June 20, 2007
Once again, as the healing powers of Powwow loom just over the hill, anticipation lays upon the land. Among those who drink deeply from this well, this annual gathering of the Nations up at Soldier Hollow arrives with the opportunity to renew rhythms of the spirit. It’s a Heber Valley thing. It suits us.
Looking forward to the weekend is all about visions of fresh fry bread and passionately accented drum beats dancing in your head. It’s about the gift of seeing the world from the perspective of those who look to dance and song as the essence of life. Their dances, however, embody ceremony and prayer and the songs are poems from the oral tradition that can both inform and connect singers to the supernatural.
Again this year, there will be a Mountain Man Rendezvous with fire starting and knife throwing included in the festivities. Actually, you might also want to come prepared for an airborne tomahawk or two. These practitioners of the survival arts also bring along many hand-hewn wares of their own to barter and sell and have been a great addition to the gathering.
The great thing about the Powwow, though, is its aspect of inclusion. All, as long as they have remembered to bring along a healthy dose of respect, are welcome. Arriving early and becoming one with the vibe doesn’t hurt any either. The visual component of the grounds in general, and the teepees and vendor arts and crafts in particular, are astounding.
As stated previously, however, the landscape most affected by involvement in such affairs is the interior one. You leave with an empowerment not normally associated with other weekend Heber pursuits like, say, rodeo or demolition derby or a round of golf. Not that those aren’t valuable amusements in their own right.
It’s just that, if through nothing more than osmosis, you come away from Powwow with a profound cultural "massage." You feel it in your bones. It cuts to the chase, as it were. You feel somehow healthier than when you first arrived. And, although you can’t quite put your finger on it, your ability to recognize the insignificant seems heightened.
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Now, that’s a gift. Not one, however, that gets called upon much when moseying through the available arts and crafts displayed upon tables along the outside ring of the grounds. Not among the handmade flutes and drums or the silver and turquoise jewelry that travel with this circuit.
Longtime favorites such as Kachina dolls fashioned from Cottonwood root and the quite distinctive pottery of the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico will no doubt be flaunting their shtick come Friday afternoon. And we can’t forget the wool woven from the cusp of art into blankets and coats for a culture to which the blend of the aesthetic and the utilitarian comes naturally.
And, for those of us with strong attractions to the written and recorded audio traditions, there is usually a highly eclectic selection of those books and CDs that lend themselves to the indigenous business at hand.
A treasured copy of Leonard Peltier’s prison writings acquired shelf space hereabouts a good half-dozen years or so back. Now where else in the Heber Valley is one going to stumble upon such a rarity? Especially since the closest thing to independent bookstores we now have to call our own are partial aisles in the grocery stores.
This outer circle is also where "Navajo tacos," and "fry bread," and such may be acquired and ingested. Recently there has also been a vendor or two hawking "authentic" root beer which comes in these real cool retro-lookin’ bottles. "Feed the spirit, feed the gut" is always a good axiom at these affairs.
Speaking of which, it’s probably gettin’ to be about time to head on over to the arena and assume the proper body language and mindset for the celebratory rituals which are to follow. At the outset of the Powwow, the dance arena, or "arbor," underwent blessing by ceremony. Having become sacred ground, it is treated as such.
The heartbeat, the central pulse as it were, is provided by the various "Drums" which are situated in a circle around the outside of the arbor but within the spectator bleachers. Each "Drum" is comprised of a large drum around which sits a group of "singers" who beat out the rhythms and sing/chant the song/poems.
These drums are quite idiosyncratic in sound, actually — even within the "nuanced" styles of the "northern" and "southern" singing frameworks. Some are flat-out virtuosos at their vocal art, the power rising and falling with volume and inflection. You can get way caught up in the respective intensities and come to recognize drums from quite a distance away.
Each "Drum" takes its turn providing the rhythmic backdrop to the dancers involved with the often-ecstatic physicality of their respective discipline. Regalia is very much part of the conversation as each movement invokes vocabulary and honor. However, even for those of us who have a hard time discerning "jingle dress" from "fancy dance," the essence gets through.
You become one with the beat. Solemn breaths are drawn — each one a prayer. Brilliant colors swoop about the edge of consciousness hinting at ancient archetypes and symbols. There is rapture on the wing as legends and lore and creation myths execute maneuvers all their own. It must be the root beer.
The Powwow and Mountain Man Rendezvous is set to revisit the southwest bench of Heber Valley once again this weekend as cultural elders honor and bless that which has gone before. Come paint yourself in earth tones. Open up. Learn a bit about yourself. Recoup lost cellular memory. Drink from the well. Be the drum!