Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Don't Worry, Be Hopi


When I decided to write the book that eventually became Tainted Mountain, I was drawn to the controversy surrounding man-made snow at Snowbowl, a ski resort in Flagstaff, Arizona. First of all, it seemed bizarre to have a ski resort at the edge of a desert, even if Flagstaff sits at 7,000 feet above sea level. Then I learned it is one of the oldest ski areas in the country, established in 1938. Snowbowl’s owners were caught in a drought, or maybe it’s called climate change, and they decided the solution was to pump treated wastewater from Flagstaff to spray on the mountain. There is some concern from environmentalists that the gray water could contain contaminates, such as undigested drugs, that could be dangerous for skiers as well as for the landscape.

The big controversy, though, is that the San Francisco Peaks, where Snowbowl is located, is sacred to thirteen tribes and features in their creation stories. They aren’t happy about what they call, “potty water” sprayed on their sacred land and have taken to calling Snowbowl, Toiletbowl.

So I started researching and I discovered the Hopi tribe. What an amazing culture. The tribe is one of the smallest and oldest tribes in the world. They believe they are a microcosm of the world and what happens on Hopi is a forewarning for the world. If they don’t do their part, the world will become unbalanced. If that happens, the Fourth World we know and love will end.

Then I found a book by some white guy preacher that was just plain crazy. It was written in the 90’s and this guy said the Hopi elders were desperate to get the message to the world that time was running out. We needed to heed their warnings about the end of the Fourth World.

It was pretty typical end-of-the-world stuff but this guy outlined prophecies that had been handed down for over 1000 years, from white men coming to ancient tribal land to men landing on the moon, including the advent of cars, trains, telephones and planes. I thought the white guy writing the book was awfully pretentious to say he spoke for the Hopi elders and it all sounded ridiculous in that conspiracy theory kind of way.

He gave a list of things we all needed to do like be gentle and kind and protect the earth. And at the very least, plant seeds. Growing plants would help balance the world and maybe even save it.

My imagination isn’t half as good as this guy’s but I write fiction and didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t use his paranoia to my benefit.

The more Hopi research I did, the more fascinated I became with this tiny tribe. But here’s the kicker on the Hopi: they are extremely secretive. A person can find out quite a bit about their history in books or speaking to tribal members but there’s a vast culture they keep private.

They have an elaborate religious ceremonial life and much of that takes place inside kivas, away from prying eyes. I’m okay with that. It is this strict adherence to the ceremonies that keeps the planet from spinning out of control.

So now, I’m hooked on Hopi. For instance, did you know that if you draw a straight line from the Hopi rez through the center of the Earth, it comes out in Tibet? And did you know the Tibetan word for moon is the Hopi word for sun and the Hopi word for moon is the Tibetan word for sun? Got goosebumps? I do.

Not long after I moved to Flagstaff I read accounts of strange lights in the sky. A quick Internet search took me to a blog site where Hopi tribal members discussed the visit from the Sky People. Intrigued, I was back on the research trail and found out the Hopi have a strong relationship with extraterrestrials. From way, way back. You can see it depicted in their pictographs and petroglyphs scratched into stone a thousand years ago. They believe the Sky People hang out in lenticular clouds that loiter over the San Francisco Peaks.

There’s so much about the Hopi who live in virtual isolation on three mesas in northern Arizona I couldn’t help but write about them. But I’m really white. I grew up in middle America, middling all the way around. So I want to be respectful of a culture in which I’m so much of an outsider it’s hard to even knock on the door. I searched around Flagstaff to find a traditional Hopi who would be willing to talk to me.

I found a couple of Hopi people who read my manuscript and asked me to remove a few scenes and eliminate the name of their main deity. In one of our discussions I mentioned the book I’d read and how I didn’t use much from it because it seemed disrespectful to Hopi.

The elderly man asked me what I meant. So I went on to explain some of the over-the-top warnings and allegations made by the white preacher dude.

I expected him to wave it off as the ramblings of an outsider. Maybe he’d even be indignant about the writer.

But he didn’t discount the book of warnings.

He raised his eyebrows, shrugged and gave me a mysterious little smile. Then he told me to do him a favor.

When I asked what, he said, “Plant some seeds.”

by Shannon Baker


Shannon Baker is a lover of mountains, plains, oceans and rivers and can often be found traipsing around the great outdoors. Tainted Mountain, the first in her Nora Abbott Mystery Series, is set in Flagstaff, AZ, where she lived for several years and worked for The Grand Canyon Trust, a hotbed of environmentalists who, usually, don’t resort to murder. It involves man made snow on sacred peaks, uranium mining in the Grand Canyon, kachinas, murder, and a woman determined to make some sense of it all. Shannon now makes her home in Boulder, CO. Surprisingly, Nora followed her and the next book in the series is set in this beautiful location.

Please join Shannon March 16th at 2:00 at the Broadway Book Mall to help celebrate the launch of Tainted Mountain. While Tainted Mountain is available from your favorite online bookseller, if you'd like to support our indie bookstores, you are welcomed to contact Ron or Nina Else at the Broadway Book Mall. They will be glad to help you.




9 comments:

Shannon Baker said...

Thanks for having me around, Pat and the crew at Chiseled in Rock. This is a great site!

Julie Luek said...

Wow-- what a fascinating background to the story. Makes me want to read the book even more. So glad you stopped by and shared the story, Shannon.

Patricia Stoltey said...

You're very welcome, Shannon. I'm really looking forward to reading Tainted Mountain. Will you be signing books at Left Coast Crime?

Shannon Baker said...

Thanks, Julie. I love learning about other cultures.

Why, yes, Pat, I will be signing at Left Coast Crime in less than two weeks! I will sign after panels on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.

j.a. kazimer said...

Be Hopi...you're so funny!

I can't wait to get my copy at LLC. Your research triples mine in the first paragraph.

Great post. See you soon.

Julie Golden said...

Lenticular clouds are so cool. Now I know another reason to spend more time admiring them. Thanks for all the info – looking forward to learning more in Tainted Mountain. Your respect for the culture of the Hopi promises an entertaining book with a healthy attitude.

Peg Brantley said...

Great post, Shannon! I appreciate your respectful approach to a different culture.

Maybe we'll run into each other at LCC.

Shannon Baker said...

Hey, Julie, I can't take credit for that phrase. Someone coined it and put it on T-shirts they sell at the rez. Thanks all for stopping by. We'll have us a blast at LCC!

fpdorchak said...

Great post, Shannon! I graduated from NAU, um YEARS ago. And my German language instructor studied the Hopi and their language, and I got to know some of Native Americans there. The ones I knew and roomed with were always quite quiet, yes. Secretive, even. I've always loved the Native American culture for many reasons, being close to nature, being one of them, but did not know some of what you talked about---like the ET connection. Of course, I was kinda overwhelmed with 20+ hours of study every semester. Now I wish I'd had more time to better connect with those I knew and met. There's just not enough time in the day, is there?

Great post, thanks!