Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Greetings, readers! I'm just back from a most enchanting stay in the Land of Enchantment... New Mexico! It was a wonderful week, full of adventure and exploration, and although I'm on a strict budget, I brought back some neat items, costing little or nothing, that I had been hoping to find.
Although much of the land there is quite arid, wherever there is water, there will be giant, majestic Cottonwood trees. They are called "Paako" (meaning "water wood") by the Hopi Indians on account of their ability to seek out and find water. The Hopi use the roots of the cottonwood tree to make "Kachinas", intricately carved and decorated representations of benevolent Hopi spirit helpers that are given to children as teaching tools. While Kachinas are still an integral part of the Hopi way of life, the beauty and artistry of the carved figures did not escape the eye of outsiders, and eventually Hopi artisans began carving Kachinas to sell in the tourist markets. Today, finely carved Kachinas worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars are sought out by avid collectors, and more simply crafted Kachinas are carried all over the world by visitors to New Mexico and Arizona eager to take with them a beautiful and meaningful reminder of the spirit of the southwest.
Having grown up largely in Arizona and New Mexico, I've been familiar with Kachinas for years, but rather than buying one from a curio shop, I thought it might be a fun and informative experience to try to carve my own. I am grateful to my brother-in-law for conveying his knowledge of the craft (which is considerable!) and to my nephew, who guided me through a grand forest of Cottonwoods towards some that had fallen, allowing access to the sacred roots from which traditional Kachinas are carved. I hope to keep readers apprised of my progress when I begin the project, but first I will do some more research and decide what figure I should like to depict! As Ive done in earlier posts, I would like to direct anyone interested in Kachinas and Hopi culture towards another website, rather than clutter up the Internet with redundant and possibly incomplete information.... the Guide to Hopi Kachina Dolls does a far better job of explaining Kachinas than I could hope to do here.
Pictured at the top of this post are two of the four Cottonwood roots I carried back to Providence with me. I was also very happy to be able to gather up a nice ball of sticky, fragrant resin from some Piñon pine trees in Taos that I will likely use as a natural adhesive or varnish in some project or other. One of my favorite ways to evoke the spirit of New Mexico here on the east coast is to light a log of Piñon wood incense from Incienso de Santa Fe. The aroma of burning Piñon and Cedar woods wafting on a crisp, cool breeze through an ancient pueblo is something anyone can experience by picking up a box of this incense!
When traveling from Santa Fe to Taos (something anyone visiting the Land of Enchantment is apt to do) a worthwhile diversion may be had by exiting the highway and making ones way along a scenic, winding road towards the small village of Chimayo. Here, nestled within a valley in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, you will find New Mexico's most visited chapel, the Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas, commonly called the Santuario de Chimayo. The current chapel was built in 1816 to house a miraculous crucifix that was found when a Chimayo Friar performing penances noticed a burst of light issuing forth from a nearby hillside. The friar began digging where he had seen the flash, and uncovered the crucifix which, although it was removed and taken to another chapel in the village of Santa Cruz 3 times, miraculously reappeared in the original hole in Chimayo each time. Today, thousands of people make pilgrimages to the chapel to view the crucifix and kneel and scoop dirt that is believed to have curative powers from the original hole in which that crucifix was found. I was among those thousands, and feel honored to have had the opportunity to collect and bring home a sample of this much revered dirt. Following are a few pictures from the Santuario:
Exterior of Chapel
Hole in which the miraculous crucifix was found, and from which pilgrims may take a scoop of alleged curative dirt.
Finally... worthwhile southwestern souvenirs need not be expensive; This fun image was printed on a paper bag from a gift shop. Cut out and framed, I think it would make a very fetching decorative print!