Taos flutists, and Kokapelli, the premier, Anasazi flutist, foraged along with us. Their plaintive notes hung on the wind, haunting us, traveling in slow motion, fusing the gap between the Ancient Ones and us.

We roasted the pinons at home, on the wood stove, turning them for even browning. Eating them the right way took patience, because they were small, and you had to crack the brown shells to get the nuts inside. I just ate them, shell and all.

Daddy told us, "When I graduated from high school I only had a quarter, someday you might be in the same boat. I was able to get a job painting the blue trim on the government offices in Window Rock. You need to know you can survive without money, without food, without water." So we went without food and water.

We idealized his life of hardship: sitting on his haunches only; taking snow baths; throwing rocks right-handed so he wouldn't be left-handed, his right hand tied behind his back; losing his dog, Blackie, when he fell off a cliff and onto a ledge, fed by Daddy every day, until he came one day and Blackie was gone; kidnapped from home by the man on horseback that found him hiding in the water trough - taken to boarding school, at the age of eight, alone, without his brother or sister.

He never complained when he relayed these matter-of-fact fragments of his past. Instead, he tried to pass on to us what he learned and mastered along the way: "Be good, be quiet, keep to yourself, don't say anything bad about anyone else, and do what you're told." He told us, "When I'm tired, the small part of my neck, just below my hairline aches. I talk to it, I tell it to relax and it does. When I'm sore, I use the heat from my hand to ease the pain."

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The long ladder led to the caves at Bandelier, on the Pajarito Plateau in Frijoles Canyon, west of Santa Fe, in a vast pinon, juniper and sagebrush caldera, with Indian ruins recessed in red, volcanic cliffs. The ancient Indians lived in the caves, and worshipped in subterranean, ceremonial kivas, with sipapus, a small hole in the Earth, connecting them to the spirit world. They built elaborate multi-storied talus brick villages.

In the early morning, meandering clouds hung low in the Canyon, and it seemed as if we could reach them, and touch their wetness, as we sat deep inside the caves, waiting for the sun to melt away the mist. Then, we climbed down to run in the snowfed stream rambling through the Canyon, the El Rito de los Frijoles, headed for the Rio Grande, the 'Blue Mother River' to the Indians. We searched for small brown trout, but never saw any.

The rocks at Bandelier are pockmarked, where air bubbles formed, while the lava cooled and hardened. They smell dusty, erode with just a touch, and taste flat. We traced over the pictographs left by the Ancient Ones, membrane to membrane, erasing time.

The Park Service Museum displayed old Indian bones, pottery shards with simple, geometric shapes, painted with black, carbon paint, spiral-coiled willow baskets, and murals showing the Indians hunting and cooking, the fluted tips of their arrowheads carved meticulously.

We imagined climbing, and slipping, at night, over loose, treacherous lava rocks, to the top of the volcano, exhausted, pushed to our limit, cold, peering into the fiery red, bubbling, boiling, molten lava, warm sulfur steaming from the Earth around us, eerie, frozen rock sculptures exhaled by the volcano. Hiding in basaltic niches, we perched on tuff overhangs, so we wouldn't be sacrificed at sunrise.


Daddy said being around these places wasn't good, "The Ancient Ones might not want us here." He hummed to let them know we were approaching.

The Indians left Bandelier - 'hohokam.'

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On Sunday's, when Moma got off work, we drove on the winding, curving, back road to Tesuque, north of Santa Fe, the hot wind pollinating our faces, with a cloud of golden grain. Tesuque was how the Spanish said the Tewa word, tatunge, the 'dry, spotted place.' Part of Tesuque was dry, with yucca, chamisa, sagebrush, and cactus, dotting the banks of the dry, sandy arroyos, with barren mesas in the distant canvas, covered by scattered pinon trees, and part of it was green and lush, a small farming community fed by snow from the Sangre's.

We stopped at the Lakes' desert picnic area to eat watermelon - Daddy said, "When I was little, we bottled watermelon juice, and pretended it was Coca-Cola." We'd tap the watermelons before we chose one, to make sure that it was red and juicy inside. Sometimes, the stand owner would take his knife and cut out a little chunk for us to sample.

Getting in meant climbing through a barb wire fence, but that didn't stop us. Moma warned us to keep away from the far Lake, "It's dangerous." So we pretended the Water Monster lived in the murky, brackish, still swamp.

While Moma and Daddy rested, we hunted for wildflowers, gently studying them on their stems, their structure, colors, and patterns, counting the hundreds of little flowers making up the cone of Mexican hats, with their drooping, dark red and yellow petals, and the bright red-orange, pale green, ivory and yellow petals of the parasitic Indian paintbrush.

We mimicked dragon flies, practicing their maneuvers, flying low, hovering, gliding sideways and backwards, relying on their instinctive, autorotation techniques to avoid crash landing, pitching downward and forward, then pulling up at just the right moment.

We chased yellow butterflies with small, almost invisible, black dots on their wings, along with amber leopard-patterned ones, and orange ones, too, with black 'ojos,' all with soft, veined, fringed wings, more fragile than ashen paper.

Serpentine whirlwinds chased us back, and caught us, spinning us around and around, spitting us out as their energy dissipated; we reeled, and fell to the ground, breathless, and sandlogged. Linda sat on a devil cholla cactus once, and had to go to the hospital to get all the spines out. Moma said, "They do that, they jump out, and pull you down."

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Chimayo was another favored watering hole, in the farming region of the Rio Grande Valley. All along the winding road following the Rio's branches, adobe houses, trimmed in Taos blue, stood right up against the street, the local families selling fresh green chile in different sized baskets, and strands of ristras and dried corn. We bought green chile by the bushel, picked bing cherries in June, and peaches and apples in the Fall.

Here and there in the arroyos, an old car or truck sat abandoned, rusting, wrecked, stripped, sometimes filled with water after a heavy rain. We played in the warm, muddy, brown water of the labyrinth acequias, with the red slick, slippery clay sticking to our shoes and clothes. At the Santuario, crutches, casts, and nasty stuff covered the walls, left behind by those healed by faith. In the back of the church was a hole with holy dirt, to rub on or take home in a jar. Wooden statues of santos, enshrined in niches, awaited entreaties, dark, red blood dripping from them, some lying in wooden coffins. Painted, plaque santos, 'retablos,' peered from behind burning candles, whispering to us to come closer.

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Nambe Pueblo was Daddy's favorite. We'd all squish in the front seat of the truck, to avoid the fine, white dust raised by our truck. One of the local families had to open and close the entry gate. We got in free because we were Indian.

The cottonwoods along the Rio Nambe created a natural shade. A narrow trail curved high against the hillside to the double waterfall. Once, Jackie got us to climb to the top of the waterfalls and then we didn't know how to get down. We inched down the rock, clinging to any crack or raised surface as a handhold, until we reached the basin of the falls. None of us knew how to swim so we never tried the clear, cold, deep pool. We dreamed we rode on a cirrus cloud down the meandering Rio, our gossamer canoe steered by an ancient, tall Indian man, standing in the back, still and quiet, guiding us on our journey.

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We'd play at St. Francis playground while we'd wait for Moma to get off work. I got motion sick and I'd still ride the merry go round and end up nauseous. She worked for the Sisters of Charity at St. Vincent Hospital. I don't know what she did but she wore a white uniform and very, very clean white polished nurse's shoes. After we picked her up, we'd drive along Canyon Road to the Santa Fe River and play in the small waterfall.

Fast in the Spring, by the end of the Summer it would be practically dry. Along the upper River, the dense brush hampered our access. Closer into town they had widened the banks and put rock walls along the sides. Moma would bring us leftovers from work, like chicken, for a picnic. Or we'd go out to Camel Rock. We'd park, eat watermelon, climb on the red sandstone camel's head or run down its back at full speed. Catching ant-eating, blood-spraying horned toads with a mysterious third 'eye,' we checked each one's bellies, convinced that if it was yellow the toad was poisonous. Sometimes we caught little bitty babies. Wandering through the dry arroyos, we sped up the erosion sliding down the treacherous banks, the soft dirt tumbling behind. The Carmelites were Moma's solace. Their chapel was plain, without statues or an altar. I liked that you never got to see them, and that all they did was pray. When we talked to them they would be behind a dark screen.

Sunday drives were her favorite. She loved to tour expensive homes under construction so that is what we'd do, surveying the rooms and inspecting the wiring, the lighting, the plumbing, and the fixtures, breathing in the dust from the framing and the insulation. Elegant courtyards, patios, clerestories, and large windows merged with the vistas before them. Like the Pueblos, they used the texture of the land: the rivers, streams, canyons, mesas, mountains, pinons, junipers, rocks, grasses, wildflowers, and the natural fiery hues of New Mexico. Simple, straight, broken, horizontal, vertical, diagonal and curved lines; round, square, and triangulated shapes; planes in the forefront and background; repeating, patterned, rhythmic, using the light from the front, the back, the side, revealing, silhouetted; space, now shallow then deep. And so they continued the legacy of the ancient Indians, balancing art and utility.

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In the Sangre de Cristo's, an unformed mass of ice and snow lies in a deep, tranquil sleep, a River waiting to be born. The warming sun of Spring, melting and breaking up the snow pack, creates a trickling, hungry newborn. Cradled by the Earth, its course determined in part by ancient forces, and in part by the meandering, scrolling, shearing, scouring, icy Spring water, the River carves its own unique path. Tumultuous and turbulent in its Spring giddiness, it prances and pulls, galloping headward, downstream over sheer bedrock, unrestrained.

After the Equinox, its energy diminished by the heat, the River reluctantly slackens off to a canter, drifting like quicksilver down a sluice.

Then slowing to a restful trot, it cascades gently past aspen and goldenrod, gleaming in the chill of Fall.

Then lying ostensibly dormant, frozen to a trickle, at a standstill, the snowmass again waits for Spring.

 © Yagniza, 1996
All Rights Reserved.

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