Friday, December 9, 2011


Last week I went to a funeral for a colleague; she had been battling cancer for years, and it had finally come back and taken her.

As I was sitting in the back of the church listening to the words spoken by ministers and friends, and thinking about what a dear person she was, and what a dedicated teacher she was, my chest hurt. I was feeling physical pain at the thought of her not being in the world anymore, and how much she'd be missed.

And seeing all the people there, and knowing there were hundreds and hundreds of students whose lives she touched, I thought about the web we make when we live in community. I thought about how, even as we go about our personal, daily lives at work or with our families, seemingly tending to our own needs, we create threads of connection with others, and join our lives to theirs. We make a big giant web of interrelated beings. And so that's why it hurts when one person is taken out of that web.

And yet I wouldn't have it any other way. I would much rather be part of that web, vulnerable to pain when it is torn, than be truly alone. That web is beautiful and real and alive, and I'm glad to be part of it and to be making new strands in it every day.

Mitakuye oyasin! May you build the web today.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Thoughts of the season

(Prairies and woods at a park near us showing the fall palette; the colors of the dying year are so beautiful...)

At the risk of sounding morbid, I have found myself pondering the subject of death lately.

I've had a lot of problems, in the past, around death and the decay or degeneration or even sometimes just injury of the human body. For a while it was dang near impossible for me to go into a hospital--just the smell of the place when I walked in the door would make me tense and nervous and feel like running out the door. This is not a good thing! Especially when I'd be trying to visit a friend or have a test done...

Lately I've felt like maybe this is finally shifting, that it's getting easier for me to think about death, and about when the body breaks down. I think middle age has become a shift from thinking, in my 40s, "gee, I might die someday," to thinking, as I now approach 50: I am definitely going to die. (Of course, I have known this to be true logically and rationally, but I'm finally feeling that it's true.)

Perhaps it's the season that has prompted these thoughts lately. Some spiritual practices/traditions hold that this time of year--more specifically, around Oct. 31 to Nov. 2--is the time that we remember the dead. (Here's a nice explanation of some of the practices and history of the Day of the Dead in Mexico.) In the Celtic tradition, the veil between the worlds gets thinner and we are able to communicate with our beloved dead.

And of course, we have Halloween; as co-opted as it's been by American merchandisers, it's still a pretty special holiday, I think--I don't know of any other where grownups will wear crazy outfits, even in my conservative small town!

And today is Remembrance Day, which became Armistice Day, which in turn became Veterans Day.

With those holidays, and those traditions, think of all the souls who are being honored and prayed for and thanked this time of year! What a powerful thing.

I also have particular, more personal reasons to be thinking about death. In January of 2011, we lost Patrick's dad, and in July of this year mourned him. That loss is still pretty new, and still pretty strange to us, someone that close who is no longer here.

In October, with the love of friends to support the work of remembering the dead, I attended a wonderful Ancestors workshop. So many great ideas and activities... one of which I brought home with me: we wrote letters to our beloved dead and burned them in a fire out back in our new fire pit.

(My ancestor candle; I light it and give thanks...)

Some of my academic work lately has been about bones--about how Native American authors write about the project of repatriation, returning human remains that have been kept in museums to their tribes, where they can be properly buried. (Even now, with the advent of NAGPRA, that process does not always go smoothly...)

And there's one thing that hits real close, you might say, under our own roof: our cat Peaches is getting along in years, and she has had some serious health challenges this year. This year, we have had to face the fact that she is not going to be with us forever. She's doing fine now despite her illness, and I'm thankful she even still wants to play occasionally.

She has started this new behavior in the last few months. Sometimes when she is napping, she puts her head down and she falls into such a deep sleep that even when you call her name, she does not wake up. It's the strangest thing.

(Here she is, communing... on the Hello Kitty blanket, no less!)

So my theory is that, when she does this, she is talking to the people on the other side. They are getting her ready for the next journey she's going to take, embarking on the path to the next world. Every day I pray to be a good human steward to her and to help make that transition the most graceful it can be. I bet she's going to teach me a lot about death, and about how to find love in that process.

I hope you have a chance to hug your loved ones today, and hope you will tell the ones who've left that you still love them. They like that.


Friday, September 30, 2011

I'm worth it

Of late I have been confronted by the question of what I am worth.

This has been happening at several levels, both literal and metaphorical. On the literal level: I had to call a university office so they could straighten out a mistake with my paycheck. It was easily fixed, thank goodness, but for a few hours it looked like my recent promotion was going to result in a pay decrease. Not a good feeling, to say the least.

Over the past few weeks I've been engaged in the process of being evaluated for a raise (half the faculty is eligible each year; this happens to be my year). And this comes at the end of being up for promotion for four years. It's another process that has definite bearing, in the end, on how much money I bring home every month for doing my job. But there's more to it than that.

Part of the process involves writing a report about myself that updates a university committee and the provost about my recent activities. Perhaps this is crass, but I always feel that when I write this report, I'm answering the committee's question: "what have you done for us lately?"

Writing this report is somewhat excruciating--at least for me, a person who was taught to be modest and humble whenever possible and who suspects that just about the time you start tooting your own horn, you're going to fall on your face. And get a horn imprint on your head.

So it's not a form of expression that comes natural to me. Add to that the various neuroses I've developed over the years (thanks I'm sure to an awkward teenagerhood, a mean pseudo-step-parent, and the horrors of graduate school). Stir all this up, add a publication record with a huge gap in it, and you've got a bit of a mess. It's definitely been an effort for me to develop a writing voice in that report that is simultaneously graceful, informative, and non-defensive while also arguing, in effect, that I am fabulous.

Then there's another thread of worth that I've been thinking about since visiting a pow-wow with some students a couple weekends ago. While there I ran into a couple I know who are Sun Dancers at the ceremony I go to in South Dakota, General and Ute Grant. (They live in North Carolina, so meeting them in Ohio was unexpected!) It turns out that General is a silversmith; one of the precious materials he works with is wampum.

You've probably heard of wampum; it was a bead material, usually white or purple, made from clam shells. Back in the dinosaur days when I was in school, I was taught that it was used among the tribes in New England as money. I have a small pair of earrings that I bought at a pow-wow a couple years ago, and when I wore them I would remind myself that I have worth, I have value, that as a human being I am intrinsically worthy.

(These are the wampum earrings I bought a few years ago.)

But there's more to wampum than that. Belts made of wampum were used to seal treaties, as a kind of text to document the agreement and remind the two parties of their promise to each other. (Here is a discussion of a particular wampum belt that may have been used to seal Penn's treaty with the Delaware--scroll down for the image and the story of what happened to its match, kept by a native chief... Scroll down to pp. 6-7 of this excellent document for more about wampum from a Haudenosaunee point of view.)

Before European contact, wampum seems also to have been used to record significant stories and give the storyteller a physical representation of the event he or she would tell others, something like a Lakota winter count. (Here is a nice account of the various functions of wampum.)

There's a piece of contemporary art I read about in the National Museum of the American Indian magazine a couple years ago whose image and purpose has stayed with me: Alan Michelson's Third Bank of the River. The ginormous glass work--almost six feet tall and forty feet long!--evokes the image and feeling of the two-row wampum belt that was used in the 17th century. Installed at the border between Canada, the U.S., and the Haudenosaunee nation, the piece brings to mind issues of borders, agreements between nations, history, and land; I find it almost haunting. I'd like to see it in person someday. (I wish I could show you a photo of it in my blog, but I don't have permission. So instead I'll say go here and read this excellent article about it by Kate Morris, "Art on the River: Alan Michelson highlights border-crossing issues." There's also a description there of another of his river-centered works, Mespat, which I was lucky enough to see at the NMAI this past summer.)

Michelson's work, I think, is a beautiful example of how contemporary native artists use the forms of the past and adapt them, creating new pieces with new materials to say something important about current events and situations while also bringing the past--history and ancestors--into the conversation.

(My new wampum earrings.)

And in his craft of silversmithing, I think General is doing something similar. He uses shapes and settings that are modern, that you'd see at jewelry shows; but he also uses very old, traditional shapes (as seen above). I've seen a 19th-century photograph (in Women of the West, Luchetti & Olwell) of three generations of Nez Perce women who are all wearing earrings in this shape, made out of shell.

General taught me something new about wampum: that it was used all over the east coast, not just in the northeast. People of the nations in the south, including his ancestors the Cherokees, used it as well. His teaching about wampum is that it is used to signify, in part, the interconnectedness of all life, the idea that all of us in creation are connected with everyone and everything else. It's a kind of embodiment of the Lakota idea of Mitakuye Oyasin--all my relations.

I was so grateful to be reminded of this idea. And how fitting that that reminder came from someone I am connected with in far-away South Dakota, and that I saw him and his wife so unexpectedly. We had a beautiful conversation about the Sun Dance ceremony, and about the concept of worth, and how that feeling of worth has to come from within, never from without, and how that feeling derives from knowing we are a part of the creation, a gift of the Creator.

It was an apt reminder, received just at the right time.

(Bathroom mirror, Sept. 2011. I am worthy, and I am a relative.)

Mitakuye oyasin!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Apropos of nothing

It feels kind of silly to be putting this up after the previous entry. But I also feel like I want to move that entry down--a kind of spatial way of noting that life goes on, as awkward as that feels. (But that's part of mourning, too, right?) So here goes.

The other day I was thinking about chickens. Specifically, about rooster feathers. You see, early this past summer, I saw two young women on campus who had a distinctly non-central-Ohio look to them. They looked like they were from New York: chic, edgy, daring. And they had something in their hair, little wisps of something that looked kind of stripey. I found out through some sleuthing that it was FEATHERS. And immediately I wanted some.

(Apparently the popularity of these things is causing the sport fishing industry a lot of anxiety: they have been used for fly fishing, and now that people are wearing them in their hair, the price has skyrocketed...)

As we traveled east in June, I spotted some of these accessories at the beach, but I kind of hesitated getting them (there was a line of young women in front of me, and I didn't feel like waiting). And then as we traveled west in July and stopped by a big mall in Minneapolis (the big famous one), I looked for these feather things, but didn't find any I liked.

Now they have them in our little town (at the bead shop)! Wonder of wonders. So why am I not down there right now getting some put in my hair?

First of all, I have to figure out how to tell the difference between *real* feathers and the synthetic ones, and the synthetic ones are what I want. (Apparently roosters are killed just to harvest these feathers... This seems silly and wasteful; I'd rather have the cruelty-free option.)

And then there's the other part: I'm feeling a bit self-conscious. You see, some of my students are now sporting the feathers-in-hair fashion. (It has finally made it to central Ohio.) And the LAST thing I want is for my students to think I am trying to be like them, or fool someone into thinking I'm younger than I am, or that I am trying somehow to act like a kid.

I rather enjoy life as an adult. I just want to wear feathers in my hair because I like the way it looks.

Which makes me then think of this woman I see on History Detectives (on PBS), Gwen Wright. She is probably about 60, and an academic in addition to being a tv history detective (of course), and she is SO COOL. She has this punky hairdo, and brightly-colored glasses frames, and she wears knee-length skirts and Doc-Marten-type shoes sometimes, and her jewelry is always interesting, and she never forgets her lipstick. And of course she is smart as heck. She is just so fabulous. (Here's her web site; go check her out!) I hope I can be like her. Instead of worrying about aging gracefully, I want to think about aging fearlessly. Actually, maybe I want to do both.

So then I realized, as I was thinking about this, that I'd gone from chickens to hairdos to aging. Brains are wonderfully strange sometimes, eh?

Hope you have a wonderfully strange day!


P.S. Here's a NYT article in which someone in fashion says he can take seriously a woman at a business meeting wearing feathers (if it's done subtly, not a la Stephen Tyler). Good to know.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I didn't think I was going to post anything today: I didn't know anyone who died on that day 10 years ago, I was not in harm's way (though I feared such) living just outside of Atlanta. What right do I have to write about September 11th?

And yet there's something I want to note here--maybe so I can help myself believe and hope.

At my house we started the day by watching footage of what happened in New York, much of it filmed by regular people looking out the window of their Manhattan apartment or stopping in the streets on their way to work. I was astounded at how quickly it brought old feelings to the surface.

Last night at dinner we talked to our son, who was too young to remember the day, about what we experienced and thought and worried about, how we walked through that day, and what we felt about what happened afterward.

For part of the day today I was pretty unhappy, thinking about the direction our country seems to have taken of late--so much fear and suspicion and distrust, so many people dismissing others' humanity with a single word or label, so many people not listening to each other, not being gentle or kind.

But then, this evening, Dexter and I went to a memorial service at my school. One of the speakers was a freshman, the daughter of one of the people killed on that day. Lots of students--many more than I thought--showed up to listen and sing and pray, and dedicate a tree in memory of the loved ones lost. The chaplain and the president told of inspiring service projects, some created by students or alumni in memory of those loved ones: houses repaired, a school for girls built in Afghanistan.

And then we all lit candles and walked to the fire station near campus and brought our first responders loaves of bread, made by our students from cultures and faith traditions from all over the world. (There was so much bread that much of it will be taken to the food pantry in town.)

I hugged my kid--in public--and for once he let me, without protest. He even held my arm for part of the time.

And I kept repeating something I fervently believe and want to believe:

Love wins. Love always wins.

May it be so.

Friday, August 19, 2011

One of life's eternal questions...

Last night as we were driving home from dinner, we saw a red chicken about 20 feet away, crossing the road perpendicular to ours.

(Sadly, I did not pull out my camera fast enough to get a picture, but it looked like this one.)

Dexter alerted us: "It's a chicken! It's crossing the road!"

I rolled down my window and yelled, "WHY ARE YOU CROSSING THE ROAD?"

But it didn't answer. And so one of life's eternal questions remains a mystery.

May you ponder a good question today!


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Quick knitting post

I'm in summer vay-cay mode: getting a little bit of work done on things like planning my courses and reading and writing, but doing other things a lot more than I usually do, like hanging out with family, watching teevee (dudes, the TOUR DE FRANCE is on!!), and knitting.

The Yarn Harlot has written about how important it is that a Knitter (capital K) consider carefully what projects to bring on the road. You have to think about portability (small projects are best), but you also have to think about variety (a simple project for a car or plane ride, plus a more challenging/interesting project, and maybe a variety of yarn types or colors...). And when you're a gazillion miles from home, you don't want to run out of yarn or not have the right needles--especially because you can't count on finding a yarn shop in these post-recession times. Careful planning is required!

I've been really happy with the projects I brought with me this time. One is a baby socks & hat set out of this wonderfully entertaining colorway:

(blue! pink! brown! green! red! Perhaps I am easily amused...)

I've finished one set and have started a second. (There seem to be a lot of people having babies lately; I wonder what's up with that!)

The other is a baby blanket (pattern here, on If you're not a knitter, you might consider skipping the next paragraph lest your eyes glaze over...

The excellently clever thing about this particular blanket is that it's got miter squares but there ISN'T any annoying stitching-squares-together process at the end. When you finish one square, you pick up or cast on stitches for the next. It's so cool!

(You can get a sense of the construction from this photo...)

And while I'm using very practical, washer-and-dryer friendly yarn, the colorway is important: turquoise. A bunch of references to turquoise have been coming up for me lately.

One is LeAnne Howe's discussion of the color blue-green in the Choctaw language. (If I'm remembering correctly, you can find it in Miko Kings, one of my favorite novels.) When a word has this root in it, it means the thing you're talking about has life. Blue-green is the color that means something is alive, has spirit. Wow.

And of course there was all the turquoise I saw while traveling in the U.S. southwest recently. I picked up The Anthropology of Turquoise there and have just started it:

And here's the FO (finished object) in its new setting:

(Front porch still life with blanket, driftwood, and potted plant...)

I'm giving it to a friend for a giveaway he's doing at a pow-wow this weekend in South Dakota. I'm hoping it will help a family celebrate the new life of their baby, and set that baby on a good path, one of listening to spirit. Mitakuye oyasin!

May you find a color that fascinates you today!


Monday, July 18, 2011

On the road again...

We've been on the road, traveling to some of our favorite places... (As far as posting goes, I think I'm going to be in intermission from the Four Corners posts for a while; I'm still figuring out how to process some of that trip!) (And for the robbers out there: a) there's not much in our house worth stealing, and b) we have house-sitters.)

Things we love about Minnesota and Minneapolis

Two of our favorite bookstores in the world live in Minneapolis--Birchbark Books and Wild Rumpus. We visited both this year. If you're there, you should go! Birchbark has a great selection, and it's a bookstore run by writers. Plus there's a cafe next door. Wild Rumpus has a great selection of books for kids and young adults, plus there are CHICKENS and other animals in the store as well as the traditional bookstore cats. For real.

Here's Dexter at the door to Wild Rumpus:

(There are two doors there--the grown-ups' one and the purple kids' door inside it...)

Would you believe, when we first started going there, that he fit through the little door? I always duck through it even though I'm too big, but this year the difference was that it embarrassed him. :( I think I redeemed myself, though, when I picked up one of the chickens and held her long enough for him to pet her.

We usually stay at an inexpensive hotel (relatively speaking) near the Mall of America; my favorite thing about that place is the amusement park rides in the middle. And this year Dexter and Patrick declared this one to be the best:

(whee! In the middle you go through a cave where Paul Bunyan tells you something... but we could never make out what the heck he was saying.)

We went on it several times just to be sure.

Another great thing about Minneapolis? REAL public transportation!

(Another one rides the bus...)

The tricky thing on this particular bus ride was that there was a guy in the back very loudly telling some, um, very colorful adult-situation-laced stories.... but hey, on the bright side, Dexter gained a little worldly knowledge, right? And what better place than public transportation to experience that, right? Right? (sigh)

In addition to hitting our usual favorite places, on this trip we explored a bit and went over to St. Paul, a great place for writers, like these two:

(Don't they look great together? Like they've just come back from lunch or something?)

And we went to the Science Museum of Minnesota, which we enjoyed thoroughly. On one of the decks outside, we were able to see the Mississippi River...

... and enjoy the view. This was one of my favorite pieces in the museum:

(Dang--I can't find where I wrote down the artist's name; I'll add it here later if I can find it!)

It's a mechanical creation where, as you push the button and make the gears go, the tiger types, the top of his head opens to reveal a fish swimming round inside, and the piece of paper emerges from his typewriter with the word "fish" repeated on it. I thought it expressed something true about writing...

As we drove toward South Dakota, we stopped and had a picnic lunch; look who joined us!

(Sadly, we did not have any peas or corn.)

And we stopped overnight in one of my favorite places on the planet, Pipestone National Monument.

(Prairie + creek + sacred stone = happy me)

We were able to walk on most of the trail the day we arrived, which turned out to be good because that night there was a thunderstorm with enough rain to flood the bridges and trails the next day.

It was hot as heck, and humid, and there were plenty of mosquitoes, so we didn't linger in any one place very long, but it was a really good evening walk.

Later that evening one of our party found something right near our hotel, on the courthouse square, that made him quite happy...

(That is one happy boy!)

He has been studying WWII and could tell us lots of things about this particular tank. It's a machine of war, so I was wary (as always), but it was nice to find something along the way that Dexter was so engaged in.

Well, the library is about to close, which means my wi-fi access is going bye-bye for the day. (There's no wi-fi at Grandma's house; heck, there's no microwave there, and there IS a rotary wall phone. It's like stepping back into 1972!) I'll post more soon about South Dakota and our continuing adventures on the plains.

Hope you are enjoying a good summer!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Intermission II: in which we learn I might be a security threat...

Hello! We are just back from a quicker-than-we'd-have-liked trip to the east coast to see some sights and visit some relatives. (Mostly I wanted the boy to see some of his kin--and for them to see him and how fast he's growing!)

Anyhow, one of the highlights of the trip was spending two days with my brother, who took us to see cool stuff, one day in D.C. and one day in Harper's Ferry.

In D.C., before we went to the NMAI (I wanted to see an exhibit there and relished the chance to share with my loved ones what I love about that place), we decided to tour the Capitol visitor's center. It didn't exist when I was a kid; if you wanted to see the capitol, you just walked in; maybe you opted for a tour, but you could just wander about and look at stuff if you wanted to. Of course, in a post-9/11 world, that is right out the window. The new (opened in 2008) visitor's center is a resplendent underground building filled with statues, artifacts, and exhibits on the history of the capitol.

But before you can go in, you have to go through security.

I had something on my person that was apparently a threat:
(cotton washcloth in progress... sorry for the blurriness)

Yup, that's my knitting. Yup, right there on the security sign it said that pointy objects, like knitting needles, were not allowed in. Pencils and pens were okay, but NO knitting needles.

I was annoyed. I refrained from pointing out to the guard that pencils are just as dangerous as knitting needles. Instead, I asked if there was a locker or someplace I could store it while we toured the building. The younger guard suggested I put it in the trash. (I am not kidding. I wanted to smack him. I think the fact that I did not shows great restraint on my part.)

I looked around, and there was definitely no place to put it. I decided to stash it behind a wall--not exactly hidden, but sort of. I thought to myself: okay, I'm leaving it to the gods (and the kindness of strangers); if it's still here when we get back, that's great, but if not, I won't be upset.

(Here is my knitting project in its "hiding" place...)

So we went back in, and this time went through the security gate. And I was denied entrance, this time for something buried in a pocket of my purse:
(offending item #2)

Here's a photo of it in my hand, unfolded, for scale:
(national security threat = I might snip someone?)

I carry this tool around in my purse because it's handy, not because I want to hurt anyone. I was quickly going from "annoyed" to "incensed" to "pissy," especially given the fact that I've been through airport security a bunch of times with knitting, and even once with these scissors (I forgot they were in my bag until after the trip!). But my brother pointed out, rightly, that the guards at the capitol have been assaulted and hurt in the past, so they're being extra careful nowadays. I grumbled and moaned, but got myself back to civil with a super-quick walk to the car and back to stow my threatening items.

After which I was sweating like a horse. (Ask someone who knows D.C. to tell you about the humidity... The place was built on a swamp!)

But then when we got in the statuary hall, I saw an old friend and that did wonders for my mood.
(I love how this statue suggests movement! You can also see how my hair & eyes suggest humidity... erg.)

This is Sarah Winnemucca, native activist and writer of My Life Among the Piutes. As Patrick took my photo, another family paused to wonder who this person was, and I went into "professor" mode, telling them a little about her life and writing. Patrick said you could really see how excited I was about seeing this statue, and about teaching others about her.

So probably my FBI file is a little thicker from this adventure, but I had a good time. Here are some other pictures from that day:

(King Kamehameha of Hawai'i)

(replica of Freedom, the statue atop the Capitol dome...)

(Here she is full-length.)

(Better keep an eye on this group of suspicious-looking characters...)

(One of my favorite things about the NMAI: it's a giant building that, in some ways, is very unobtrusive!)

(There was a group doing Polish dancing! We only watched them for a minute or two--in a hurry to get to dinner--but it was kind of cool.)

(Mr. Pointy Head; or maybe he's doing his impression of a unicorn?)

I hope you avoid doing anything that makes your FBI file thicker today...


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

(Intermission) Blogging: U R doin it wrong...*

I have conflicting goals in my head for this here blog... One is to post more often. The other is to post beautifully rendered, fully conceived essays that hold together from beginning to end and say something Profound and Meaningful. Oy.

I think I'd like to work on goal one and ignore goal two for a while. So here's something short and sweet for today.

On Facebook this morning I announced that it's International Karen Does Nothing Day today, and that my plan was to be lazy.

(a sign I ran across recently)

For the first time in weeks, today my calendar lists NO appointments. And I decided on Monday that the to-do list was making me feel overwhelmed and a bit glum, so I'm trying to hold it at arm's length for a while--you know, only getting stuff done that really could not be put off, keeping those appointments that I had already made weeks ago, and generally doing as little as possible otherwise, taking things a bit more slowly.

I had some advice recently that really hit me as True and Useful: instead of doing stuff from a place of "should," start paying attention to what brings me joy and do that instead. I'm trying that, and I must say, I feel a lot less glum and overwhelmed.

(Baby sock in progress, for a colleague who's preggers. The yarn is keeping me entertained--such interesting colors!)

The to-do list is still there, but it can wait. Just for a little while, I'm trying this new way of moving through my day, and taking note of those little things that make me happy... like knitting pretty things, eating blueberries, reading in my pjs. And writing on the blog! Well, whadaya know.

I haven't decided yet whether it's funny or pitiful that I had to schedule a day to be lazy. I'll think about that tomorrow. (Or maybe some other day...)


* The title means a) that I'm taking an intermission from describing my four corners trip, and b) I'm making a reference to LOLcats, who r doin it wrong sometimes.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Adventures in the corners (part one)

I have just returned from a trip to the Four Corners region of the U.S.; I was on a research/scouting trip to a) figure out what's out there for our students to see next year (those who will be taking the Four Corners Course Connection), and b) learn about the region. I can say I did both. A lot!

I've been hesitating to post this entry because I'm not sure yet quite how to sum up this adventure. All I have is my words and my photographs from my little camera to try to convey the awe these places inspired. Okay, here goes.

(Rather than showing you place by place where we went in this post, I'll share some themes. But here's a list of the featured stops: Albuquerque, Aztec Ruins National Monument, Mesa Verde, Anasazi Heritage Center, Hovenweep National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument and Cedar Mesa, Edge of the Cedars, Monument Valley, Navajo National Monument, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Acoma Pueblo, and back on around to Albuquerque again. It was a whirlwind adventure!)

Theme one: out the window.
I think I took several hundred photos of the view out the window of the car. (My colleague Barbara and I drove from Ohio to Missouri the first day, then Missouri to Albuquerque, then all around the Four Corners; by the time I flew home that added up to about 2700 miles. Barbara did 99 percent of the driving. She is intrepid!)

I know that "out the window of the car" is not an ideal situation for photography, but I kind of feel like when you're out there, you just can't help it. Or at least I can't--I grew up on the east coast, and the topography of the Four Corners looks like another planet to me.

Here are a few of my photos out the window:

(On our way through Missouri, we passed a famous landmark... it was shiny!)

(Driving from New Mexico to Colorado, we saw the first of many interesting land formations...)

(Near Durango we passed by the southern tip of the Rockies. Wow!)

(At Mesa Verde you can see evidence of a forest fire some years ago. It's kind of eerie to come around a corner and be in a patch of dead trees.)

(This is near Mesa Verde. The landscape out there is just breath-taking. I love how you can see for miles and miles...)

(This is in southern Utah, where the rocks are red and the canyons are many.)

(Utah again, following Jim's truck to Bluff, where we ate dinner... More about Jim and his truck soon...)

Theme two: made by hand
On this trip I learned a lot about the Ancestral Puebloans and their culture. Twenty years ago, when my brother and I came through this region on our way out to California (that's a whole 'nother adventure), the story was that the people who lived at Mesa Verde and other cliff dwellings throughout the region were the Anasazi (a Navajo word that means "foreign ancient ones"), and that they had disappeared for mysterious reasons and left no descendants.

Today the park rangers tell a different story: that the cliff dwellers left because of drought and resource decimation (for example, wood--it takes a lot of wood to build kilns and fire pottery!), and that they spread out and mingled with the people who would later become the various Pueblo cultures throughout the region. I think this is a better story--one that emphasizes survival and continuance rather than a kind of romantic vanishing--so I'll be passing it along to my students next year.

We saw everywhere we went the evidence of their living: their houses...

(This is a series of doorways at Aztec Ruins (which has nothing to do with the Aztecs, by the way).)

(At Mesa Verde. You see T-shaped doorways at a lot of dwellings...)

(At Aztec Ruins. That is a 900-year-old ceiling, my friends, still intact.)

(Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde. What an amazing place!)

(This is at Hovenweep, one of my favorite dwelling sites...)

... and the things they made for everyday use that are beautiful as well as functional.

(On display at Mesa Verde.)
(I enjoyed seeing the ladles and pots and mugs...)

(I can't even tell you how much I love this seed jar...)

(This portion of the Edge of the Cedars museum includes an original ladder--foreground--and a display of pottery that has been seized from looters/collectors; sadly, it's a huge collection, and not even a fraction of what people have taken from dwelling sites.)

(This is a bag of woven cotton on display at Aztec Ruins. They had cotton! They were spinners and weavers!!!)

Check out some photos of a sandal here, and some mugs here. They made lots of mugs!

And, like us, they liked to adorn themselves with beautiful things.

I was inspired by these beautiful things. Even though the people worked very hard to survive, spending most of their time doing the work of procuring and preparing and storing food, they took time to make the things they used beautiful and meaningful.

Theme three: Karen finds yarn (fiber) everywhere she goes
When I became a knitter a few years ago, my family started joking that if you plop me down in any city/town in the U.S., I will find the yarn shop there. Now that I'm a spinner (and learning how to weave as well), this has meant that on my recent adventures I find evidence of spinning and weaving--humans using plant and animal fibers--everywhere I go.

In their spinning and rope-making and weaving, the Ancestral Puebloans made use of yucca, cattail, cotton, and other (more unusual) fibers...

(Hey, I have a nearly endless supply of hair... I wonder if I could learn to spin it??)

They even made blankets of yucca and turkey feathers (can you imagine how soft and warm that would be?). (I thought I had a photo of one, but I can't find it in my file--?)

... and they wove using MACAW feathers!

(The museum tag for this piece reads: "Object: Macaw Feather Sash. Date: A.D. 1150. Location: Canyonlands National Park. Materials: Abert's squirrel, macaw feathers on yucca cord, leather ties." The maker must have been a very valued and important person in the village!)

Of course, when we were in the Navajo nation, there was LOTS of yarn in evidence, as the Navajo are famous weavers, spinners, and dyers. Here are a few photos along the way:

(Yes, that would be a WALL OF YARN at the gift shop at Canyon de Chelly. I am proud to say I controlled myself--but only because I realized the brand of yarn is one I can get online.)

In Albuquerque I was really excited to see this in a restaurant where we had breakfast:

(Sorry the labels are not readable!)

It's a kind of chart of how the colors in the weaving are derived from natural sources--mostly plant parts--with a tiny loom in the middle.

(Here's another one, this time at the museum at the Anasazi Heritage Center. You can also buy one of these at the gift shop at Monument Valley.)

There was a full-size loom displayed at Mesa Verde, just around the corner from beautiful rugs for sale:

(Also at Mesa Verde: loom and...

... yarn and spindle!)

And and the Anasazi Heritage Center, there was a hands-on loom with directions about how to weave the Navajo way:
(This was meant for children, I think, but OF COURSE I gave it a try...)

The upright loom is very different "machinery" from the rigid heddle loom I'm learning to weave on, but the concepts are the same. I loved the feel of the well-worn beater--it seemed like lots of hands had polished it. The Center had lots of interactive displays and ways to learn, so I would recommend it highly if you're out that way...

This is a long post, dear readers; I'd like to continue describing my adventures in another post--one where I tell you about how I did stuff I was scared of doing, and about the rock art I saw in various places, about seeing iconic western landscapes, about the privilege of visiting sacred places, about being in another nation... For now, here's one more photo out the window:

(These are the mountains on the edges of Albuquerque, over the wing of the airplane home!)

May you enjoy some beauty in your adventures today!