Events, General, Readings

Road Trip to the War Gods


I was on the seventh day of my road trip. After days of driving and camping—interspersed by a stay in Flagstaff with my friend Joyce—I had  finally arrived at Chimney Rock, Colorado, the site of my upcoming novel, Spiral.

Chimney Rock at first sight
Chimney Rock at first sight

I had been working on Spiral, a prequel to Sundagger.net, for five years now and I just had to go see for myself.  I had to take the same pilgrimage my characters Willow and her son, Little Hawk, take after they flee their home in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and set out for Chimney Rock, the furthest outlier of Chaco culture.

Driving from California on Highway 40 to Flagstaff and from there to New Mexico, I was intent on first spending a few nights at Chaco Canyon World Heritage Site where Spiral begins.

The Pre-Puebloans (otherwise known as the Anasazi, a name given to them by the Navajo, meaning “enemy ancestors”) likely came the same way, from the South.

Heading North to Chacra Mesa
Heading North to Chacra Mesa

Like me, these ancient migrants would have passed by the same red rock mesas. They too would be inspired, awed, by the deep color of the high desert, the vast vistas and endless sky.

Maybe they too were anticipating a great spectacle–those ceremonies in honor of  solstices and equinoxes  held in the Great Houses of Chaco Canyon.

Bumping along on an unpaved dirt “washboard” road, I slowly drove through the Navajo Reservation, stopping my car in front of the only sign for 23 miles:

Bumping along on the unpaved dirt "washboard" road into Chaco Canyon National Monument
Rough road into Chaco Canyon World Heritage Cite

 

ROUGH ROAD
May be Impassable
Travel at Your Own Risk

The ancient people would have experienced rough travel without cars, wagons, wheels, horses or any other means of transportation.

A thousand years ago, this same road would likely have been full of people migrating to and from Chaco to witness the sun’s return or thrill at the lunar alignment.

 Fajada Butte, Chaco Canyon
Fajada Butte, Chaco Canyon

What a surprise when I turned a rocky bend and saw Fajada Butte. How close and massive it seemed from the dirt road, like a cathedral carved from sandstone.

I’d been to Chaco Canyon two times before but never approached it from the South.

I felt a strange kinship with this great rock.

At Gallo Campground in Chaco, the wind blew my tent away before I even got it secured in the ground. With the help of the campground host (from Vallejo, Ca!), I tied it to heavy metal rings. I slept that night surrounded by mesa walls, greasewood and blowing sage.

South Gap in Chaco seen from Pueblo Bonito

The Pre-Puebloans would have come through the South Gap into the Canyon. On the far side of the gap are more than 50 pit houses.  Are they “motels”  the migrants camped in while at Chaco?

Across Chaco Wash is Pueblo Bonito, the grandest of the Great Houses, where I stood while taking this photo. Debbie, the interpretive ranger who took me on a tour of Pueblo Bonito, said the arriving visitors likely might have been thrilled by the noisy celebration, the singing in many languages, dancing and music from flutes, conch shells, rattles, foot drums and more.

So many people to see the show! Was it like our rock concerts? Disneyland ? Or like High Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral? Who knows? The only evidence are ruins and potsherds.  There’s so much mystery here.

Leaving Chaco Canyon reluctantly (and missing the Full Moon ceremony), I drove to Navajo Lake  where I camped a few days and then headed northeast over the Colorado border to Chimney Rock.

And now, finally, I’ve arrived. Even from so far away on the road, I am repelled first sighting the mountain. It’s chilling just seeing bulbous Companion Rock and high narrow Chimney Rock on a dark mountain of chert and lava rock.  I’m amazed at how close my feelings are to the atmosphere of terror pervading Spiral that Willow is so desperate to flee.

Post Office boxes along the road
Post Office boxes along the road to Chimney Rock

Still, looking out of my car window, I take comfort in all the mailboxes along the road, proof that ordinary people live beneath this mountain that appears so isolating and ominous seen from afar.

After setting up my tent at Ute Campground, I drive to the park entrance and learn I’m not even permitted to go up Chimney Rock alone.  So instead I and five other tourists take a fascinating guided tour with Wayne, an interpretive guide and volunteer.

Wayne, Chimney Rock  guide, talking to tourist with walking stick
Chimney Rock guide, talking to a tourist in red shirt

 

Today Chimney Rock is the powerful landmark and spiritual center for the Pueblo People–the Taos, Acoma, Zuni, Hopi, Tewa and more.

The two towers signify the Twin War Gods of the Taos Pueblo who slay monsters to help their People. The war gods are also revered by the Navajo who know them as Monster Slayer and Born-for-Water.

 War Gods?  Yes, of course!

After my climb to the top, I understand why.

At the summit!
As far as I could go!

 

Dear Diary, Events, General

Dear Diary #7—An Open Door

“The right ending is an open door you can’t see too far out of.”–Michael Ondaatje.

Looking Southwest from Chimney Rock, CO
Looking Southwest from Chimney Rock, CO

Dear Diary,

It’s time for me to take the trip to Chimney Rock, Colorado where Spiral, the prequel to Sundagger.net, is set. I have to do it in order to write the ending—the right ending. It’s no accident that you, Dear Diary, a decrepit yellow fifty year-old notebook, end with a trip too.

That September of 1964 when I returned from my summer in Provincetown, MA I hadn’t added a single word to my diary or to the 25 pages of a novel I took with me and planned to write. How would l know all those words were not to be abandoned but revived.

There are no entries about leaving home in my diary. Dad must have driven me to the bus station. My mother would have stayed home, crying angry tears, shunning me. She didn’t approve of me going to that godforsaken place, Provincetown. Did I even hug her goodbye? Did she push me away? Did I thank my father for driving me to that dingy Greyhound terminal in the smoky bowels of downtown Pittsburgh? I know I took a brown suitcase because I remember lugging it back home from the airport on two streetcars and a bus at the end of that summer.

My trip didn’t begin pleasantly or easily. I went with Maxine and Carole, fraternal twins, friends of a friend. I can see the small lights over my seat on the Greyhound Bus that night we left. I sat next to Maxine, the older and more gregarious twin. We were on our way to Providence, Rhode Island to transfer to another bus to Cape Cod.

On the bus I would have felt chastened, though stubborn and determined, free. Maybe also frantic, an imposter, with only a few hand-written pages in my suitcase to mark my identity as a writer.  I didn’t know the twins well either. Maxine offered me the paperback she’d brought, a fey, quixotic novel of Anias Nin who I’d never heard of before; Anais proved a seemingly perfect companion through the unknown doorway.

That summer I worked as a counter girl at Howard Johnson’s, renting an old, wooden two-story summerhouse on the outskirts of P-town with the twins. I remember once looking out the smudged window above a double bed I shared with a different twin each week, realizing I wasn’t going to write a single sentence here. I considered throwing my writing out.

Map of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Map of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

How different is the trip I’m planning now, how different and yet the same. I’ve been frightened of and yet determined to travel from Chaco Canyon, N.M. to Chimney Rock, CO where Spiral takes place since I first started writing the prequel five years ago. Chimney Rock is the furthest settlement of the Anasazi culture from Chaco.

I’ve discovered much fascinating research, e.g, light-talking. One of the best resources is Greg Childs’, House of Rain. In this book the journalist Childs replicates the migration route the Anasazi travelled from Chaco north to Chimney Rock, east to Mesa Verde and the Utah Canyonlands, and then south through Arizona and back toward Mexico.

I can’t decide which route I should take from Northern California –going North or South from the Bay Area. I haven’t camped for five years and I’m not talking R/V camping but a 2-person tent where the 2nd spot is usually reserved for my 12-year-old Shepherd. But Ele won’t be coming this time. She’s just too frail and elderly.

When I follow the Anasazi migration route in my 2005 Honda Civic, my manuscript of 300 pages will be right next to me in my front seat. I’ll be scribbling, taking notes from the points of view of my characters, Willow and her son, Little Hawk (who becomes RoHnaan from Sundagger.net). They walk the nearly 100 miles  from Chaco Canyon to Chimney Rocks, following the Anasazi light-talking mounds, small hills in the high desert where the Anasazi signaled messages from great distances using fire and mica mirrors.

 

Inside a Chaco House
Inside a Chaco House

At the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park campground, I’ll  face the cracked mesa ridge where Willow waits impatiently for her lover Water Hunter. I’ll walk along Chaco Wash and talk to the crows like she does after Water Hunter abandons her. What would she have seen climbing up Fajada Butte after the despotic Elders to take back her infant son? I’ll see her leave Chaco with Little Hawk years later, sneaking away with a loaded travois and a stray dog.

Their route along the North Road across the desert is gone, just gullies, canyons today. How does the wind feel at night? Will I see the sky crowded with millions of stars that the 12th century Anasazi studied too? Or the bludgeoned skulls of the ancestors that traumatize Little Hawk and his dog inside the Salmon and Aztec ruins?

From Durango in southwestern Colorado, I’ll look for a narrow four mile road leading up to Chimney Rock National Monument.  Can I see the Piedras River from the top of the mountain?  Watch the Standing-Still Moon rise between the two jagged promontories?

 

Atop this high, desolate settlement, I’ll surely walk along the First Ridge Mesa to the two stone towers. Like Willow and Little Hawk, I’ll be anxious about seeing Grandmother after all those years she was imprisoned in the tower.

Last Entry
m Last Entry

 

Dear Diary, I have reached the end of you. After my trip to Provincetown that first time, I returned to the cocoon of  my junior year at Carnegie-Mellon. From my last entry, September 23, 1964, I see how my spirits are rising “bright and quick” as I realize there was work to be done and I could do it now. Back so long ago I gave myself a job that I still have today. That first journey opened the door.

I just have to open the door a little further, take that trip.

Standing Still Moon, Chimney Rock, CO
Standing Still Moon, Chimney Rock, CO

 

For more about my experiences in Provincetown:

The Poet & The Baby

Admiration/Envy

Events, General, Readings

Honoring Tony Hillerman

If you‘re like me, you loved all the Tony Hillerman books.  To honor this famed mystery writer of the Southwest, I’m having library readings at Sonoma County libraries and I’d like to invite you.  As you see, I already had one reading event on September 16th–thank you to everyone who came. It was inspiring!

Margaret C. Murray Reading in Honor of Tony Hillerman

Tony Hillerman (May 27, 1925–October 26, 2008) was an award-winning American author of detective novels and non-fiction works best known for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels set in the Southwest. I was very honored that he agreed to endorse my first novel, Sundagger.net, an endorsement that appears on the cover of my book.

When I had finished writing my first draft of Sundagger.net, set in the Four Corners area of New Mexico, I wrote to him to ask his opinion and thus began a correspondence that lasted until he died. I think of him as my teacher, my mentor, and my ally.  As a writer in the world, I want to be how Tony Hillerman was with me–funny, open, giving, generous, very knowledgeable, encouraging, and insistent on practice as the key to success. “Keep on writing” he told me in his letters more than once.

Tony Hillerman influenced me long before I wrote Sundagger.net. In particular, I was drawn to his stark, evocative descriptions of the Four Corners area where the four Southwest states converge–New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. There he set his Jim Chee-Joe Leaphorn mysteries, dipping in and out of  Navajo and Hopi landscapes to unveil and eliminate crime.

Tony Hillerman was the master of crafting a fascinating story. For me, all these 29 books were an “easy” read, pure enjoyment, that put me in touch with the pleasure of life. His Native American characters especially were quirky, comfortable, the kind of down-home people you could relate to–at times grumpy, jealous, self-serving, duty-driven, burdened with work, love lost, but in the end, bigger than all that and always very human. And women held a place of honor and respect.

All the Tony Hillerman mysteries unveiled a Native American point-of-view that opened my eyes to a different, deeper world. Touching on reservation life, they described traditional Navajo ceremonies and medicine men, attitudes toward death and burial, as well as political and social issues that affect us all in the bigger community, for example, the stealing of antiquities, illegal aliens, drug dealing across borders, and the embezzlement of billions owed by the federal government to the Indian nation.

Each book embraced a dimension I can only describe as quietly spiritual, based on venerating the magnificence of sky and earth. This was recently illustrated in a new coffee-table photography book, Tony Hillerman’s Landscape, written by his daughter, Anne Hillerman, that I refer to in my reading events.

Here’s a letter Tony Hillerman wrote me that I display on an overhead projector. In it, he points out different attitudes of the Navajo about modern individuality based on their Changing Woman origination story. What Changing Woman might think of a vision questAfter receiving this letter, I revised a chapter in Sundagger.net where a group from the San Francisco area set out on a camping trip to experience a vision quest of their own and end up in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, home of the ancient Anasazi. During my event, I talk about the letter and read sections from the chapter.

Please join me to honor a master of story-telling.

You are  invited to bring your favorite Hillerman book–and  to read an excerpt aloud to our audience.

Hope to see you at the library!

FREE AND OPEN TO EVERYONE.

 

Events, Readings

Celebrate the Summer Sun! Bring Your Drum!

sun dagger by Michael Goslow

Summer Solstice Reading
June 14th, 2010, 7PM
Hercules Library
Hercules, CA  94547

You’re invited to a book reading I’m having of my novel, Sundagger.net, “a mystery in another dimension”, at the brand new Hercules Library. Please come! It will be held on a bright Monday evening, one week before the actual solstice on June 21st.

What is a summer solstice? It is the longest day of the year and occurs when the earth is tilted closest to the sun.

My novel begins and ends with a solstice ceremony. The title is based on an actual phenomenon that occurs at the solstices. In Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, the sun “pierces” a spiral petroglyph carved by the Anasazi at the top of a butte. The stone slabs through which the sun shines shape the light into dagger(s). One dagger shines down the center of the spiral at the summer solstice and two flank the rim at the winter solstice.

The reading will also include drumming and Native American ceremony. It will be held in a beautiful large white room in the Hercules Library with all the latest electronic equipment one might ever need. I’ll be showing slides of the amazing and colossal Chaco Canyon ruins.

As we approach the summer solstice, our energies will be high and our intention strong. Together we will manifest ourselves. Come celebrate. Bring your drum!

Sun Dagger Piercing Spiral Petroglyph, Chaco Canyon, NM
Sun Dagger Piercing Spiral Petroglyph, Chaco Canyon, NM
Events, Readings

Video interview with the author

I’m outside the Pinole Library. I’ve just finished my “Event with the Author,”  reading from my novel and showing slides of Chaco Canyon World Heritage Center in New Mexico.  Looking at myself is humbling and yet–can you tell?–I’m proud too. Ha!  Life is wonderful. Everything comes to pass. I’ve started writing my next book. I’m 25 pages into the unknown that is the prequel to Sundagger.net. My working title is Center of the World—that’s what the Anasazi must have felt. It’s where we’re all at, don’t you think?

Events, Journal

The Author in her Author’s Booth at the California Expo State Fair

Look at the great poster too!
Look at the great poster too!

The Author in her Author’s Booth at the California Expo State Fair

Around Labor Day I appeared twice at California Expo State Fair Author’s Booth in Sacramento, CA. There were 38 of us writers scheduled to appear over the two-week period. I was thrilled because a year before I had been on the other side of the booth, listening to other writers talk about their books. And now I had the chance to be one of them.

The booth was in the center of the first floor of a building overflowing with enticing displays from all the California counties. It was an old barn of a warehouse in fact, without lighting, wireless access, enough electrical outlets or sound insulation. I sat with four other writers looking out long picnic tables where fairgoers devoured chocolate-covered berries, sticky cinnamon buns, thick pizza, sourdough chowder bowls and funnel cakes. Our job was to talk to people, sell our books, and read our work if we chose.

I learned from the other authors how to take charge no matter what the environment. The engaging journalist-historian and a children’s writer on either side of me wooed the crowd in different ways, using their passion for their books to fuel one-time intimate conversations. When not talking, the journalist took copious notes from an old book about Sacramento, his next history project. In a very soft voice, the children’s writer prompted passers-by to lean over the table to better hear her.

The experience of carrying on conversations with strangers about my book or any book was fascinating, if nebulous. The second time I appeared was a Thursday and a slow day for the fair. Some people stopped to look, some to talk. I met a man who worked for the National Park Service and was the planner for Chaco Canyon National Park during the 1980s. He actually got the rare chance to go to the top of Fajada Butte and see the sun dagger during the solstices. After our enthusiastic conversation about the primitive terrain into the canyon, he bought my book.

Unlike opening day when there had been no microphone, this time there was one and I was determined to read. I had signed up to appear at 3:15 PM, allotting a little over a quarter hour for my appearance. My young friend, Josh, was there to accompany me with his Native American singing and drumming. Still I felt challenged, knowing my audience was hit-or-miss, random folk milling about. Would I be able to attract their interest enough to stop and sit down on the folding chairs and be caught up in my story?

I did find an audience. There was one family of four, including children, who sat near the front. The father listened intently as I read about the Navajo and Hopi views of a vision quest. I remember a few single people sitting at the end. There was at least one couple toward the back. An intent young man near the center. Who else? My good friend, Rose, from Concord was there to support me. I felt so grateful.

I had practiced all the previous week, talking into my tape recorder, writing out an outline. But looking out at the people wandering by, only vaguely aware of me on the stage, I became distracted. Rushing past my own confusion, I started reading from Chapter 16, Vision Quest, where a group of people from a San Francisco Bay Area sweat lodge ends up in Chaco Canyon.

I held the microphone to my lips as Josh drummed four different times while the scenes changed and then finished by singing a Sundance song. His song was great. But there was so much noise in that cavernous building! So many distractions; for example, a rock climbing demonstration area was located right next to the stage.

Time flew by. From my proceeds, I wrote a check for California Sales Tax to Naida West, the Author’s Booth organizer and an outstanding novelist of California history with a Native American point of view. I won’t forget those people who talked with me, who listened to my story, and I to theirs. My spirits were high when I drove home.