Category Archives: Chimney Rock

The Upright Log and the Sun

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.

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The Matron of the Spring

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

The matron of the hot spring inspected new people as they arrived and assigned them a reed mat, a cloth of cotton, and a robe of cotton or animal skins, depending on their rank. When an arrival impressed her, she bestowed the buffalo robe to them.

When the latest old man came to soak in the hot water, she watched to see if he behaved as if a crazy spirit had replaced him, or if he carried himself with lucid wisdom. This one seemed aloof to the physical things going on around him, yet completely aware.

She handed the buffalo robe to him.

“I’m not worthy of a top robe,” he said. “I just wish to lie in the warmth and watch the sky for a few days.” He coughed and cleared his throat and struggled with his next words. “And wait for my grandson to return.”

The matron offered the robe to the old man’s companions, an unusual albino woman and a boy. The albino woman took it with a grateful nod. The boy turned and gazed at the highest mountain north of the hot spring.

The matron had seen this before. Old men from all the surrounding clans would bring their sons or grandsons to climb the peak of the mother of hot water, while they suspended their bodies and spirits in the fragrant waters and mud of the springs.

“He’s older than he looks,” the albino woman, called Nuva for “snow,” told the matron. They watched the boy, Tuwa, set off for the mountain in the first dim light of the next morning.

“I’ve seen smaller boys go to the mountain,” said the matron.

“Do they all return?”

“Most,” she said. “Very few fail. It is more difficult than dangerous. I myself have been close to the top.” She didn’t want to alarm this odd white woman who tended the regal old man. People who became panicked because their sons and grandsons did not return invariably failed to pay her, which meant less food and meat and clothing for her family.

When she learned they were from the Village of the Twin War Gods, and that Grandfather was its famous Sky Chief, she quietly made the other soakers leave the big pool to Grandfather alone. He lay in the heat with his head propped on folded animal skins and watched the sky without speaking.

Finally, the boy returned, staggering and babbling wildly, and the matron tried to appear to leave them in private while staying close enough to overhear. His story had more profound meaning than most, and she shrank from the blasphemy Grandfather spoke against Másaw, the great spirit preferred by the High Priest of Totec Canyon. Glad that no warriors were here from the canyon, she helped clean the mud from the old sky watcher and dry him off to prepare for their return walk to the Twin War Gods. She felt no personal allegiance to Totec Canyon and its new religion, but trouble would hurt her trade.

The Sky Chief approached the matron with a self-effacing bow. “You have helped the bones of this old man,” he said, and handed her a small plain pouch.

When they were on their way and out of sight, she shook the contents of the pouch into her hand: fifty well-worked turquoise beads. She quickly poured them back into the pouch and hid it between her breasts. She’d never received a richer payment.

She looked around, but no one watched her with any particular attention, and she thought about the boy’s story and the interpretation by his grandfather. Someday, she thought, this will become a problem. But she also felt obliged to the old sky watcher, his grandson, and the albino woman. Their generosity demanded it. She squinted in the bright sunlight to watch three new people approach her spring. People will always come here, she told herself. Regardless of changing leaders and religion and the unspeakable acts of warriors she heard whispered by her visitors. She just hoped that all of it left her spring and her people alone.

When the new visitors arrived, a skinny-legged old man, a woman, and a boy who said, “This place smells funny,” she handed the old man a worn cotton robe.

# # #

These are the hot springs of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and the Village of the Twin War Gods is the nearby Chimney Rock archaeological area. The peak climbed by the boy is Pagosa Peak, north of Pagosa Springs. “Pah-gosa” is Ute for “water boiling.”

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The Hoona Alliance

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

When the sun dagger pointed its blade of light at the mid-summer’s mark, the village chiefs from the Southern Alliance met with the village chiefs from the Northern and Western alliances. For a month, workers from the clans within the alliances scent stonemasons to build their ceremonial kivas in the foundation block of the Totec Canyon great house, which had been under construction for a generation.

Three days before the feasting began, each alliance responsible for one day, the Northern Alliance last, in honor of The People’s origins from the north.

But the true power discussions began hidden in a dim but cool back room of the great house, where the top chiefs and their top advisers smoked dried hoona plant supplied by the southerners. The first day they laughed uncontrollably and got nothing done. The second day they mastered their laughter but consumed all the sweet corn dumplings that had been prepared for the last day of the feast. The last day, they mastered their hunger and gave themselves new names.

Southern Horizon claimed he should rise to the top seat of power, and after a whispered conversation between Northern Star and Western Glow, they agreed, under the condition that special runners be sent to them during the snow-free months to keep them supplied with hoona plant.

“It will be so,” said Southern Horizon, standing to emphasize his rank over the others. “In exchange for hoona, those from the west will supply timbers for constructing this great house and those from the north will supply game and labor.”

Western Glow, his eyes glassy, said, “We will fell the timber, but you northerners must carry it.”

Northern Star, who had drunk a considerable quantity of corn beer in additional smoking several large bowls of hoona, said, “The clouds are dark,” and passed out.

Western Glow and Southern Horizon looked at him with envy and power-quaffed corn beer and kept bowls of hoona glowing until they, too, passed out. The advisers followed suit, save for one, a straight thin man with a crude tattoo on his forehead showing a full moon rising between two columns of stone. He stood as still as a column of stone until the light faded with evening and Southern Horizon woke with a start and sat up. He blinked his eyes at the standing man.

“Who are you to be standing over us?”

“I am Kwa, sky watcher from the Village of the Twin War Gods.”

“Sit down before you embarrass yourself.”

“I stand.”

“Sit down!” Southern Horizon bellowed with such volume that it woke the others except for a couple of advisers.

“What?” asked Western Glow. Northern Star glared at Kwa, but said nothing.

“This inferior sky watcher has the nerve to stand over us,” said Southern Horizon.

Western Glow rubbed his eyes and looked at Kwa. “What is the meaning of this?”

“I have something to tell you,” said Kwa.

“We discussed this,” said Northern Star. “Now is not the time.”

“Now is the time,” said Kwa. “I am leaving now. I have more important duties back at the Twin War Gods.”

Northern Star made a slashing gesture, indicating he cut himself off from anything Kwa might do.

“Supplicants must come to us on their knees,” said Southern Horizon, his voice as rough as gravel.

“Through the cliffs of the Twin War Gods,” said Kwa, “I have recorded the movement of the moon over eighteen-and-one-half years, when it repeats its cycle.” Kwa spoke with his chin up and did not make eye contact with anyone. “Falcons, messengers to the stars, nest on the cliff faces of the Twin War Gods. There is more there to see and learn of the spirits in the sky. In lieu of logs and labor, we will offer knowledge of what we know of the sky spirits.”

Southern Horizon shook his head. “We have the light daggers on Sun Mesa. We need no more knowledge.”

“As you wish,” said Kwa. He turned to go.

“Wait,” said Northern Star. “He is wrong to be so brash, but what he says is important.”

Southern Horizon made a hawk-and-spit sound.

“I will trade labor for your knowledge,” said Northern Star.

Western Glow looked from Northern Star to Southern Horizon, and finally nodded. “I will trade logs for your sky spirit knowledge.”

“And I will not trade hoona for your insolence,” said Southern Horizon.

Kwa looked them each in the eye then and held their gaze. Southern Horizon looked away quickly and pouted. Northern Star narrowed his eyes, but finally nodded. Western Glow held his look only a moment before nodding and looking away.

“We will build a bonfire when anything of significance happens,” said Kwa. “If you are interested, send runners.” With that he left their presence and did not look back.

# # #

I use Twin War Gods a lot in these stories. Do you realize this means a pair of twin cliffs or spires, known in the present day as Chimney Rock, Colorado (see the picture at the top of my blog)? Or am I losing people by this reference?

Note: Hoona is derived from the Hopi word for “intoxicate,” hoonaqtoyna. Kwa is derived from kwa(’at), in which the ’ indicates a glottal stop, and which means “Grandfather.” Kwa is the father of the main character of my novel, called “Grandfather.”

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Blue

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

Blue, Chumana thought and opened her eyes. Only the sound of Nuva breathing from her sleeping mat at the other corner and the faintest of orange twinkles in the fire gave the room depth in the blackness.

But in her mind, she felt a crystalline blue unlike anything she’d experienced in life, unlike anything the desert world of Totec Canyon had to offer.

Once as a child in the forest of the northern mountains, he father had brought her a bird and in its eye lived a liquid blue like what woke her mind.

She sat upright, crossed her legs, and let her backbone sag. She matched her breathing to Nuva’s sleep rhythm and in her mind two figures appeared in her blue bubble. She knew them: Tuwa and Choovio grown into men. They stood on a mesa overlooking Totec Canyon. Tuwa raised his arm and waved, and blue sand filled the canyon until nothing but a mound of blue remained. Tuwa had no choice, she thought without understanding, yet still he seemed sad. He turned and walked north, Choovio following, until they disappeared.

“You’re going home,” Chumana said to Tuwa’s back.

“What?” asked Nuva in drowsy alarm.

“Nothing.”

“Who’s going home?”

Chumana breathed deep and played the blue scene again through her mind, and then she told it to Nuva.

They sat in silence until Chumana heard the sounds of early cooks in the other rooms.

“What does it mean?” asked Chumana. “Will Tuwa ever come back? And what is the blue?”

“The color of the sky when it is not dark or blinded by noonday sun,” said Nuva. “Tuwa is a skywatcher. His power is the sky. He will use his power to snuff out everything that is not of the sky in Totec Canyon.”

“And then he’ll go home.”

“And we will go with him.”

“Oh, I hope so. I hope so.”

“We will. You have seen it.”

“I didn’t see us go with him.”

“Do you think he will go without you? I know what’s in the boy’s heart. It’s always been you, Chumana.”

“Unless he doesn’t know I live and that I’m here.”

“Then we must find a way to make him know.”

“How?”

“I don’t know.”

Someone unloaded an armload of firewood onto the floor in the cooking room down the hallway.

“You’ll see a way,” said Nuva.

“I’ll dream of blue,” whispered Chumana. “He will come to me in blue.”

# # #

Does the eye of the bird help your mental image, or is it extraneous?

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Albino Promenade

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

Grandfather introduced the albino woman, Nuva, by slow-step promenade through the village, the infant Tuwa clutched in the arms of his new surrogate mother. There being no ceremony for such a thing, Grandfather improvised.

He proceeded from his house nearest the dual sandstone spires that rose like steeples from the northeastern edge of the mesa, and wound his way along every pathway past every dwelling.

At the house of the top farmer lived the eldest woman, Wooti, grandmother to the farmer. She’d heard the twitter of the children as they ran and hid and peeped to watch Grandfather and the strange white woman.

Wooti studied Nuva’s red eyes and her hands and legs, and then turned her back. Grandfather stopped.

“Wooti,” Grandfather said.

“You bring us a witch?” she asked without facing Grandfather.

“I bring a mother for my grandson.”

“You bring us a witch.” A statement this time.

“I would not and have not brought anything to this village that will do us harm. Do you doubt my judgment?”

Wooti’s hands dropped to her side. “I have never until now.”

“Nuva is no witch!” Grandfather’s voice rose in anger.

Wooti turned to Grandfather. “Do not shout at me, old man. I have as much sense as you do, and your white woman is infected with … something not good.” She glanced at Nuva, then turned her back again, arms across her chest.

Grandfather stood, the village quiet but for the gargling calls of turkeys and the barking of a dog in the woods below. The infant fussed and Nuva comforted him. Grandfather stood until Wooti uncrossed her arms and her shoulders sagged.

“The something that is not good isn’t here among us,” Grandfather said so low he might have been speaking only to himself. Wooti turned her head to point her right ear toward him. “It is down there,” he said with a single nod to the south, “and it is growing.”

Grandfather began again his slow walk and all the women in the circle of Wooti, her family clan and her friends, turned their backs on Nuva, but Grandfather did not stop and said not another word.

# # #

Did any words pull you out of the setting or time of the story?

Note: The name Wooti is derived from the Hopi word wuyòoti, which means “get old.”  The dual sandstone spires are those of Chimney Rock, Colorado, the northeasternmost outlier of the Anasazi culture centered in Chaco Canyon.

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Anasazi Runner

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

Note: This is a sketch made in preparation for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). My working title is “Anasazi Runner.” Synopsis: Native American boy abandoned at birth and raised by white parents is inspired when he visits Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and becomes, in his mind, an Anasazi runner who completes the world’s first sub-two-hour marathon.

# # #

“Kira thinks I’m Navajo like her.”

“Do you think you’re Navajo like her?”

Sean leaned across the table so others wouldn’t hear and mumbled, “No, I don’t.”

I looked around the restaurant. All white people but for one toothless guy of uncertain ancestry in the corner. I knew the Elkhorn cook was Navajo. The waitress, Jicarilla Apache. And the owner had a Ute grandfather. Always made me laugh to think of the cultural tangle inside that place.

Sean obviously didn’t want to be overheard, so I piped down to his level. “You tell her you think that?”

His eye went out the window and he half-shrugged. He shook his head.

“Why not?”

“I think she wants me to be Navajo. I think maybe she thinks she can make me into a Navajo.”

“You could be Navajo, I guess. Nobody knows.”

He tensed and pulled his cheeks back as if in pain. “I just don’t feel like it.”

I scratched my neck and blinked. I didn’t really know how to empathize with that kind of deep identity feeling. Generations of white-trash ancestors had bred all that out of me. “You show her your mamma’s disk?”

When his birth mother had died in the car wreck, she’d been wearing some kind of ceramic disk on her stomach, held in place by a leather thong. His adoptive parents gave it to him when he turned eighteen. It was the only thing he had that connected him to his mother.

Spirit-Puller

Spirit-Puller

He nodded. Good, I thought. Hiding things from your girlfriend isn’t a good sign. “She said I should put it back,” he said.

That shocked me, but the Jicarilla waitress brought us cups and coffee just then. I watched how she eyed Sean, but she didn’t do anything unusual. I always tried to notice how other Native Americans treated him. We ordered the usual, a half-dozen scrambled eggs with dry wheat toast for Sean, and a bowl of oatmeal and raisins for me.

I leaned closer to him when she left. “What does that mean, ‘put it back’?”

“She thinks it’s some kind of spirit-puller from the ancestral enemies.”

“Ancestral enemies? That’s what Anasazi means in Navajo. She thinks it’s Anasazi?”

He nodded. We drank coffee, not looking at each other. I didn’t expect that. I thought that disk had a modern usage and meaning. It looked old, but not ancient.

“Do you ever feel like it’s pulling something to you?”

Sean looked out the window at tourists taking pictures of the glistening mineral mound of one of the hot springs. “Kind of,” he said. “When I run. I feel this lightness in my chest. Like something is pulling me faster than I’m going.”

He drifted into silence, but I needed more than that. “Only when you’re running? Like a vision?”

Softly, almost to himself, he said, “Like I’m a runner for the king or top priest or whatever they had.”

“An Anasazi Runner.”

He nodded for a long time.

# # #

This is my last National Novel Writing Month piece. Thanks for hanging in here with me as I shifted from historical fiction to present-day fiction. It’s been a fun ride.

A note about the image of the spirit-puller: It’s actually an Inuit carving in a piece of mammoth ivory that became exposed from the melting permafrost. It’s not ancient at all.

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Race for a Spirit

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

Note: This is a sketch made in preparation for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). My working title is “Anasazi Runner.” Synopsis: Modern-day Native American boy abandoned at birth and raised by white parents is inspired when he visits Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and becomes, in his mind, an Anasazi runner who completes the world’s first sub-two-hour marathon.

# # #

I stood in a raw wind outside Arboles, Colorado, waiting for Sean O’Brien to come out of the trailer house parked close to a Navajo Hogan. I hadn’t seen him since high school and I didn’t know if I’d recognize him. Those particular six years change people a good deal.

But I knew him the moment he stepped out, followed by a girl. His black hair had grown long and tasseled in the wind, but the way he carried his body played a chord of recognition inside me. Id’ watched this boy run countless miles, talked to him for hours in places where he’d go to hide from people, become something like an uncle and a best friend to him. But then he and his parents disappeared. Angus O’Brien took a job in St. Louis, people said. I figured I’d never hear from him again, like I did with most of my students.

His call surprised me and we talked for an hour before we realized we were less than an hour’s drive from each other. So I went to him, following directions he relayed to me from the girl.

“Is she pregnant?” I’d asked.

He hesitated on the phone and I imagined him reluctant to say anything she would hear. “I’ll talk to you when you get here,” he said and hung up.

The whole drive there, following streams out of the high mountains that joined the San Juan River to run west into the Colorado, I thought about what kind of trouble he’d gotten into making a Navajo girl pregnant. Made sense, somehow, I thought. The boy had no more “O’Brien” in his blood than I had African in mine. He could pass for Navajo. Maybe that’s where his birth parents came from. Maybe that strange ceramic disk his birth mother they found taped to her swollen belly after she died somehow led him here.

I went to shake Sean’s hand as he approached, watching his eyes to see what I could make of his thoughts, but he blew past my outstretched hand and bear-hugged me, rocking me back against my truck door. I wrapped my arms around him. Though still wiry and shorter than most, he’d filled out and his shoulders felt solid and strong.

Sean backed up and seemed to realize he’d greeted me a little too enthusiastically. His eyes squinted and reminded me again of an Eskimo in a blinding snowfield.

“Coach,” he said. “This is Kira. Kira Bai.”

I’d no idea how to spell that last name, but I didn’t need to. She had classic Navajo cheeks and nose, black hair the same length as Sean’s, and straight legs, unlike the bowed legs I’d seen, especially among the Utes and the Hopi. I detected no thickening of her waist. If she’s pregnant, it’d just happened. I shook her hand and she smiled.

“I’ve got lots to tell you,” said Sean, inviting me into the trailer. Kira made instant coffee with sugar, which I drank reluctantly. At home, nothing but real coffee passed my lips.

The talk turned quickly to running. “You look good,” said Sean. “Have you been running?”

I had indeed. A lot, for an old man. Five or six miles up Fourmile Road five or six days a week, though my knees had begun to complain, especially on the downhills. “Not bad for a sixty-seven-year-old geezer, is it?” Then I asked about him, what he runs.

“Oh, I’m not training right at all. I just run because I have to here.” He lightly thumped his lower chest with his fist, a gesture I’d never seen from him before. I wondered where he’d learned it.

“And yet you came in eleventh in the Denver marathon? Is that what you said on the phone?”

Sean nodded.

“And he could have won it,” Kira said. “But he backed off.”

“Why?” He’d told me over the phone, but I wanted to see the answer in his face.

His Eskimo eyes and cheeks scrunched into misery. He opened his hands wide and spoke to the floor. “I got … I didn’t want people looking at … I didn’t want all that attention. It’s hard to explain.”

“And yet you asked me to help you win one. Why?”

He opened his mouth, but Kira answered for him. “Because he won’t have a spirit until he does.”

I looked from her to him. “You’ll have to explain that to me. I’m too much white guy or something.”

Kira looked at Sean, almost with pity I thought, then she looked back to me. “He has no identity. He’s not Sean O’Brien, you can tell that by looking at him. He needs an identity, a spirit force that will tell him who he is. If he doesn’t get that, he’ll just be a ghost.”

He looked at me with sad almond-shaped eyes. I knew he’d always suffered with his identity, a lost brown-skinned boy in a white world. But I wondered if he could truly get one from running a race. Depended on a lot of things, I knew. But I’d worked with him before. I didn’t feel it in me to deny him.

I drained my instant coffee and nodded. “Worth a try, I guess.” Sean smiled and looked at Kira, who seemed pleased with herself.

# # #

I wrote this before National Novel Writing Month began, so I should be about half-finished with the fast novel by now (I’m actually at about 60,000 words; I’ve been on fire). I welcome any thoughts you may have.

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