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Friday Feature: From Green Meadows to Winter Snows

With fall’s inexorable encroachment on our small world still mostly green, we are dogged by the inescapable truth that time is short. Shorter now, in fact, than it would have been only a few years ago; our summers are now their shortest in living memory, and autumn seems to put in a first appearance ever earlier by the year.

For two weeks, we have been planning a trip to Santa Fe to take care of certain necessary tasks. Among them was to be a stop on the way home at Pojoaque Pueblo, which has its own project now involving the raising of buffalo for the people’s traditions and use, with some set aside for sale to peoples of other area nations. Wings has spoken to their director, and they invited us to come and purchase what we need whenever we need it.

The other Pueblo nation in our immediate area, Picuris, used to have its own such efforts, called The Bison Project. It appears that outside sales, at least, are in abeyance for now, so we have had to look a little further from home for a traditional, organic, Indigenous source for the meat most common to our meals. But not so many years ago, we bought from Picuris every year, and the journey to buy the meat was itself worth the cost.

It’s a beautiful drive, but that’s not what I mean; I’m referring, rather, to the chance to see these great relatives, our large four-hoofed and horned elder brothers (and sisters), come running over the hill in an entire thundering herd, ready to feed.

We witnessed such a scene once. If memory serves, it was about this time of year — grass still green and lush, with a cool edge to the air and the leaves just beginning to turn around the edges. We had already been to visit with the people who ran the project and had made our purchases, and as we were loading them into the truck, what seemed the entire herd came home.

It was like something out of a film: sound preceding sight, the earth itself vibrating beneath their collective hooves as suddenly the herd came thundering over a small hillock, bulls and cows and calves alike, to spread out into the meadow below. The tears sprang involuntarily to my eyes even as the sight and sound together pierced my heart, plunging me into a well of ancestral memory and dreams tinged at once with grief and joy. It was an experience that will never be lost to my heart.

In our way, Buffalo is an elder brother, one who occasionally gives of himself to sustain us. In return, no part of the animal is wasted; every single part, from meat and organs to blood and bones to horns and hooves to sinew and hide, has its own traditional use and purpose — food, clothing, shelter, medicine, art, adornment, ceremony. It should come as no surprise that his likeness and spirit inspire and infuse our peoples’ contemporary art. And today’s featured work, tiny, nearly abstract in form and shape yet instantly recognizeable, is a powerful example. From its description in the Other Artists:  Fetishes gallery here on the site:

Ben Romero (Taos Pueblo) has coaxed Buffalo into taking shape out of the Pueblo’s own micaceous clay. The strong and solid little animal gleams in the light, his stylized shaggy head gazing out beneath a colorful medicine bundle of feathers, quills, a fabric rosette, and vintage-style beads. Buffalo stands 1.5″ high by 2-1/8″ long (dimensions approximate). Another view shown at top.

Micaceous clay; quills; feathers; beads; fabric; sinew
$30 + shipping, handling, and insurance

Of all the many representations of Buffalo that have inhabited our shelves over time, this stands with two or three others as one of my favorites. This one has always been very different from the rest: Wrought in what’s now known as “vintage-style,” it summons only the barest outlines of the great animal’s form and shape, and yet no one would mistake it for anything other than what it is. It’s diminutive, too, but we know all too well that physical size is deceptive. This one bears medicine, bright green and gold feathers, colorful beads, the quills of his much smaller brother, porcupine.

And he shimmers in the light.

It’s a reminder, perhaps, of what substance truly is: a representation of a relative who goes from green meadows to winter snows with perfect ease and equanimity, who has stood with our peoples through seasons of time and spirit for the whole of history.

And this one will fit on the palm of your hand, to carry his message, and his medicine, anywhere.

~ Aji








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