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Friday Feature: Sing to the Earth, Sing for the Water


The last Friday in May, and we are running out of time for planting. Green notwithstanding, the drought is still with us; two days of small amounts of rain won’t change that.

In years such as this, we are reminded of the efficacy, and indeed, the inevitability, of the old ways. Where do you go when there’s nothing left in your world, no rain, no water, no hope of either? You return to the ancestors, go to the spirits.

This year’s gardens, if they survive at all, will be summoned by the spirits: planted on prayers, cultivated with offerings, nurtured with song.

None of this is new to the people of this place. They have long ancestral familiarity with drought — and with means of managing it. But in the driest seasons, there is only so much that is humanly possible; it is not given to us to create the water out of the air. And so, in this place where water has always been life, and breath, and love itself, there are times when the prudent course of action is to seek the aid of other forces.

We call upon those who bring the rain, of course; that is their role, and if we are fortunate and have lived well, they will in turn do their part. But it’s more basic than that. We speak to the soil and pray for the earth; we sing to the seeds and the shoots, cajoling the Three Sisters and their extended clan into enacting their own emergence.

Today’s featured work captures process and practice in traditional form, a small spirit mug made of local micaceous clay designed to hold the precious water in one’s hands. This one holds, too, a pair of maternal, or at least feminine, spirits etched into the very clay itself, one a grandmother of the people, the other the first sister of the famous three. From its description in the Other Artists:  Pottery gallery here on the site:

Grandmother sings to the corn plants as she works, her head and voice rising from the side of this old-style handle-less mug. Brought forth from the body of this hand-coiled micaceous mug by Jessie Marcus (Taos Pueblo), she wears her hair tied back in the traditional bun, bangs on her forehead. The corn plants she nurtures are incised into the mug’s front. Stands 3.75″ high on figurative side (dimensions approximate).

Micaceous clay
$125 + shipping, handling, and insurance

It’s a fitting motif for a traditional cup, one that incorporates elemental and ancestral spirits to hold that which feeds the land and crops as much as it sustains the people themselves. It’s wrought by an artist for whom the style has become a hallmark, one that fuses function and symbol flawlessly. Her other spirit cups evoke other equally traditional motifs, capturing small moments in the lifeways of those indigenous to this place: another grandmother, a male elder, four different buffalo dancers, even the spirit of the horse.

But for this day, long weekend ahead, summer literally around the corner, and a planting season fast running out of time, what better than sustaining spirits of the earth? Now is our time to sing to the earth, sing for the water, sing and pray for the corn’s survival.

~ Aji








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