Yesterday I was walking at Hamaatsa. I went way down the hill to the west where it leads into an area that holds a stand of old trees. There among the junipers and pinons was a very old pine tree. These are some of the oldest trees here on this land. At one time pine trees grew here which is evident from all the exotic petrified wood scattered about.
I remembered a past winter day when I was out with my son and a friend to gather wood for our winter hearth. We came upon this old tree stand that day. Although we set out with the task to get a truck load of wood that morning, we didn’t just go barreling down that road into this amazing stand of old trees and start cutting away with our chainsaws. We aren’t machines. Those trees are People. Those are Juniper and Pinon. And they are seasoned. They could possibly be 300-400 years old, those big trees down that way. Seasons of time. And us humans are wandering around in these seasons. And what are we doing? Methodically getting wood to make carbon go up in the air? If we could only recognize our own seasons, maybe then we could share our own seasons of living with each other. We could listen to the seasons of the older people among us. My gosh, what we would gain if we took the time to share like that!
Looking out the southern windows in the Shepherd's House, we see the sunrise every morning as a glorious reminder of our seasons here at Hamaatsa. This morning in that white dawn time I saw the juniper and pinon silhouetted on the ridge edge. What I saw was not just trees but something distinct in their character.
I recalled that time when we came out here on this land in the early days before the land purchase was finalized. We'd walked in from the main road and walked over the hill, coming along that ridge edge. We hadn't had the boundary survey done yet and we were checking a topo map to identify the boundaries. When we got there to the top of that hill which is now known as the Southern Boundary, I saw two trees. Pinon and Juniper. I knew those two trees were generously inside the southern line. I said to Deborah and our two sons, “Okay, we'll stop here. This is where we will make our very first prayer before we enter this land.”
We did this to remember how thankful we were that we were even standing there on this beautiful land that we had begun to call "Hamaatsa" - a Pueblo Keresan word referring to "a time to start over once again". We marked the place with a small stone cairn, so we would enter this way again and continue to enter in that prayerful way with thanksgiving.
This was a place where Pinon and Juniper were side by side, growing together. These two trees. This is what they know: They know how to get along in the same land. They help each other grow stronger in each other's shadow. One is always slightly larger than the other offering nurturing shelter to the younger.
I can sure remember that day, now sitting here side by side with my wife Deborah, both of us looking out the window as the sun rises over the land. We can see when the sun touches that same ridge-line and starts to come up over the Ortiz Mountain peaks. A reminder that we are in our seasons. Unending season after season of a People learning to live on this land. That's what we were asking for that day. Teach us. How can we live here? All those who have lived here before. Help us. That we can learn and find the way to do this together. And it doesn't just mean us two, or us four, or those of us who are here right now. Look at Pinon and Juniper, there are two of them right there. But they are among their kin, their brethren. Everywhere you look, there they are. Season after season.
Learning to help each other grow in what many would describe as an inhospitable place, actually has all the ingredients and nourishment for learning to live together. That's all we are trying to do. How do we feel toward anyone else from some other nearby place, or another part of the world? How are we going to get along with them? How are we going to show them we are like Pinon and Juniper? What are they going to see when they look at us? When we come walking across that ridge looking for home.
Photos by Deborah Littlebird
By Deborah Littlebird
Seven years ago, Larry Littlebird wrote an inspired story when we first arrived on the land at Hamaatsa. In the story he tells us, “I hear the sound of singing waters, I see crops coming alive and the animals returning to this land.”
Last night something occurred on the land. A miracle really.
The Arroyo de Tanos flowed rushing river-like water through the land. Must have rained hard up higher in the watershed --in the Ortiz Mountains that shadow the background of this stark landscape. How long have we yearned to see the water flow here on this land?
In the late afternoon, clouds begin to form. Dark clouds gather making a patchwork with still blue sky. The loving rain begins to softly sprinkle all around us. Sun and rain together. In the distance we watch vertical sheet like rain touching earth, the kind so often depicted in Pueblo Indian paintings and on their pottery. Thunder is walking. A double rainbow appears with a shaft of spectral light beaming down directly in front the Shepherds House porch! Then the rain falls hard, sideways, driving us inside the shelter of the little adobe. Door left open wide, we rejoice watching not wanting to miss a thing playing in this atmospheric land cinema. We watch and listen to this magnificent thunderstorm coming to dry parched land.
After a half hour of a good downpour the rain begins to dissipate and then Larry says, “I am going to go check where the water has run, so I can adjust my water runoff ditches.” Coming from an indigenous Southwest culture and People who are in constant relationship with the land, you learn to do things like this as if your life depends upon it. And it does!
I sit quietly inside listening to the gentle rain now lifting, smelling the fresh air, feeling the coolness in the adobe room. Suddenly Larry returns, rushing through the still open door, “Come! Hurry! The arroyo is running! It’s flowing!"
I quickly change into hiking shoes, grab a rain jacket and off I go toward the sandy Arroyo which I can see in the distance now looks like a huge roaring mountain river. Oh my goodness! Never have I seen such a sight! As I approach the water’s edge, I hear the sound of water, so purposeful and alive. It’s like it knows it’s own power. Healing power to the land, the creatures, the plants and the humans. It garners respect to stand here so close. Instantly, instinctively, I know one must not try to cross to the other side. The immense force would wash you away.
Being ever the photographer, my mind shifts to wanting to capture this event! Great I have my new iPhone with me. I must document this phenomena to share with our friends and family.
When folks visit Hamaatsa, they always ask us, “Does this arroyo ever have water in it?” “Not likely in this drought. We have never seen it run in seven years”, we always reply.
I hear the rocks speaking under the rushing water currents. I put my camera phone back in my pocket and just stand still now to listen. A talking river at Hamaatsa. How incredulous! Never in my most creative daydreaming could I imagine this.
And we are here. Now. Hamaatsa.
Larry is up ahead moving up stream. He calls back to me, “Come on, hurry!” He is a like a little boy with his quickened steps. The excitement is all about him. I smile at his sense of adventure, but I want to go slow. This is so significant on so many levels and I want to savor it. So I tell him, “Go on, I’ll catch up”.
I video, walk a little ways upstream, stop and listen again, video some more, stop and stand still again. Standing with my back toward the setting sun, I see the flowing stream begin to reflect the color red. I turn around and there is the most amazingly crimson cloud sunset I have ever seen here. I feel like I am in a fairytale, a world of make believe. My spirit tells me: You are really here -- standing in a place between heaven and earth.
Up the road, the arroyo is still rushing strong as twilight falls on land and water. In the background I hear an unusual sound. Like a truck stuck in mud revving it’s motor back and forth. No wait, it sounds like frogs. But that can’t be. There are no frogs here at Hamaatsa. Never seen one single frog. The sound is mystifying. As I walk up the road alongside the arroyo, I chirp my little turkey call to locate Larry. This is a familiar way in which we find each other when we are out and about on the land. I chirp again. No reply. I keep walking upstream. I resort to cell phone chirping and call Larry on my phone. He answers immediately, “Quick come up to the top of the road!” “What is that sound I ask him”. He replies, “It’s a million frogs giving praise!”
I get to the top of the road where there is a dry to the bone pond which has been resting in the heat year after year. It is now filled with water and there are frogs croaking. The sound fills the night. I close my eyes and just listen to this strange beautiful sound. The land is alive. Larry stands beside me and gently nudges me. I open my eyes just as the full moon rises in a peak notch of the Ortiz Mountains now a blackened backdrop in this mystical night. Oh my! The super full moon in July.
Miracle upon miracle unfolds that night. All at once and overtaking us with blessing. As we walk back to the house, I recall Larry’s story about the sound of singing waters returning to this this land. It has come, it arrived. Hamaatsa in Keres language means a place and a time arriving NOW! I feel wrapped in the wet evening balm of Creator’s grace and power moving across the land. I am grateful to be here.
Since that night, it has rained every week at Hamaatsa in July and August, greening the land like no other time. And the Arroyo de Tanos has run four times this summer.
Everything that has breath gives praise.
Video clips of Arroyo de Tanos flowing and frogs emerging
Climate Change Essays (1)
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