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July 20th, 2004: Going Home

Like a vision of a far off land, they rise up from the horizon - sometimes obscured by clouds or hazy skies - but on this particular day they are bold and visible from over a hundred miles. The San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff, Arizona serve as a major focal point for traditional Hopis who believe that they are the home of the sacred kachina spirits who visit them throughout the winter and spring months.

This month is the time for the Home Dance or Niman Kachina. The villages are all holding their last ceremonial dances of the year - celebrating the blessings they've received and honoring the kachinas before they depart. They will soon be going home. The world-renown Hopi artist and sculptor, Neil David Sr., painted a fabulous scene of kachina spirits emerging from an earthy home, with a kiva ladder tucked secretly into the mountains. The title of this piece: Going to Hopi.

So it is, every year. The kachinas arrive in early winter and depart in early summer. The Home Dance is a grand spectacle. Visitors come from everywhere to witness a great gathering of many different kachinas. These visitors often include other Pueblos, and even Navajos (although much less frequently today than 100 years ago). Many make a pilgrimage of great distances to be a part of something ancient - something sacred. Eventually, each of them will also return home.

Although a visitor myself, in many respects, it is here that I too feel most at home. The Hopi culture and the feeling of the land is unlike anything else in the world. It is mysterious and majestic. It is peaceful and serene.

In the course of business (not to mention daily life), I am often required to travel long distances - whether to an art market, a cultural festival, or even to get groceries. Flagstaff is nearly a hundred and twenty miles from my home, but we go there often to run our errands and to get away at times. As we head west, I am always reminded of the kachina homeland, as the peaks are the most prominently visible landmark. Often they are snow capped, as if to say they have gone dormant with the absence of their inhabitants. But once the kachinas return, the hills are alive with plant and animal life. They are vibrant with the green color of juniper and pine. The mountains have become whole again. They have returned to undertake the great responsibility of bringing the rains and sustaining life.

I imagine that it must be similar for the Hopi, whose villages also come alive with the arrival of the kachina spirits. And when they leave, the Hopi are left with the memories and lessons of the past, returning to their homes and striving to maintain the delicate balance between the world we live in and their traditional life. They know they have a responsibility. We all have a responsibility to our home - whether it's four walls and a ceiling we use for shelter, or whether it's Mother Earth - we have a home, a sacred place.

There is something sublime about the journey home, no matter where you are. As my wife and I drove down the stretch of highway from Winslow, Arizona to Second Mesa - with our daughter asleep in the back seat - I couldn't help but feel like I was going home too. Going home to a place of peace and security - with my family and with my friends. I am fortunate to call this place home.

The Permanent Rezident

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