March 26, 2008

House of Rain

M. and I are in Santa Fe, on a trip south to visit friends and soak up some warmth. Blogging will be sporadic.

One thing I want to do is to visit Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, which I have blasted past so many times while in a hurry on the "let's skip Albuquerque" route through central New Mexico.

There was a time when I tried to see all the Anasazi/Ancestral Puebloan sites that I could. Then I became mentally overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of it all.

It's like trying to understand Middle Eastern archaeology without even the imperfect guidance of the Old Testament about who might have done what where and when.

Then I read Craig Childs' House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest. Here is an NPR interview with him.

Childs has hiked, climbed, interviewed, and studied the prehistory of the Four Corners area (and a bit of northern Mexico), and his book begins to create a narrative that ties archaeological sites in different places together"
"The original Mogollon people were people of diverse resources," [Jeff] Reid said. "They preferred deer and rabbits in their stew rather than corn, corn, corn, corn, corn like the Anasazi did."

... Sitting in the dark, surrounded by cricket song, Reid said that his excavations brought to light a whole new way of seeing migration in the Southwest. His crews found northerly, T-shaped doorways leading into rooms where migrants were living, signs coming directly from Kayenta or Mesa Verde or even Chaco. . . . And always they kept their identities, easily visible centuries later. He thought the people from the north must have seemed pushy with their big architecture and big pots, probably religious zealots of some sort. The local hunter-gatherers were no match for these invaders, these travelers. Northerners were marrying their way in, inundating local traditions with their own, changing the whole show."
What I like equally well are passages such as this:
"I used to have notions about there being a cliff dwelling in the most isolated reaches, and people still living there, speaking a dialect of Hopi or maybe Tewa. I can frame it in my mind, winter smoke rising from a cluster of masonry rooms, the roofs freshly mended. . . . Someday I may round a corner and freeze, seeing smoke coming out of a cliff dwelling, fabric covering the windows, and a man in a denim coat shuttling a pail of water back into one of the rooms. In some of these dwellings eight hundred years of decay could be swept clean and patched in a manner of months.
So now with the warmer months ahead, there are some places that I want to see or see again. And I will visit them with House of Rain in hand.

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