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Friday Feature: A Song for the Water

Dancebow Cedar Elder 2

Last year, the outside world was introduced to one of the most fundamental lessons of existence, one our peoples have always known: the essential truth that water is life. Those who learned it did so many years, even decades, too late to save the stretch of Mother Earth and the waters that are her lifeblood and breath; the oil already flows beneath the surface through insecure steel labeled DAPL.

Here, a new pipeline is set to be installed along the primary watershed the work to commence four days hence. It is “new” only in the sense that some of the materials introduced belowground will be new; the pipeline has long existed, and is merely being rerouted, allegedly for safety’s sake. But the route goes through the Rio Grande Gorge, along the great river that is the major artery of the earth’s heart in this place.

And it will be one more insult, one more invasion, into her body, even as it risks yet again her blood and breath and life itself.

We travel through the Gorge semi-regularly lately; a section of it follows the winding ribbon of highway that links to Taos to Santa Fe and the smaller points in between. It is a beautiful stretch of road and river, one that changes daily, from moment to moment, never the same twice. On a good day, the water rushes downward, clear as it dashes upon the rocks, blue in the stiller places as it holds the gaze of the sky. The peaks on either side are all sandy red studded with black slate and gleaming quartzite, spangled with cedar and sage and smaller blooms, host to ravens and eagles and the occasional mountain goat.

They are all drawn to the water, knowing instinctively that it is life.

If only we were so wise.

The elders knew, of course, but now, as we grow older, we find that those who were our elders have walked on, leaving with us the tremendous responsibility of indigenous stewardship. And in a world so rapidly changed, even in our lifetimes, that task is no so easy as we thought; our imaginations did not have the space to accommodate the rate of encroachment and theft, nor of technological “progress.” The elders who remain have a much easier time of it, with regard to day to day survival — and yet, a much greater challenge when it comes to navigating the risks the outside world imposes.

Once in a while, a work of art that embodies the spirit of the elders can focus the mind in ways that the rest of popular culture prevents or destroys.

Today’s featured work is one such.

It’s a sculpture by Wings’s cousin, Paul Dancebow, a master carver of both wood and stone. From its description in the Other Artists:  Sculpture gallery here on the site:

Dancebow Cedar Elder 1

This traditional sculpture by carver Paul Dancebow (Taos Pueblo) is done in classic Pueblo style.  Carved of cedar, his upturned face is finely detailed, as is his long hair, tied back in traditional style.  He’s wrapped in a blanket, and his body curves gently, following the natural line of the wood. He stands atop an alabaster base, golden in color with silver-white matrices throughout. Another view shown at top.

Cedar on alabaster base
$225 + shipping, handling, and insurance
Requires special handling; extra shipping charges apply

This elder has always struck me as eminently traditional: coaxed from materials of understated beauty, the cedar a warm glowing shade, the seams and splits in the wood followed by the line of his body; the earth on which he stands reminds me of the geologic formation that surrounds the great river, shot through with sunny veins of mica and shining quartzite. He stands tall and strong, face upturned toward the heavens, mouth open in what could be speech or song.

I’ve always thought of him as a singer.

On this day in the heart of the rainy season, we celebrate the water that falls from the sky even as we look forward with concern to what now awaits the water that flows through the heart of this land. It is a time to be watchful, even wary; a time to be ready to defend and resist. We do so with perhaps less guidance than we would like, but there is wisdom to be had, if only we listen closely. For the elders, even those summoned from wood and stone, have messages for us, songs to guide us, wisdom for us to heed.

On this day, I suspect this elder does sing. I think he sings a song for the water.

~ Aji





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