Friday, January 29, 2010

Of Cold Woman and Kokopelli

As I stood on our carport looking north toward Blue Mountain, I could see plumes of snow dancing above the tree line and along the ridges. Thinking how blustery and bone-chilling cold it would be at 11,000 feet made me shiver. Breathing deeply the frosty winter air, I marveled at the beauty of the intensely purple-blue sky, fast moving cotton ball cloud formations and magnificent mountain range that seemed to rest right at our doorstep. My mind wandered as I leaned heavily upon my snow shovel, appreciating the respite between storms. As I envisioned the hostile climate on that mountaintop, I recalled the ancient Navajo legend of how Cold Woman successfully petitioned Monster Slayer, one of the Hero Twins, to spare her life.

The story is from the Navajo Shooting Chant, and tells how Monster Slayer had set out to purge the earth of any and all monsters plaguing his people. In the tale, Monster Slayer searched out Cold Woman and prepared to end her existence. Cold Woman lived at the top of a high mountain where no trees existed and the snow never melted. She was a gaunt old woman who sat on bare snow without clothing, fire, food or shelter. She shivered from head to foot, her teeth chattered and water streamed from her eyes. Snow buntings, the messengers she used to announce storms, played close by. When Monster Slayer threatened her, she advised him, "If you kill me, the weather will always be hot, the land will dry up, the springs will cease to flow and your people will perish. It would be better for you and those you serve if you let me live." Monster Slayer recognized the logic in her plea and turned away.

This last batch of storm pulses had graced us with somewhere around 32 inches of moisture-laden mischief. According to my calculations, that meant it was time to relieve the heavy burden from all flat roofs, posthaste! My wife Laurie and I had kept up with snow removal to this point; she had been right there with me the entire time. She is surely the workingest woman I have ever known. The only reason she was not with me still was that she had slipped off the roof to make dinner.

There I was, taking a break and enjoying the scenery, and the sight from my lofty perch was truly beautiful. Every open space was blanketed in white; every home a picture-perfect postcard straight out of the Saturday Evening Post. I could hear the distinctive scrape-swoosh of snow shovels all about the neighborhood and saw four wheelers pushing snow and scraping asphalt. I noticed several other people removing snow from their roofs and driveways, and a few others attempting to dig out cars that had been parked on the street during the night. Snowplow drivers have no mercy on poor fools who block their path with vehicles. Every tree and bush wore a mantle of white. There were children playing on the lofty piles of snow, and though they were working and playing hard, everyone was smiling and joking with passing neighbors and friends.

From where I stood, I witnessed the warmth, tenderness and humor inside our home. I saw my wife whipping-up some tasty morsel, and noted my daughters, Alyssa and McKale, passing back and forth behind the windows, doing chores. Their mother had given them the option of working indoors or out. Although McKale had ventured outside a time or two, for the most part, the girls had chosen to stay inside and work in the warm and well-lit protection of our humble abode. Earlier, I told Laurie how the Navajo people used to drag their children into winter storms and wash them in the brisk, stimulating drifts of snow. This was meant to invigorate their senses and temper them to the harsh and intolerant elements.

Laurie had reacted badly to my suggestion that we do the same with our daughters in an attempt to drive the "disruptive nature" from their teenage demeanor. The girls were within ear-shot, and before I knew it I had a full-fledged mutiny on my hands. I shook my head sadly and smiled as I recalled the age old idiom, "Spare the rod and spoil the child". The notion that children will only flourish if chastised, physically or otherwise, for any wrongdoing had been turned inside out; re-emerging as something like, "Spare the child, flog the dad". As I stood thinking to myself, the clouds rolled in and it began to snow. I shivered at the oncoming dark storm, and mused, "This is what happens when you show mercy to a contrary old lady on a mountain top and attempt to teach your daughters freedom of spirit and independence."

As I bent to finish my task, I imagined I heard the haunting melody of a cedar flute. I stood and listened intently. . . nothing. It must have been wishful thinking. There are many myths of the infamous Kokopelli, and some are outlandish to say the least. I have, however, taken one of them to heart and adopted it as worth holding on too. It is told thusly: In ancient times, Kokopelli traveled from village to village, playing his flute and bringing about the change of seasons. The music melted the snow and ice, and brought about nourishing rain for a successful planting and harvest. It is believed the hump on his back depicted the sacks of seeds and songs he carried. Kokopelli’s flute is said to be heard in the warmth of the spring’s breeze. As I was buffeted by a strong, frosty wind and snow found its way down my collar, I thought to myself, "Not yet. No, not quite yet!"

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

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