Sunday, December 25, 2011

Winter Passages--Poems by Mitzi Linn

Door in a wall in Santa Fe NM. From a card.

Winter Passages


Fog wraps the earth at winter solstice. The
Darkness wants to settle in for a long visit.
Like a former lover’s return, the
Fear of his moving in & taking over
hides in my accomodating smile.
Voicing welcome, but thinking,
‘O God, not him again!’

Darkness sports rain gear in western Oregon.
He puts forth gruff but good-hearted intentions.
Shouts and rattles the windows,
Stomps his muddy feet through the kitchen,
reminding me that those dark firs outside are his children.
They transform his rain into light green tips on thick branches.

They know me. They’re the very children I deserted last year
for sunshine, palm trees and bougainvilla.

Light boxes, candles for the Blessed Virgin,
strings of Christmas lights gracing houses on dark streets,
Nothing really puts my fear to rest.

Darkness has returned. He whispers, “sleep more”.
I wear more clothes, drink hot teas and enter, yes,
the waiting time. Should I go passive or flee?

He’s like that old lover, the mysterious one who
promised to reveal himself someday, but never
stuck around to. Or, when confronted,
masked his identity behind a surprise storm of angry feelings.

I know him and I know me.
Summer lies deeply imbeded in my being.
I see its light, feel its warmth and
know I might fly somewhere to a warm beach tommorrow.
I feel the dry warmth of Oaxaca at mid-day.
It settled deeply into my bone marrow’s memory.

With that strength I can look at the face
of this Darkness, not flee, nor go passive.
His visit will pass soon enough.
We make jokes while I hold the light inside myself.

copyright Mitzi Linn 1998

Wolf Creek

Remember Siskiyou Mountain winters?
Years without electric lights press my mind.
The blaze of kerosene lamps barely lifted
the darkness seeping through cabin windows.
Dwarfed by Douglas firs, hidden on the forest’s edge,
that tiny cabin cradled me through three winters.

Night arrived by late afternoon on Winter Solstice.
We gathered more than once to chant and sing,
to evoke the Goddess and jump her bonfire.
We saw ourselves in mythic terms,
Made ourselves conscious Goddesses,
years before books explained just why we should.

Those ancient, living mountains infolded us in natural rhythms.
We followed the seasons and the eight points of light.
Winter Solstice, Candlemas, Spring Equinox,
Belthane, Summer Solstice,Lamas, Autumn Equinox, Hallowmas,
Winter Solstice.......again......

We rotated the year’s wheel at the Winter Solstice ceremony.
Joining hands, we moved circle inside circle,
facing each other as we chanted.

“The Wheel is turning, the Wheel is turning......
what shall we give up tonight?”

We shouted out from the circle dance that
we’d give up winter and darkness,
cabin fever and anger, poverty, sadness, sexism,
genocide and the Vietnam War.........

Circling the lodge in almost total darkness,
Silence finally called us to sit,
Feeling warmth from the woodstove’s fire,
we lit each white candle to make blessings,
We made wishes for all beings’ healing,
For wisdom and growth, for new lovers,
and fixed trucks, for spring’s speedy return.
And for peace on our earth.

copyright Mitzi Linn 1998

Friday, September 9, 2011

Observation--Poem by Mitzi Linn


Sunlight glitters through spider webs,
glistens in buzzing wings of small insects
glimmers in movement of leaves, and
bird wings rising.

A breeze quakes the golden aspen tree.
The suchness of an autumn evening.

Shadows of winter cross in my mind.

The dark, the damp, the cold.....

Meanwhile a shimmering light
occupies my eyes.

Ashland, 1990

August Morning Moon--Poem by Mitzi Linn

August Morning Moon

fall morning feeling
august yet
yesterday these words were
blackberries jewel ripe
gems falling from green branch fingers
jewels for the mouth’s eyes
jewels for making pies

and this morning
a wood fire burning through see-breath air
tomatoes ripening
solid green color turning red through minute changes
I never cease to wonder at all this,
lost in the hum of busy insects.

gathering, gathering
gathering and then dispersing
energy and power
seed, flower, fruit, seed...
dying again and again
in order to feel reborn
in order to be free

friend of sun and moon
my life is just this trip through space
rider on the earth planet
gone away from sorrow

these songs of moving feeling moving
on wings too light to hold me forever.

Published “ Womanspirit”
Fall 1975

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Following Southern Stars by Mitzi Linn

A traveler’s experience in Guatemala during Holy Week

I found myself at the Guatemalan border with Mexico, around noon, in the spring of 1988. I was traveling alone, and didn’t speak much Spanish. It was sunny, warm, but not hot. I’d arrived on the early bus from San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, on my way to Chichicastenango, Guatemala to observe Holy Week. I chose Chichi because it is more Native American than Antigua, and since first seeing Guatemalan textiles, I was most attracted to those from the K’iche Mayan region. I looked forward to the famous Sunday and Thursday market where I hoped to buy a nice weaving or two.

Chichicastenango existed as a K’iche ceremonial and market center long before the Spanish arrived. During the 1980’s this area suffered both Guatemalan government and guerrilla attacks on its villages and way of life.

I had recently been at the Mayan ruins at Palenque on a spiritual adventure. It seemed from a Tarot reading made at the Temple of the Foliated Cross that I should go to Guatemala before going back to Oaxaca, my home base. I returned to San Cristobal to spend a few days with my friend Kiki before heading out again. Other friends, Marcey and Janet, gave me the name of a good but cheap hotel in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. That close-to-the border town was my destination for the evening.

I waited at the border to cross the “no man’s land” between Mexico and Guatemala in the back of a pick-up truck. After that, I went through customs and immigration at La Mesilla, the Guatemalan port of entry on the Pan American Highway. Getting my passport stamped, I carried my lightweight bag to Customs. They searched it thoroughly looking for guns, a heavily-armed man in an army uniform told me. Money changers met me as I emerged into the sunlight and I sold my Mexican pesos to buy Quetzales.

As I looked around I noticed a long stream of Mexican buses, loaded with families having just crossed from Mexico, heading into Guatemala. I went to a bus stop to wait for the local bus to Huehuetenango. There, an American guy in his twenties, sat waiting also. I hadn’t really been paying attention to these bus loads of people but he informed me they were Guatemalan refugees returning home from the U. N. Refugee Camps in Quintana Roo, Mexico. He was covering the story for a newspaper in the US. He pointed his camera at me, and wondered if I didn’t think he was really part of the CIA.

This struck me as ironic, a twist of fate, to be at the border with refugees being repatriated to a “model village” somewhere outside Huehuetenango. I happened to have some money with me to help Guatemalans displaced by the war. These were the last of funds gathered by GRACIAS (Guatemalan Refugee Alliance, Consciously Involved Action and Service). We’d been collecting donations during the early/mid 80’s to help Guatemalans, mostly Mayans, who fled their own government’s war against them. The lucky ones made it out alive, though traumatized by massacres of whole villages and hamlets. They had walked, and sometimes crawled, over mountains, through jungles and crossed rivers to become refugees in Mexico. Now here were some returning home.

The camps in Quintana Roo were run by the United Nations. GRACIAS, which I founded after finding out about the crisis in 1982, donated money to Nobel Laureate Bishop Samuel Ruiz who ran the Catholic Church’s outreach for refugees in the San Cristobal de las Casas area. We also helped fund CARGUA (in San Cristobal), a group run by Kiki, Marcey, Janet, Gabriel and other friends that took food and clothing to unofficial refugee camps in the highlands of Chiapas. CARGUA, a grassroots organization, was created to meet specific emergency needs of Guatemalans who made it across the border. GRACIAS also tried to get money to other small groups, including ones that helped displaced people inside Guatemala. I decided that I shouldn’t tell this guy anything, but did remark that I knew more than I wanted to know about this situation.

The Mexican buses were guarded by Guatemalan soldiers, some tough young men who’d probably been innocent Mayan teenagers just a short while ago. Most were probably kidnapped from their villages by the army. They were often forced by brutality, threats and brainwashing to carry out unspeakable deeds against their own people. The newspaper guy seemed nervous, so I just sat across from him meditating. (May all beings be free of suffering)

I watched the buses out of the corner of my eye. The people seemed really happy to be back in their own country. Women and children, some men, were going back to plant their milpas . Here were survivors of the war against farmers and artisans and their self-determination in what seemed to be a genocide against the native peoples of Guatemala. Sitting there in bus stop shelter, I realized I couldn’t be an innocent tourist in Guatemala. I already knew too much about various layers of their culture and their current political situation. Still, I didn’t consider myself on a mission. Donating the money I had with me seemed like a small deal. I just wanted to see Guatemala, buy some textiles in the Thursday or Sunday market at Chichicastenango, and take in La Semana Santa, Holy Week, among the Mayans.

I’ve been in love with textiles from Guatemala since 1980 when my partner returned from Guatemala with a pile of colorful, interesting weavings. Later, GRACIAS used beautiful weavings, films, slide shows and speakers to bring the plight of the Guatemalan people to the attention of our local citizens. Sharing the beauty of their traditional culture made the refugees more real and their situation more extreme. By 1988 repatriation of refugees had been happening for a couple years. GRACIAS had stopped collecting money.

Eventually an old bluebird type bus pulled up at the stop. The driver’s helper put my blue bag up on the top of the bus and I got in. The seats had been replaced by board benches, the third class, in the third world. I seemed so much bigger than the Mayans. Four of them filled one bench, on one side of the narrow aisle. I took the place of two of them. By late afternoon I’d be delivered to Huehuetenango, traveling down the Pan American, stopping to pick up everyone along the road. The bus driver’s assistant yelled “Sale” in Spanish which means “leave, or get going” after putting their colorful bundles up on top. Passengers joined in, a kind of chorus as the bus lurched forward after each stop. I talked to no one, but listened to the Mayan languages spoken around me. Along the highway, there were lots of soldiers. Once, they stopped and searched us. They took a man off. Fear has a way of quieting normal chatter. Women cried into their rebozos (shawls) as the bus continued.

The poverty in Mexico has always bothered me. The poverty in Guatemala seemed worse than Mexico. The mountains, the rivers, the land itself called me with its beauty. But the poor condition of the people alarmed me. I had to remind myself that I’d come for other, more mythical reasons and personal adventure, not a fact finding mission for the World Food Program. Still, I couldn’t help seeing the situation as I headed deeper into the Guatemalan highlands. Huehuetenango has a Spanish-style main plaza. It’s not very remarkable otherwise. The town, a kind of crossroads, seemed dirty. Grime, dirt built up over years, smudged the once colorfully painted buildings. Getting there safely seemed like a luxury though.

I knew I had to get a first class bus ticket for Los Encuentros which left early the next morning. I found the first class bus station, got a ticket, and then went to the hotel recommended by my friends. I got a cheap room not far from the bathroom at the back. I had to be on the first class bus by 6 AM and after many long bus hours in Mexico and Guatemala, I had no trouble sleeping early.

The ride to Los Encuentros was uneventful. Los Encuentros is a transfer point for buses either going down to Solola, Lake Atitlan and Panajachel or the ones going up into the K’iche highland region. I had barely touched ground when I found a bus for Chichicastenango. Getting on this local, third class school bus with benches, I met another foreign woman traveling my way. Tall and blond like me, we talked as old friends might. She was European, working for a NGO at a health clinic in Santa Cruz del Quiche. She filled me in on details of the current political and economic situation as we rode upward through pine forests and little farming valleys. She went on further into the highlands when I got off at Chichicastenango. Karmic winds ruffled my consciousness. I could not escape knowing about the Guatemalan war, even if it was almost over.

Chichicastenango is an indigenous town. White, plastered adobe walls edge the streets which lead to a large plaza. Walking on through the town I found a casa de huespedes (boarding house), an inexpensive place on the far edge of town. There weren’t many tourists, though the handsome man who ran the place assured me that in Holy Week, the town would be full of people from Guatemala City. I settled in, a room with private bathroom, and simple bed and table. A bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling revealed the presence of electricity. Hot water showers could be had when the wood-burning boiler was lit. I only needed to ask.

Eager to explore, that afternoon I walked around town. I looked into the courtyards of plastered adobe buildings pressing against the unpaved streets. I walked past Santo Tomas Church, sitting high on what looks like an old pyramid platform above the plaza. I saw the army outpost on the road to Santa Cruz del Quiche, the one paved road out of town. I found I couldn’t walk out of town on another dirt road I wanted to take. The civil patrol stopped me. Perhaps there were guerrillas camped up on the ridge. This feeling of being in a place occupied by the country’s own army reminded me of my trip to Spain during Franco’s rule.

Later, the evening turned foggy, almost cold. These highlands are around eight thousand feet. I put on my San Cristobal outfit, black skirt, black tights, black sweater with colorful underlying warm layers, wrapped in a wool rebozo (shawl) I’d brought from Mexico. At dusk a nearby hillside blazed with fire, the yearly clearing custom before planting new corn. The flames rose vividly in the night sky.

Right after breakfast the next morning at one of the two tourist restaurants, I went to Santo Tomas, the plastered, white Spanish church which sits at the edge of the main plaza. Undoubtedly the Mayan’s had a temple here before Alvarado arrived to plunder the area. Men with incensors burning copal and chanting prayers stood outside the doorway at the top of the pyramidal-type steps. Below, near the street, a small altar sent up smoke from offerings of pom (copal) made by passing people. I made a prayer dropping a tamale-like pom bundle too.

Inside the semi-dark stone building, I found Mayans, shamans and mid-wives, making beautiful ceremonies on stone altars that go down the middle aisle of the church. They lit small thin white candles, attaching their melted flat ends so they stood in lines stuck to the stone altars. Kneeling above their creations, they lovingly sprinkled rose petals between and around the burning candles and then poured aguardiente (rum) over the candles, chanting their prayers to deities and guardians that preceded the coming of Christ to their Mayan world. Smoke from copal rose from incense burners as each individual prayed for their own or others’ concerns. I sat on a pew enjoying the sweet aroma, enchanted by the candles’ light, and mesmerized by the sounds of their chanting.

Witnessing these ceremonies reminded me of San Juan Chamula outside San Cristobal, Chiapas. At Chamula the shamans don’t use flower petals with their rows of burning candles. And there are no pews in the Chamula church, therefore no middle aisle. It is a Mayan ceremonial center where prayers are chanted in 16th century Spanish and Tzotzil, where musicians make intoxicating, repetitive kinds of songs with guitar and harps, while various ceremonies take place all over the church simultaneously, candles blazing in long and short rows on the floor. Groups of petitioners kneel on the pine needle covered floor in front of various saints dressed in layers of sacred clothing. These saints may seem Catholic but they also represent the old, preconquest dieties. Often shamans set up their own ceremony in the middle of the floor, looking towards the main altar. I’ve sat so many times on the Chamula Church floor observing the happenings that this very foreign situation has become familiar. At Chamula, I often chant Tibetan Buddhist mantras quietly. They blend nicely with the chants of the Chamulans.

That Saturday in Chichicastenango , the one before Palm Sunday, shamans from the area made a ceremony at the stone god figure called Pasqual Ab’aj, an old deity about which I know little. It could have been his day of worship in the Mayan calendar, perhaps adapted to coincide with Christian Holy Week, since this ceremony happens each year on the day before Palm Sunday. He may be the old god of the underworld or the Earth Lord. Perhaps an ancestor of the local people. Several people pointed out the path to the mountain top shrine where his stone head rests in the ground, enclosed in a large circle of smaller stones. I decided not to go. I think I felt shy about being curious, a tourist on-looker. Later that day I met a couple other women travelers who spoke English, one from the United States, one from France. One of them may have gone for part of the day-long ceremony because Saturday night we conspired to do our own ceremony up there the next afternoon. Three feminists with a spiritual bent we trudged up the mountain path through the pine trees on Palm Sunday afternoon. We brought candles and rose petals, copal, and some aguardiante to offer to the universal Goddess.

Pasqual Ab’aj’s stone black face shown with dried blood from the previous day’s sacrifices. A few black chicken feathers still stuck to his stone face. We offered him aguardiente and welcomed his witness to our ceremony.

After purifying ourselves and calling the directions, we concentrated our energies on invoking the Goddess. We felt Her presence as we offered copal, candles, rose petals and some liquor. We prayed for peace in Guatemala, for the return of Feminine power to the planet, for safe journeys and loved ones’ well-being. Local children watched, and I am sure, wondered what we were doing as we lit candles and sprinkled rose petals asking for blessings on that flat stone altar near Don Pasqual Ab’aj. These children of a family who lived close by possibly tended the shrine. No adults came to interfere though, we put back the stones we’d moved when we left and closed the ceremony.

Part 2
Palm Sunday, the beginning of La Semana Santa (Holy Week) starts the week of Christian Mysteries throughout Latin America. In Chichicastenango, the Cofradias, Mayan lineage holders, officials and spiritual leaders, perform ritual duties related to the Catholic liturgy. These Cofradias or religious societies, formed by the Spanish as part of the religious conquest, seemed totally Mayan to me. I wondered if existing Mayan priests and shamans formed part of these brotherhoods. I felt certain that the Catholic celebration was only part of what was going on, though I couldn’t be sure.

Being in such a Catholic setting, during Holy Week, led me to think about Jesus as the man who sacrificed himself in a historical, spiritual and political way. Once in Oaxaca at the Basilica of Soledad, in the back room where the suffering Jesus is enshrined in a glass box, I understood how Jesus represents the suffering of all humanity. Undoubtedly that is some of his appeal. In San Cristobal de las Casas one of the churches had the Jesus of the Stations of the Cross represented by local Mayans in scenes of social and economic distress, and political persecution by white authorities. Their victimization was shown in drawings at various Stations of the Cross along the white plastered walls.

Historically, Jesus’s sacrifice of himself and the rise of Christianity may have ended the need to make blood sacrifices of other human beings in the Middle East. Jesus, as the mythic dying son in the ancient Goddess tradition and then, the sacrificed lamb of the Old Testament God, fulfilled the need for a human to be sacrificed. That mythic Dying Son came out of cultures where some ritual human sacrifice had been practiced since remote antiquity. Perhaps after Jesus’s death and rebirth, humans didn’t need to murder other humans in order to appease ancestors and dieties.

Blood, the life power and soul of the human beings and animals, has been sacrificed throughout history in many cultures. The Mayan leaders practiced offering their own blood, drawn by cactus spine ropes drawn through their tongue or penis dripped on paper and burned. Human and animal sacrifice served as part of the religious practices of the Mayan as well as other indigenous groups in the Americas. Animal sacrifice continues, usually the black chicken later eaten by the family who sponsored the healing.

There may be some truth to the notion that the cultures of Mexico, sick of the Aztecs’overzealous use of human sacrifice, welcomed Cortes as the long awaited Queztalcoatl (Kukulcan, to the Maya). Of course, Cortes was not their long-departed God. Queztalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, left Tollan because he didn’t approve of human sacrifice which the cults of Tecatzlipoca (Toltec) and his Aztec derivative, Huiztlepotle, required. The god the Spanish brought, Jesus, didn’t require human sacrifice. Jesus, not Cortes, was more like the idea of the returning Quetzalcoatl that was looked for in Mexico. However, the conquest of Mexico by Cortes, and Guatemala by Alvarado, was a huge blood sacrifice--a genocide against the native peoples and their cultures.

Saturday night before the Sunday Market, Chichicastenango began filling up with merchants from all over the highlands. This is one of Guatemala’s most famous markets. Mayan vendors slept on petates , woven mats, wrapped in wool blankets under the portico of buildings that line the plaza. They huddled in family groups waiting to sell and buy the next day. Their colorful bundles of items for sale served as pillows. Thick tortillas, with chilies, salt and some coffee or a bottled drink made up many peoples dinner and breakfast. Food booths with tables and benches appeared in the market before sunrise. They seemed busy all the time.

From where I sat on the pyramidal steps of Santo Tomas church that Palm Sunday morning, the market spread out below, covering the plaza like a colorful patchwork quilt. The temporary booths sprung up with sunrise. Beautiful textiles, huipils, and blankets hung next to jaguar masks, leather goods, and useful farming items. On side streets I found calculators, tape players, batteries and tapes in tiny stalls.

Earlier that morning I had followed a procession of striking-looking Cofradias, the Catholic Mayan brotherhood, in their traditional ceremonial costumes. Led by couples of husbands and wives, they circled the church’s side patio the men in black handwoven wool tunics, their heads covered with a colorful,handwoven cotton
tzutze. In their hands they carried silver staffs with sun symbols, bags of copal and small palm fronds. The women wore their most intricate, finest huipiles in the current Chichicastenango design with large flowers. Long strands of silver beads covered their huphiles. Participants carried a large wooden box on a litter. They entered the church by a side door to carry out some ritual within. I wasn’t allowed to follow them inside.

The Catholic Mass began sometime later. The church on Palm Sunday was packed. Mayans, in their traditional clothing, occupied the pews on the right side of the aisle. The ladinos, non-indians, sat on the left. I leaned against an archway on the right, drinking in the sea of color worn by Mayan women around me. The Mass was given in Spanish and in Quiche by the handsome, Mayan priest. Woven palm fronds fluttered in the hands of the parishioners.

After the Mass I noticed a church office in the patio area. After ascertaining from the official there that my money would get to displaced people (internal refugees), I donated the last hundred plus dollars from GRACIAS to their fund for feeding the hungry. These highland Catholic churches lost many priests to the army and far-right death squads because of their affiliation with the Liberation Theology movement. The official assured me that the money would be used to help the victims of the war. Then, I returned to the market to bargain for a few weavings to bring back to the US. I wished I had more money to spend.

In early afternoon I sat on the steps of Santo Tomas. I watched flower vendors sort their flowers. Below in the square, awash in blurs of bright colors, the market would go on until mid-afternoon. A shimmering young woman from Aguas Calientes sold me a small cloth from her bundle. The lively red/green and blue striped tortilla cloth danced before my eyes. I was reluctant to ask her for a photo although I had been taking some photos on the sly throughout the day.

Monday morning I decided to go down to Lake Atitlan for a couple days, cross the Lake and perhaps stay in Santiago Atitlan overnight, or a day or two. I took the bus down to Los Encuentros, and then a combi, a van, on down to Panajachel. I didn’t want to stay in Panajachel, though it is a pretty town, mostly catering to tourists. At this much lower elevation, I’d reentered the tropics and would soon find myself looking out at beautiful Lake Atitlan and the attendant volcanoes that surround it. Banana plants, hibiscus flowers, and palms crowded along the streets, next to the plastered, colorfully-painted, well-kept houses.

As I walked down the main road to the Lake, where I would get a boat, I heard some guy calling out my name. This seemed pretty amazing. I didn’t think I knew anyone in Guatemala. It was Ron, a person I’d met in the GRACIAS days. He’d once presented a slide show of his stay with Guatemalan refugees in the jungles of southern Mexico. Now, he’d founded a weaving co-op in Solola to help Mayan women weavers and their families. I knew he lived in Solola, but hadn’t thought of running into him. “ Small planet” we agreed as we drank smoothies in one of the cute restaurants. We chatted, catching up on each other’s lives, then hugged, and I headed to the jetty. Lake Atitlan is breathtaking, from up high on the road to Panajachel or down at the landing where motorboats wait to take customers across it.

I’d missed the last afternoon boat to Santiago Atitlan so I took the one to San Pedro Laguna instead. San Pedro sits at the foot of one of the most distinctive volcanos. The sun, the wind and the afternoon choppy waters just added to my bliss of being on that mythical body of water. The volcanos really seemed to be gods holding up the sky.

I found a pension near the lake. I left my pack in my room and walked into the small village. I was appalled to hear loud speakers and radios blaring with evangelical Christians preaching the gospel according to their interpretations of the Bible. I counted at least five different evangelical wooden churches on the main, unpaved street. In that gorgeous place, in view of this amazing natural beauty which Mayans consider to be so sacred, I heard the terrible noise of loudspeakers and radios. It was Holy Week but....
Mayan preachers had given up their ancestral ways for what the Baptists, Pentecostals and Mormons offered. In that war-torn time, pernicious with death squads, it was probably an unspoken offer of personal safety. After all the “President” of Guatemala, Rios Monte, was himself a born-again a Christian. He notoriously ordered the massacre of whole Mayan towns accused of being “communists” or supporting the guerrillas. Mostly these traditional Mayans just wanted to be left alone by both the guerrillas and the government.

I managed to get out of the noise made by blaring radios and walk down along the lake. I bought some simple table runner weavings from women eager to sell them. By the next morning I figured I’d go back to Chichicastenango before night fall. I’d kept my room at the pension there. Before leaving I walked to a semi-remote part of shore and sat on a rock, overlooking the lake and women washing clothes near-by. Clouds and fog hung like sheer weavings across the shoulders of the volcanos. The morning warmth nurtured my poetic side. I sang a couple songs I’d made up, a gift to this inspiring place.

Holy Week celebrations consumed the energy of people in Chichicastenango. Upon my return, I noticed that another temple-type church across from Santo Tomas was hosting activities. I learned it is only open in Holy Week and never found out its name. There Mayans made a ritual. No one was allowed to climb the steps. From below in the plaza, I heard a simple drum and single flute play trance-inducing, mournful sounding music. Three large wooden crosses could be seen through the open door. This continued through the day and night that Wednesday. Perhaps they were hanging Maximon there on Wednesday night as they do down in Santiago Atitlan. The mournful sound related to my feelings about the political situation. I felt their oppression acutely with the military always visibly present. By early Thursday morning I felt restless, and decided to head back towards Mexico. I felt it would be nice to have Easter dinner with Kiki and Gabriel in San Cristobal.

I got to Los Encuentros later that day. Standing out on the Pan American Highway waiting for a bus going to Huehue, I met a couple on their way back to Oaxaca. Jorge, a handsome Oaxaqueno with long eye-lashes, and Barbara, a Spanish teacher from the US. Jorge was a tour guide in Oaxaca where they’d met. They’d decided to take a little trip together to Guatemala. We had instantaneous rapport. I felt blessed to find friends I could laugh with. I felt like a homesick Oaxaquena myself, there at the crossroads in that beautiful, and frightening, foreign country.

I had been missing mi querida Oaxaca . I’d recently fallen in love with a jazz musician. His handsome Zapotec face, curly black hair and sunny smile sent a flush of hormones coursing through my body. My bad Spanish and his halting English served to connect us in other ways. Flirting led to a brief tryst. I loved the American jazz and Cuban dance music his band, Grupo Mescalito, played. Hanging out with them on their breaks, those Spanish-only conversations forced me to improvise Spanish and communicate as best I could. Jorge knew him. Oaxaca was a small city then. Oaxacaquenos and adventurous
extranjeros (foreigners) met, ate, drank and danced together at El Sol y La Luna Restaurant where Mescalito played. That intimate setting created friendships that endure to this day. I considered it my living room.

After waiting out there on the Pan American Highway over four hours we finally got a slow bus and arrived just before dark in Huehuetenango. When we got off the bus, we found out that no buses would go anywhere on Good Friday, the next day. Everyone would be mourning the death of Jesus. Barbara, Jorge and I figured we’d watch the local celebrations together.

Friday morning throughout Huehuetenango streets were being covered with colored sawdust, making flower designs and Catholic images as a carpet for the Good Friday processions. Antiqua has become famous for these processions. There in Huehuetenango the large, heavy wooden float carrying a larger-than-lifesize carving of Jesus on his way to his death is paraded through the streets over sawdust and flower carpets. Each individual carpet is created by families whose houses they pass. Purple robed parishioners carry the heavy litter on their shoulders, preceded by men bearing incense burners of copal and bands playing dirges. Penitents walked behind. Women carry the mourning mother of Jesus on another heavy, wooden litter. This Virgin of Soledad’s black gown and downcast eyes express the grief of losing her Son. She reminded me of the mothers of victims of the Guatemalan’s governments’ harsh reprisal against its own peoples. Penitentes traded off carrying these cumbersome floats. The colorful carpets returned to sawdust under the feet of the believers. The processions went through every neighborhood as the afternoon turned to dusk, and then darkness. Through the night candles and sky rockets lit the suffering Christ’s way through the somber lives of the town’s inhabitants. By Saturday morning the town was quiet. Jesus had been buried.

This reminded me of a Good Friday observance I’d once seen while sitting in the window of La Galeria in San Cristobal, Chiapas. A Roman centurion on horseback cracked a real whip above the head of a half-naked man with a crown of thorns dragging a large wooden cross down the street. Penitentes made a somber parade behind them down Avenida Hildago towards the Cathedral on the Plaza where, perhaps, he was hung on the cross.

That night I felt a sense of panic which translated to “I must get out of here”. Guatemala seemed so claustrophobic to me. It felt like I’d been there much longer than a week. I was overwhelmed by knowing too much to be a tourist. Barbara, Jorge and I had hung out that day, and ate dinner together in a hotel restaurant. They had each other and wanted to spend the next day being lovers before they got on another bus. I couldn’t blame them but I felt the urge to get going. I would see them later in Oaxaca.
I was determined to take the first bus to the Mexican Border on Saturday morning. I wanted to be in San Cristobal before the Resurrection on Sunday. I was in line for the bus at 5 am.

The trip back to the border took me through the outskirts of Quetzaltenango. I remember sitting on the bus at the bus station for an hour, waiting for it to get back on the highway. The political and economic situation gave me a feeling of hopelessness. Perhaps I was just picking up the vibrations of those around me. Dressed in their beautiful handwoven clothing the people still appeared hungry and scared.

I thought back to my days in Chichicastenango. One afternoon the cleaning woman, a young Mayan in a new huipil, noticed I had my Tarot deck out, looking at the cards. She wanted a reading. She wanted to know if her life would get better. We talked in broken Spanish, both of ours’ second language. She was pregnant with her second child, her boyfriend wouldn’t marry her and her father had kicked out of the house. She lived and worked there to feed herself and her son. I couldn’t convey much, but it seemed that things would be better but it might take a few years. I wondered about the affects of the war on her, but knew better than to ask.

Leaving Quetzaltenango the bus finally got back on the Pan American Highway heading for La Mesilla and Mexico. We stopped everywhere to pick up passengers and to let others off. Colorful bundles tossed down from the bus top were soon on women’s heads or backs, and going up narrow foot paths to unknown tiny villages in the beautiful mountains. Cries of “sale” seemed to move the old bus north. An inexhaustible feeling of grief flooded me. I cried silently all the way to the border.

At the Mexican border I was grateful I could leave Guatemala. As soon as I got my Mexican visa and was on Mexican soil, I felt like kissing the earth. I felt free. And I felt safe enough to try hitchhiking from the border to San Cristobal de las Casas, about three hours further along the Pan American Highway. It was either hitch a ride or wait two more hours for a bus......I decided to take my chances.

Tall and blond, with a bright, blue backpack and smaller red bag, I must have looked strange and disheveled after the early morning bus trip. Perhaps a little crazed too after crying for hours. I thought some of my countrymen would give me a ride as several cars from the United States passed by. None seemed to have room for me. Eventually, a couple of local
cafeteros, coffee buyers, offered me the back seat of their small car. Yes, the driver’s ultimate destination was San Cristobal. He was leaving the other man out in Comitan, a town on the way, and eating lunch there at a comadre’s house. They all-but-ignored me talking non-stop with each other. I sang a mantra under my breath. At one point they pulled off the highway and stopped by a fenced pasture. That scared me. They related that they were going to buy honey from some local farmers explaining that this honey tastes great and was cheap. After that we continued along the Pan American Highway.

Though it seemed like days later, it was still Saturday when I got back to San Cristobal. I arrived in time for
comida with Kiki and Gabriel. Their house was my house. After a couple of hugs, I put my bags in their guest room. I felt elated to have gotten back safely and to be with close friends again.

After dinner I pulled a couple nice weavings from my backpack and gave them to Kiki. She put one on a small table, under a vase of calla lillies with pictures of her German parents. That tzutze (man’s ceremonial head cover) looked quite handsome covering the table. Then we met out in the sun porch to eat chocolate cake and drink tea. I marveled at how easy it was to be back with Kiki in her familiar, comfortable world. The recent hard roads in Guatemala dissolved into the long afternoon. I shared my insights and experiences from the trip. Since Kiki knew the Guatemalan situation well, I didn’t have to start at the beginning. That was a relief.

By Easter morning I was feeling a sense of rebirth. I wanted to leave for Oaxaca the next day. I doubted I would ever go to Guatemala again even though it is a beautiful and interesting country. I still love the weavings I have from there, and have studied more about ancient Mayan culture and current
costumbres. I never was able to shake the feeling of underlying terror that seemed to permeate the common experiences of its people in that time period.

I thought it could be a long time before real reform and justice would replace the repression, even if there was peace. Currently, in 2011, Guatemala and her beautiful people are threatened by the drug mafias and their brutal warlords. They arrived from Mexico when the military in Guatemala was dismantled after the peace accords in the 1990s. May all beings be free of suffering.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Map to the Underworld by Mitzi Linn

(A poem about initiation--part of longer poem called Maps)


At the end of your own road,
you find three paths,
each to be taken, or be taken down.

Waiting, as it were, for a guide
a mentor or a seer to remind you
of what you already know--

That any path will lead you away from
the current dead-end road you live on,
That all three lead into the underbrush,
unseen, unmapped territory of
your own soul.
Many have taken these paths and lived
to convey their experiences in images.

You are not the dumb beast
bred by agribusiness for slaughter.
You are the wise coyote
instinct in tact, living on the edge.

into your own labyrinth
into your own dark passage way.
into dark solitude, the earth’s womb, to
experience the dark moon’s initiation.

You see your lives,
hear voices of your own demons/angels
mistaking them for others
or the OTHER.

Watching with the cold eye of the dead,
in the cold heart of the initiate,
watching in trance
detached, in the dark, alone,
solitary confinement,
imprisoned by your own

Having to let go of lovers, family, friends,
identities, duties, activities---


Then waiting,
developing detachment,
evoking compassion,
nuturing new growth,
until time to birth a new self...

Waiting/hoping for rescue
Waiting for the shaft of light to find your face
Waiting for a Voice to instruct you
Waiting cold and dead
Waiting in trance for the Vision
Waiting to really know through experience

Awestruck in timelessness,
convinced you create your own angels and demons,
responsible for this life and your view,

A Voice asks...
and you must answer........


Later, when you’ve returned above ground,
to the real world
There is certainty and dread
as you recall the experience.

The dread of returning,
the periodic sacrifice of ego to wholeness,
the call to be alone, to mourn, to reflect
to hear the inner prophecy and to
live the judgement and purification


Do not wait until Death’s coldness takes you.
Start now

choose initiation
choose knowledge
choose vision
choose love
choose wholeness
choose confrontation
choose evolution

Face the ego mask/hero intellect holds fast your everydays.
Its terrors demon you.

No computer can lead you in this journey,
No loss will be greater than this opportunity.
Others wait their turn
You may be able to help them.
You may become a guide.
You can become a light on another’s path
just as you see a light
on your own dark path now.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Angela's Metamorphosis by Mitzi Linn

Exhausted, I sat playing my guitar. I had retreated to the corner bed platform of my small cabin. The kerosene lamp’s soft light took the edge off the situation as dark night condensed the cabin’s interior.
In front of me Angela stomped a circle around the cabin floor, yelling , cursing and crying, as she named every man who’d ever mistreated her, abused her, abandoned her. Her fury shook the cabin as she shouted at and stomped on faceless men from her recent adolescence. Playing quietly, my fingers released anxiety created by the electric energy of Angela’s rage. While she enacted this dance, this ritual, this cleansing of her fragile psyche, I could only watch and wait.

Eventually the Thorazine would take effect. Angela would come down. The shouting became sobbing. Angela collapsed to a fetal position on the polished oak floor. I moved down to comfort her, fashioning a bed in front of the wood cook stove. I gave her my pillow and tucked an old quilt around her. Stroking her long reddish hair, I felt Angela’s demons finally rest as she went to sleep. Enough for today I said to her. I would drive her home in the morning.

I understood on a deep, non-verbal level, the pain and conflicts coming up for Angela. She could have been any one of us who live near the abyss and explored the narrow edge between the seen and unseen worlds, sometimes with grace, and sometimes, outside it.

Witnessing her meltdown, I remembered that just two days before, I’d learned that Angela had flipped out. The whole community had been celebrating a great growing season at Forgotten Works Commune. We visited, ate, sang, danced, smoked and made love as the September Full Moon surged from behind the mountains and flooded our narrow valley. Angela had made a batch of grass brownies for the full moon celebration. She ate one brownie, and flipped out. She’d freaked out on the August full moon too but came down in a week. This time Angela’s frenetic energy release was draining her commune mates and her husband. Marilyn spoke of the crisis faced by those who lived at Forgotten Works as we were driving down along Graves Creek.

We had spent the afternoon picking blackberries. Plump purple berries dripped from long branches above the low creek. The dry September heat was welcome on our skin as we waded in to gather them. Purple stained our hands and mouths. Looking at the dry grasses along the roadside I listened to what Marilyn was saying. I silently asked the Universe to give me Angela’s energy. I felt I could contain it, use it creatively, and perhaps, help transform it. Then I forgot about the prayer and discussed the situation with Marilyn.

It was on that drive home that we thought of taking Angela down to the Takilma Clinic near Grants Pass. We must have talked to Arthur, leader of Forgotten Works, when I dropped Marilyn off. We decided to try to get Angela to Takilma as soon as possible. Angela was never left alone, for her commune mates feared that, in her out-of-body state, she might seriously hurt herself. During her first episode the month before, she took off on long walks into the woods, up mountain roads in search of her lover. She had come down from her high in a week that time. She didn’t seem to be coming down this time. If she wandered outside the Wolf Creek/Sunny Valley hippy community and its communes--Forgotten Works, The Family of the Mystic Arts, The Muldoons, Cabbage Lane etc, we feared she might be picked up by the State Police. Worse, some paranoid, straight neighbor might shoot her.

Angela agreed to go to the clinic at Takilma. We were all grateful. Soon she would be calmer after getting Thorazine. The clinic was forty or so miles away from Wolf Creek, part of the Magic Forest Farm Commune. It was the only rural hippy health clinic operating in southern Oregon. We called from Wolf Creek’s pay phone to make sure Dr. Jim would be expecting us. The Takilma Clinic doctor had rightfully earned the respect of the southern Oregon counter-culture by doing just what he did with Angela--helping hippies in need.

To get to Takilma that night, we needed a trusty vehicle and driver. Having no telephone, I drove over to ask Marty to help. We’d lived together in San Francisco a few years before. She had an almost new Scout which we could trust to not break down. We wouldn’t be hassled by the State Police either. They often stopped hippy-looking cars to just find something wrong. Then too, they might just wonder where you were going after dark on Coyote Creek Road. African-Americans invited the same dalliance.

In the late 60’s/early 70’s many hippies and other counter-culture types left San Francisco and East Coast cities to live in the Western mountains and other remote areas. While we may have all had our personal reasons, we were fleeing the toxicity of the times-- the Vietnam War, race riots, unabashed American materialism (the consume-more culture) and the destruction of the environment.
The arrival of hard drugs on Haight Street pushed many pot smokers to leave San Francisco. We pulled together in communal efforts and moved on. Many of us had chosen to live simply as social and economic dropouts. We wanted to know how to survive outside middle class lifestyles. Others who had traveled in the Third World saw that in most places on the planet people lived with much less and seemed just as happy. They returned with many creative living ideas. Land was cheap in rural southern Oregon then, so many alternative culture people migrated there. I had joined a hippy family in San Francisco who had bought farms near Wolf Creek. Before caretaking the tiny cabin, I lived on a commune with them.

The Wolf Creek area sheltered a microcosm of humanity in the early 70’s. Hippies, draft dodgers, ex-LA Bikers, lesbian separatists, gay men, drop-out lefties, feminists, back-to-the-land young people, retired military families, farmers, loggers, miners--just to mention some of the more obvious types you could run into at the Post Office. There were vast differences in beliefs, though almost all practiced a basic survival lifestyle.

The pervasive Wolf Creek outlaw mentality sometimes spawned potentially violent interactions, especially given the philosophical and lifestyle differences. These differences erupted during one of my first mornings in Wolf Creek when camping out on Mrs. Holland’s mining claim with friends. Our burly, redneck neighbors arrived on a bulldozer (tank) and with shot guns. They didn’t want us hippies traipsing through their property on our way to the shack on Mrs. Holland’s gold mining claim. We used the road to get down to the creek, which had a right-of-way, we pointed out. Frank caretook the place for Mrs. Holland who lived in town. We had the right to be there. Frank had a friendly open manner and had lived there awhile so he was able to talk them down. No shots were fired. Later they became our allies.

Back to Angela’s story. During the August full moon we had what we called the first Oregon Women’s Spiritual Festival. She freaked out the first time after that weekend event.

The Festival took place on the 100 acre tree farm where I lived alone in the cabin as the caretaker. That Festival, on the full moon in Aquarius, August 1973, attracted many women from Portland, Eugene, and California as well as southern Oregon. We’d put out the word out in tiny women’s magazines.

The Festival grew out of a women’s spiritual group that had been meeting through the winter around Wolf Creek. Angela, Mar, Cathy, Frannie, Nellie, Marilyn, Sharon, Ruth, Jean, Pan, Sara, Marty, myself......others. This loose alliance of straight and gay women ranging in age from 17 to 50+ met once a week or so. We studied healing, did Tarot together, read poems and tried to listen and help each other through everyday life challenges. We also created some powerful rituals to celebrate certain yearly passages nurtured by a belief in the Goddess. We invoked the power women derive from a feminine, earth-centered religion. In those times, out there in the Siskiyou Mountains, sisterhood was powerful. For many of us, it was necessary.

Located on the edge of the National Forest, my beautiful, tiny cabin perched above a year round creek. While almost all the creeks had gone dry that summer, this clean source of good drinking water still tumbled down through the forested mountain. My cabin served as the reception area for the Festival. Lacking all modern conveniences, my daily life often resembled permanent camping out. Still for me, being there three years helped heal my spirit. I liked living with the seasons, and without electric lights. The silence and the rhythm of daily life suited my personal growth needs just fine. I had the good fortune to belong to a community with favorable conditions for studies of esoteric philosophies, Eastern religions, art, music, dance, poetry and the Goddess.

Friday afternoon women started arriving for the Festival. Our committee didn’t know how many women to expect. We offered workshops in various disciplines that women wanted. Meditation, herbal remedies, yoga, journal writing, Tarot, the Goddess, African dance and drumming, massage, made up part of a longer list. We had child care. You could teach a workshop about something you practiced or studied. Some level of expertise was required but, in sync with the times, we wanted to share what we had learned with each other. This extension of the democratic ideal began with the free universities that sprouted up from Berkeley to Boston.

Over one hundred and fifty women and children, including babies, found their way to the event. Our group ran it as volunteers. The whole thing was more or less free. We did charge something to cover food. I saw Angela and other members of our group in passing. We had specific things to take care of. Still, the whole event had a “come and hang out” feeling. Organic, holistic, relaxed. Most local women returned home at night rather than camp out. Others slept out in sleeping bags under the beautiful night sky.

The Moon Hut offered a soft, comfortable shady place with curtains and pillows for women having their periods. They could hang out near the creek and get massaged. In other workshops intense discussions about women’s control over their bodies, and sexuality , exploded with laughter and rage. All around small groups of women with shared interests lounged in shady places, talking and writing down information they thought they’d use. The African Dance Class, led by Be, found a flat place to practice movements from Senegal and Ghana. Sara, Cathy and other women conga drummers played rhythms that sparked the dancers’ bodies.

My caretaking that summer included another 100 acres below Lower Wolf Creek Road, belonging to artist that showed up occasionally. Hidden in the woods his cabin had electricity but no running water. We used the electric stove to cook on for the event. I brought down my electric guitar, amp and microphone. Singing and playing went on at all hours. I sat in when I had a break.

Below David’s cabin women sunbathed naked on the edge of a secluded swimming hole, occasionally jumping into the clear, cold mountain water. I guess they saw themselves as wood nymphs bathing under boughs of Douglas fir.

No fires, no cook stoves allowed, eating was simple, and communal. Committees of participants took care of fixing meals and cleaning up. We formed orderly lines for a couple meals a day. The rustic back-to-nature ambience included warnings about rattlesnakes, scorpions and poison oak. Smoking anything required much care. Southern Oregon was in the middle of a bad drought that summer and any tiny spark could have ignited a holocaust. Many more women than we’d imagined showed up, including city dwellers who had limited experience in the woods. I had to maintain a state of alert for the entire weekend.

Some participants parked their cars along Lower Wolf Creek Road. Rumors of bare-breasted women walking on the road brought out local straight men hoping to see SOMETHING. We hadn’t planned for Amazons who glorified being nearly naked outdoors, even on the public road. I remember I had to run off some pushy men. Us locals went without clothes regularly but not along the road, though, there were some near wrecks on the hairpin curve near Forgotton Works Commune's lower garden.

Dressed in my bright pink and gold Magician’s jacket, I moved around the Festival to make sure things ran smoothly. Women smiled and hugged new and old friends. Kids played together in playgroups admist a rotating watchful committee from all festival participants. Somehow, all needs got met in this basically supportive environment. Well, it was all women. Saturday passed with workshops, laughter, mealtimes, learning and consciousness raising. Our women’s group had planned a large group ritual for Saturday night after the communal dinner. It was voluntary so only about 50 women participated.

A large circle formed as the full moon rose at sunset. We grounded the energy and Mar invoked the power of the Goddess. We dance snake-like around the circular but flat driveway in front of the cabin. A beautiful altar of flowers, stones and garden produce gathered artfully around a statue of Isis which formed the center of the circle. We sang.....
"May the blessings of the Goddess be upon us,
May her peace abide in us
May her love illuminate our hearts
Now and forever more."

Drumming and dancing raised a cone of energy. This gave way to the passing of the sacrament, magic mushrooms. Cathy, acting as Priestess, presented a beautiful basket filled with liberty caps to women in the circle. I couldn’t take mushrooms since I needed to be totally available for any emergency.

Many women participated in the rite, recalling the ancient mystery tradition at Eleusis, Greece. In Demeter's rites at Eleusis, hallucinogens opened the participants’ minds. It is said that partaking of the sacrament gave them certainty that death was an illusion. At Eleusis, Demeter and Persephone’s secret initiations were shared by men and women. As night came on we evoked Demeter and many other great, ancient Goddesses.

The full moon gave the hillside and valley below a magical, shimmering appearance. A meditation closed the circle. Graced by the moon’s light, women moved about on the meadow and in the trees. No electric lights. Very few flashlights. Low voices....singing, talking. A glimpse of a peaceful tribal way of living. Mothers and children, friends and lovers, relaxed into the August night.

After the main ceremony, Mar, from The Family of the Mystic Arts, whispered I should come with her to a special, secret ritual on a remote part of the hillside. Arriving there I found various members of our women’s spiritual group casting a small circle. Their Wicca coven was meeting to initiate a new member. They said that I should be inside the circle to protect me from any negative energy. Angela too, had been invited. She refused to enter the circle, sat some distance away by herself. I looked at her on the moonlit hillside thinking this was not a wise choice on her part.

Mar, a woman in her forties, had a dramatic personality, and as High Priestess could create a powerful sacred space and ritual experience. I hadn’t taken mushrooms, (as the caretaker), but the moon, the night, the concentration of women’s energy electrified the 6 or 7 of us sitting out on the grassy meadow. We listened intently to the interchange between Priestess and Novice. Sacred items were shown. Promises made. This initiation officialized N.s participation in Wicca, the old goddess religion. She’d now be completing studies in the next year, after which she could officially join this local Coven.

My Magician’s Jacket protected me against the mountains’ chilly night air. The astral realm opened as I gazed from my cabin’s porch to the mountains. I felt content, honoring the ancient earth- centered way of being. The Moon Goddess’s blessings shone over the gathering. At the festival site, the night passed quietly into daylight.

I was surprised to learn a few days after the Spiritual Festival, that Angela had flipped out that seemingly peaceful night. Mar came by with one version of the story. Others, from Forgotten Works Commune, shared theirs. Putting the versions together, what I know is that Angela made love with Rod that night. Perhaps he and Cathy and Angela. Rod was Mar.’s son and Cathy’s partner. Hadn’t he shown up to take Cathy up the mountain, home to Mystic Arts? I remember seeing him, even though men weren’t allowed to be there. I guess Angela went home with them instead of to her husband at Forgotten Works.

I speculate that the fiery, mysterious tantric love force, released by magic mushrooms, created a mythic meeting of those young people on a Siskiyou mountain top. An innocent happening that opened doors of perception not tightly bolted shut. It seems that Angela left her body up on the mountain that night. By the next day, after returning home, she’d become obsessed with Rod, seeking him out, trying to get back to Mystic Arts Commune by walking the 5 or more miles. A part of her still lingered on the mountain.

Her husband tolerated all this, trying to help, even drove her to see Rod who clearly wasn’t in love with her. After this, her concerned commune mates tried to keep her safe at home on their 100 acres. Someone stayed with her day and night. She returned to normal in about a week.

I don’t know what Angela did during the month between the Festival flip out and the freak out that landed her in my cabin on Thorazine. Those September mornings I worked my garden early before it got hot.
I played guitar and sang. Wrote a song, made drawings and poems. Fall was coming on. I started getting my winter wood supply together. I went swimming on hot afternoons, visited friends. Days got shorter as the moon swelled to fullness. Until I went blackberry picking with Marilyn, I had no idea that Angela was in crisis.

The morning after Angela slept on my cabin’s floor, she seemed mellow and self-reflective. Many of her relationships with men had been abusive. Her husband, no. But others. She decided to not take any marijuana or hallucinogens for awhile so she could assimilate these experiences. I felt relieved to hear this. I thanked the Universe silently. We hugged as I dropped her off at Forgotton Works. I hugged her husband too. Nearby flowers seemed to wave and smile. It was a new day. I went home and wrote a lyrical song inspired by Angela’s freak out. It was a gift that flowed from my fingers, feelings and voice.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Bless You, Peggy Harmon" by Mitzi Linn

Peggy Harmon must have been in her late 60’s when I met her. She seemed timeless though, a single British woman who ran the Theosophical Library out of her home in Eugene, Oregon. I met her at the Library. At the time I was studying many different esoteric disciplines and teachings, I found being able to borrow her books a great deal of help. I, like others, paid a small yearly fee to use the Library.

Peggy’s life piqued my curiosity. Her appearance was nondescript, an older thin woman with medium length gray/white hair and glasses. She dressed conservatively in dark skirts and white blouses often with a cardigan sweater. She seemed void of dogmatic tendencies or power tripping. She never pushed any Library patron to become a Theosophist. Her reserved nature kept me from asking too many questions. I noticed that she always expressed a positive, supportive point of view. I found her insights and tidbits of information gleaned from years of study helpful. Her kindness flowed out towards everyone. She exemplified what it meant to be of service.

The Library, a large room in her apartment, held books on Astrology, Kabala, Tarot, Theosophy, Healing Methods, Yoga, reincarnation, and mystical religious experiences. Books by Alice Bailey, Annie Besant, Krishnamurti, Madam Blavatsky, G. Manley Hopkins and many others crowded the shelves. Some of the books were antiques and, of course, many were out of print. Books about Indian, Japanese, Egyptian, and Tibetan spiritual practices asked for exploration. Sometimes I spent an hour examining books before deciding which to take out. Of course when a book fell from a shelf in front of me, I saw it as a message from the Universe that I needed to read it. The library was only open a couple afternoons a week.

At some point Peggy and the Library moved over to Springfield, a smaller city east of Eugene. She bought the perfect house on the edge of a park, not far from a hospital. The Library enjoyed it’s own space now, the converted garage. Books that Peggy once kept in storage, got their day on the shelf. The Theosophical Society had grown some and volunteers helped keep the Library open more hours per week. Pots of flowering plants filled the unused driveway. The dimly-lit Library space nurtured calmness of spirit and soul. Visits to exchange books anchored my higher mind. I thought about the fabled esoteric library at Alexandria, Egypt, destroyed by Roman Christians. Libraries have always seemed like temples to me and this one, housing books of sacred knowledge, was really useful.

During this time I was teaching Tarot Classes, Psychic Development, Healing Workshops and leading groups on the Goddess. I also saw clients for readings and healings. Many times I recommended the Library to others as a unique and precious source of wisdom. The mystic arts and personal growth flourished in Eugene.

Over five or six years Peggy and I developed a friendship, based mainly on my visits to the library. I often stayed to talk, and at least once she invited me to tea. She loved organic gardening, which she could do at her new house. While she was always a bit formal, “Bless you” fell from her lips like pearls. She said it more than anyone I’ve ever known. Spending time with her helped me in a somewhat emotionally rough time of my life.

One sunny autumn afternoon in the early 80’s I went over to the Theosophical Library to borrow some books. Across the street the park’s sweet gum trees were changing from green to red, yellow and orange. Peggy was alone, sitting in the front window. She was happy to see me. After our greeting she said, “Guess what? I found out I have lung cancer.” I don’t know what I said. She continued in an upbeat tone, saying that she didn’t want to get treatment for it, except having the liquid removed from her lungs when needed. Luckily the hospital was down the block. Peggy had just turned 75 and thought she might have a year to live. She also mentioned she had always wanted to die at age 75 so she was ready for this next adventure.

We talked about her feelings and plans. She wanted to stay in her house until she got to a point that she couldn’t take care of it and herself. Some other, younger Theosophists would take over the Library and house when she got closer to passing over. She is the only person I’ve ever known who cheerfully announced she was dying. I noted that this was radically different than my previous experiences with friends dying of cancer. I’d already lost a couple of younger women friends to breast cancer. They had fought to live. Peggy though felt she’d had a full life, and was ready for its completion.

I put Peggy on my appointment calendar promising to come see her at least every two weeks. I offered laying-on-hands, energy treatments for her tumors. I didn’t think the treatments would cure her but perhaps they would relieve her pain. It also gave me a focus for our time together. She had many friends and associates who were going to step to help as she needed it.

I made a point to see her as autumn became winter, visiting with her and laying my hands on her tumors. We talked about the her process of dying some and about my chaotic life. Often the tumors shrank, and her pain lessened with the treatments. She opened herself entirely, very helpful for receiving energy treatments. She reported that she didn’t have much pain in general and she got the fluid drained from her lungs every couple weeks. Her “bless you”s accompanied me home.

One rainy, winter day, I arrived to find Peggy in a yellow rain jacket at the back of her white wood frame house. She was digging foot-deep trenches in her organic garden and putting compost in it for next spring’s planting. The dormant roses next to the trenches had been pruned. A bare fruit tree stood in the middle of the small, grassy backyard. No, she wasn’t overdoing it. She felt strong.

She was getting the house and its Library ready for George and Marilyn. As members of the Theosophical Society they would continue the Library after Peggy died. She had no children of her own, so they would become her heirs. Peggy asked to be cremated and have her ashes spread around the base of her rose bushes. She still lived alone, continued doing things for herself, seeing friends, running the Library and consciously finishing up this lifetime’s endeavors. She was slowly letting go of her physical life. I knew George and Marilyn, but I barely knew her other friends and associates.

One afternoon in early spring, I went over and did the hands on treatment while she lay in her large recliner in the semi-dark living room. I proposed we also do a little guided meditation into what leaving her body would be like and what she might be doing when she did leave. She was game to try but stressed she always had a hard time doing guided meditations, and they never seemed to succeed. Well, we would try anyway.

I relaxed her using my low and soothing voice. I talked her intellect into loosening its grip on her being. We found her spirit guide and proceeded to pass through a dark tunnel to the light on the other side. We went slowly. I didn’t ask for descriptions as I usually would do in a guided visualization but just kept her going on her own journey into the next lifetime or situation. Wherever she was, she seemed calm and safe. Later, she reported that she met with her guides and they showed her what she would be doing next after this lifetime. It made her extremely happy, peaceful, to know she would continue serving humanity. I felt grateful just to be there.

Peggy must have been a long time meditator though she never talked about it. She embodied the IMPERSONAL LIFE as it is often described in esoteric teachings meaning her personal agenda seemed to be the well-being and happiness of others. As her illness progressed, she became weaker. Her “bless you”s never faltered however. She talked about dying without it being a big deal. It seemed she had no fears. Her pain wasn’t all that much. Doctors took the fluid off her lungs. Late spring arrived and her red and white roses started blooming.

In early summer Peggy turned her house over to Marilyn and George and moved to a small apartment where she didn’t have so much to take care of. I saw her weekly now and by the end of the summer her friends were bringing her prepared food everyday. She spent most daytime hours lying on the couch in the living room. She didn’t own a TV so she was just there undistracted when I or any of her other friends arrived. Many came by to visit and help out. She blessed us, smiling, and never complained. In fact, I began to feel her lightness of spirit during my last visits. Peggy had once told me she wished to die when she was 75 and I noted, as a Virgo, she’d soon have a birthday and become 76. I mentioned it seemed like she was in sync with her plan.

Her body wasted away but her beingness kept blessing all who came to be with her. Still, her passing out of her body got closer. Though she was only taking Tylenol for pain, she became noticeably very frail. Her friend Margret and others had started spending the nights at her apartment. I remember thinking one time after a visit that she should stop eating, as the tumors were now claiming her chest and torso. It would help her to go on since the transition time was near. When I saw her next, she said she had stopped eating, just taking liquids, water and juice. She smiled, reporting she still had little pain. She was really letting go.

By now her body had shrunk to almost nothing, luminous flesh stretched over thin bones. These last times I always held her hand and expressed my gratitude for our connection. I wasn’t sure I’d see her alive again. She blessed me. I went home to my busy life, with husband, step-children, clients and students. I wanted to be there when she left her body, when she died, but none of us knew exactly when this would happen.

Margret called one morning to tell me that Peggy was in the dying process and she hoped I’d come. All that busy day I kept trying to get out of my house and over to her apartment. At some point I remember feeling like she was about to depart. I felt frustrated that I wasn’t there.
When I finally arrived at her apartment late in the afternoon, I learned that she had passed into spirit about an hour before. Her friend Margret had been with her during her passing. She reported it went well, that Peggy died sitting up and awake. Arrangements to have her body cremated had been made, and her body would remain at home another day.

In the bedroom Peggy’s body still sat upright in her bed. She seemed larger dead than she had been while alive. I stayed with her body awhile. Sitting there I felt that Peggy’s spirit had already departed, had flown the cage of earthly existence. The room’s energy seemed very light and loving. I let that lightness sink into my being.

Peggy was never glamorous. She appeared to be a very ordinary human being. I often consider that she may have been a saint, or a bodhisattva. Her kindness and humility, and her choice to die consciously and share the process with her friends, was a great teaching. It taught me more than all the books in her wonderful library.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Canyon de Chelly by Mitzi Linn

The night I drove into Chinle, Arizona the first time, I’d forgotten why I wanted to go there. My guidebooks had mentioned some reason I should see Canyon de Chelly, but after driving all day from Zion National Park, along the Vermilion Cliffs, across Lee’s Ferry (where boat trips put in to go through the Grand Canyon) and finally onto the Navaho-Hopi Reservation, I’d already crammed a two day drive into one. Before leaving the warm sandstone walls of Zion, I had placed my hands against the canyon walls in praise of the earth’s beauty and to ask for safe passage. My destination that night had been the north rim of the Grand Canyon, but that road was closed, still snowed in. I kept on driving south.

The high desert landscape cast its spell on me. I traveled alone through a vast, unknown country. My eyes marveled at black hills, lavender hills, dun-colored bluffs, coral-colored sands, yellow rocks, and blazing red/orange mesas. Blue mountains beckoned me across unmeasurable distances. Faraway jagged peaks shimmered like those fabled cities of gold the Spanish heard about. Those peaks seemed to be the destination of the two-laned blacktop road disappearing under my Dodge van. New grasses and wild flowers pushed up alongside the highway. Sage and juniper plants spaced themselves out across the desert terrain. The pristine blue sky created an open, spacious backdrop.

At the beginning of the trip I stopped a few days at my sister’s outside Reno. I remember as it got dark the last evening I tried to explain to Rita what I thought this journey was about. I needed a spiritual adventure, something to wake me up again, to give me some inspiration. She listened without commenting.

When I’d said I was looking for some spiritual experience as I set out on this larger journey from Oregon to New Mexico, I had no idea what that meant. I was hoping to find some personal connection to these lands of the Southwest. I was searching for a new place to live in the United States after living in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was seeking places I might love as much as I love Oaxaca. I considered that the cultural similarities, the blend of Native American and Hispanic peoples in the desert Southwest could offer a similar life experience to the one I had in Oaxaca. And, I wanted to be where there’s a living connection to the ancient people of this continent.

A few months before I had made a painting of a blue horse in space. The Blue Horse seemed to come out of nowhere but became a theme for a series of paintings. I recalled how the horse had been my childhood totem, or power animal. My imaginary horses carried me through a sometimes dangerous, always dysfunctional, family situation. When healing my back a few years before I visualized myself as a Palomino galloping through a nearby meadow. In sand tray therapy I had picked out a blue horse as a symbol for moving on. In a book called They Sing for Horses which deals with Navaho beliefs about horses, I read that the Blue Horse is the Spirit Horse, the one of healing, related to turquoise and to water. As the Oregon winter ended, I felt the Blue Horse tugging at my heart. I had to answer my yearning to explore new places. I decided to go where horses roam wild.

I bought an older, two-toned blue Dodge van with picture windows and a slant-six engine. After absorbing as much as I could from reading about New Mexico and Arizona, I figured out a back road route between where I was in Oregon and Ray and Susie’s place outside Taos, New Mexico. Their house would be the destination of my six-week spring journey. They had invited me to visit them, anytime. We’d had dinner together on the Zocalo my last night in Oaxaca that winter. I’d known them a couple years, meeting through mutual friends out in Teotitlan del Valle where they bought weavings for La Unica Cosa, their well-established rug gallery in Taos. We always met up in Oaxaca, since New Mexico and Oregon seem to be at opposite poles of two Western perspectives. I set out in early May.

Leaving Rita’s early one morning I drove east into the desert on roads I’d never seen before, heading out across Nevada on the “Loneliest Road In America”. That first day out into the unknown, I drove through a storm of snow, hail, rain and sunshine while crossing various mountain passes and bleak low desert valleys without vegetation. Only a couple of cars appeared heading west all day. It got calm by late afternoon when, turning south, I finally reached Cathedral Gorge State Park on the Nevada/Utah border. The pink clay pinnacles shone in the gold of sunset. In the distance I noted ranches with alfalfa-green fields.

Now I was traveling along a highway in northern Arizona. I watched the shadow of my van move steadily across the landscape. Elation replaced any doubt or fear I had about driving in the desert alone. As the day passed, the climate changed from hot, dry, windy, to wild, wet thunderstorms which beat into my van’s windshield. Lightning struck the hills faraway. Coral-colored high desert sands with large juniper trees gave way to adobe-colored and white-salt flatlands. Occasional towns, settlements with Navaho hogans and roadside jewelry stands, seemed small against the immense, expansive landscape. When I turned off the north/south highway in early afternoon and headed towards Tuba City, AZ, I noted a perfectly shaped lavender colored hill.

Passing through Tuba City where the Hopi/Navaho Reservation begins, I continued east across the Hopi Mesas. I tried to pick up the Navaho Nation’s radio station that broadcasts out of Window Rock. I noted that the road to Big Mountain was closed to “outsiders”. I was not innocent of the politics on the Reservation. Hadn’t I once helped send supplies or money to the traditional Navahos trying to keep their places on Big Mountain? The Navahos and Hopi, traditional enemies, shared the same general territory before the U. S. domination of their homelands. Part of their former territories became the Reservation. The other political players are the Peabody Coal Company and the United States Government. These both undoubtedly have something to do with the conflict over Big Mountain. Like many Western conflicts, I learned later that the major underlying issue is water.

In now what seems to have been my dash across the Hopi Mesas, I missed old Oraibi entirely. It rained intermittently that afternoon, generating wonderful fragrances of juniper and sage. On the Reservation, drivers of on-coming cars raised a hand or index finger above their steering wheels to greet me. This greeting or blessing was something I’d not seen on my drive across Nevada back roads, through other parts of Utah and Arizona. It seemed that everyone was Native American which made me happy. After so much time spent with the Zapotecs in Oaxaca, I had an instant feeling of kinship.

I finally stopped at the Hopi Government Building at Hotevilla. I wanted to find out if there were any local ceremonial dances to which outsiders might go. Inside the offices, I felt a little out of place with everyone in traditional office clothing and me in baggy jeans and a tee-shirt. My short blond hair and disheveled, just-gone-camping appearance contrasted with the clean, well-dressed office workers. Being early May, a young Hopi woman explained there were no dances on any of the Mesas this time of year. Outside, I shared a few words with one of the leaders of a tribal meeting going on. Smoking a Marlboro and speaking in metaphor, he said he was looking forward to going home and relaxing, after having to put out many fires that day at their meeting. I wished him well.

I had intended to stay at the campground at Keams Canyon, a Hopi tourist facility. Not noticing any signs for the Canyon, I missed the turn off completely. After stopping in a picnic ground to eat and consult the map, I decided to go on to Chinle which is on the Navaho part of the Rez. A coyote type dog sniffed around the picnic grounds. I gave him a treat and then I drove another half-hour to the north-south highway leading to Canyon de Chelly.

As I turned north on the road to Chinle, the sun was setting. Gold and magenta light spread across the high desert in front of me. Shadows of sage plants lengthened. By the time Chinle’s lights appeared on the horizon, the sky shown a deep indigo-blue. It was full of bright stars and the swirl of the Milky Way. I drove passed the Chinle Wash and followed the green and white road signs to the Canyon de Chelly Campground. All the camping spaces were full, so I parked along the fence outside the campground. I visited the restrooms, and gawked at a million stars in the indigo/black sky. Then, I locked myself inside the van and went to sleep.

The next morning, after seeing a video presentation at the Canyon de Chelly Visitors Center, I remembered exactly why I’d wanted to visit this place. In the video a young Navaho man rode his horse down the walls into the Canyon. After seeing the video I rushed to the Canyon’s rim and there looked down into what seemed like another world. The world below revealed a river with lush green fields alongside it. Little hogans and peach orchards spread out along the river’s meander through the sandstone canyon five-hundred feet below. Where I stood on the rim, I was part of the biege-toned high desert dotted with sage, junipers and yellow blooming chamisa. These gave way to an immense blue sky with gathering white, cumulus clouds.

Standing there in what seemed like three worlds at once, immense joy filled my being. I just had to go into the world below. And I wanted to go in on a horse. That afternoon I met a couple of women from Oregon at the visitors center also inquiring about riding horseback into the Canyon. We found out there were two places that offered rides into the Canyon. You can only go into the Canyon with a Navaho guide. One of the women wanted to ride into the Canyon on a horse, so Cathy and I decided to go together the next morning. Her partner, Alice, would go on the morning hike offered by the Visitors Center while we went in on horseback. The most popular horseback rides begin where the Chinle Wash spills into the town, near the Thunderbird Hotel. Being a little leery of big groups, we decided to check out the other place. Besides, they offered a woman guide. We drove a ways out along the south canyon rim to make plans with a family that rented horses there. Navahos are renowned horse people. We thought it would be really inspiring to go into the Canyon with a woman guide.

The family lived in a hogan without phone or electricity. I could tell that the older woman we were talking with understood very little English. Still, she promised us a woman guide at 9 AM the next day. We looked at their horses standing in the corral nearby. As we headed back towards Chinle, it began to storm again. A wild mare and her foal stood out among the brush, tails turned toward the driving rain.
At the campground that evening, I watched my neighbor’s tent struggle to stay anchored against the strong wind of another incoming storm. The campers inside barely kept the tent on the ground. I felt grateful to be in the van. I wondered what tomorrow would bring.

I wasn’t happy to see gray drizzle the next morning. I assumed our ride was off. However, Cathy, a dare-devil, insisted we go. We pulled into the muddy driveway below the hogan. Three horses were saddled and tied at the hitching rail. We’d been assured a woman guide but a young man introduced himself and related he’d be guiding us into the Canyon that day. A fine mist surrounded us. We prepared to go with him though we’d really wanted the woman guide. Then, as if hearing our call, Vernita and her husband arrived in their pickup. She was the woman guide. She just happened to show up at the hogan at that moment. No one had contacted her about our trip. It was going to be three hours ride to Mummy House Ruins at the end of Canyon de Muertos, a spur of Canyon de Chelly. Then 3 hours back, that’s a six hour ride. We urged her to take us even if it was a new plan for her day. She agreed, saying she could use the money. I chose the pinto horse, a small mare. I like horses I can see over. Cathy had a big Palomino gelding named Buddy, and Vernita, our guide, rode a sorta skiddish, larger bay gelding, not her own horse. He was not trained to be a lead horse but since her own horse’s mouth had been ruined by an inexperienced rider, she had to take him.

I hadn’t been on a horse in years but gave that no thought. To go into this fantastic other world on a horse just seemed magical. Did I mention I hate being out in the rain? Being from Oregon though, I did have a complete rain suit with me. And my blue felt hat. It continued drizzling. Vernita thought it might clear up during the ride. I hoped she was right . Vernita wore her husband’s oiled greatcoat and a black felt brimmed hat. She looked like she’d been on horses all her 29 years. Her outfit was timeless, American western. Her engaging smile reassured me. We put our lunches and water in a saddlebag, mounted up and headed off across the road towards a secret entrance to the Canyon.

We were going into Canyon de Los Muertos, named that because the Navaho were trapped there, and many killed, by Kit Carson and the American army in 1864. Led by Manuelito, a famous warrior, they made their last stand in this part of Canyon. Most survivors were relocated to Bosque Redondo, a fort in southeastern New Mexico. Years later they were finally allowed to return to these Canyons, their spiritual homeland.

At the canyon rim we dismounted to lead the horses down the steep, narrow trail. Vernita informed us that we were entering the Feminine end of the canyon. She explained that in her people’s beliefs, Masculine and Feminine designations cover everything. For instance, drizzle and fog are Feminine. Lightning, wind, hard rain, are Masculine. Vernita was having her period, it would be full moon that night and, the Feminine light drizzle and fog shrouded our passage to the world below. I wondered exactly how we would find the balance, meet the Masculine, before the day was over.
The stony narrow trail zigzagged downward along a ledge that dropped off hundreds of feet below. My horse, the pinto, would eye me from the above on the trail and need coaxing to continue downward around the sharp curves. We women talked about ourselves and I asked Vernita as many things as I could about her life and customs.

As a young woman, she and her husband had ridden together into this end of the canyon, as part of their marriage celebration. She mentioned that she now studied at the Community College but was also learning traditional healing methods from tribal elders. She wanted to retrieve her heritage and pass it on to her twin daughters. The matriarchal system means Navaho women have power and almost all the financial responsibility for the family. She mentioned that this was why she was going to college, hoping to make a better living.

Once we got to the canyon floor, the rain ceased and the sun came out. We rode along the river on a dirt lane, passing hogans with blooming peach trees, newly planted corn fields and sheep corrals. Dull green olive trees grow wild along the river, planted there by the Spanish. Riding between those sandstone walls, I understood the Navaho belief that beauty and harmony are spiritually one thing. Cold and wet, we rode in beauty. I felt sheltered by the five-hundred foot high, warm, sienna-colored canyon walls. It felt like a home place. And it is the summer home to many.

Along the way crossing an arroyo, we sighted a wild, blue-roan stallion with a couple of mares nearby. He was quite handsome with his long black tail and diffusely spotted blue/black coat. His proximity could be a problem, if the he chose to pick a fight with our horses, Vernita said. We yelled and held our horses back, and the stallion and mares moved in the opposite direction. After that we paused briefly to look at some recent cave paintings on a wall beneath an overhang. They depicted American soldiers with guns, on horseback, from the 1864 campaign with Kit Carson. Vernita mentioned it is named Massacre Cave.

After two hours Mummy House Ruins, an ancient Pueblo style ruin, came into sight. It is named for a mumified body found there. The ruins lie in a recess under a stone ledge at the box end of the Canyon. Talking non-stop to Vernita since my horse had to walk right next to hers, I’d forgotten about the weather as we rode along.

A hard wind had been gathering heavy storm clouds above us. We dismounted, tied the horses to a log and decided to sit under the large old cottonwood tree to eat our lunches. Just then, the Masculine storm hit. Thunder boomed and a thick lightning bolt struck the ground twenty feet away. The startled horses jumped around and got loose. Wind drove the cold, hard rain into our faces. We leaped up and rushed to catch the horses. We stood holding their reins while eating our sandwiches in the shelter of the old Mother tree.

My horse seemed the most frightened. I stroked her neck and talked to her. I called up hypnosis techniques previously used to in trance human clients during my years as a psychic healer. She responded well. Touching her neck also warmed my freezing hands. I knew Vernita must be having a hard time with menstrual cramps. Cathy, the least bothered by our situation, walked over and briefly explored the ruins.

The storm passed in about twenty minutes. Wet and cold, we had to start back. This time I rode the Palomino, Buddy. It was a two hour ride to the almost vertical path out of the canyon we’d come in on. It rained lightly and steadily. Vernita urged us on. The river was rising. Flash flooding is common in heavy rain. Buddy had his own speed, slow, so every once in awhile, I’d urge him to catch up with Vernita and Cathy, who rode ahead, chatting away.
It was raining harder by the time we got back to where the path goes up the canyon wall. It seemed very steep looking up from below, and much more dangerous than when we came in. The five-hundred foot ascent would have to be on the horses, not leading them on foot. As I looked at the canyon wall and the narrow, slippery trail we had to ascend, “this could be it” crossed my mind. Meaning I guess, that a mistep of any horse’s foot could throw horse and rider over the edge onto the rocks below. A certain Tibetan mantra came to mind. The rain was washing out parts of the trail. Vernita insisted we get on with it. Going almost straight up seemed to be the only way out of the Canyon.

Barely up the trail, Vernita’s skitterish horse spooked and turned around, trying to come down the narrow trail as our horses were coming up. She got him under control. I was riding last on Buddy, behind Cathy and Vernita. Vernita told me I had to get Buddy to pass both horses because, as the oldest and most experienced horse, he would lead the other horses up and out of the canyon. She and Cathy pulled their horses to the inside wall. I nudged Buddy on up the trail, passing the other horses along the outside edge with no room for a mistake. The other riders blurred as my eyes focused on the trail up ahead. I couldn’t look down or back.

The steady rain intensified. I leaned into Buddy’s neck and gave him his head. I let the reins hang loose. He knew what to do. He’d get all of us out of the Canyon. His steady unshod hooves landed on solid rocks all the way up the trail.

As we got closer to the top, some agile young Navaho men scaled the canyon wall on hand and foot holds nearby. It was a relief to see other human beings. Vernita greeted them. They talked and laughed in Navaho as we continued up our parallel paths. A sense of release spread through my body as we got to the canyon’s rim. Buddy relaxed too once we arrived on the high desert trail.
With the unrelenting rain, the desert had become a slippery two-inch coat of dun-colored mud through which we trotted, galloped and slid back to the corral and the hogan. The horses, now near home, just wanted to get there as fast as possible.

Relief shown on the faces of Vernita’s relatives when we appeared in the driveway. They had been worried since it stormed most of the day. Vernita’s husband got out of their truck smiling. Cathy’s partner had driven out to meet us. She laughed while hugging us both. Our laughter dispelled the tension I’d been feeling. I announced that I’d been scared at times. Cathy said she was never afraid. Vernita admitted that she felt frightened when it started raining hard on our way back.

I got the remains of my lunch out of the saddle bag and thanked Buddy with the apple I had not eaten. I felt grateful that this journey into the world below only left me with some very sore thighs. I walked gingerly over to my van to remove my rain gear and get my wallet to pay Vernita.

Cathy and I realized that the trip had been a priceless adventure. We thanked Vernita many times. Months later I sent Vernita a print of the Blue Horse painting explaining that this mythical being had inspired me to take the trip in the first place. Cathy mailed me photos of us on horseback in the Canyon. We were all grinning ear to ear. Vernita sent me a note card with a picture of Manuelito.


The following morning I walked down to Whitehouse Ruins, the one place I could go unattended into the Canyon. I treasured each step and view along the red earth trail. I bought some turquoise earrings from a tiny wrinkled grandmother in a bright blue velvet skirt sitting near the ancient ruin. That afternoon I drove over to see Spider Woman, the Dine (Navaho) people’s ancestor. She sits embodied in very tall rock formation in another part of the canyon. From below she must look like a guardian spirit. Though some distance away, her head was even with the overlook where I parked. I threw Her an offering of corn kernels and tobacco in a tiny handwoven pouch. I prayed to return someday.

Another white woman arrived just as I was about to depart. She wondered if I wasn’t afraid to travel alone on the reservation. She’d heard that the Navahos could be hostile to outsiders, especially if you broke down. Fear of the people here had never crossed my mind. As we talked I noticed some crows diving around above me. They played in the breezes, calling loudly. Then they flew east, suggesting I follow them. I heeded their call and started driving towards New Mexico.