Quarantine Stories From Beyond the Border

From the Elders of The Hopi Nation:

ORAIBI, ARIZONA: To My Fellow Swimmers

Here is river running now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those
who will be afraid, who will try
To hold onto the shore.
They are being torn apart and
will suffer greatly.

Know that the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore.
Push off into the middle of the water.
And keep our heads above water.

And I say see who is there with you
and celebrate.
At this time in history,
we are not to take anything personally,
least of all ourselves,
for the moment we do,
our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over.
Gather yourselves.
Banish the word struggle from you attitude
And vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done
In a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

AUNT B & HOPI LAND

Last night a tremor woke me around 3am. I laid in the darkness waiting for more, but nothing came, so I got out of bed and went into the garden. The dry grass tickled my feet. The stars were scattered in the sky above the backdrop of the Sierra Mountains. An owl hooted nearby, and the roof rat who’d taken up resident above my friend Ed’s small casita was harvesting mangos from the branches above the tin roof. Each one plunking with a tinny bomb. I stood for a long time feeling the gentle night breeze on my cheeks, and then I did what I’d learned to do as child after my brother’s death, then I called it talking to the “leprechauns,” but today for ease of understanding I will call it prayer.

I prayed for my son. Who’d just finished his first week of work at a ham packing plant started by his great grandfather. On Friday one of the employees feeling ill, left work, and caught the virus that is bringing our world to a standstill.

I prayed for Quinn’s protection and the man with the diagnoses and all those surrounding him. Then I kept going, naming each one, I prayed for my family and friends, and the new family surrounding me here; the family of human beings all over the world, human souls, especially for the those struggling and afraid.

I asked to have my own fear removed.

When I’d prayed myself out, I sunk to my knees and asked my Creator for guidance and direction. The only answer I heard was WRITE. Thus, I will be sharing stories about the times I believe we are in and my hope is these words and messages will be a balm for your soul as they have been for mine.

The Hopi poem above was given to me a couple of years ago, by one of my yoga students, because at the end of every class I read a poem. How fortuitous it feels now that it made its way into my suitcase in paper form. I cannot know what anyone else feels when they read this, but for me—it seems to hold the guidance I’d been asked for.

Today I offer this story in deep gratitude and reverence for those who have gone before us, for me, especially my Aunt B (Elizabeth Sheridan) who asked me to accompany her on a trip to the Hopi Mesas in Northern Arizona. She’d been on an elder hostel trip to these areas and wanted to go back. A large presence in this world and unable to walk long distances, Aunt B purchased a scooter, that allowed her to be mobile and would fit in the trunk of a rental car.

In 2005, my job at forty-five years old was to haul it in and out, and occasionally to push her up a hill, when the “rabbit” setting—top speed—couldn’t quite handle her girth.

Heading toward the mesas along the famous Route 66, an endless stretch of highway, it seemed we had entered another world, barren and desolate. Occasionally, there were enormous craters, which I cannot remember the source of, but I believe they were places where large meteorites had hit the Earth. Some open to tourists. The sun felt white hot wherever it hit my skin, and the dry air pushed in on us from all directions. Aunt B drove. Though the speed limit was 80, her lead foot had me worried about our safety when we had to share the road with another car or a fast-moving line of trucks.

Along the way, Aunt B chatted and laughed, her jovial indomitable presence filling the space around me as she shared her fascination with the Hopi people, their 2,000 year old history (some say they date back as far as 7,000 years) as the oldest continuously occupied settlement on the North American continent. She shared what she had learned first-hand about their prophecies, and her dream to someday see the Kachina Dancers in action. She loved not only the Hopi people but the landscape of red rock and granite cliffs. Her appetite to learn more was insatiable and someday she promised we’d fly over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter.

With her scooter sequestered in the trunk, I asked a multitude of questions. Initially, to assure myself we were going to be able to do what we’d set out to do. Is there a road? Did they let people drive up there? Were people still living up there? Would we stay there?

Yes. Yes. Yes. And Yes. And without a map, for Aunt B seemed to know exactly where we were going, we continued on our way. Me longing to explore this ancient mysterious place, and at the same time feeling a bit tenuous with the immense foreign landscape.

After many hours of driving we began to climb. First, we entered the Navajo reservation where we glimpsed the distant shadowy outline of the mesas. The Hopi land is in the middle of the Navajo’s. The three mesas stood out like enormous jagged ships on an endless flat sea.

From what I have learned there are Hopi today who still live in the “old way,” though many now do have electricity and running water. I will share more about this in stories to come. What I remember, which may or may not be exact, on the second mesa there was a small hotel, a museum, and a cultural center. Upon arriving dogs descended on us sniffing for scraps, though not announcing our arrival because there were plenty of people coming and going, including a tour bus with day visitors.  

We checked into our room which was simple and clean. It had no window, but much to Aunt B’s delight it had an ancient looking TV. I’m not good at sitting in front of a television and haven’t owned one for years, so Aunt B, waved me over to her and pointed out the door. “Honey walk that way, there’s a canyon, go see what you see. Just keep walking.”

Grateful for the opportunity to get fresh air and stretch after the long drive I started in the direction she’d pointed.

Be home by dark,” she called after me, “The Spirits come over the mesas at night and you can lose you way.” 

I turned, smiled and waved back to her, not paying attention to the landmarks around me, a lifelong habit of rushing off to the next thing. 

The Earth was rocky, and I had to hop over rocks and fallen logs. I passed an old trailer that had been tipped on its side, and suddenly, the ground was covered with broken bottles. Beer bottles. Thousands of them, crunching under my feet. Surely, this wasn’t what my Aunt had wanted me to see, it felt an odd omen, and I wondered if I should turn around and go back. But I didn’t.

It took a good half-hour to traverse the landscape. When I finally saw the edge of the canyon, instead of like the splintered sea of brown and green glass I’d left behind, it felt like an enormous magnet sucking me forward. I began to jog, leaping over small crevasses, rocks and logs. Weaving in and out, scrambling up and down, there was no set path.

It would be six years before I would carry my Aunt B’s ashes to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but in that moment, I had never seen a canyon in my life. My feet, as if fueled by some other source picked up speed and raced almost to the edge, I stopped. Miles below me! Another world. Clouds scattered below me! An Eagle floating on the wind below me! A lush valley with a night black river snaking its way to the San Francisco Mountains two hundred miles away. An otherworldly unimaginable vista.

As a writer I am rarely at a loss for words, but all I can say, was it felt like I stood on the cusp of creation. Below me an untouched land vibrated with life. No doubt there were paths the Hopi took to journey down into this sacred place that I would never know, nor ever see. But what I saw was enough to still my soul.

A sudden impulse came over me to sing and dance and on the flat areas surrounding the outlook. I began to race up and down in exuberant joy. I had never encountered such natural beauty in all my life. It made me feel light, giddy, and so, so, so incredibly loved! When I wore out my breath I sat down on the warm rock and meditated, my consciousness diving so far down into the depths that I no longer felt the world around me—I had become it!

Time had taken on a new dimension. Time stopped.

To this day I do not know how long I was in that state, but when I finally opened my eyes, it was getting dark. Remember this feeling I told myself. “Remember, remember, remember,” I chanted as I began to make my way back in the direction from which I had come. Noticing the dark descending fast I picked up speed, and soon became so engrossed in hoping over the rocks and finding a pathway that I became confused. Was I going the right direction? It felt like I had gone in a circle and every step looked like I’d been there before, one bush, one crevasse, one set of rocks indistinguishable from another.

Pushing myself, I kept going, a small panic rising like a wave within me. Turning a bit to the right and then the left until my heart began pounding again. This time, not with excitement and delight, but fear edging into terror. Echoes of Aunt B’s voice in my ear. “Be home by dark. The Spirits come over the mesas at night and you can lose you way.” 

The faster I moved the darker it seemed to become, and I was in a place with no city lights. My eyes darting forward searching for the sea of broken glass, which hadn’t been too far away from the motel, where perhaps if I could find it, I’d just stay put until morning. Or maybe Aunt B would send someone out for me. Her scooter would not traverse this terrain. Should I wait for the moon and try to retrace my steps and find my way again? Would there even be a moon?

Exhausted and scared, I was forced to stop and rest. Catch my breath. And then I did what I had learned to do, alone in a top bunk bed or wandering among the trees at Jacobus Park near my home when I as a child, I spoke with the Spirits. And they spoke back. Not in condemnation or threat, not even in words, but in a rush of relief and a deep inner prodding that told me to stop, just stop, breathe, assess my situation, for nothing is clear when we are immersed in fear. Nothing.

I took long deep breathes and as I did my heart began to calm and my body relaxed. I closed my eyes and whispered, “Thank you,” as relief washed over me.

I was not in this alone. And never have been.

When I opened my eyes, directly in front of me, I saw the faint flicker of lights. Had they been there all along? My heart leapt in my chest. It had to be the motel, but I must have veered off course because it seemed to be forever far away. Continuing with long slow breathes I took one step at time. At first it seemed I was not getting any closer, and I began to doubt myself, but just as despair threatened to overtake me, the tipped trailer came into view. This time from the back side. Its jagged metal rigs flapping in the night wind. Making a strange soft scrapping noise, like an old rusty gate that had come unhinged. A landmark. And those lights had to be the motel!

My feet began to crunch over the sea of glass and when I got back to the room, breathless, agitated, and strangely jubilated, Aunt B switched off the TV remote and laughed. “What did you think?”

“I almost got lost!” I exclaimed, “How in the world did you get out there?”

She smiled, the usual twinkle in her eye. “Oh, I saw it the first time I was here,” she paused, and then added, “and tonight, I saw it again, through you.” Giving me a mischievous wink, she turned the TV back on.

I collapsed onto the adjacent bed falling into a deep sleep. I dreamt that Aunt B had grabbed my hand and we were flying over canyons of red rock and swooping down into green lush valleys and though we are of Irish descent, she was pointing at our ancestors hidden in the rocks since the beginning of time. “They are still alive,” she kept whispering.

When I awoke, Aunt B snored softly, her face turned in the other direction, and not wanting to disturb her I laid quietly in the darkness, certain that the previous evening’s experience had changed me, but not in a way I could explain then, or even now.

In the days that followed I peppered my Aunt with questions about the canyon, the Hopi people and their prophecies. I became her student, a sponge soaking up her knowledge and in the stories that follow I will share with you what I learned. Not through books but through my Aunt’s stories and our encounters with the land and the Hopi people.

Aunt B died at the age of 66, an asthma attack, tickets for that Grand Canyon helicopter ride in her pocket. Today, I have no doubt, as I did when I scattered her ashes along the bank of the cold rushing Colorado River and the ancient kivas, that her spirit still soars and that the part of her that never dies lives on in the ancient rocks and eternal vistas of the county she loved.

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