Chaco Trilogy book cover

Introduction to
Chaco Trilogy

I've never been drawn so irresistibly and consistently to any place—or almost to any person—as I have to Chaco Canyon over the last 20 years. Its attraction has never weakened, my feelings have never cooled. The source of Chaco's magnetic and transformative energies remains mysterious to me. And even my poems about it seem to me at times like sand piling up around an invisible object. But Chaco's power is as undeniable to me as apparently it was to ancestral Pueblo peoples. Its spiritual gravity concentrates attention and emotion so forcefully that they undergo a metamorphosis, emerging combined as an imaginative fluidity, a mercurial richness that can adapt to anything.

When I'm in Chaco Canyon I'm there so completely that what happens to it happens to me. And even though my stamina and optimism are always tested, nothing goes wrong in Chaco; it is its own totality; it admits of nothing being out of place; what is there and what will be there is as perfect as what has been there. Even if I were to die there, it would not be an accident, a rupture in the pattern of my life; nothing would be wrong. So to be in Chaco Canyon can be wearingly hard but safe, arduous but effortless, dependable but unpredictable; it is both mortal and infinite; peaceful, chaotic, and perpetual; loved, longed for, and fulfilling.

I slip down the north road into the canyon with the same ease as I slip into a booth at lunch across from windfall friends, those whose presences alone create an atmosphere that reveals to me the possibility of my entirety. Like their voices and the maps of their minds, the canyon's life creates in me both desire and contentment. It's impossible to resist it—the character of its light and the disposition of its shadows, its cloud tones, haziness, heat, the quality of its seclusion, its suddenness and vulnerability. I feel like Sappho with the canyon and with the friends of my life. My interest is immediate, luxurious, releasing; I can't put my attention anywhere else; I can't help but feel myself unlock, revivify. I am as satisfied with them as Sappho was with "cool feet and slenderest knees."

Some places and people are our optimum habitats, our ideal conditions. We thrive with them, reviving over and over. We always return. With them, thresholds are never crossed; boundaries expand just as we try to move beyond them, carrying us with them further and further into the fullness of ourselves and one another. With metamorphosis we can never become what we're not. Only force perverts fulfillment. Parasitic force: it has nothing to do with love or Chaco Canyon.

When I first visited Chaco in l960, it made little impression. I was studying anthropology as an undergraduate, preoccupied with the conundrums of my own culture, but still oddly curious about Pueblo life and history. I saw my share of ruins and dances, trooping through them with the usual museum fatigue that grips us when our interest is still undeveloped. Then the tragedies and inspirations of the '60s and '70s broke over us all. For me it meant poverty, depression, divorce, estrangement from beloved children, political journalism, protest and poetry, and year after year piling up between my late adolescence and my not so young adulthood.

Then one summer in my mid-thirties, I found myself for the first time completely present in Chaco Canyon. I was there with my brother-in-law and old friend Jim Rini in a weather of grief: the first of many family deaths in the climate of our minds. The Canyon's directness, its harsh clarity, smoothed the matrix of our confusions. As we approached La Fajada Butte across the desert scrub on foot that afternoon, I felt myself change, literally from one step to the next. In one stride, I felt my whole self become immediately aware of my whole environment. I'd never experienced anything remotely as intense as that connection before. A deep comfort settled into me, a trusting intimacy that has never abandoned me.

It was a matter of relationship—not of me as a thing and Chaco as a thing, but of what was possible between us. In exactly the same way as I am catalyzed by certain friends, by the atmosphere of candor and acceptance that allows me to be more than I imagined or scripted, Chaco permitted me to feel it all and likewise to be felt by it in my entirety. When one feels "in entirety" one doesn't, of course, feel everything; one feels it, as a human can, all at once in shadow form, in suggestion, not as a god who could feel it all in absolute detail. But again, it's the relationship that matters. And I'm more convinced than ever, as the years go on, that it is exactly the same with places as it is with people. Some places make you uneasy, or threaten you and make you want to withdraw. Some are ephemerally pleasant, decoratively pretty, others monumental, gaspingly beautiful or intimidating. Many places simply leave you flat. They have no life for you, nothing to impart. You feel played out when you're in them, used up, or fatally bored. There is nothing more deadening or dampening than being with a person like that either, one who does not catalyze your capacity for imagination and honesty. It's the difference, say, between breakfasting with an old acquaintance who likes you and needs you but who has nothing on his mind and who causes you to have nothing on yours, the difference between that and dining, say, with a windfall friend, someone you never would have expected, someone you met and instantly felt entirely at home with, so that you became completely possible in their presence, and they in yours.

That's how Chaco was for me that first trip with my brother Jim. Its desolate beauty, the galactic slowness of its ruins— ruins of oceans, of fishes, of human beings, ruins of its sea floors and its tallest buildings, of its sky watchers and its sharks, the phantom fullness of its missing days all present in the present now—I sensed them all that day. And I felt that the Canyon understood me—my hiddenness, my desire to be as anonymous as the human lives that once inhabited the Canyon, my attraction to emptiness and to the free safety I feel in dangerous weathers.

The relationship is everything. It's as if the Canyon and I had already experienced the full history of our encounter and were living it now in recollection. This life-changing intimacy with personal landscape and personal friends is like revelation without doctrine, like the experience of mysteries without initiation. So it is not as odd as it might first seem to associate Chaco with friendship and both with the divine. Some of us need hands and warm stones and hot minds to believe. It is like that with deep friendships and intuitive connections. We know each other as if we were each other, which means we do not expect each other to be what we know, but trust each other to be anything we are.

—V.B. Price
June l998, Albuquerque

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