An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.
Lines gridded their world. The perpetual line of the North Star and the seasonal lines of the north-south limit of sunrises and sunsets sliced their plane of existence into six cardinal directions. These lines rationalized the known into sections that counterbalanced the chaotic natural forces that perpetually threatened to starve them into extinction.
Grandfather thought about and noticed these things more than most men. His father and grandfather before him watched and recorded and interpreted the movements of everything they could see in the sky, and Grandfather continued their work with a persistence that defined him.
As a child, he’d searched for every location where the first and last light of the sun shone through V-shaped notches, making dots and blades on cliff faces where he chipped marks to follow the movement of the light over time. At night, he sat with his father and grandfather as they plotted the less regular, more complex movements of the wandering stars, the slow north-south progression of the moon, eclipses of the sun and moon, and the eerie and rare appearances of the long-haired stars.
As a small child, he remembered his grandfather holding him close and pointing to a long-haired star that stretched across the sky. “I did not see this when it came the last time because I was not yet born,” the old man whispered. “But my father did, and the string records show us that it comes every seventy-six years. If you live for a very, very long time, you will see it again.”
The string record kept the information alive across generations. Grandfather didn’t know who had devised the system, and each line of skywatchers had their variations, but the jar with the string record became the most guarded possession of not only the skywatcher who kept it, but the entire village that supported the skywatchers like priests or monks.
When the albino woman, Nuva, came to care for Grandfather’s infant grandson, she began to learn how to keep the strings.
“This,” Grandfather explained to her, fingering the cotton strings that resembled tatting, “is where the long-haired star appeared when I was a child.” He pulled a long section from the jar. “This is seventy-six years earlier when it appeared before that.” He removed the rest of the string, the entirety of the record. “And this is where it appeared seventy-six years before that.”
He stretched out and hung the entire string from the walls of his pit house with Nuva’s help, its knotted side strings hanging like bangs from the central string. It wrapped around the room nearly two times. Grandfather showed her how to tie the knots for full moons and how much distance to leave between the wandering stars and how to mark eclipses and the regular annual limits of the sunrises and sunsets.
“With the circle of stones that mark direction,” he said, “and this string record, which marks time, we can predict almost everything about what the spirits of the sky are going to do next.”
“What if something happened to this string? If somebody lost it or it burned up?” Nuva asked.
“Then it would be like a whole line of skywatchers had never lived.”
With that, Nuva gently removed the long string from the wall and coiled it into the jar and replaced the lid.
Grandfather smiled at her reverence, then they both smiled at the infant, Tuwa, who gurgled and blew spit bubbles, the latest in the long string of skywatchers.
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Question for readers: Is the front section before you get into the “story” too long?
Note: While there is no evidence to my knowledge that the Anasazi used such strings, their contemporaries in Central and South America certainly did so. See the book Narrative Threads for more information (it’s worth following the link just to see the photograph on the cover). It’s also worth noting that early Spanish-Catholic missionaries burned enormous piles of these strings, making it as if a long line of these ancient people had never lived. –JP