Category Archives: Travel


Emerging from a kiva

The world has a navel, or sipapu, through which the people emerged.  Some say the Hopi emerged from the Grand Canyon’s sipapu, a calcified mound formed by a natural spring.  The Hopi and Pueblo people who use kivas as ceremonial chambers always include a golf-size hole in the floor of the kiva to serve as a sipapu, an umbilical cord to Mother Earth, so to speak.  You can see these sipapus in direct line with the fire pit in the remains at Mesa Verde and in recreated kivas elsewhere.   I would never be permitted in a working kiva as I am neither male nor Native American, so I have only been in restored kivas at Pecos National Historical Park in New Mexico.  I climbed down a ladder into the cool, round chamber and sat by the indentation of the sipapu.  I heard that offerings were sometimes made there so I left a leaf of sage and a wildflower.

Two weeks ago I was cut across the navel, what the doctor called an infraumbilical skin incision, to remove some of my insides.  What am I to make of this enlargement of my sipapu?  I came out of anesthesia feeling like I had expanded, and I don’t think it was just the gas they used to inflate my stomach.  I let go of cysts that were strangling my organs and my mind felt freed at the same time.  For a few days, I couldn’t plan ahead; I was only in the now, recovering in my Chicago bedroom.

Thirteen days later I am at the Taos Pueblo Corn Dance in New Mexico.  People live at this pueblo and have for centuries.  They rely on corn to live and offer drumming and dancing in gratitude and to maintain balance.  That’s what I want, too, to have gratitude for my survival and to have balance as I heal.  I sit near the river that runs through the village and wait for the Corn Dance to begin.  It is hot and hasn’t rained in weeks.  Dusty dogs come by and nudge our water bottles, then go off to play.

Some clouds drift by, one of them very dark; then suddenly it is raining over those of us waiting by Rio Pueblo de Taos.  I put my arm out to feel the drops.  They hit hard.  We spectators bow our heads to the rain.  Our feet are speckled by the brown-red dirt thrown up by the force of the drops hitting the ground, the same soil that was used to make the complex of adobe homes in front of us.  This feels like a blessing to me, both the sacred earth and the reprieve from the hot, dry June we’ve been having.

After a few minutes, the rain stops and men emerge carrying drums, and two young men have eagle feathers in their hair.  They are joined by women carrying bundles of flowers in each hand.  The dance begins and I call the ancient prayers into my sipapu, wondering what corn I will be growing in my new life.

Mural of Pueblo dancer

Texas: Big Hats, Big Hearts


Remember the H

Remember the H


“Don’t forget the ‘h’ in wh,’” my daughter Stephanie’s English teacher told her.  He was from Texas.

It wasn’t until Stephanie and I traveled to Dallas and Fort Worth in May that we understood his position on this.  Being from the Midwest, we pronounce our “wh’s” pretty much like our “w’s”, with but a wisp of air escaping our lips.

My cousin Buzz could snuff a candle with his pronunciation.  Forget that he was born in St. Louis; he’s Texan now and puffs out his “when” and “while” and even his “well,” h-less though it is.  “Whhe-ell,” he said, as if the word had two syllables, “Whhen are y’all coming to Dallas?  Can you stay for a whhhile?”

Once Steph pointed this out, I started noticing it all over Texas from the BBQ waitress in Glen Rose to the custom boot-maker, Dean, in Granbury who sold us some used roper boots.  Dean, now gray-haired, was once the stuntman for McCloud on TV and had the photos on the wall to prove it.  He also claimed to make boots for both George Bushes and to mightily dislike the current man in the White House.  Dean is fixin’ to get the Constitution reinstated and put things to rights in this country.  Something about that drawl made disagreeing with him less disagreeable and more of a friendly discussion.

“Those boots get worn down, you just mail ‘em back to me and I’ll fix ‘em right up for y’all,” Dean said as we departed.  Texans can’t let you out the door without some unexpected generosity, filling up a to-go cup of sweet tea for the road or handing out a sample of their prized Dr. Pepper-marinated beef jerky.  The land itself offered up fossils as we sat on the rim of an ancient lake bed.  Buzz filled my hand with bluebonnet seeds he’d harvested on the spot and my other cousin, Whitney, sent us off to the airport with a pile of muffins and scones.  Most of the Texans we met were so warm and engaging, once you got talking with them, it was hard to leave.

Too soon we were flying back to short-winded Chicago.  If I could, I’d have set a while among the Lone Star wildflowers and drawled old poetry with lots of “whhithers” and “whherefores,” or some breathy lines from Edna St Vincent Millay:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,

I have forgotten, …

I only know that summer sang in me

A little while, that in me sings no more.

Soaking in some sun and locally brewed Dr. Pepper