Monday, December 22, 2008

A Solstice Crystal Blessing

This is a crystal grid I created for the Winter Solstice in my studio. All crystals and stones vibrate to certain energies that can be used for healing, transformation and the development of consciousness. One of my favorite ways to work with crystals is to create an arrangement of stones dedicated to a specific intention. If you think of each stone as a musical instrument, then a grid would be the equivalent of a symphony. It can be used as a focus for mediation, but once the energy is set up, it will continue to broadcast that energy until dismantled.
Every year I'm drawn to do a grid at the solstice, using blues, violets, and clear and iridescent stones. Almost all of my high-energy powerhouse stones go into the mixas well as heart stones like rose quartz and morganite (a pink beryl and cousin to emerald). The intention is to help ground the powerful transformative energy that comes in with the death-rebirth qualities of the winter solstice, and also to anchor and distribute some very high and refined spiritual energy into the earth and all of us. If you like, you can work with this grid through the image simply by intending to do so, and using it as a focus in meditation. I'll leave it up at least through Christmas...I have a sense for when a grid has fulfilled its purpose and then I take it down.
Years ago I studied several forms of spiritual healing, including crystal healing with JaneAnn Dow and Katrina Raphaell. I also studied shamanic practice and counseling, flower essence therapy, earth healing, aromatherapy and Reiki during my long spiritual sojourn, but in recent years I've felt that art was my true (and original) calling. So I've come full circle, having returned to art and jewelry design full-time. Now I believe that all of the healing and transformational energies go out most effectively through my creative work. That may seem like a surprise to those who are only familiar with my very earthy jewelry, but I assure you, the energetic dimension is definitely there!
I hope you enjoy the blessing energy of this grid, and that you have a lovely and transformative new year!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Procession of Guadalupe

Today is the feast day in honor of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.
My Guadalupe altar.

A group of young women bear aloft an image of Guadalupe as the procession falls into line.

I've been a devotee of the Dark Madonna for years now, although I'm certainly not religious in any formal sense of the word. There are shrines to her throughout my house, and I have a large tattoo of her on my right arm that regularly gets me stopped by admirers when I'm out and about. The Dark Madonna is champion of the poor, the downtrodden, the marginalized and dispossessed; the one who fights outside of the mainstream for those who feel betrayed and abandoned by the status quo...she's the maverick, the subversive Madonna. And to many, myself included, she is the Great Mother, the goddess of the earth, the Divine Feminine.

So this year I felt compelled to go up to Santa Fe to check out the annual procession held in honor of what is probably the most widely adored Dark Madonna of them all, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. Guadalupe is everywhere in New Mexico and is loved by many both within and outside of the catholic community. Processions, dances and special celebrations are held everywhere on her feast day, and the night before. This particular procession was to kick off the feast day celebrations in Santa Fe, with a route beginning at the Cathedral and ending at the newly-dedicated statue of Guadalupe at the Santuario de Guadalupe across town.

Dancing in the street during the procession.

My son, Max, and I drove up early, had a solid meal of tamales and chile at Tomasitas, and walked over to the Cathedral, which at the moment is surreally wrapped in scaffolding and plastic, Christo-style. What with that and construction in the Plaza, downtown Santa Fe is looking pretty strange this Christmas. The procession was supposed to start at 7. We went into the Cathedral and found it full of people getting ready to listen to the Santa Fe Symphony; the procession was forming up at a hall next door. So we went around there but it was all but deserted...we were in the right place, but where was everybody? I was expecting a crowd of hundreds! We wandered back around to the front of the Cathedral just as a huge group of people appeared seemingly out of nowhere, all converging on the scene. A troupe of Aztec dancers arrived in a pickup, decked out in gigantic feathered headdresses, and pulled around to the hall.

We went back, and joined the crowd near a huge image of Guadalupe wreathed in flowers, borne on the shoulders of several young women. Looking around, I saw that Max and I were among the bare handful of Anglo faces visible...and he was easily the tallest of us, at 6' 4"! Excitement started to build in the air, an electric feeling that was a combination of joy, passion, and raw power. Someone handed out white taper candles sheltered by clear plastic cups, and one by one they were lit, pools of light appearing as little knots of people gathered to pass the flames from one candle to the other. The drums began, loud, fierce, and I caught a whiff of burning copal. I thought it was ironic, the stark contrast between the chaotic, almost frenetic energy in the courtyard and the ordered, upscale white European event, attended by Santa Fe's elite, going on inside the church next to us. And it was clear to me where the real power was: out here under the stars, in the street, among the people. This was where the wild energy was, the fierce love, the devotion, and it felt old, incredibly ancient--deeper than the institution that purported to contain it, certainly. I could feel a wild emotion welling up in me, around me, and knew that this was all for Her, the Mother, dancing with her people in their own way, on their own terms.

The dancers perform in front of the statue as the procession arrives.

Suddenly, with a huge amount of noise (surely they could hear it inside the cathedral! What were they thinking, I wondered) we were off, fast, away from the church and down the street, past the parking garage and the shops toward the Plaza. The Aztec dancers led the way. Max and I fell into place in a large group immediately behind a second group of dancers in red and white, adorned with multiple sequined images of Guadalupe and holding rattles, effigies of hands, and bows and arrows. At every intersection they paused and danced. These were traditional dances from Mexico, I guessed, as I'd never seen anything like them here and they all looked indigenous, yet different--more energetic--than what I've seen at our pueblos. Moving down the street in the crowd, I felt like I was back in San Miguel de Allende somehow.

People appeared on the street and on balconies and at windows to watch the procession. Most of them looked bemused...this wasn't in the tourist brochures...what was going on? One couple stopped me to ask, undoubtedly because I was one of the few non-Hispanic faces in the crowd.

Matachine dancers perform for Guadalupe before her statue.

The procession wound around onto--you guessed it--Guadalupe Street, and our destination came into view: a 12', 4000 pound statue of painted metal, installed with much fanfare last August. A line of bonfires--luminarias--lit the scene from the street alongside her, and farolitos, the little brown paper bags with candles in them, lined all the sidewalks around the sanctuary. The statue itself was floodlit from below and there were dozens upon dozens of roses and candles at her feet. As we approached the groups of dancers performed for her at the foot of her statue before they moved off to the church.

Max and I watched it all as I tried to take a few surreptitious shots of the scene. The smoke from the luminarias wreathed around the people and the statue, and the color and movement of the dancers in the half light seemed mysterious and otherworldly. Max turned to me and said "Thanks for bringing me up here tonight, Ma". I was grateful, too...although it wasn't my religion, nor my community, nor my hometown, I felt like I was welcome, and a part of a very powerful expression of love, gratitude and celebration of the Divine Mother...who belongs to everyone, as we all belong to Her.

Watching the dances by the glow of the luminarias.

Aztec dancers as they prepare to process into the sanctuary.

The dancers, who had disappeared toward the church, suddenly reappeared after a while and the procession reformed to travel around the sidewalk and enter the sanctuary itself. We followed out of curiousity, although it seemed to me that the true focus of the procession was to arrive at the statue, and I felt complete with that. Everyone converged upon the entrance. The dance groups went in first, followed by those who hadn't already taken a place inside. The interior of the sanctuary, which I hadn't yet seen, was white and sterile, with ugly, politically correct flourescent lights in the wrought-iron lanterns and a curiously dark altar dominated by a reproduction of the original image of Guadalupe, before which the dancers were once again performing. Scattered around the front of the church were some lovely images, and Guadalupe was everywhere, but the overall feeling was oppressive, anticlimactic; we had entered the institution of the church, while the true life and focus of the celebration seemed to have begun and ended outside of it, on the streets, among the people.

The group pauses before for the final procession into the sanctuary.

I bought three roses, one red, one white, and one pink, from a woman in the back of the church. As we left, some people were offering free devotional cards, rosaries and bumper stickers from a table in the lobby. I was given a rosary of bright violet plastic beads; Max took one of brown beads. As we lingered at the back of the church, unwilling to stay, but not quite ready to leave, Max studied the prayer on the back of his card. "Don't look at the back" he said to me. Without my reading glasses on it was out of the question anyway, but apparently it was a rather pointed entreaty from a right-to-life group out of Colorado, one of the many groups who have appropriated the image of Guadalupe to promote their cause. Max knows I'm a fiercely dedicated feminist, but I just shrugged and said "put it in a little frame--you don't need to look at the back. The front is all that matters". After living in New Mexico for 12 years, I've come to respect everyone's religion and point of view, even if I don't agree with it.
This, probably more than anything else, exemplifies the universal appeal of Guadalupe, Empress of the Americas, who is revered by all manner of Christians, as well as agnostics, atheists, Jews, Buddhists, gays, lesbians, people of color, Anglos, promoters of political causes, and yes, even us feminists: she represents love and compassion, someone who looks out for us and walks beside us and matter who we are and where we fit in. And one thing I've learned is that, if you live in New Mexico, you can't get away from her--sooner or later she'll come knocking on your door and eventually you'll let her in, into your life and into your heart.

The statue.
I left the biggest and prettiest of the roses, the pink one, tucked into a vase at the base of the statue, saving the other two for my altar back home. We lingered for a little while longer, and then headed back through the cold night to the SUV and toward home.
Que Viva Guadalupe!
till next time...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Condor Talisman

I'm such a die-hard, I was figuring out how to do this design even as I was watching the condors fly in the Grand Canyon on Sunday! Yesterday I got out the very last of my silver PMC and crafted this pendant from the image at the top of my last post. I wanted it to be recognizable as, and capture the feeling of a condor in flight, but not be too fussy on the details. (For fussy details, I'll post images of my paintings sometime!) Instead, I went for a primal look and feel, something that evoked the high-desert environment and ancient rock art.
I'm pleased with the result, and am thinking about taking a mold from this and doing a limited, signed edition of it in silver and/or bronze, and donating a portion of the profits to the condor restoration project, probably either the Peregrine Fund or the Grand Canyon. Other designs are coming to mind to be offered as one-of-a-kind originals or limited editions. I would appreciate your feedback on this if you're interested!
'Till later...Dawn

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Condor Dreams

They are like nothing else. No other birds even come close. With a 9 1/2-foot (3 meter) wingspan, the California condors are the great shamans of the air, flying with a pure, stately grace through the vastness of the Grand Canyon and beyond. As I write this, two days after seeing them for the first time, I can see them in my mind's eye, but I struggle for words. It felt like a visitation from one of the great Powers.

My husband, Michael, and I had taken a brief trip to see Steve Roach in concert in Flagstaff (for photos of that, see his website at and for a few days of R&R in Northern Arizona. Mike suggested that we go up to the Grand Canyon again, and so had arrived at Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim, actually found an available room, and were just wandering around deciding what to do with ourselves.
A talk on the condors had been scheduled at Mary Coulter's beautiful Lookout Studio, but I figured I already knew most of what they would say and I hadn't come to stand around in a crowd. We decided on a walk down the rim trail for sunset and were heading back to the X-terra for warmer clothes when we came upon the talk already in progress, so I said what the hell, let's hang around for a few minutes.
And then I saw it: a large bird circling out over the canyon. As it turned, I saw what looked like a white head and assumed it was a bald eagle. Others saw it, too, and began to point and exclaim. Then the guide turned, took one look and said "Here comes one now!" I couldn't believe was a condor!!
We and everyone else in the vicinity scrambled for a good view. As we watched, more condors came to investigate until there were five in all; apparently they are drawn to crowds and activity. We watched them, and they watched us. At times one would fly by at eye level, so close we could hear the air rushing through their wings. It was an awesome sound, like the wind through the pines. They had a good look and then landed on some outcrops on the cliffs below, took off again, and circled away and back again, playing in the air, for a good hour.

Their flight is rock steady, with wings perfectly outstretched on either side, primaries spread like fingers at the tips. They'll spend hours like this, going as high as 15,000 feet and hundreds of miles in a day. And I can tell you, these pictures don't do them justice.

Nearly all of the condors in canyon country today have been released there from the breeding program (more on that below), and bear plastic numbered ID tags on their wings, as well as radio transmitters. At times, they were so close we could read the numbers through binoculars.

Meanwhile, here are Michael and I, as I took our picture just before the surprise of a lifetime. Nice camera shadow...did I mention I was a professional? Mike's already scanning the skies.

One of the condors perched on a ledge, just hanging out. They relax and wait for the wind to be just right. Taking off, they expend as little energy as necessary: just one or two flaps of those incredible wings, and then they're soaring on the thermals for hours.

The same view, pulled out to show the condor in context with the canyon.

Beautiful in flight. Mature adults show the classic white on the underwing, with an orange and yellow head and gorgeous red eyes. They often fly with their white feet hanging down, and so look a bit like planes with the landing gear down. I would guess this helps increase drag, so they can slow down when they want to get a good look at things, like us. They strike me as very intelligent and full of character.

Hours later, still watching the condors from the Rim Trail in the afterglow of evening. They will fly until darkness falls.

This was the unexpected culmination of a dream of a lifetime for me. Condors captured my heart in the 1980s and became sacred animals for me, even as I learned that they were in grave danger of extinction. I drew pictures of them and even named my studio Whitecondor Studio. In the spring of 1987, just as I was taking my first tour around the Southwest, the last wild condor was captured and brought into captivity in Southern California for a controversial breeding program. It was an almost desperate measure to try and increase their numbers and someday release them back into the wild.

When their numbers were at their lowest, there were only 22 condors left alive.

The captive breeding program was a success, and in 1992, the first captive-raised condors were released in California. In 1996, the year we moved to our home in New Mexico, the first condors were released at the Vermillion Cliffs north of the Grand Canyon, part of their ancestal territory. They quickly discovered the Canyon, condor nirvana, and have become--incredibly--a common sight on the South Rim.

Today, there are nearly 300 condors alive, and several dozen call the Grand Canyon and the surrounding country home.

I watched them fly away into the distance of evening.

When I first visited the Canyon in '87, the idea of seeing condors flying in the Southwestern skies seemed like an impossible dream. At most, I hoped someday, once in my lifetime, to see one flying free somewhere. On Sunday, October 26, 2008, that dream unexpectedly came true as I returned to the Grand Canyon and saw not one, but five breathtaking condors flying wild, so close that I heard the wind whistling in their wings.

If you would like to contribute to the restoration of the condors, please visit

thanks...until next time,


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ogg Goes to the Used Atlatl Lot & Other Prehistoric Misadventures

It was a chilly, grey day on October 4th in Santa Fe, muting the yellow of blooming chamisa and golden aspens on the heights of the Sangre de Christo mountains high above. I had driven up to visit the Sun Mountain Gathering, an outdoor interactive festival of prehistoric southwestern craft held by the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on the east side of town. Most of the action took place down behind the museum complex, along a network of paths that ran through the pinons...

My first stop was the atlatl-throwing range, where you could try out a selection of atlatls and darts and try to hit targets that consisted of pictures of large, friendly-looking animals stuck to hay bales. For those of you who haven't brushed up on your prehistory, an atlatl is a stick with a finger handle attached that's used for throwing spears and darts; it predates the bow and arrow and at one time was used all over the world. This lady pictured above kindly displayed her really nice one that she ordered from a guy on the internet.
That's right folks, you can order you very own atlatl on the internet.

Naturally, I had to try one myself. They gave me some 4-foot darts and, after failing miserably on the first two tries, I got lucky and hit the rabbit right in the jugular! Well, just barely, but hey. I took a picture of it so I'd have proof. (Of course, this proves nothing so you'll just have to believe me.)
I was hooked. It was easier that I thought, and came back later for a few more throws, killed the deer and was rewarded with a badly aching shoulder the next day. I want to make my own atlatl now. It's on my To Do list.

A little further down the trail, I came upon Ulysses Reid of Zia Pueblo (not far from us at home) just as he was opening a firing pit full of his Mesa Verde-style pots. This is something he's just been getting into, and pit firing is tricky business. Above, he's removing the potsherds that covered the new pots in the pit, which are visible upside-down on the left.

This beautiful bowl was one of the first to emerge. The Mesa Verde style pottery is one style of many from the old days, and is characterized by black designs painted with Rocky Mountain Beeplant (I believe) on a white slip background.

Here's everything just as it came out of the pit. They still need to be rinsed off, but the firing was a partial success; there was no breakage but smoke had blackened much of the white slip, obscuring the designs. Better luck next time, Ulysses! I did take one of the bowls home for my studio, though.
Next stop: the Archaic Hunting Camp...

...where I met John from Portales who, fueled with a large bag of peanuts, was busily flintknapping arrowheads from obsidian. John was a delightful guy who quickly taught me the basics, thus making it appear much simpler than it actually was. Nevertheless, I was able to make one edge of an arrowhead look pretty serviceable, and he gave me a bunch of pieces to take home a try out. Which I will, as soon as my hands heal.

Another flintknapper (whose name I didn't recall, unfortunately) had a display of points and knives he'd made from obsidian, stone and glass. The knife points are set into flattened sheep horns and bound with sinew. Pretty neat stuff.
The only tools the original knappers used were a stone, an antler point, a piece of leather, and a sandstone block. John had made his own tools of copper which worked beautifully, but I've made my own from elk antler tips just to see how it goes.

The day was going by really fast and I realized I wouldn't have time to learn all the techniques, so I made a beeline for the yucca fiber display, part of the Navajo Sheep Camp. I didn't see any Navajos, nor any sheep, but I did meet Mary Weahkee, Santa Clara Pueblo-Comanche, making fabulous things out of yucca fiber. Above, she's set up a partially-completed blanket of rabbit fur strips woven into yucca fiber on an upright loom.

And here is a length of yucca rope she made. The dark, fuzzy strip above it is the beginning of a turkey feather blanket, which will be woven together in the same manner as the one made with rabbit fur. Some turkeys in a neighboring exhibit had serendipitously had a fight earlier in the day, and thus Mary was able to obtain a good quantity of fresh down feathers for her blanket. I had always assumed these blankets would be terribly itchy due to the combination of yucca fiber and little ends of feathers sticking out, but this had been woven so skilfully that it was incredibly soft. I'll take one of these over a coat any day!

Here's Mary showing a newly-twilled segment of yucca fiber to another participant. I'd tried at home to figure out how to make this, but never got the hang of it. Mary taught me how to do it, and it was actually very simple, if hard on the hands. You can either soak the leaves for a long time or just cook them for a couple of days in your turkey roaster at home; the goal is to soften the pulp in the leaves so you can scrape it off. You're left with the pure fibers, which can then be twisted in a variety of ways, and spliced together . Her tools were prosaic (a piece of PVC pipe on a cafeteria tray, an antler scraper and plastic buckets filled with water) but the results were very impressive. I'm still getting the hang of it, but if you see any of my jewelry for sale with handmade yucca fibers, you'll know where I learned it!
All in all, it was the most fun I'd had in a LONG time, and I came away feeling as if, should civilization collapse, I would at least be able to provide us with meat, clothing and footwear. I stopped in town for groceries and some fresh roasted chile and headed for home just as the first autumn storm blew in, which deposited a layer of snow on the mountaintops during the night. Can't wait till next year!!!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bisti Sojourn

With beautiful autumn weather comes wanderlust in New Mexico, and last week I and my son Max decided to make the 3+ hour trek out to the Bisti Badlands, a wilderness area in the northwest corner of the state. A fair portion of the drive is on dirt roads (REAL roads, by God!) like this one, as I shot it out of the window en route...
...heading west across the sagebrush steppe of the San Juan Basin. This is Navajo country, despite the fact that the official border of the rez is out there ahead of us. An occasional house or two is the only evidence that this land is inhabited, and there have been times I've had to slow down so a dusty herd of sheep can clear the road.
We arrived at the dirt parking lot for the wilderness, where a group of somewhat bemused-looking out-of-staters had just wandered back to their vehicles. They had no idea that the really interesting stuff, seen above and following in no particular order, is a good mile up the wash. Which keeps the riffraff out, incidentally.
The above image is pure Bisti: dark hills of shale and clay seamed with coal, bonewhite clay hoodoos, and huge petrified logs. One of the logs is visible resting on a pedestal of clay in the bottom center of the photo.

The hoodoos and other formations look like living things, graceful and something that has only briefly transformed to stone and clay...

An intriguing side passage.

A towering hoodoo. This one is over 15 feet tall; many of the formations in Bisti are actually quite small. Wonderful and strange things happen just above ground level, and the feel is intimate, like a sculpture garden, rather than the monumental formations of canyon country. Hoodoos form when a layer of harder strata erodes away until only isolated caprocks remain. The stems that support them are of softer stuff, and once the caprock falls will quickly erode away.

Small, exquisite hoodoos in the glow of evening light.

During a rest, Max contemplates the meaning of life, the universe, and beef jerky.

I've never seen another place quite like the Bisti. Truly another world...the most desolate, eerie, and fascinating place in the Southwest.

At one place, and only one as far as I know, there is a field of stone eggs which have cracked open and seem to be evaporating back into the dreamtime...

Stones take forms here that I've never seen elsewhere, and wouldn't believe were possible unless I'd seen them myself. Wind seems to be the prime sculptor of these shapes. Many fantastic formations were impossible to photograph in a way that showed clearly what they were, but some, like those above, literally composed themselves.
...We stayed out for a good six hours which went by very fast, and arrived back at the suv just as the sun had slipped below the horizon. Then a long, dark drive homeward...
Next time in the Drylands Journal:
Ogg Goes to the Used Atlatl Lot!
Stay tuned...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Desert Jewels and the Glittering Land

Late sunlight turning the bonelands golden at Bisti, turquoise, silver...the scent of juniper smoke at twilight and a chill in the air at night... Autumn has come to the high desert in Northern New Mexico.

Welcome to my new blog! I've created it as a sister site to my online jewelry store, Desert Talismans at

I'm looking forward to giving you an expanded, more in-depth look at my world, my work, and my creative well as works in other media and works-in-progress.

But for now, I thought I'd include a couple of favorite images from recent days in my first posting to my blog, as a taste of things to come. One was just taken this morning as the first rays of sun fell across my worktable and illuminated a wind-carved stone bowl full of Nevada turquoise cabochons. At the top left of the page are the Bisti Badlands, taken on a day's hike with my son a couple of weeks ago. The Bisti is out in the San Juan Basin, in the northwest corner of New Mexico. I was hungry for new shapes and forms that would inspire my work in PMC (precious metal clay), which I've just begun to use. I wasn't disappointed! An expanded post will include more images from this otherworldly place in the future.

'Till then...