(Poem) Changing Woman Speaks by Sara Wright

Photo by Iren Schio

The two climbed steep hills

and rubble to reach the meadow.

The flat-topped mountain peered down

at the women

gathering stones (from her body)

as if they were diamonds.

Amber, moss, pearl white,

rose red and orange,

gray and ebony – a luminescence

emanated from each,

almost as if the moon had

infused each flake and boulder

with her translucent light.

 

The mountain absorbed

their child-like wonder

with pleasure,

and gifted the one

who climbed to her summit

with a stone

that told a story

of a sea of shells and plants

that once lived here.

Stones speak to

those who love them.

 

Photo by Iren Schio

Working notes

In Abiquiu, New Mexico the flat-topped mountain we call the Pedernal can be seen from most directions and has been painted and photographed from every angle. Indigenous peoples considered this mountain to be sacred. The mythical (Navajo) Changing Woman was born on this mountain. The multicolored stone called chert and its darker twin, flint, are structural (quartz) parts of this mountain. These stones were once collected to craft the finest arrowheads for hunting.

I have a passion for all stones but especially chert because of its colors. Chert and flint are microcrystalline varieties of quartz. Their crystals are so tiny that chert and flint fracture more like glass than quartz crystals. Skilled Native peoples chipped chert and flint pieces into arrowheads, spear points, scrapers, and other tools. The only difference between chert and flint is color: flint is black or nearly black while chert tends to be white, gray, pink, or red and can be plain, banded, or preserve fossil traces.

When my friend Iren told me that chert/flint could be found around the base of the Pedernal I was very excited. She also told me that someday we could make a trip there to collect some stones. It is only after most of the snow is gone that the serpentine dirt roads become passable, so I have been waiting for that day to arrive for a long time. Yesterday, it came.

We made a very skilled (Iren is the best driver I know) windy, bumpy, truck ride up the back side of the Pedernal to a steep meadow. Shaded by evergreens and small stands of oak, we left the truck and stood below the peak in a place where hunks of chert lay on the ground everywhere. We “lost time” in the process, climbing around, exclaiming over colors, shapes and examining “chert caves” – places where the stone had been extracted by hand first by Indigenous peoples, and then by others – picking up our favorite stones, filling our bucket, Iren’s backpack, and our pockets with these natural wonders. Iren, of course, carried almost all the stones back to the truck.

Iren, who I call “Mountain Woman,” scales peaks effortlessly, including this one, whose back side is a sheer cliff face. She has stones of every conceivable shape, size, and type placed artfully around her house inside and out. (Not surprisingly, she is one of the finest artists that I know.) All of these stones Iren collected on her mountain climbing adventures, and she patiently tells me where she found this one or that one as I follow her around her property. Whenever I visit her house the stones call out to me for attention instantly! When I am alone at her house “stone watching” becomes a form of meditation…

Hunks of chert line her pathways that wander in many directions, making it easy to avoid trampling down the natural vegetation. The desert is a fragile environment and Iren is an “earth mother” who cares deeply for her land.

Yesterday’s adventure was highlighted when Iren discovered fossils in one piece of chert. We were so excited by this rock and mulled over the possibilities of how the fossils came to be embedded in the stone and what they were. I was so happy for her that I felt like I could burst.

This was the second time I had been with Iren when she found a stone treasure. The last one was an exquisite flint arrowhead. I told her that Nature had gifted her with this present (and probably all the others) not just because she climbed mountains but because the mountains knew how much Iren loved stone, and how generously she shared what she had with others.

Nature thrives on reciprocity.

Mountains know.

This morning when I looked at the multi-colored pile of chert in front of the house I decided I would simply leave them there for a few days before beginning to use them to line more pathways. I just want to look at them.   As I pick the pieces up and turn them over in my hands, I wonder what stories they might still have to tell.

This poem emerged out of my gratitude to Iren and my love of stone.

(Meet Mago Contributor) Sara Wright.

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lenabartula
Guest

The poem speaks truth, stones do speak to those who love them. I love this post for so many reasons. It reminds me of my days in New Mexico, loving quartz crystals and asking stones if I may take them. Of hikes around Abiquiu and O’Keefe land and Tent Rocks and unbelievable rock formations. Of you, Iren Schio too, and your work. Few things lately have made me yearn for time in those united states, but this one takes my heart right back there.

Nancy Vedder-Shults
Guest

I love your poem, Sara. I, too, am a stone lover. I grew up in granite country, but here in Wisconsin, I discovered chert. I love it, and have many pebbles made of it. Some include tiny agates, a very few fossils, ad once in a great while, I, too, find an arrowhead of chert.

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