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I came across Greg Willis's spectacular photograph of the Reconstructed Kiva at Alcove House in the Bandelier National Monument and could not help but stop and study it. Certain emotions welded up out of me, making me wonder what others think, see, feel, smell, and taste when they view such a sight.
I’ll tell you what I see: A whole other culture as unfamiliar to most of us as life on Mars would be. Oh, we’ve seen photos and read snippets of history and believe we know all about those people. The Ancient Ones. The Anasazi. The Original People. But I sincerely doubt I would last a week living life on their level. True of most of us, I suspect.
My intent is not to recount the history of the Anasazi, but to explore images beyond what the camera caught. I see a people who -- for whatever reason -- abandoned their desert cities virtually en masse and took to the mountains and high canyons of the southwest to build homes and compounds and even whole towns in cliff caves and on rock shelves, bringing with them a culture that was already old.
When I look directly at the photo, I see what everyone else sees. A Kiva, a religious building, in the Jemez Mountains of modern-day New Mexico set against a truly dramatic backdrop of stone cliffs and a lush evergreen forest.
Let me tell you what else I see. I see a grandfather priest standing on top of the Kiva, shading his eyes as he watches his hunter-warrior son stride up the steep trail with a turkey over his shoulder, a kill to feed the family.
I envision a woman in an unadorned deerskin dress, her long black hair gathered on either side of her head by rawhide thongs. She holds a woven basket filled with ears of corn just retrieved from a nearby granary. She is smiling, pleased her husband has returned safely from a successful hunt.
I see a pre-teen boy and girl, bladder bags in hand, preparing to make their way down the long trail to reach the flowing stream on the floor of the canyon. Their task of descending and then climbing a vertical cliff is no less perilous than their father’s trek. But the family needs water.
I see laughter and contentment amid grumbling and discontent. I see generosity and greed lying side by side. I see pain. I see health. I see perils we will never know … just as we face dangers they could not imagine.
I smell the old man’s tobacco, probably smoked in the Kiva in a ritual manner, sweat from the warrior’s efforts, corn in the woman’s basket. I can almost taste dust and pollen swirled aloft by mountain breezes and pungent, bitter pine needles. Even a hint of wild flowers.
I hear the labor of the man as he climbs the steep trail, the soft breath of the woman as she watches him approach, the excitement of the children. The lowing whisper of evergreens waving branches before the wind. And from somewhere far, far away, comes the faint rush of water over mountain boulders.
I see a family of human beings living a perilous life on the steep side of a craggy mountain. A vanished people who are claimed as honored, somewhat mythical ancestors by thousands of descendants.
Please write and tell me what you see: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, thanks for reading.
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