"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Gathering of Nations: People at Their Best

My friend Robyn, who lives in Albuquerque, and I attended the Gathering of Nations, the largest powwow in North America.  There were reportedly over 3,000 dancers and musicians present.

The Grand Entrance

A powwow is a gathering of Native or First Nation people from one or multiple tribes to meet, dance, drum, sing, trade and celebrate.  This Gathering of Nations was attended by as many as 500 tribes from Florida to Alaska, including Canada. It is held annually in April in "The Pit," the athletic arena at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

 The young women's Fancy Shawl dance competition

The arena is huge and was filled to capacity with people of all ages, mostly in family groups, and mostly Native Americans. The great majority of them were involved in the festivities in some way. The bleachers were filled with families in all stages of dress for the dancing, with pieces of their regalia in suitcases, on hangers and a few in very special wooden boxes.  Some were putting on make-up of various sorts. Their actions reminded me a lot of the dance recitals I used to participate in as a child, or of a beauty pageant or a horse show, except for one major difference: the mood. 

Although this is a competition for many of the participants, I didn't sense any anxiety or nervousness. I didn't see young people with the jitters, trying to shake off their stage fright or nerves. I saw no parents yelling impatiently at their kids. I did sense good natured and contained excitement, but mostly I sensed and saw pride, joy, camaraderie, respect, appreciation, strength, confidence, and  bonds among friends and the broad extended family.  I'd say the mood reminded me of a huge family Thanksgiving: the kind of excitement that doesn't have to do with presents, but with company and tradition. 

Within the immense crowd there was honoring of individuals, such as the elder gentleman who led in the Grand Entrance, and the "head" man, woman, boy and girl dancers, last year's Miss Indian World and all the contestants for this year's honor.

The MC's made many comments about the youth of the community, commending them, encouraging them, appreciating their skills and the importance of their place. There were quite a few adolescents involved in the dancing and drumming.  Around the edges of the arena there were young men "strutting" their stuff in full costume, but with ball caps on their heads. I wish I had gotten a picture of that.

All in all, my overriding impression was of a massive number of people at their very best. There was no misbehavior, no rough-housing, no carousing, like there might be at a ballgame or maybe a rodeo. There were active roles for elders and children, and a place for young people to feel beautiful and proud. I felt safe, welcomed, but not particularly attended to. It was not about the tourists - it was about the community.

I thought I'd just close with a few more images of the people who surely must have been sharing their best as individuals in the company of their friends and family. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Blowing Glass in Santa Fe

Here in Santa Fe it's all about the arts. Galleries and museums seem to be on every corner, at least those corners where there isn't a restaurant or a government building. (Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico so all it's administrative functions are housed here, in adobe buildings of course.)  Our new friend Kate, a fellow RVer staying next to us here at Santa Fe Skies RV Park, found a participatory art experience in town and we all joined in on the fun.

Ristra of blown glass chiles at Prairie Dog Glass

Kate, her husband John, Rick and I piled in our car and headed to Prairie Dog Glass for an active tutorial in glass blowing. The hour long class was $175 for all four of us. Each student gets to select a small glass design as a finished product to take home with them.  Prairie Dog Glass doesn't have a website, but it is located at the Jackalope Market, 2820 Cerrillos Rd. in Santa Fe. 

I'm going to try to explain the process and illustrate it with pictures of all four of us working on our glass pieces, so it may seem we were all working simultaneously. In reality, brave Kate went first and completed her piece, then we all followed one at a time. Our teacher Richard walked us through every step along the way.

The process starts by dipping the four foot hollow pipe into an oven filled with white-hot molten glass...

...and pulling a glob of it out on the end of the pipe.

The the glob is rolled on a metal table to smooth it out.

Smoothing the hot glass glob

Then you dip the hot glob into a dish of colored glass bits to add whatever color combination you choose.

John adding white to his Seattle Seahawks themed paperweight

My glass chile pepper gets a coating of red color

Rick remelting his glass

After adding the color crystals, the glob goes back in the fire to melt the color into the glass, softening it again in preparation for shaping the form of the finished piece.

I'm wetting down the newspaper pad between rollings

Forming happens in a series of steps, depending on the final product. For Kate's vase and my chile pepper, the forming happened by rolling the hot glass glob on a mat of wet newspaper until it was elongated. Then we blew the right amount of air into it to create the air space inside.

Because Kate went first, every step along the way was a big surprise.

For John's and Rick's designs, the forming entailed pulling the glass glob into a spikey shape to create the swirls inside the paperweight...

...dipping it again in the molten glass, and then rolling it in a wet wooden bowl to create the round shape.

The paperweight gets finished with a final blast of fire before squashing it into a flatter globe.

Kate's vase took a few more shaping steps and more blowing to create a large hollow shape, breaking the shape off the pipe and then reattaching it to create an opening at the other end. 

Richard performed the finishing step of the vase, a quick and dramatic swing of the pipe and the hot glass, that created the rippled fluting of the vase mouth.  We were all in awe of the process and Richard's skills.

We were all pretty happy with our finished products too.

Now what are we going to do with them!  : )

Saturday, April 18, 2015

"Experiences vs. Things"

This is one of the mantras of the full-timer. You'll often hear the guideline: For every item you buy, one item has to go.  For very real, practical reasons living in an RV limits the amount of stuff you can have. But once you've let go of all the stuff you used to have, you discover there are more existential reasons for not having stuff: You don't need it, and experiences are a lot more fun than your stuff ever was.

Now science has caught up with what we already knew. Experiences make you happier than things, and they last a lot longer. Strange but true. How can an experience stay with you longer than a material possession? Well, Dr. Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University claims that the happiness of an experience has a longer feeling life than the shelf-life of an object. It seems that we get used to our things, or adapt to them, and lose our feelings for them sooner than we forget the pleasant memories associated with our experiences.

I think there are some folks for whom this choice would be more difficult than for others: serious collectors and artists for instance, like Ross J. Ward who built Tinkertown in Sandia, New Mexico.  

Ross J. Ward in a photo from Tinkertown

They collect and create with stuff, so I don't have to. I can appreciate their's, and I do. Clearly, making art, creating, is an experience of the type that brings tremendous fulfillment. And it often requires and produces more stuff. What a dilemma.

Here's me enjoying someone else's stuff.

A great question we're often asked: "What did you do with all your stuff?" In our case, we gave away and sold everything that we couldn't digitize or fit in our 5th wheel. (Some folks retain some stuff and keep it in storage for when they might need it in the future.) The process took us about 18 months, and was at times difficult, but once we were done, we were grateful. 

Another question: "What about souvenirs of your travels?" Two things we do about that. Magnets on the fridge and photographs. Pictures really help me retain the memories, and I love looking back at them. And I write this blog to help me recall the experiences we have. Occasionally we also just happen to need something that ends up being a souvenir of sorts: the cowgirl hat I just bought in Santa Fe, the fur slippers from Alaska. 

And another: "What about books, and movies, and music?" Digital entertainment: I-tunes, Kindle, Amazon, Red Box and Netflix are the standard answers.  I have to confess that I don't like to read digitally. I do pick up paper books at book exchanges one often finds at RV parks, or at library book sales (really cheap good quality books). But I pass all those on. I have room for a rotating collection of about ten reading books, max. 

Now before you get the idea that we are impervious to the temptations of the material world, let me share a story. I was walking on a beach in Florida with my good friend Cindy, telling her all this bologna about not needing stuff and letting photography satisfy my craving to hold on to beauty, when I look down at my feet and see the most beautiful, perfect shell I'd ever seen. I passed it by . . . and then went back and picked it up. I now carry it around to remind myself to be humble and not get all preachy about this stuff vs. experiences idea, and to remind me of that day on the beach with Cindy.  

We have not taken holy orders. We do not live a completely ascetic life of material deprivation. But we are not prisoners of our stuff.  We do look for new or interesting experiences. Next week we are taking a glass-blowing class. Do we need the little baubles that will be the end products of our experiences? Absolutely not, and we'll probably give them away. But we'll keep the experiences for as long as our memories can hold on to them.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Canyon de Chelly: Beauty in the Navajo Nation

Beauty before me, with it I wander.
Beauty behind me, with it I wander.
Beauty below me, with it I wander.
Beauty above me, with it I wander.
Beauty all around me, with it I wander.
On the beautiful trail I am.
- 1906 translation of Navajo song by Washington Matthews

We are surrounded by beauty all the time, but sometimes it seems out of reach. Sometimes the ugliness that we make blinds us to what lies before, behind, below, above and beyond. Sometimes the ugliness is just so big we can't seem to find our way around it. Sometimes it's only a distracting dot on the camera lens or a bug on the windshield.  I keep trying my best to see the beauty.

The Navajo Nation embraces hundreds of miles of beauty and it's share of ugliness too. The juxtaposition is sometimes puzzling, but not so different from everywhere else. Do we somehow expect the Native Peoples of this country to always demonstrate the values that their songs and poems espouse?  Do we want them to embody something that the rest of us somehow can't manage? Is this an idealization of a people just as human and diverse as we all are?

Yesterday we drove the backroads of northeastern Arizona to get to Canyon de Chelly. The journey took us through some beautiful backcountry and the Navajo communities of Oak Springs, St. Michaels, Ganado, Navajo, Tsaile, Window Rock and Fort Defiance. These aren't tourist destinations, and so we had the chance to see living communities that support their own people, not the visitors.  We were impressed with the new large schools and hospitals throughout the area. We also saw hundreds of typical homesteads and small farms with small prefabricated houses often paired with traditional hogans on the same property.  

Our first stop of the day was at the Hubbell Trading Post, a National Historic Site.  It has been a working mercantile, selling groceries, supplies and Native arts since 1878 and is maintained in its functional yet historic state. 

Hubbell Trading Post
Our destination was Canyon de Chelly (say "deshay") just east of Chinle. It's a somewhat remote and less visited canyon with about ten ancestral Pueblo ruins.  It can be viewed from its North and South Rim Drives, but the canyon floor can only be accessed with a Navajo guide. (The single exception to this is the White House Trail which does lead down into a limited section of the canyon floor.) No dogs are allowed anywhere below the rim, so because of Honey, we chose to view the canyon from the series of overlooks along the two drives.

View from the Tunnel Overlook

The Canyon is a beautiful place, with a quiet, peaceful atmosphere, even from the overlooks. It made me just want to hang out.

The White House Ruins

I could definitely see why people would want to live here. It's protected, green year round, fertile, and again, so peaceful. This is early spring, so the leaves and grass are not yet at their fullest.

View from the Spider Rock Overlook
The peace was occasionally broken by tour jeeps and the pick-up trucks of locals driving along the bottom.  Yes, people still live and farm in the canyon, raising livestock and crops. They don't live in anything like the communal Pueblo structures of the ancestral residents.

Farm with hogan on canyon floor

View from Mummy Cave Overlook

An intact mult-storied Mummy Cave Ruin

Because we had Honey in the car and it wasn't always appropriate to let her out to walk with us due to 700 ft. drop offs, we sometimes just took turns walking out to the view points from the parking lots.  On one of those occasions I was lucky to see a pair of peregrine falcons flying below the rim.  My first! It's rare to see any birds of prey from above!

Peregrin falcon at Mummy Cave Overlook
I'd say that viewing Canyon de Chelly from the rims is very reasonable in one day, depending on how far you have to drive to get there. Overnighting in Chinle is possible as well, making it a more relaxed day. We drove home on Rt. 12 from Tsaile to Rt. 40, and that was a beautiful drive to top off a beautiful day. I'll just leave you with some beautiful drive-by photos to enjoy.

 May we all be on the beautiful path, every day.