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My younger brother and sister, Rick and Trudy

First published on this site in December, 2015. Memories of Christmas at Teec Nos Pos, deep in Dinétah, the Navajo Nation, are probably from several Christmases, but they've rolled together to become memories of a single Christmas when I was somewhere between the ages of 6-8.

When I was six, I attended the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) school on the hill above the mission at Teec Nos Pos. That was where I learned the Christmas song “Up on the Rooftop” with my Navajo classmates. I learned it in Dummitawry English, and that’s how I still sing it to myself around the house these days. “Gib en a dolly dat laffin’ an’ cryin’, One dat openin’ and closin’ his eye.” And so on. My mother tried to correct me when I came home singing it, but her corrections, as with so many attempts to correct my Nava-glish, just sounded wrong. And I was stubborn. After all, I’d learned it in school.

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The exact moment of winter solstice, 2018, 
Chaco Canyon


This essay was first published a few winters ago in the Gallup Independent in very similar form.



On the magnificent golden butte that overlooks the ruins of Chaco Canyon, ancient astronomers, ancestors of the Pueblo peoples, created a massive solar calendar. They were not only astronomers, they had among them highly talented engineers that were able to place three enormous slices of sandstone in perfect alignment so that, as Earth revolves around the sun, sunlight strikes a spiral carved on the foremost rock in targeted locations. It happens on the fall and spring equinoxes and on the summer and winter solstices. 
Long before I knew about this calendar, I imagined us little humans on our little clod of Earth moving inward and outward on a spiral as we moved away from the light of the sun on the summer solstice and toward the sun on the winter solstice. I didn't envision the spiral and the light in the configuration created by the Chaco astronomers; for some odd reason, I imagined our winter movement toward the light as if we found ourselves at the very center of a great inner ear, the spiral called the cochlea, moving outward from the darkness into the glorious light. And at the time of longest light—summer solstice—strange as it seemed, we moved along the spiral toward the darkness once again.
Important things happen in the dark. We sleep, and our bodies and minds are restored by an unseen magic. In sleep we dream and process daytime problems that have gone unsettled, sometimes for years. In the darkness plants germinate before they reach into the light. Bears hibernate, owls hunt, storytellers entertain us and move us in new directions. The lights we humans create—candles, lanterns, lamps—glow, visible in the dark.
Important things also happen in the light. We move our bodies. We do work. We create. Plants synthesize the sun's energy. Daytime animals move about. We rejoice in the light. We long for the light during the darkness of winter, for it is not only the nights that are dark but also, often, the days. Thus, people the world over celebrate the knowledge that, on whichever hemisphere we find ourselves in the season we call winter, our half of the Earth is once again returning to the light.
Just now, it is the northern hemisphere that tilts and returns to the light, beginning on the winter solstice, which will be on December 21 this year. On that day, I will again find myself in the tiny town of Elk Horn, Iowa, where my daughter works at the Museum of Danish America. Some years, the museum celebrates our return to the light with a huge evening bonfire. In the Jewish tradition, there is a festival of lights, Hanukkah, which has just passed. During Kwanzaa, a celebration of African American culture held in the dark of winter, people light a candle every night for seven nights, and each night they teach a different life principle. The Christian Church chose to celebrate the birth of Jesus at this time of year rather than in the spring, when scholars say he was actually born, in order to celebrate a great light come into the world. We humans seem to naturally want to cheer ourselves through the remaining darkness of winter, reminding ourselves that brighter days are coming.
Speaking to his followers, Jesus once said that we—you and I—are meant to be the light of the world. I often buy tea from a company that prints a message on the tags. My favorite one reads, "Live light. Travel light. Spread the light. Be the light." From a tea tag—a teaching about ways that you and I can become "the light of the world."
What would it mean to live light and travel light? To not have so much stuff, not be burdened by material things. To not use more of the Earth's resources than we need. To think before driving off somewhere, asking if we really must use up that gas and add to our carbon footprint. To be generous, maybe even until it pinches a bit. To be grateful for all things.
What does it mean to spread the light, to be the light? To let our first response be yes rather than no. To share good news. To listen—the greatest gift of all. To love, because love is what makes people blossom. To offer an experience if it might help and if it's wanted.
As the Earth turns toward the sun, let us, "Live light. Travel light. Spread the light. Be the light."

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A HOLIDAY LETTER: A Guest Post by Sarah Couch

My friend Janet shared with me her daughter Sarah's holiday letter to the people she loves. I was deeply touched by it, because it so beautifully and truthfully embraces the hard and the tender, the warmth and the cold in our lives. It reminds me of the central importance of hospitality. I'm grateful to Sarah for her willingness to share this letter with you. The only thing I changed was to remove her daughter's name.




Dear People I Love,
I saw my nephew today. I drove down to meet him near where the bus from the homeless shelter drops him off. I couldn't find him at the meeting spot so called. He reminded me he can't stand in front of buildings, even if he is waiting to meet his aunt, because they will say he is loitering or they will call the police because they are uncomfortable with how his delusions express themselves through his body and words. He stood, instead, in the gutter, and waited for my minivan to turn the corner and legitimize his right to take up space in our community. 
It is harsh, right?  Why would I start my holiday letter like that?  Should I not be telling stories more joy filled and hopeful?  Shouldn't my words be full of all the good things from the year, like the puppy we adopted from the pound in February, and the new chickens whose feathers shine silver when the rays of the sun hit them at the right angle, and the growth and changes in my business?  Shouldn't I tell you about my daughter and how she has lost all her front teeth and has a toothless grin that lights up a room, or about the way her body fills with pride when she reads all the words in a book, or about her brilliance and her understanding of numbers and how she counts by 1s and 10s and 20s? 
And maybe it is age, or maybe it is experience, or maybe it's just real. All of it. I can't pretend that driving down the street and seeing the impact of poverty and drug use doesn't impact me. I can't deny that watching people wake up on street corners, and listening to people tell stories of hopelessness and overdose and suicide and terror doesn't create some heaviness in my breathing, a weight on my heart. I can't ignore that wars, and hate, and injustice and inhumanity fly around in ways that strike me at my core and make me afraid. Concurrently, I can't pretend I am not inspired by the ways bulbs break through the soil to welcome spring, or the way water sounds as it trickles through a creek and down a rock in the mountains. I can't ignore how people stop to create moments of connection, or how people offer themselves up to support a cause, or how neighbors can surround each other to create an oasis of lights to buffer the early darkness of winter. I can't deny the way the cold morning air hits my lungs with piercing clarity reminding me I am alive. I am alive. And with my history of depression and feelings of hopelessness and desire to sometimes not be alive, I say again, I am alive. And I'm here for all of this.

So I hope this letter finds you alive. And I hope this holiday season is full of amazing moments of joy and light in the darkness and families and friends and good food and sleeping in and funny movies and delicious treats and long hours spent in nature. And I hope, also, there are moments where you feel the empty grief of your loved one who is no longer here, and the sweet sadness of watching the children in your life grow up and grow into their own true selves, and that you feel longing and fear and maybe a little bit of terror, so you can fully embrace the closeness and hope and moments of safety and calm. I hope all of this for you. And I am so very grateful you are part of our life.





Sarah owns her business, which provides social work services to children in the Albuquerque Public Schools.

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I have to tell you, I'm pretty pleased with myself. After several attempts, I have now made it possible for you to purchase Fertile securely on my website using Square. It's been tested and is up and functioning. This means you can use any credit card, Apple Pay, Google Pay, Cash App or Afterpay. I've also discounted the book for the holiday season from $35.95 to $25, including shipping. 


This anthology is a lovesong to our beloved, beautiful, fragile, fertile planet and all its inhabitants, by twenty-three invited, previously published authors. As with most artists, we have contributed to Earth in many ways and from diverse backgrounds, so there's some overlap here, but here's a breakdown of who you'll be hearing from when you buy Fertile. In addition to all of us (I'm one of the authors) having a connection to the Southwest's Four Corners region and being poets, essayists and storytellers, there are:


• 10 visual artists

• 8 journalists (but none of this writing is journalism)

• 8 Indigenous writers

• 1 Japanese writer originally from Tokyo

• 14 writers of varied European heritage

• 9 educators (aren't we all?)

• 5 in social service work

• 3 farmers

• 2 regional poet laureates

• 2 musicians

• 2 scientists

• 1 seed saver

• This author: Anna Redsand


We bring all this richness to Fertile. I hope you'll do yourself (think, too, of someone you care about) a favor and buy Fertile today (click on this link). Twelve copies left in my stock and more available on backorder.





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