The day began and ended with a moon so big and orange it looked unreal, beyond natural, godlike: something to worship, for how could something so strange not be holy?
In the morning, as I drove down to meet the others at 7 a.m., the setting moon was about to touch the western horizon, oval as a big squashed orange. I stopped the pickup and said, “Oh!”
In the evening, as we drove wearily home at dusk, there she was again, rising: weird, enormous, still infinitesimally touching the purple mountains. We came over a rise in the road and all together said, “Oh!“
Later they switched moons on us and there was only that little cold dime, high in the sky.
One: two-tracks, the dusty, lonely roads that follow the contours of the West. The one above reminds me of a long-ago hike taken from the low road to Zuni.
Two: hiking high and wild, to beat the heat and get up where breathing is a pleasure. Lately that has meant the Jemez Mountains, raked over by wildfires but springing up green with the monsoon rains. We just missed the wild raspberries: the bears got there first.
An illustration for Dr. Patricia Crown of the University of New Mexico, showing the technique presumably used a thousand years ago by the inhabitants of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, to froth a drink made from cacao traded up from Mexico. Arguing the details with three archaeologists and four Pueblo consultants took six weeks and about fifty emails. Love this kind of dialogue!
And yes, the woman has six toes. A mutation that shows up archaeologically and may be associated with high status.
The story of chocolate in Chaco is fascinating. Here’s Dr. Crown’s brief introduction to it:
More of my favorite kind of illustration, historical recreation:
Shining and blackest black: the obsidian of the Jemez Mountains at one of its prehistoric sources.
The closest road had been closed for years—at least since the Las Conchas fire in 2011—and was blocked by the enormous trunks of dozens of burned and wind-fallen Ponderosas. We hiked the dusty three miles in.
For thousands of years, prehistoric miners knocked down big cobbles of obsidian into pieces more easily carried to distant pueblos, where they would be knapped into knives, scrapers, projectile points. What is left is debitage; whole acres of mesa glitter with a pavement of black glass.
A local group, “Art as Antibodies” asked for pieces about how we’re coping with the Covid lockdown. I sent a painting of the wide and windy desert, which is how—and where—I cope. Not covidy enough, they said. So I sent a corvid.
Slot canyons are spooky, mysterious, intimate. Ravens nest along the rim. When you emerge from the dark strictures of a slot canyon you feel reborn.
Beautiful hiking. Winter has lost its bite, but it’s still too cool for snakes. We crawled all over a Triassic-Jurassic hillside full of red and yellow ochre. We’ll take some to our Zuni friend Tim Edaakie, a traditional potter:
On a ridge in the low hills near the highway, a micaceous mano rested like an Easter egg in a nest of cobbles nearly the same size and shape. It was Archaic, a rounded lozenge with one smooth and one pecked side. There in its stone nest it will stay, with the hill slowly eroding out from under it.
A good dozen bushtits fussed and tsp-ed and fidgeted in the juniper. I sat very still. They seemed not to notice me, coming and going in a cloud like midges.
One red pebble.
Betsy James on Writing, Art, and Walking in the Desert