Tag Archives: Chaco Canyon

A Clash of Delegates

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

The two visiting dignitaries ignored each other as they performed their morning rituals to welcome and encourage the coming of the sun. They offered cornmeal and corn pollen to the sunrise, they chanted ancient words, and they acknowledged the four directions that became six when they called to the underworld and the above-ground world.

They also listened carefully to each other and noticed the differences.

“You give much emphasis to the underworld,” said the delegate from the North as they walked together back to the great house of the High Priest.

“You give much emphasis to the above-world,” said the delegate from the South.

“All things come from the sky: the warmth of sun, the water for life, the wisdom of moon and stars.”

“Yet The People crawled up from below into this world. The underworld is our womb, our mother.”

“The People were born of the earth and the underworld, it is true. But once born, no one returns to the womb.”

“You are wise and speak truth — but neither does one, once born, fail to honor one’s mother.”

“You are wise and speak truth as well. But while to honor one’s mother is a requirement for balance, men also must raise their heads and recognize the higher spirits of the sky.”

“To recognize the sky is without question necessary for balance. But the superior spirit force resides in the underworld, there must be no question.”

“There must always be question,” said the man from the North, feeling anger within him. “The proof of superiority lies solely with the health and happiness of The People. The spirits of the underworld give their bounty only grudgingly, with the constant urging of Father Sun and gentle rain.”

The man from the South also felt the heat of anger rise into his head. “The spirit of the underworld does nothing begrudgingly. All that we have, our buildings and our tools and our food, have their roots, their beginnings, in the underworld. It is right and proper to worship Másaw as the supreme spirit.”

The man from the North stopped and the man from the South took two paces, then turned to face him. The Northerner narrowed his eyes and said, “The Plumed Serpent of above-ground, of the air and the sky, is, and has always been, the supreme spirit.”

Without speaking further, they stood, each trying to be more stoic than the other, until a page said they were wanted in the great kiva with the High Priest and the other delegates.

“Events will prove who is right,” said the Southerner.

The Northerner nodded. “It is out of our hands.”

# # #

We can only speculate, of course, about the religious tendencies of the Anasazi, and extrapolate, perhaps, from their living descendants. But something significant happened in and around Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, a thousand years ago that made these people build the largest buildings in North America (until the 1800s in New York) and then abandon them. Religion could have been a primary driving force.

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Waking the High Priest

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey

“I will not wake him,” said the Owl Man.

“Who, then?” asked the warrior.

Both were the most junior and newest members of the High Priest’s house, and they were the only ones left on duty in the hours before first light. Both knew what happened to the last ones to wake the High Priest.

“Pok,” said the Owl Man. “Pok should wake him because he is in charge of protecting this canyon.”

“I will not wake Poke,” said the warrior. He knew the order: do not disturb the Chief Warrior.

“They must know,” said the Owl Man who had been with the High Priest’s house more than a moon longer than the young warrior.

“So who do we tell?”

The Owl Man’s eyes darted from side to side. “If we do not say anything soon, they will be the last to know. That will be worse than waking them.”

“Maybe we should wait until it’s visible from here,” said the warrior. “In case they want proof.”

The Owl Man eyed him. He has a good point, he thought. “You are right. We have not even seen this new star. We just have the runner’s word from the High House.”

“Runners do not lie. If he said he saw it, he saw it.” The warrior stood tall to emphasize his thumb-width’s height advantage over the Owl Man. “But maybe it will go away before it rises over the canyon wall.”

“I am not a skywatcher,” said the Owl Man. “I do not know these things.”

They stood quietly, both their eyes searching from side to side in the darkness, looking for an answer, a way to do their duty and not risk their necks.

The Owl Man sighed. He glanced at the orange flicker of the dying signal fire from the High House. The risk of not telling the High Priest about the unexpected appearance of a new star in the sky began to seem more grave than merely waking him. He sighed again.

“We must tell someone,” said the warrior.

“I will wake the High Priest,” said the Owl Man. He looked at the rim where he expected the new star to appear along with a sliver of moon, but he saw only the usual smudges of light. “I will wake the High Priest,” he said again. He looked at the warrior who held his gaze a moment, then nodded.

“And I will wake Pok,” said the warrior.

The Owl Man and the warrior both nodded, but they stood without taking a step in the chilly morning air.

# # #

Am I too obscure about the new star? Just for the record, it’s the Taurus supernova that exploded into the Crab Nebula, visible on earth as the brightest object in the sky (other than the sun and the moon) for about a month beginning on July 4, 1054. Imagine being down in Chaco Canyon and reports come in about this new star, but you can’t see it yet because its not risen above the canyon rim. Would you wake the High Priest before you actually saw it?

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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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Sumtovi, Son of the High Priest

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

Before the High Priest came to power, a long line of sky chiefs declared the supremacy of the center place as defined by the movements of the sun and moon and stars. This, they claimed, meant that the sky gods insisted upon the ruler of The People to reside in a specific site inside Totec Canyon.

But the sky chiefs ruled by knowledge rather than power. When refugees from collapsing societies far to the south arrived in the villages south of the canyon, the man who became the High Priest saw the potential of skilled warriors. He enlisted the help of Pok in channeling the ultra-violence of the southern refugee warriors into a revolutionary force that crushed the dynasty of the sky chiefs and took control of the entire region. The southern villages outside Totec Canyon embraced the new guard, and they formed the Southern Alliance.

Cracks in the solidarity of the Southern Alliance first appeared in the Village of Black Stone, childhood home of the High Priest, and the place to which Pok migrated from the north. Sumtovi, eldest son of the High Priest, believed he should lead the Másaw warriors, not Pok.

“He is not even from the South,” Sumtovi argued to his father. “His blood is that of the sky watchers!”

“I need you here. I must have unquestioned support from my own home village.” He had just been elevated to High Priest by enthusiastic acclamation of the Southern Alliance, with reluctant assent by the weaker alliances to the west and north. The east had been left intentionally uninhabited to give the rising sun unfettered approach to Totec Canyon.

“Pok will turn against you,” Sumtovi said. Age had not yet softened his anger.

“You want to sit with me in power in the Great House, I know that,” said the High Priest. “But you can do me far more good here.”

“But who will protect you from Pok? He will turn on you. He is loyal to nothing and no one.”

“That is exactly why he is right to be the top Másaw Warrior. He believes only in the power of violence, and all subtle things are lost on him. He has no allies and no friends, he has killed every wife and child given him, and he dismisses every god but the one of war. His warriors fear and therefore respect him. Yet he has no spiritual power. I will rule that realm completely.”

“But how will you protect yourself from him?”

“You and the Southern Alliance will protect me from him. And the household workers I select. Never underestimate the power of the cook, my son. A few choice herbs from a plant master placed into food can make a man do almost anything.”

“Then perhaps I should be there to protect you from your cook.”

The High Priest laughed and slapped his son on the shoulder. “You become the supreme leader of this village and the first voice in the Southern Alliance Council, and I will become the supreme spiritual ruler of Totec Canyon. That’s how we will gain and hold the most power. That will protect us. Pok is just a tool.”

Sumtovi sighed, then agreed. He watched his father and his large entourage leave for a new life at the Great House, just recently cleansed of the sky watchers by Pok and his army. Sumtovi vowed to find every way he could to keep track of Pok and to protect his father.

# # #

This is a completely different take on Sumtovi than in last week’s FridayFlash. It feels more solid to me as an element in my bigger story. If you read last week’s story, what do you think?

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Sumtovi Sends a Spy

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

The perfect gathering of men, two times the six directions, sat knee-to-knee in the round room, a glowing fire in the center. Twelve groups of twelve attendants camped in a ring around the underground room, eyeing each other, waiting for the first to break protocol and begin the exchange of news and gossip. The twelve largest villages in the six directions, each without its leader and top twelve men, were themselves surrounded by small clan villages of farmers. The younger farmers, especially, resented the tribute they paid of more than half their crops. Nothing particularly good happened when they delivered their contributions, but if they should fail to satisfy the High Priest, they suffered punishment more horrible than anything in their long tradition — entire villages destroyed by crazed warriors.

Like their attendants above ground, the council of twelve sat in silence, waiting for the first man to speak. No chief ruled them. No administrator cajoled them. No servants waited on them.

“I have a matter,” said one. All eyes went to the man, Sumtovi, chief of the Village of Dark Stone, the closest to Totec Canyon, the center of their world. “In the Great House of our High Priest, the woman he calls his Goddess of the Future and an albino healer woman advise him behind our backs. We must do something.”

“What do you propose?” asked another elder.

“We need a spy who will tell us what these women are doing and if they are misleading our High Priest,” said Sumtovi.

The men of the council agreed having more information made sense. One of them spoke a question. “What do we do if we discover they are evil of heart and are working to undermine our High Priest? And what do we do if they are good for him?”

Another elder from the village farthest to the south said, “If they are good, we should bring them to the council and find out what they know. If they are evil, we must make them into woman corn and feed them to our enemies.”

“Who do you propose for our spy?” another elder asked Sumtovi.

“I have a grandson who is as fleet of mind as he is of foot. We shall send him.”

They agreed without dissent and the council became once again quiet as they waited for the next man to speak.

Days later, when Sumtovi’s grandson left the Village of Dark Stone to spy on the High Priest, a stranger followed, the youngest son of a farmer whose entire village had been eliminated for failing to deliver enough corn.

In the middle of the moonless night, the farmer boy captured, tortured, and interrogated Sumtovi’s grandson and his two attendants. He took the better clothes of the grandson and left their bodies in an abandoned badger hole. He told the guards at the Great House that bandits had killed his servants and that he had barely escaped with his life.

The High Priest sent a runner escorted by warriors to Sumtovi, who verified that he’d sent his grandson on behalf of the council to sit for a time in the High Priest’s court.

“I see you,” the Goddess of the Future told the farmer boy, and described what had happened to his village. He burst into tears and the albino woman held him like a baby.

When Sumtovi sent a runner for a report from his grandson, the farmer boy refused to meet him, but sent a message that Sumtovi and the council had nothing to fear from the Goddess of the Future and the albino healer.

# # #

When I lose my vision or get bogged down in my novel-in-progress, I write FridayFlash scenes to try and gain clarity (that’s why I have as many as a dozen of these prepared at any given time). This is just such an exercise. Next week, I explore a different scenario for Sumtovi, a new character.

I’m also toying with tone and POV here. This is a highly impersonal tone, almost distractedly removed from the characters (except, perhaps, when the farmer boy breaks into tears and Nuva comforts him). Is it too distant?

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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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Elk Knees

An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.

The hunter saved them and gave them to his wife, who cut and sewed them to trade for the largest cooking pot she had ever owned. The pot trader exchanged them with a farmer for all the dried corn two of his best burden carriers could lift. The farmer traded them to the priest at the big village two days’ walk for a promise of prayers for his crops next spring. The priest offered them as tribute to the High Priest in Totec Canyon. The High Priest assigned them to Hongi, the fastest boy in this year’s barefoot race to Sun Mesa and back.

“What are these for?” Hongi asked the only person he knew, the boy he’d outrun by less than a quarter mile in the race. Hongi held them up by the strings of leather, the thick parts hanging down.

Poi glared at him. “Are you stupid?”

Hongi looked at the pieces of leather and back to Poi. “I don’t know what they are.”

“Have you ever seen Plumed Serpent Runners?”

“Sure. A couple times. Once.”

“Didn’t you look at their feet?”

Hongi stared blankly.

“Special sandals? You didn’t see their running sandals?”

Hongi looked at the pieces of leather. “These are running sandals?”

Poi closed his eyes and sighed. When he opened them, he held out his hand. “I’ll show you.”

Hongi handed Poi the sandals and watched him lace the long strips between his toes and tie the ends across the tops of his feet. Then he stood, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet under which the thickest, toughest part of the leather fitted. Then he sprinted across open scrubland between sage brush and back again.

Poi breathed hard. “They’re for running. You don’t have to slow down for rocks and sharp roots.”

Hongi looked at him, at the way he’d tied the strips of leather to his feet. “What are they made from?”

“Elk,” said Poi. “Their knees.” He bent over and began untying them. “Don’t get too used to them, though. They’ll wear out. And a guy like you who doesn’t know anything won’t likely ever get another pair.”

Poi held them out and Hongi took them with a grin. Poi made a sound of disgust and jogged away.Hongi held up the running sandals, then sat down and strapped them onto his feet. He ran and kept running, feeling as if he were floating over the roughness of the land. Far ahead he saw two Plumed Serpent Runners heading south out of Totec Canyon and he raced to them and passed them. They called out and tried to catch him, but he lost them on the flats south of Sun Mesa.

# # #

How’d that first setup paragraph work for you? Hard to follow?

Note: The Anasazi really did have special running sandals that fitted on the balls of their feet. The details are fictional (meaning I dont really know if they made them from elk knees). Hopi origins of the names: Hongi is “fast runner”; Poi is “fail to win.”

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