They Will Tell Stories With Their Bodies
The Hopi Reservation, Arizona
The dusty heat and parched soil turn into crisp air and green trees and red and yellow jagged rocks as I wind up the mountains North from Phoenix, Arizona into Sedona.
Downtown Sedona has cafes filled with portraits of ascended masters including gurus from India and Jesus Christ. There are crystals on counters and people who behind cups of coffee tell stories of the time they hiked this mountain or that mountain to crystal valleys and met inter-dimensional beings. I continue North to Flagstaff, where the trees get taller and air colder. University kids drink at pubs and walk down sidewalks and the middle of streets. A train slowly moves along the tracks. The Grand Canyon International Hostel next door used to be a brothel, a woman at Morning Glory Cafe says. She says that when travelers stopped through town on the way to California from the East, they stopped here in Flagstaff to stay at the brothel.
I imagine going on a trip before the internet, like I did as a kid, though sometimes it feels like the days before the internet have only ever been old myths read out of books before bed. I imagine going out West when going out West was really going into the unknown, to a place only described in newspapers and by word of mouth. One could not text a friend to see that they’ll be at the station. One could not contact family back East in a moment to see how they’re doing.
What would bring a person West? What brought my own ancestors West, not just across the states, but West across the Pacific? There are still remnants of our German and Hungarian heritage in our potato soup and crepes, and the handmade black velvet vests and aprons passed down to me and my sister out of my Grandmother’s wooden chest. Did our ancestors know that in new places, heritage fades away?
Driving East from Flagstaff, I descend the mountain and enter vast valleys. The Hopi Reservation is thick black hair, sun-tanned leather skin, turquoise and red stones and silver jewelry, feet caked in white powdery sand and dogs running with kids down alleys. The Hopi people live in hand-built earthen homes made of white soil surrounding the town square, where women set-up chairs and prepare for this afternoon’s festival. I see not a single TV or computer or cell phone. Here there is no separation between people and the sun and the earth and each other.
Later this afternoon, they will dress in pastel purple and yellow and blue and wear feathers and shake hollowed out squashes filled with seeds. They will pat pat, dance dance on the soft white ground. They will tell stories with their bodies of who they are and where they came from. The children will watch with expanded eyes their mama and uncle and neighbor shaking and singing. Not like the rest of us who understand our own myths from TV screens.
They will pat pat, dance dance on the soft white ground. They will tell stories with their bodies of who they are and where they come from. The children will watch with expanded eyes their mama and uncle and neighbor shaking and singing.
Walking through town square, I feel like a tourist and decide I should leave. I will miss the festival, but that’s alright with me. I think about the time I stayed for a week at an Orthodox monastery in Southern Arizona. As is tradition, as a practice of modesty, and to respect the prudence of the monks dressed in black robes to represent their commitment to death of the flesh, I wore a veil over my head and clothes which covered every bit of skin on my chest and my arms and my legs. Even the skin on my feet was hidden underneath socks.
Groups of tourists walked the grounds during the day, buying black knotted prayer ropes and books written by saints from the gift shop. One man from Missouri wearing flip-flops and cargo shorts asked me questions like, why do we wear veils? How long have we lived here? What do we believe? I felt like an item on display he wanted to take a photo of to show to his friends. I did not feel human. I felt like an animal in the zoo.
That is why I am leaving the reservation. Instead, I will continue East toward New Mexico, where the skies are big and seem to go on and on forever. In the distance, I see rain and soon I’ll be driving underneath it.