An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.
After the fall harvest and before the big snows, Grandfather directed the men of the village to find a long straight log and hundreds of stones as large as a man could carry. For weeks, they worked and sang and laughed. Children played among them and women kept them well fed and watered.
Grandfather had them erect the log on a spot he had chosen with great care, all the stones stacked in a cone at its base to hold it upright.
A week before the winter solstice, he pointed to the Mesa Ridge to the West. “Natwani,” he said, and a short man with massive shoulders and chest stepped forward. He grew the best crops each year and served as captain of the archers. “Take three men and cross to the mesa top there.” He made Natwani site from the log to the crest of the cliff opposite to precisely find his spot.
Natwani memorized the features of the place, then turned and looked at the horizon in the opposite direction, imagining what the pointing-up log would have as its eastern backdrop. Then he nodded to Grandfather.
“On the morning of the standstill of the sun,” which is when the sunrise moves no further south at the winter solstice, “mark the spot where the sunrise and this log line up. Make a place where only one man can stand between cairns of stone we can easily find next year. I will light a signal fire here the night before the solstice sunrise — but you can count it as the seventh sunrise starting tomorrow.”
Natwani nodded again. He understood what the old man wanted, and he wanted it too. From the time of the winter standstill of the sun, they could count days and watch the movement of the sun to know when they must plant the year’s crop. They lived in a place with a tight growing season, barely long enough most years for one good harvest of corn. Planting a week early or late could cost them dearly.
Fat flakes of snow fell the next morning when he set off with another man and his son, Choovio, who had grown nearly as strong as his father.
“Why does that crazy old man make us do these things?” Choovio asked as they crunched through the new snowfall.
“What makes the corn grow?” asked Natwani.
“What does that have to do with it?”
Natwani said nothing. They waded across the small river at a shallow place, the rippling near-freezing water stinging them to their thighs. They dried their feet and pulled on their foot coverings and leggings they had carried on their shoulders across the water, then began ascending the mesa, which warmed them.
“Sunlight and warmth and water,” answered Choovio.
“Yes,” said Natwani. “And more. You know. Go on.”
Choovio sighed. His father wanted him to answer like a child reciting after his teacher. “And the spirit of the sun must touch the spirit of the earth and then each go back to their separate places and the corn grows between.” Every child and villager knew this. But it didn’t explain why they had to go spend a week on a cold ridge top.
“When the winter sun stands still, when the sun rises in the same place for days in a row, that is when the sun and the earth come together. Grandfather wants us to see it more clearly so that we can better thank the sun and the earth when they are closest together, and they will not be offended, and so our crops will grow.”
“Couldn’t we just do that from the village?”
At the top of the ridge, Natwani found the place he wanted to be, the standing stick near Grandfather’s sky-watching platform pointing to the cleft in the eastern mountains where he expected the sun to rise seven mornings hence.
They gathered enough stones before nightfall to build a low wall that blocked the cold wind, and they huddled for warmth. The next morning, they watched the sun come up near the cleft.
“Just watch and learn, my son,” said Natwani to Choovio. “Someday soon the wisdom of manhood will come to you, and you will understand.”
Choovio felt too cold to care whether he understood anything ever again, but the following mornings he noticed how slowly the sun crept into the cleft until it seemed to stand still. The morning after they saw Grandfather’s signal fire, the whole world seemed to come to a halt, the wind died and the little river stopped rushing, and the only signs of movement came from The People in the village.
Natwani lined the upright log with the first appearance of the sun and marked the spot carefully, then he raised his hands in welcome and Choovio, feeling a strange rush of power, joined him.
# # #
On the sharp ridge due west of Chimney Rock, Colorado (the northeasternmost outlier of the Anasazi culture near Pagosa Springs) are many sites that appear to have been used by the ancient ones to use the twin columns of Chimney Rock like a gun sight to view celestial events with precision. When they couldn’t look through the twin columns, perhaps they raised logs upright to use as sighting guides.