Authors: Rudolfo Anaya
Yes, he remembered, he could hear the drumming now. They sang into the night by the light of the campfire, serenaded by coyotes and the screeching call of a cougar that hunted in the mesa. It was a night he would never forget. The intensity that flesh can share with earth bonded him to the mountain and the night sky and the secrets revealed by the peyote as it entered the bloodstream.
A night of hallucinations. A huge black bear walked into the camp, growling and kicking up dust, then cougar, screeching and clawing at them, teaching them a lesson that perhaps in the last dream on their deathbeds they might understand. Finally, the owl, calling the stars down in a cascade of silver, the wisdom of Sophia, a man from another culture might say, but here it was a dance orchestrated by SeÃ±or Peyote. A song of the forest, night an indigo liquid in which they swam, the time of blue lights, deep purples, vivid strobes of green and orange notes of the drum floating into the night sky, joining the campfire embers and piÃ±on smoke, rising into the galaxy-full sky.
It didn't end until the early morning frost fell over the exhausted campers, and Naomi slithered into his bedroll as he lay watching the play of stars as they tumbled and turned into colorful musical notes that fell to earth like burning confetti, pyrotechnic displays of living color that carried the song of the night, a symphony of owls calling, witches of the night roaming the mountain, the coyotes howling for joy, and the cry of a cougar in the hills. The night's aria circled the drum, then entered the drum, a dazzling gathering of Star People who rained from the night sky to dance around the campfire.
A drying thirst consumed him, and Naomi was like sweet water, water from a mountain spring that seemed to wash over him.
At the time he thought that lying on the mountaintop with Naomi quenching his peyote thirst was as close to heaven as he would ever get. When he awakened the following morning he had learned that sex was like soothing water, the woman a hidden spring, water that could be felt and not seen, like the streams of water that flowed beneath the rough flesh of the mountain, the sweet fulfilling water.
He ate a big breakfast, eggs and potatoes fried on the big skillet on top of the resurrected fire, shivering in the cold, drinking coffee, tasting the smoke and ashes of the fire. The guys kidded him, not loud, just kind of looking at him and saying, damn you're a lucky guy, Sonny. They glanced at Naomi, snoring in his sleeping bag.
He asked about her later, but she was gone. Headed for the big time, selling her pottery in New York galleries. She didn't have time for the likes of Sonny, a poor college student.
She moved out of his life and he continued at the university, and now ten years later she was back.
“I lost track of you.”
“I went away,” she said. “Went to school and became famous. I got married, about three times I think.” She laughed. “But I'm a single girl now.”
Married three times, traveled the world, but she still looked sexy for a world-weary thirty-something.
He turned and started back to his truck. Naomi followed.
“I know you have a womanâ”
“Don't you know it's spring? Time for planting.”
“Too early,” he said. “I plant corn May first.”
She laughed. “You're part of the ceremony now.”
He was well aware that the muchachos who had pushed him around were vatos he knew and hunted with in the real world, but they sure as hell weren't going to let him into their ceremonial world. Whatever they did was their thing.
“You've got the seed,” she said.
He stopped and looked at her. Oh, her ceremony. That's what she had in mind. Maybe she had gotten them together to do a cleansing thing, a purification. That still didn't tell him why he stumbled onto them. Synchronicity?
“See you up the road,” she said, smiling.
She walked regally to her Subaru and got in. A grinding sound caused by a low battery filled the air.
Sonny turned to Mrs. Cota.
“Da-whona-umbeh,” she said. You be careful. You wind up with that woman and there's only trouble. “Heya-owa,” she whispered, tossing the words into the fire.
So that's what they called her. Snake Woman. Snake was related to water, and water was the lifeline of every Indian pueblo and Hispanic village in New Mexico. Long ago there was a rumor that one of the northern pueblos kept a giant twenty-foot snake in an underground cave. The Hopi had their snake ceremonies, dances to call the cloud spirits to bring the precious rain to the New Mexico fields of corn, chile, and squash.
Could be not so good if you had a fear of snakes and you hadn't been cleansed of the fear. Snake dreams might cause anxiety. Nothing Freudian about it, Sonny thought.
The image of the snake appeared throughout the Americas. Serpent heads with huge fangs guarded the great pyramids of Mexico and Central America. Quetzalcoatl, god of the arts and agriculture, the winged serpent, combining the creature closest to the earth and the colorful bird that could fly up into the spirit world.
If Naomi was Snake Woman maybe it was because of some jealousy clinging from a past event, envy over this or that. People called each other names. If somebody was really envious of you some chopped hair might appear in your plate of corn and squash. Just like in the old Hispanic lore, the hair was used by witches to cast a spell.
in Spanish was a strong concept. Envidia was a worm in the heart. The singular crab in the bucket trying to claw his way out was pulled back down by the others.
Envy made sure they were all cooked together.
Human nature, Sonny thought. No one group has a corner on envy, or any other human emotion.
He looked in the bed of the truck. The snake was gone. Time to move on.
Sonny looked over at Naomi still trying to start her SUV. He understood why she drew unwanted attention. She was good looking, but more than that, seductive, a Nefertiti of the desert.
“Nonu-da-aeh,” he said to Mrs. Cota.
“You be careful,” she replied.
She was nearly eighty, and she didn't need to be out in the cold morning stirring the fire and getting the fry bread going, but she had done it for a long time, during hard times when the 25 cents she charged for a loaf of bread went a long way. She had put two of her boys through school. One was a Ph.D. in anthropology, the other worked for the BIA. Joe Sando, the well-known Jemez historian, had been their mentor, as he had mentored a lot of other kids.
So even a traditional pueblo like Jemez was sending a few of its children out into the world. The white man's world. Some of the elders resisted. They wanted to keep the children in the circle of the pueblo, close to the traditional values and ceremonies of the ancestors, but the world they distrusted kept encroaching.
I don't blame them, don Eliseo said. The world is too much with us, as the poet said.
Hey, where were you when I needed some help?
I took a nap. Besides, I did my share of fighting long ago.
Why in the hell are they painted up? Were they running?
None of your business.
Yeah. Sonny had learned not to ask questions about the pueblo ceremonies. People let you know something, that was up to them. But too many anthropologists had pried into the affairs of the pueblos, too many of the secret ceremonies had been publicized. Elsie Clews Parsons came to mind. Lordy, that woman had been in every kiva of the Southwest. Or she claimed she had been there. A little learning was a dangerous thing.
They knocked me down, and I felt a kind of energy. A surge of adrenaline in the blood. As if I had been knocked down by real animals, as if a bear had come close, I could smell him, feel the furâ
The old man didn't seem impressed. He had been in the Pueblo world too long.
Then I saw it! The Zia sign! Carved on the rock! I swear I saw it! Then it disappeared. What gives?
The old man smiled. Yeah, right.
I saw it, Sonny insisted, touching the Zia medallion on his chest. Don't you believe me?
Seguro que sÃ, I believe you. Why shouldn't I? What's the big deal? A lot of people have seen the elusive symbol. It's there, like the Golden Fleece was for those argue-nauts. Or the Ark of the Covenant for the judios. The Holy Grail, the naked Sofia. Those things are always there, just in front of you.
You've seen it? You never told me.
We see it in visions, Sonny. I saw it up in Mesa Verde one time. I went to get eagle feathers with some boys from Zuni. Long ago, before the government stopped us collecting. We fasted, stayed in the blind, sang a little, pretty soon there were voices all around, the wind speaking. That's when I saw it, carved on a boulder. I didn't know much about the Zia Stone, just heard a few stories. It was like being hit by lightning. When I woke it was gone.
In visions, Sonny whispered.
It starts there. You can't tell the skeptics about things like this. There's more of them than us. And you can't tell the church people, or any of the fundamentalists, you know, those evangelicals you see on TV. They have their own path. So we keep it to ourselves.
Until we find it?
It will reveal itself when the time is right. Maybe in Chaco, or CaÃ±on de Chelly, or up on the West Mesa of Alburquerque. The old people left a lot of rock carvings. If those rocks could talk they would tell us many secrets, stories we need to know if we are going to survive. The world's gone mad, Sonny, people clinging to this or that holy book, and in the name of their gods they make war. I'll trust the message on the Zia Stone.
Like the Rosetta Stone?
Well, I read about the Rosetta. It helped translate one language to another. Everything we find helps translate the old hidden knowledge into our lives. The sign on the Zia Stone will help us translate time. How can we who live in time become spirit, see the beginning and the end?
Alpha and Omega?
That's Greek to me, the old man replied and laughed.
That's how he was, serious about life and death one moment, chuckling like a trickster the next. Sonny knew.
Our life on earth is short. But it's related to the life of the universe. We know this in our blood. We see the stars and think of heaven, our home, our beginning. Our ancestors knew this, they had the time to read the glyphs, patterns of stars carved on the belly of the night sky.
Everything's there, Sonny, clear as a good meal of beans, chile con carne, and tortillas. We just can't see anymore, Sonny. We lost the sight of one good eye. We half-see. The old people left their calling cards, sacred signs. They came from the womb of the earth, came into the light of the sun, into life. They brought this secret with them. Everything is connected. Just like Einstein said. His formulas tie the universe together. DNA ties the body together. But what of the spirit? We need the signs that will reveal our alma, our soul. The Zia Stone might be sitting right under our noses. In the meantime, don't disturb the rocks. You might bury the revelation for another thousand years. By that time it will be too late for life on earth.
I've been scouring every petroglyph site from Mesa Verde to Casas Grande. Have I been wasting my time?
A man seeks what he has to find.
So what I saw was a coincidence, huh?
Goddamnit, Sonny, there's no such thing as coincidence! All those scientists up at Los Alamos talking about random this and random that. There's no random. The equations can be put on paper! E = mc
. There's an order; we just can't see it.
The old man shook his head and stalked off.
Lordy, lordy. I've never heard him curse. What did I say? Coincidence. He believes everything is connected. A universal dream, a higher-order dream where everything makes sense. Is the dream carved into the DNA, the helix that looks like a curling snake? Did they initiate me into a snake dream? Quetzalcoatl's dream?
He looked at the imposing cliff. Something happened, he thought, and it's moving me into a new time. Was it Bear and his boys, or Naomi? Or finding the snake?
In dreams, or nightmares, every image or gesture or word or color has meaning, don Eliseo had said. Dreams aren't outside of reality, they are reality.
Sonny sighed. Too difficult for a mere mortal like me to understand. Being mortal meant he would keep on asking questions, though, like how in the hell did they know I would be here, at this time, that I would hear Naomi's cry and rush in blindly? Should have plugged my ears with wax, not heard the siren's call. Can't do that, not when there's a woman to be saved. A woman whose flesh he had tasted long ago in a dream.
“Hey, Sonny, you're going to have to give me a ride.”
Naomi had taken a small bag from her SUV and was headed toward him.
“Back to the pueblo?”
“No, to Jemez Springs.”
He couldn't refuse her. He was headed there, and in this part of the country you didn't refuse a ride to anyone on the side of the road. Especially if that anyone was Naomi. Lordy, his friends at the Sal's Bar would question his virility. “She asked you for a ride and you refused!” “Pendejo!” “What's the matter with you?” “You need Viagra?”
Get in, he motioned, glancing at Mrs. Cota, who shrugged.
Naomi petted Chica. “Oh, a one-eyed dog. Is this the dog that dreams? I heard what's been going on in Alburquerque. You know, I've got some of my pots at an Old Town gallery. That's what everybody's talking about. At La Placita, where they cook really good enchiladas, and at La Hacienda. Even at Monica's Portal. By the way, I haven't eaten at your girlfriend's cafe. I heard she's got hot chile.”
Then she stiffened. “Hey, Sonny, you got spirits in this truck?”
“Only an old friend,” Sonny replied, and smiled. If she couldn't stand the presence of the old man, let her walk.
“You're a spirit person, Sonny. Bet you dream a lot.”