Spirits of the Land – Hearing the Call

By Dr. Felicitas Goodman Ph.D

NOTE: The following is how Dr. Felicitas Goodman discovered the land of Cuyamungue, an ancient pueblo village site which eventually became home of the Cuyamungue Institute.  In her own words, here is an excerpt from her book  “Where the Spirits Ride the Wind”

In 1960 friends from Ohio State University invited me to spend my vacation with them in their new home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I had never before been to the Southwest, with its vast spaces and sepia and magenta flat­ top mountains, dotted with patches of green junipers and pinyon trees, and alive with a thousand lacy rock carvings created by wind and sand and shim­ mering golden in the sunlight. Most of the time the madonna-blue sky above the land was brittle and clean. But sometimes, ample cloud breasts would drip the blessing of rain from their nipples on the thirsty earth, and the misty Feathered Serpent humped over the ridges in the morning, celebrating fertility.

There were still other impressions. After walking over the Indian arts-and-crafts markets with their celebration of beauty, so appealing to the senses, I came away with the feeling of having been touched by an almost palpable presence, a special, undefinable quality. Was this the land to which the spirits had fled from the dark and bloody grounds? Nowhere in Europe had I ever experienced being overwhelmed by such a magical quality except when I was very young and still knew ecstasy, and it filled me from the start with an intense yearning. For what I did not know, perhaps for that secret recess of childhood, a world that used to be sWeet, holy, and inviolate.

It was the month of August, and my hosts took me to see the Com Dance that took place every year at Santo Domingo, the largest of the Rio Grande pueblos. The dance is an ancient Indian prayer ritual asking for an ample harvest for all people. Well over a thousand Indian men, women, and children in colorful native attire danced this prayer from the forenoon until sundown to the songs of the men’s choir and the rhythm of the large drum, the tone of which resounded in the desert like the heartbeat of the earth. I was totally overwhelmed by the bewildering beauty of this new and strange world.

The night after the dance I had a dream, or more likely a vision. I saw three old Indians in front of the window. They were dressed in the colorful shirts and slit pants of the choir, and one of them carried the big drum. With his drumstick, he knocked on the window, and when I looked up, he waved for me to come along. The experience made me unaccountably happy. I did not know the ethnographic literature about the Pueblos at the time, but it seemed to me that what I had seen was the spirits of the “Old People” of the pueblo I had heard about, and who had come to invite me to this, their land. And so I decided, like a sleepwalker choosing the right comer to tum, that no matter what, I was going to acquire some small piece of land here. Then I would be able to say to those kindly old spirits, “You see, here I am.”

The search took nearly three years; land was-and still is-very scarce in the Southwest. Finally, in 1963, my real-estate agent found not the modest five acres that I thought I could afford, but a large spread, nearly three hundred acres, which the Forest Service had rid itself of some years ago, and which its present owner wanted to sell off at a suitable profit. My lawyer counseled adamantly against it: “Don’t waste your money on that,” he wrote. “We call it the Pojoaque Badlands.” But after all, I was not intending to grow alfalfa, and I knew the beauty of the Pojoaque Valley from my previous visit. I was not going to be disappointed.

This “badland” was on all sides surrounded by Indian pueblos, which in part had retained their old Tewa names-Tesuque, Pojoaque, Nambe-and by Santa Clara and San Ildefonso. In the east, the Sangre de Cristo range turned wine-red at sundown. To the west, the property was protected by the fortress wall of the Jemez Mountains, where, according to Indian legend, humans emerged from the crowded and dark third world to this, their fourth one under the arc of the rainbow. Its loose sandy terrain was crisscrossed by arroyos, deep cuts caused by water erosion, but each one a picturesque world of its own. A million years ago, the volcanoes of the Valle Grande, thirty miles away, spewed glinting, many-colored pebbles on its softly rounded hills. Yellow rabbit brush bloomed near ajuniper by the fence, and on some barren hillsides Indian paintbrush flamed red among the rocks. At night, the coyotes laughed from across the ancient river bed of the Cafiada Ancha, and the spirits haunting the pueblo ruins by the river whispered in my dreams. Of course, I could not make the despoiling of the earth go away that rolled on greedily on the highway down in the valley day and night, or the threat of the final holocaust that glowed in the steely lights of Los Alamos, the “Atomic City”toward the west. But at least here among these gentle hills, the world was still at peace. I signed the contract for the land, and never regretted that the decision committed me to much sacrifice and many years of hard labor.

In the summer of 1965, after days of hiking, we-that is, a helpful relative, my young daughter, and I-located a spot suitable for building. It was like a tongue stretching outward from among the hills, affording a view of the Sangre de Cristo toward the east but surrounded on all other sides by protective ridges. I had a well drilled, and men on horseback brought in electricity from the region’s electric co-op. We knew next to nothing about how to build a house from the local sun-dried bricks, the adobes. But if we got stuck, we went to our Hispanic or Indian neighbors for advice, or to the ever-useful builders’ supply store. People would make expansive fun of us. “Look at that, here they come again from the Rancho Grande,”they would say. But actually, everyone was friendly and helpful, and also curious about what a woman was doing there, homesteading pretty much on her own.

It was hard. We could not use our tent, because scorpions and six-inch orange centipedes with dragon heads made it their home. Besides, it kept collapsing in the violent storms that were our frequent visitors. In the cruel heat of midday we crawled instead into the sparse shade of the junipers. During the cloudbursts of the summer’s rainy season, our only safe haven was the cabin of the pickup truck. Our camp stove gave up in the persistent wind, so I had to cook on an open fire. It rained, our firewood got wet, and we had to eat sandwiches. There was no money to hire a backhoe, so armed only with pick and shovel, we dug all the ditches for the foundation. We laid the heavy cast-iron pipes for the rough-in of the plumbing and finally built the walls for our first room.

The summer was nearly over when we finally nailed the tarpaper on the roof and hung the door. I had registered for graduate school at Ohio State University, and two weeks before school was to start, we were finally ready to leave. We loaded everything we had borrowed on our pickup truck, the wheelbarrow and the sawhorses, the scaffolding, and Baba, our faithful goat, to take back to the neighbors in the valley. As we rolled out, I turned back for a last glance. Our flat little house was shrinking into insignificance in the glare of the noonday sun, its adobe walls becoming one with the sand and the clay. Had the Old Ones, the spirits of this land, even noticed that I had come? Did some of them live in these hills or did they have to be invited? I had no idea of how to invite spirits, and after all the big problems and small triumphs and successes of homesteading, it seemed to me that I had left the most imponant task undone. Perhaps next summer, I thought hopefully. After all, I was now on the right path. I did not realize then how long and arduous that path would turn out to be.