Self portrait, of sorts. Larger view here.
Part II of Time—Around and Around
This conclusion of a two-part post on some considerations about the nature of time has evolved into some tangential thoughts.
Like Water for Time
I sat on the banks of the Chama River in north central New Mexico for quite some time lost in thought. I had driven up from Santa Fe through Abiquiu, compelled once again to view the scenes that were dear to Georgia O’Keeffe. It was a planned day trip without a firm destination, but with a vague idea of a large loop that would bring me back to Santa Fe.
The image above is indeed a self-portrait. With a careful viewing, which isn’t really warranted, you might see in the mirror the barest glimmer of light reflected off the lens used in the shot. I’m further beyond that in a darker recess. It may seem odd, but when I think of a self-portrait, I don’t always see myself in it. What I see is the encompassing view of what my eyes behold—a vision from behind my head and through it. So this is a self portrait that matches my definition and experience—and I like the softness combined with the vibrancy of the shot which enhances the metaphor.
I sat. I often get a sense there are times for waiting, and not knowing what the waiting will bring. Perhaps there will come something new to see or an illumination of thoughts that wander in and out of my brain—much like the barest whisper of a breeze and noting its presence before it’s gone forever. I got up and wandered.
It’s a beautiful little river—and around a bend in the distance I found fly fishermen, slowing, if not suspending, time for themselves. The river was not very deep or quick and it started some thoughts on the nature of time. The Chama flows in a linear way, of course, much like our understanding of how time works. It’s the nature of linear movement that we might wade out into a shallow part, but would never really step in the same river twice. Time’s march is inexorable and we often seem to float and bob along, unable to do anything else but bob up and down along the way. We’re lucky when we seem to find a little eddy caused by a fortunate obstruction, moving around and around a point where it seems we have more than enough time to enjoy the moment—time suspended for a little while.
We’re like those molecules of water, jostling to find our way without really knowing what the path will bring. The river may end as we know it or name it, but we continue on—though perhaps in a different form. It might be eons before our little aqua molecular self finds a way to the surface of a vast sea, only to be drawn up as vapor into the atmosphere to become a part of something else—a microscopic part of a cloud that will travel with the wind. We morph into a falling drop and find the headwaters of some other river with an untold number of partners. And it cycles again and again so the very nature of the reincarnation approaches timelessness.
The Valles Caldera. You can see a larger image here. It’s a composite stitch of three photos. The little mound you see in the middle distance is the rhyolite lava dome Cerro la Jara. It is about three kilometers away and 75 meters high. The uplift in the distance is 10 kilometers from where I took the shot. The high point on the horizon at left center is Redondo Peak at 3400 meters and about 800 meters higher than where I was standing.
The image above has us standing at the edge of a super volcano. A smaller cousin to the super volcano that lies beneath Yellowstone National Park, Valles Caldera in northern New Mexico is still a vast structure stretching about 22 kilometers in diameter.
We often don’t have the imagination to understand the largeness of a thing. And in the case of large geology, we have no good sense of the time involved. Even with the Sesame Street-ish object lessons—this and this and this equal that, our minds can’t always bend to take it in. You need to get high above Valles Caldera to see it from one end to the other. Your vision at ground level is too limited to encompass the size and time of it.
An image of the Valles Caldera captured from the Landsat 7 satellite. There is an added red arrow that shows my location for the panorama image I took. You can see a larger view here. The Earth Observatory page with some additional information is here. The city of Los Alamos is at the center right of the EO shot. Image is in the public domain.
I think the view from outer space makes it seem as if the caldera is an enormous paw print left by some being beyond our ken and out of our time. The Valles in the name of the place means “grass valley” not simply a generic valley. The grass is never much overgrown because of the wildlife. The largest herd of elk in the southwest finds it’s home there along with countless deer and wild sheep. It has been a feeding ground for millennia and the first human nomads knew of it and exploited it for the hunting and other resources. Spear points dated to 11,000 years ago have been identified. Nomadic family groups evolved into disparate tribes and settled into different neighboring areas. They all came to hunt in the valles, but they also found obsidian to use for spear and arrow points.
In the first installment of this time diptych about the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument we saw some unusual geologic formations, cones that seemed to defy the normal slow progress of wind and water erosion. The cones of soft pumice and tuff that spread out beneath harder caprocks were initially deep flat deposits of volcanic rock and ash. Within the strata are bits of obsidian that are rounded and shaped a bit like raindrops as they were flung from the super volcano that spewed the ash and pumice. They are called “Apache tears.” It’s against the law to excavate or collect them now, but it was the source of a burgeoning trade economy for the first peoples.
In more modern times the Spanish invaders, Mexican settlers as well as the Navajos, used the valles for seasonal grazing. From the time of the first visitors there have always been clashes and raids, it was too rich for just one group.
Now here’s the thing. Long before there were any peoples in what is now northern New Mexico there were massive eruptions from the Valles Caldera super volcano. The largest was about 1.5 million years ago in the Pleistocene epoch. What’s surprising about the Pleistocene is that in doing some research to place it in context, 1.5 million years ago is a blink of the eye in terms of geologic and megafauna history. The last of the dinosaurs that roamed this same area died off about 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous Period.
Many scientists believe that New Mexico saw the first human inhabitants about 13,000 years ago. Interestingly, some of the megafauna (large animals) that survived to the end of the Pleistocene became extinct with the arrival of those nomadic hunters. The last American mastodon, Mammut americanum, left our world about 10,000 years ago, having survived super volcanoes and incursions of vast inland seas and multiple ice ages in its 3.7 million year residency in North America.
So I’m at 8,000 feet above sea level in the middle of April. It’s still cold enough to need a light jacket as I stand contemplating the nature of time and place and who was in it and when.
Who does it belong to? The first peoples? They often didn’t have the same notion of land ownership that later European settlers imposed, though the Black Legend of colonization in the New World had, in hindsight, a predictable result. One might make a case that the Roman Empire brought many benefits to the conquered peoples, but there are many historians who calculate the cost to the various indigenous peoples subsumed or who disappeared. Has there ever been a colonization that honored and protected a native people? Manifest Destiny taken to the logical absurdity says that if I paved your gravel driveway then I get to own your house. The codices of the Mayans were collected and burned en masse because they were written by the Devil. Smallpox and other communicable diseases eradicated native populations, at first passively and then later as genocidal weapons. Why is the history written by winners taken at face value?
The archaeologists and social anthropologists who in later years placed the Hemish people in what was to become northern New Mexico probably also believe in the Land Bridge theory of immigration. During the last great ice age, the Wisconsin Glaciation, ocean levels were down about 200 feet from present levels beginning about 50,000 years ago and lasting until about 10,000 years ago. Much of the continental shelf was exposed due to sea waters being sequestered in ice. The estimated continental ice and glaciers in the northern hemisphere meant that the land bridge between Siberia and the western coast of Alaska was about 1,000 miles wide—more than wide enough for migrating game herds which were followed by those hunting them.
The hunters, who gradually made their way south—first along the coast and then inland—were the ancestors of the American Indians. That’s the theory, and recent discoveries have found some chinks in the archeological armor of evidence supporting it. It was long held that the first non-nomadic settlement in the New World was a site near Clovis, New Mexico at 11,500 years ago. But in 1997, artifacts from Monte Verde, in Southern Chile, were found to be at least a 1,000 years older. And new evidence from the Clovis site by carbon dating some artifacts place the time frame at nearly 14,000 years ago.
Whatever the science involved, many Native Americans have never accepted the theories. In various but similar genesis stories, many of the first nations cultures believe that the Creator who formed the land also caused the people to rise up from it. Those beliefs don’t actually counter the science of the Land Bridge theory, the Asian nomadic hunters could very well have crossed that ice free connection, but they encountered a land that had a host of peoples already in the new world. Charcoal found in what is now South Carolina had a radiocarbon date of at least 50,000 years, before the Wisconsin Glaciation ice age.
Whether populated by Proto-Amerinds, or raised up from mud, clay, fire or water, the inhabitants of the New World followed the land and what it had to offer and were often driven by ecological cycles that spanned generations.
The river trees have not yet lost their yellow leaves, but they will soon. Mountainside colors have changed to acorn orange and dull green. The nights are now cold, but the days are still warm enough for those outside to seek shelter from the sun. It is a favorite and welcomed time of the year. The maize is in and stored, the summer hunt meat is smoked and put away as well. This is the time between the hot hard work and the more meager winter hunting. It is a time when the people enjoy each other and their place in this world—the narrow canyon world. It is a time for coming together.
It has been a long time since the Diné from the northwest or the Tewas from the northeast had come to make trouble for the Hemish. Most of the peoples in the scattered pueblos knew it was for the best. Didn’t they all come from the earth? And whether you were Apache or Zuni or Tewa or Diné or Hemish—the very thing you called yourself confirmed those origins because they all meant the same thing: the people.
It was a comfortable time of peace, the leaders of most of the nearby clans and pueblos had long since resolved most issues of sacred places and hunting areas. The people were left to grow their corn and beans and to hunt—and to run. They loved to run, for running brought breath and life. To run was to be one with the deer, and the closest you could come to flying.
Water Jar Girl was born into this peace. She was of an age now where her questions were more than about the asking. She wanted to understand the answers.
“When you learned to walk, you began to run. You haven’t stopped running granddaughter Water Jar Girl, I think you will always do so.”
“I don’t want to see the visions in the water, grandmother. I just want to run.”
“We are many things Water Jar, some we choose, some we cannot. You can run for the joy it brings, but you cannot run to break your shadow. You will see the future in the water. You must choose if the gift the First Ones gave you will help our people. It does not matter that there is no sense in it for you, perhaps that will come. It is the Elders who will see the meaning through your eyes. It is theirs to bear what our people will do with what you see.”
“I just want to run.”
It was a short walk to the stream that ran next to the village. She took a worn path upstream to a favorite spot and settled next to where the stream cut a smaller channel. She knelt on her flat rock next to a still pool and peered into the water.
Water Jar saw herself running and smiled at the reflection. The gentle ripples made it seem as if she was running faster than she could and as if she barely touched the ground. She stared and realized she should not be smiling…there was no joy in this running. Her image slowly vanished, but there was still a runner there. A young man had taken her place and she could tell that he had been running for a long time. He bore the terrible news that she had given him.
She saw the people in the windows and doorways of a place she didn’t know…walls built below an overhang of a sheer cliff. It was an ancient place abandoned ages ago and now ruined. She didn’t recognize anyone, but knew they were her people. They were worn and scared.
They were hiding from strangers, people that must have been called up by the gods for punishment. People they didn’t know how to fight. People who were bringing the end of the world.
Part of my journey that brought this story and all these thoughts and daydreams had me traveling up the Jemez Valley, what is known as the San Diego Canyon. As hinted above, the name Jemez was a Hispanicization of what the pueblo people in the area called themselves—”the people” in the Tewa language still spoken in the Jemez Pueblo today. When they said “Hemish” to describe themselves, the early Spanish explorers heard “Jemez.”
Here I found the ancient Hemish village of Giusewa (pronounced Gee-eh-seh-wuh). The people came late to the valley, probably migrating away from drought stricken areas to the northwest in the Four Corners area. Giusewa was settled around A.D. 1500.
In the winter of 1540-41 it was as if an asteroid stuck the pueblo. Millennia-old patterns of puebloan living was forever altered. Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and his entourage of soldiers, Franciscan priests and Mexican-Indian auxiliaries set up camp near the present town of Bernalillo and sent exploratory parties throughout the region.
By the early 1600s life and culture had changed. The people were conscripted to build the Franciscan mission. In 1620 the Mission San José de los Jémez church was built with indigenous labor. The ruins of the church is still visible. The ruins of the lives irrevocably changed are harder to see—it takes a knowledge of the pre-invasion history and culture to compare that with those who remain—and then a subjective analysis.
I know what has gone before in this post is a long and rambling introduction to the following images. Thanks to those of you that took the time to scan though those thoughts. It’s not really necessary to understand how I think in order for you to get whatever enjoyment you can out of a few travelogue style photographs, but it does provide a bit of context. That we fell into some unfamiliar territory with the insertion of some historical fiction is just some added fun for me. I hope you enjoy the before and the after. Now for the after: What follows are images of the Jémez State Monument. It’s a place where you can wander on smooth concrete paths and think about all the time it took for you to get there. The immediate impression of the monument is that it’s all about the ruins of an early 17th century mission church. What strikes you more forcefully is that the church and its compound buildings overlay a much older indigenous way of life, still visible and still able to conjure what was and what might have been but for the accident of the wrong “India” getting in the way of the first Iberian explorers.
One more note before the photos: As I was leaving the site and exiting through the visitor center I overheard another guest, perhaps a retired midwestern vacationer, mention to the attendant that she had no idea that there was something so old as the remains of the church still there. The State Park ranger, in uniform and obviously a native, just looked at her. I could tell from his expression that he seemed to be biting his tongue. It didn’t take me long to figure out what he was thinking. He never answered her rhetorical thoughts, but what surely must have been churning in his brain was the history of his own people, and all the related tribes and families who occupied the broader region for more than 10,000 years.
A Mission Church
Except for a few stones and boulders displaced by erosion, weather and gravity, there is probably little change in the view of the canyon wall in all the time that there have been people in the canyon. Larger view is here.
As you might imagine, this particular post took some time to put together. It was a long time being thought about befoe it began to take shape. Choosing and preparing the photographs also takes a good deal of time. Many of you know that I endure some trouble with my eyes which has its own weird irony given the profession. It’s not until I get home from a journey or a photo shoot that I can evaluate if a something I took in the field is any good. A lot of what I do means taking my time. I think about what I want to do, then approach the composition with some deliberation. Some of what happens is a distillation of experience of more than 40 years of f/stops, aperture settings, lens choices, intuition and quite often, pure luck. So it’s a natural thing to think about tangential things in the slow process. Or maybe its just OCD behavior.
The original image of the Indian girl was a photo taken in 1905 by Edward Sheriff Curtis, 1868-1952, an intrepid photographer of the American West and of Native Americans. The girl’s name was Ah Chee Lo. You can see the original photo here. The photo resides in the Library of Congress and was copyrighted between 1905 and 1929 and the copyright was not renewed. Works copyrighted before 1923 are now in the public domain, thus it’s permissible to use the images without consideration of the constraints of Fair Use. It is also permissible to make derivative works of images that are in the public domain—which is what I’ve done with the lovely photograph. I took the outline of the image into Photoshop and painted it there with a broad watercolor brush, then toned it toward sepia. I hope you see it as it was intended, a respectful rendition of a master’s work to fit within the fictional narrative.
Running has a long history in the native cultures. It is part of the spirit of Native Americans that they embrace running for the sheer joy it brings for runners and spectators alike. You can read a short narrative of how the runners played a part in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, when many puebloan communities rebelled against the harsh Spanish colonial rule in northern New Mexico. That story is here.
all photos copyright © 2011 by barry b. doyle unless noted otherwise
all rights reserved
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