In our first year of marriage in 1977, we came home on a vacation from our military lives behind the Berlin Wall. We went my new husband’s home in Albuquerque, New Mexico – the “Land of Enchantment” as the license plates read. I was enchanted, truly. It was spring and not yet unbearably hot. The high altitude made me lose weight even while eating every delicious thing in sight. I also discovered and touched something I’d heard about, but never seen: kachina dolls. Touch was all I did – I couldn’t afford ANY of them and wasn’t quite sure I felt entitled to touch them in any case. While I do have a few precious drops of Amerindian blood, it is neither Hopi, Zuni, nor Navaho. (Numunuh, if you must know.)
But the concept of a wooden figure given to a child to teach the importance of what that particular figure represented absolutely entranced – and yes, enchanted me. There are kachina figures for almost anything important in the communal life of the tribes that make these dolls! If I had a bucket list, I’d put witnessing the kachina rituals on that list!
So, as we made our way through New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas on our leave, I kept thinking about these representations — metaphors made physical. Though I am sure the tribal artists do not consider the kachinas mere metaphors, as a visibly white woman, it is all I dare consider. What I asked myself, then and now, is “What do white Americans have as a like metaphor, a “kachina” of/for our alleged culture?”
Thus came the title of a book I thought I might write: “Steel Kachinas and Asphalt Rainbows”. The steel kachinas were, for me, the towering metal pylons – holding aloft the massive power lines – striding across the deserts like robotic Tolkienesque Ents. The unfortunate asphalt rainbows, unlike the beautiful ones in the sky, were produced by oil stains on rained upon pavement – colors defaced by pollution. But it never came together coherently, as a book. It remained a diffuse collection of essays in my head about ways in which American culture seemed to go awry seeking power and profit over all else. It bedevils me that any change is labeled progress even as it destroys much of what it touches. These ideas have roiled my brain like so many tropical storms for decades.
I may finally, here, unleash the brief and sometimes angry flashes of inner lightning…beginning in 2016. Yes, I am a judgmental old broad — playing with both sacred and profane, if you have virgin ears or eyes, this may be the wrong place for you. I don’t play nicely with trolls.