Thursday, November 10, 2011

Positive Change -- Desert Light Images

by Sandra Cosentino

11-11-11 to me conveys a sense of positive change as millions around the world are treating this as a special day of ceremony.  I think of this as a global version of what humans have done in village groups throughout time.  In the coming together with shared focus, energy moves, gets recreated.

"When we turn to spirit within, an alchemy is released..allow it to flow through you and out to your community and become a point of light in global transformation."  Rev. Bruce Kellogg (Verde Valley, AZ) sees this Friday as an opportunity for each person to recognize their worth thereby fanning the flames of love in your own heart which then ripples out and flows where it needs to be in the universe.

I send you energies and images of light from Southwest Desert lands:
unearthly turquoise and peach colors of high desert sunset

Dale Terbush Desert Twilight painting
Dawn twin balloons rising near Boynton Canyon, Sedona

Double rainbow over the vast Hopi landscape

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Wild Places Charge our Imagination

Perceptions of the Southwest canyon horizons by Sandra Cosentino
With quotes from Terry Tempest Williams-- talented writer, naturalist, conservationist
Grand Canyon sunrise photos above and below by Sandra Cosentino June 9, 2011

Vivid imprints of times exploring in wilderness places such as remote Alaska and the canyon country of the Southwest are indelibly etched on the fabric of my being. A certain kind of quiet knowing, inner courage and ecstatic joy of connection was forged within me on those many sojourns.  At the Grand Canyon this May, I had the joy of listening to Terry Tempest Williams read with informed passion from her book Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert as we sat in an outdoor theatre.

Please also see my new 3.6 minute video Grand Canyon Dawn - The Magic Time  with a Hopi sunrise song (we welcome to subscribe to our Youtube site).

She speaks of finding your own equilibrium in the harshness of the desert.  “What you come to see on the surface is not what you come to know.  Emptiness in the desert is the fullness of space, that eliminates time.  The desert is time, exposed time, geologic time.  One needs time in the desert to see.”

Here on the rim of the Grand Canyon in the dark watching the stars move overhead I am newly aware of how expansive the view of horizon is -- in stark contrast to dark abyss below.  Just as the first deep golden dawn light showed on the east rim, Venus appeared bright white slowly rising.  I stared spellbound.  Venus is twenty times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. No wonder the ancestral peoples of the Southwest were skywatchers.  At high altitude with dry air there is less atmospheric distortion.  Big canyon rim and plateau vistas are capped with a luminous dome of stars. Awestruck, I am drawn spellbound into silent communion.

Pre-western cultures were “deeply attuned to the motion of the sun, moon, and planets, and they used their naked-eye observations to create not only intricate astrologies and mythologies - in particular, those revolving around Venus - but also extremely accurate records and projections of meteorological phenomena,” according to Anthony F. Aveni in Conversing With the Planets: How Science and Myth Invented the Cosmos. You may want to ponder these questions he asks:  “What have we moderns lost by turning our attention to the cold eye of the telescope, away from the natural harmonies of planet and sky? Why have we silenced the dialogue between observers and the sky?"

These canyons and cliffs evoke a visceral level response in us.
Our very smallness relative to the landscape is humbling.
Yet you sense expanded horizons of who you really are.

Terry (photo to left from her Grand Canyon appearance 5-21-11) characterizes vividly the expansive effects of desert sojourns on the psyche:  “this is Coyote’s country—a landscape of the imagination, where nothing is as it appears.  The buttes, mesas, and redrock spires beckon you to see them as something other:  a cathedral, a tabletop, bear’s ears or nuns.  Windows and arches ask you to recall what is no longer there, to taste the wind for the sandstone it carries.  These astonishing formations invite a new mythology for desert goers, one that acknowledges the power of story and ritual yet lies within the integrity of our own cultures.  The stories rooted in experience become beads to trade.  It is the story, always the story, that precedes and follows the journey.”
Arches National Park, Utah--near where Terry lives

She says “that our capacity to face the harsh measure of a life, comes from the deep quiet of listening to the land, the river, the rocks. There is a resonance of humility that has evolved with the earth.  It is best retrieved in solitude amidst the stillness of days in the desert.”

“If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred.  Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self.  There is no place to hide and so we are found.”


So that when you return back to the urban, domesticated world, you find your perception has sharpened.  After all, “Coyote knows it is the proportion of days spent in wildness that counts in urbane savvy.”  I recognized Coyote’s penetrating eyes when I spoke with her and sensed the kindred spirit we carry in our shared passion for this land.  

Many times have I locked gaze with those wild yellow eyes of coyote, quickened by the flash of bold self-confidence staring back. The change bringer is his reputation here in the Southwest--but no matter what, he lands on his feet and keeps on trotting.

Summer is here--may the natural world call you out and about on the land.  Who knows what new story you are creating or the mystery of why certain places call us to come out.  But our heart knows.

For more Terry Tempest Williams articles and info, you may want to go to her website 

I highly recommend joining the Grand Canyon Association and take one of their excellent field classes—they support education, science, visitor services, and the arts at the Grand Canyon in association with the National Park Service.
For Southwest earth connections, mythology old and new--please see Crossing Worlds Journeys and Retreats

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mid-Spring: An Exhuberance of New Life

Lunar Beltane occurs this year on May 17 along along with the full moon (the astronomical date for this midpoint is closer to May 5 - 7,  but can vary).  Celtic traditions speak of this as a cross-quarter day, marking the midpoint in the Sun's progress between spring equinox and summer solstice. Beltane means bright fire and was a Celtic festival of fire celebrating fertility.  It was known as a great celebration in the spirit of love and spring.
Navajo Lightning Boy depicted in sand 

Now, by midspring, the storms have stilled.  There is a new calmness and sense of confidence in the air.  Tentative buds and unfurling in their fragrant abundance.

Throughout time and cultures world-wide Midspring is a festival season related to new life and the tree of life.  Maia, for whom this month is named, can be traced back to Maya, the pre-Vedic mistress of perceptual reality who was the virgin mother of the Buddha.  The Greek goddess Maia was the virgin mother of Hermes.  Blessed Virgin Mary is patroness of the month of May, which the early church dedicated to her.  The Brazilian May Day celebration is a marriage between the European Maypole and West African Universal Tree of Life.  (this paragraph based on Celestially Auspicious Occasions by Donna Henes)
spring dune flower, Sedona, AZ

For the Hopi peoples, they are finishing the final spring plantings and their Kachina spirits have returned to the Plaza to spring blessings for all beings and help encourage growth.

Fresh hope emerges with the new life of Midspring.

Photos by Sandra Cosentino.
We acknowledge season change with Ancestor Wisdom Circles and Circles of Power.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Brighty of the Grand Canyon - Beloved Folklore

In fond memory of the lore of Brighty
 by Sandra Cosentino
Brighty has long since left this earth, but some animals, like some men, leave a trail of glory behind them. They give their spirit to the place where they had lived, a part of the rocks and streams and the wind and the sky. Brighty's spirit lives on, forever wild, forever free.  (from 1967 movie)

Brighty of the Grand Canyon is a 1967 film based on the 1953 children's novel of the same name by Marguerite Henry.  This fictionalized account of a real-life burro named "Brighty", who lived in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River from about 1892-1922 has become a classic part of the lore of the Southwest in only a few decades.

As a child growing up in the "Grand Canyon State", I always knew about Brighty.  Although never have I seen a domestic mule gone feral in the Canyon. And as an adult today, I realize such feral animals pose a threat to delicate desert ecosystems of the west.  

Nevertheless, every time I go to the South Rim, I get a thrill out of seeing the mules in the corral and the daily ritual of stoic mules heading down the Bright Angel Trail each loaded up with an excited visitor.  Your initiation rite begins when your mule seems to lean over the edge on those outside corners.  And suddenly you are hanging on for dear life as you stare straight down into sheer, dizzying depths that your mind cannot comprehend. You put a lot of trust in those mules.

Originally named "Bright Angel" after a creek that flowed into the Grand Canyon from his summer dwelling on the North Rim, Brighty spent summers carrying water from a spring below the rim to accommodate tourists coming to the canyon. 

He was smart—he would kick a man he thought dishonest. He was gentle—children could ride endlessly on his back without his being provoked. He was known for his ability to camouflage himself against the gray rock when a stranger approached. Brighty loved to impress his friends bouncing bellows of mule laughter off the canyon walls. Brighty was said to be the first to cross the suspension bridge built over the Colorado River. He even hunted mountain lions with former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.

Here's to the spirit of independence, fortitude, loyalty and courage of Brighty.  He will always be one of my heroes.

Where is your True East and West? Spring Equinox is a potent moment to Re-orient

by Sandra Cosentino
Navajo ceremonial campfire

The vernal equinox comes, along with the full moon, on March 20, 2011—signaling the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. On this day the tilt of the Earth’s axis and Earth’s orbit around the sun combine in such a way that the axis is inclined neither away from nor toward the sun.  Night and day are equal all over the earth.
Two Nuns in the 4 Sisters, a Sedona sacred site
Mimbres turtle bringing up clouds
The arc of the sun is coming higher for us in the North.  The long shadows of low angle winter sun are shortening. Birds and butterflies are migrating back northward along with the path of the sun.  For those in the South of our equator, the opposite is occurring, autumn begins.

If you want to orient yourself to true east and west, this is a great day to go outside around sunset and sunrise and notice the location of the sun on the horizon with respect to familiar landmarks.  Then, like our ancestral skywatchers, you can consciously note those points on your horizon.  This gives you a physical reference point in your world.  You see externally what your indwelling internal compass feels in orientation to our planet.

Seasonal turning points are known as propitious times for ceremony to create positive change.  If, like humans have done since dawn of Creation, you join with others in celebration of balance, you potentize cosmic energies that are present.  You align your human self with the Cosmos and this exquisitely beautiful planet we call Home. 
Astrologer, Cayelin Castell, believes this is a powerful spring equinox: “The upcoming March 20, 2011 Spring Equinox features a Full Moon perigee (closest to the Earth for 2011) just hours before the Equinox and a rare Zero Aries Sun Uranus conjunction just hours after the exact Equinox. This suggests a huge assemblage point shift for all of humanity and how we choose to engage this timing will help to inform that shift.”  She has posted a video with details (free).
I offer a suggestion for you:  Go outside on March 20, look, find true East and West in relation to your world at dawn and dusk.  Then breathe deeply, smile, and gift yourself with a timeless moment of inner-outer balance beyond the concerns of daily life.  May you sense harmony with the greater cycle of life and feel poised for a verdant spring sprouting.  Hope returns with the sun, the birds and your smile.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Winter in the Sonoran Desert--starkly inviting

Images, Reflections From a Desert Meander
by Sandra Cosentino

Native to the Sonoran Desert, but now living in the Arizona highlands pinyon-juniper habitat, in winter I yearn for desert landscapes. The hard edge of the summer sun and heat soften in winter. Sparse gravelly ground becomes a pallet of dramatic long shadow etchings. The throaty long calls of the cactus wren and soothing contented cuckle murmers of the quail take me deeper into a reverie with the rhythm of the desert.
Paradoxically these prickly, spikey sere plantscapes are dense with the life-filled presence of wintering birds. As I slow down and focus on details of the surprising variety of plant life, the precious balance of life in this harsh aridity comes into stark relief. I hone my appreciation.
For a few timeless moments, there is no time. I am simply here now in soloquie with life expressed as Desert. And emotions which had been perculating beneath the surface unrecognized flowed up and found release here is the sharp relief of the winter desert. An inner peace walks with me as I meander out of the garden.

Palo Verdes not yet in leaf case shapely patterns in this tranquil desert setting.

Barrel Cacus already in flower.

How I love the gambel's quail (this one is a male), a familiar friend in the Sedona area too.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Agave Roasting: A Prehistoric Puebloan and Yavapai-Apache Tradition

More than just a food source, agave is a gift from the earth, 
a tradition of gathering people together.
by Sandra Cosentino �
Agave shoot ready to flower, early summer, Sedona
I had the special opportunity to attend an agave pit roast the first week of May, 2008, which was put on by the Coconino National Forest (assisted by volunteers from our local chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society) at a rock art site south of Sedona. This is a several day process that starts with digging out the pit, gathering firewood, harvesting ripe agaves which can weigh over 100 pounds each. We gathered in a meadow near Beaver Creek on a warm sunny spring day and I quickly became immersed in the sense of community and joy of being outdoors together for a special occasion. It takes a community to do these gatherings.

To the Yavapai and Apache people, agave is life--a food with a spiritual meaning and a cultural identifying quality. In centuries past it was a nutritious, sweet food they savored and part of the year round cycle of harvesting the land. Apaches, as with other Native peoples, bring thankfulness, prayers, blessings, songs, dances and laughter to these gatherings surrounding the preparing and sharing of indigenous foods.

Here in the Verde Valley area, the traditional life of the Tonto Apache and Yavapai peoples was disrupted by the coming of the Americans in the 1860's. Interestingly, a revival of this tradition locally was stimulated by archaeological studies of prehistoric roasting pits that have been found at Sinagua (Prehistoric Puebloan) and Apache sites throughout the region.
See photos below by Sandra Cosentino taken at the agave roast.

starting the fire with wooden fire drill
The fire at our gathering was started with a bow drill the old-fashioned way and tended while it burned down to coals. Agave hearts were laid on top of the coals covered with wet burlap (wild grasses would have been used centuries past), then covered with mounded dirt and another fire lit on top for a few hours. For four days it simmered in the underground oven. When we opened the pit on day 4, it was still warm and the agave was tender and delicious with a flavor between sweet potato, molasses and pineapple. The taste took me back in time and connected me to this wild plant in a new and special way.

agave hearts before and after roasting (below)
Recent tests by New Mexico State University found that dried mescal leaves contain 85% soluble carbohydrates, 1% protein and 14% insoluble fiber and are roughly equivalent in food value to oats. The dried mescal had the added advantage of being easily stored over long periods of time.

In my almost three decades of hanging out with Native peoples, I recall so many times noticing how nurtured I felt by indigenous cooking. The foods are grown or harvested with gratitude and caring so the foods seem more alive. Not only are the simple foods of the land wholesome and delicious, but the ladies put a lot of joy and blessing into it that make me hum inside with a sense of well being.

Agave is also called mescal, and it is the use of agave that caused the Spanish to give Mescalero Apache their name. Mescaleros live in New Mexico and Texas today.

In this series of early 1900s photos by Edward S. Curtis below, Apache women are shown harvesting and processing mescal, or agave, for food.
Photos from the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.  
Information in section below with historical photos based on University of Texas, Austin website.

Add Wielding carrying baskets,
Apache women trek across a hillside to the agave field.caption
Cutting mescal.
Filling the pit. Apache women load dozens of trimmed agave hearts into an earth oven that has been prepared for the roasting process. Earlier, the women dug a large pit and lined it with flat rocks. A fire was then built on top of the rocks to heat them. Once it died down, a layer of moist grass was laid on top, and the oven was ready to receive the plant bulbs for baking. Once loaded, they will be covered with another layer of grass, followed by layer after layer of dirt.
The covered pit. An Apache woman loads a final basketful of dirt over the mound now covering the baking pit. The layers of dirt seal the heat inside the oven in which the plant bulbs will bake for 12 to 24 hours. When the bulbs are removed, they will be fire-blackened, but moist and tender. After drying and cleaning, they will be ready to eat. Agave and other desert plant hearts are high in carbohydrates, providing an important energy food for native peoples over thousands of years. 
The next 4 images below are of Yavapai people from the Verde Valley, Arizona who participated at the agave roast activities:
Monica and Damon Marquez tend acorn stew fire
Grinding wild lemonade berries on metate
Bird singers and dancers

Hopi from Third Mesa making Hopi popcorn the old way
with no oil, just rock salt

upcoming program:
Southwest regional flavors of the land: foods, cultures and circles of celebration... 
Crossing Worlds will be offering some "ecotours" in coming months featuring local foods, cultures, songs, stories and circles of sharing to extend this joy to you and to support local food producers. These will feature foods with thousands of years of history with the Hopi people who are masters of the heirloom corn still grown today by dry farming, foods brought to the "New World" by the Spanish, local high desert vineyards/wineries, Navajo traditional foods and their outdoor cooking tradition,  Churro sheep revival, new Santa Fe style Southwest cooking, Chimayo chilis, Taos Pueblo foods and more. Also here in Sedona are leading edge practitioners of organic raw food cuisine including amazing nutritious-delicious raw chocolate we will introduce you to for your good health and taste bud awakening (plus the local Sedona tradition of drum circles under the full moon). In winter or early spring we will explore some Sonoran desert foods and ecosystems in Southern Arizona. �

Crossing Worlds Journeys and Retreats
P O Box 3288
Sedona, AZ 863340

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