A storm on the horizon. Golden light filters into the arena.
Dancers prepare their regalia.
This was to be the final dance at the Council Tree Powwow. Held in Delta, Colorado the Council Tree Powwow takes place each fall in an arbor prepared for this event, not directly under but very near the ancient council tree itself; an esteemed cottonwood of Ute legend and historical significance.
The perfect evening gave way to darkening thunderheads and a torrential downpour. Lightening filled the sky as dancers and spectators alike fled the dance arena, seeking shelter and warmth.
As I drove home the following day; criss-crossing the Weminuche Wilderness, the highest peaks now blanketed by fresh snow, I felt a sadness in having witnessed the last of something so beautiful. In my heart I hoped that it would continue. A year rolls over, and autumn has now past us by. The arena lies empty.
Editorial coverage from the Southern Ute Drum newspaper.
By Jeremy Wade Shockley
Nature is most powerful in its twilight. I take in the beauty of a fading autumn, the brittle nature of my surroundings, noting the coolness in the air. I feel a strong connection with my past, and a deeper tie to the earth this time of year.
The Vallecitio Valley of my youth is a product of hard work, heavy with the smell of earth and the approaching cold. Today is warmer than any day we are likely to see between now and spring. I will soon shed my long flannel shirt and felt brimmed hat, setting them safely to the side. The silence of nature is amplified, a calm before the storm.
I approach the land with respect; tactically setting the gas powered saw across some downed timber. Mentally gathering myself, physically prepared. The sound of the saw is the sound of the season; the hard work is a reflection of the past. The pine smell is intoxicating; sweat stings my eyes. I feel good.
A Creative Non-Fiction Essay
By Jeremy Wade Shockley
The large sheet metal door slides to the right with resistance, breaking the silence of the land. The smell of sage and juniper rise from the desert, a reminder of recent rain. The horizon looking north toward Colorado and the La Platas still holds its blue-gray demeanor. Late afternoon sun shines brightly upon my grandfather’s Stetson, a light straw affair, not nearly as dilapidated as the one I last saw him wearing. As he steps into the shadows of the workshop, he pushes the hat back on his forehead, revealing wisps of thinning gray hair above his weathered ears. Pearl snaps catch window light on a cuff of thin flannel material, signature western wear.
Shelves climb to the ceiling on either side of us. He reaches for a few stones, newly cut and polished, and spits on his thumb to better wipe the dust away, revealing shimmering quartz surfaces that he holds between two worn fingers. His pinky is missing. Filtered light catches the reflection of the smooth rock. The dust stirred by our presence stands in the air like a heavy beam caught in the sunlight. Tires and tools are stacked over and under decaying boxes of oily cardboard. The air smells of grease. A large industrial metal lathe sits to my left; I focus my eyes on the rusting thermostat, once selling Dr. Pepper. Nearby, an old Coke bottle sits on its side amid other windowsill clutter. Grandpa is searching for something. “See if you can pull down that box,” he demands, pointing a crooked finger above my head. It’s full of wooden containers, dated by a thick lacquer finish. He hands me one, a keepsake.
He pulls an old stool from somewhere, collecting his thoughts as he exhales. I take a few photos, realizing how out of place the Nikon seems in this antiquated reality. A workshop filled with tools, equipment and possibility. Dated. I feel a deep sadness for my grandfather and his way of life, both on the brink of disappearance. I let the camera rest as the old man shuffles outside. “Well,” he sighs, “we best be getting on. Dinner ‘ll be ready ‘for you know it.”
“Give me a hand with this door,” he says.
Conversations in Cambodian filtered throughout the house and onto the large back porch where family elders were still preparing the dishes for this magnificent ceremony. If I closed my eyes and let the aroma of food touch my senses the Cambodian music became that much clearer.
A traditional Cambodian wedding ceremony is not a singular event, but rather a series of rituals and traditions spread throughout a week of feasting and celebration. This wedding was condensed into a single day for the benefit of western culture and those who had traveled great distances to share in the occasion. In the intense heat and humidity, surrounded by exotic offerings of fruit and Hennessy laid out on silver platters between burning candles and incense; I found myself embedded in the ceremony. At that moment I was no longer in my own country but transported into the rich cultural ground of Cambodia itself!
A Catholic wedding and reception dinner had already brought the two families together the day before, images posted here previously from that event were titled Cambodian Traditions in an effort to tie them to this final post from Chris and Chenda’s multicultural east coast celebration!
I approached this type of ceremony with the cultural sensitivity and respect that I would have as a traveller in foreign lands, the result I think are photographs that show the intimacy and wonderful nature of those who opened their lives to my lens for these few days. I am ever grateful to have shared in such an exquisite cultural experience!
By Jeremy Wade Shockley
Broken glass littered the slope surrounding a deep fire pit, faces both familiar and unfamiliar greeted me as I stepped across the multicolored, pebbly surface, barefoot-ginger. The glass bits were now worn with time, or use, interwoven into the stones and earth that made up the surrounding hillside. A great dome sits, on the level, to my left, worn canvas covering the menagerie of blankets, a frame work hewn of willow limbs, a product of longstanding tradition and expertise.
Conversations were lighthearted among the men and women who had invited me on this occasion, a few stray sparks lifted from the rocks as they were ceremoniously carried inside, collecting together at the heart of our presence. Circular. What was said next, the songs that were sung, and the great blessings are private. They belong to those who were there, and those before them. I will say no more.
Blackness enveloped me, one set of senses traded for another, the sweet smell of herbs overpowering my nostrils. Mind, body and spirit set free- alert. The cool earth to my back, under my palms, the feeling of soft quilt on bare skin, the heat rising upwards, prominent and powerful from the start. Time has no place here, I search my thoughts and consider my future. I am present.
The light is blinding at first, strength and fatigue occupy my body at the same moment as I stand. Slightly bent, I move to the left, slowly, gathering my thoughts and paying respects, I travel towards the light in a clockwise fashion. I straighten myself as I step back into the cool morning air, humble and lighthearted. It was a good sweat.