I get claustrophobic and anxious among tall trees...
I lift my eyes to look out the window of my writing loft and see the raven sitting on the corner of my desk looking southwest toward the mountains. Miles of high-desert terrain of shifting sand and sculpted rock, cliff-studded valleys and mountains, lie under a cerulean sky. “I don’t know if I could live here,” a European once said to my friend, “The land is so strong.” And it is. For me, this strength is why I cannot imagine living anywhere else. I get claustrophobic and anxious among tall trees and I usually feel short of breath amongst intense greenery and lushness, to say nothing of landscapes composed entirely of cement, steel buildings, and highways. I lived amidst the hills of San Francisco for a time and felt a continual state of disorientation without the constant companion of an ever-visible natural horizon.
This landscape has indelibly shaped our present as people have carved out legacies and lives in a place of extremes, apparent contradictions that highlight the beauty of difference: extreme aridity, harshness, violence, and cruelty amidst a beauty so raw it takes your breath away again and again. The sky, drenched in blue, with clouds and the melting colors of sunrise and sunset, has cupped horror and kindness. As people have for centuries, we can take lessons from the land and its inhabitants. Comber and Thomson find that as children are encouraged to read, draw, and write their world, they discover their fate is not set, and instead “…life narratives are also dynamic; they are continually retold and rewritten…Here critical literacy involves local action and imagination, interrogation of the ways things are, and design of how things might be
I look at the raven and remember what he represents - the potential for healing if one has the courage to look at those aspects within ourselves, individually and communally, that we would rather not acknowledge.
To move beyond the scars of the past, perhaps we’ll explore new understandings of place and time. Understandings of time vary within the Southwest. We are the land of Indian time, mañana (tomorrow) time - Mexican time which assumes hours later than planned - and strict Anglo time. I was once teaching a class full of new teachers, discussing the craft of timing and timeliness in teaching. We’d had a few presentations go beyond their allotted time and were discussing why it’s so important for students to have the same amount of time to present and then stop the clock. As students talked among themselves in groups, one native northern New Mexican said to me, “That’s not my time. That’s your time.” He grew up in a tiny village nestled within mountain folds so dense that you’d have no idea a village is there until you happen to look directly into the
valley. There time passes amidst the slow and steady motions of hands sculpting exquisite woodcarvings, as raven silhouettes etch against the sky on surrounding trees and peaks. Ravens who have watched Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Mexicans, and Anglos for centuries know all of our times - and follow none of them. They’re on their own time, allowing each their own. Raven’s time.
Historically, our understandings of place have assumed that space could not be shared, but that one group’s place must come at the expense of another, that sharing space must somehow be hierarchical. The world’s experience is full of stories of one people being displaced from their homeland by another. Originally in the Southwest, indigenous peoples pushed one another out for water and resources; then the Spanish came and colonized; and then Anglos came with Manifest Destiny as their creed and exoneration for brutality, racism lying at the heart of all. At this point in time, a recognition and honoring of the connections we all share with this place is necessary. What we experience now socially and in education (because how could they possibly
be separate?) is the result of working to hide those aspects of ourselves.
The raven continues to look toward his own homeland. Perhaps by shining light on areas we’d prefer to keep hidden, along with the raven, we’ll watch the mountains move.