In 1996, while teaching at Santa Fe Indian School, my Native American students told me their story of Jesus: Jesus, they told me, continues to fight an ongoing battle with Murosuyo, a Native American god. They duke it out in the sky and on the ground. The stakes are the fate of the earth. Just as Jesus seems to deliver the final death blow, Murosuyo tackles him in the heavens, and they fall together through the clouds and into a lake, and so it continues. I found it fascinating that their culture and environment is still hanging on today through Murosuyo’s efforts. My teaching became an exchange of ideas.
I played Super Bowl commercials in the classroom, and together my Native American students and I “deconstructed” them. This was, in part, an idea encouraged by the state of New Mexico. The Green Party, powered by thousands of off-the-griders like those I’d befriended in Dixon — who lived in pockets throughout the state — had increased their power in the state legislature and had worked with citizens’ groups to pass mandatory “media literacy” for all New Mexico schools. I went through the in-service training and then explored, with my twelve-year-olds from the Navajo, Hopi, and Pueblo reservations, the ways marketers manipulate us by linking their brands to emotions like love, belonging, freedom, sexuality, and fear.
I showed a commercial with an SUV conquering a mountain, and my Apache student, Monique, correctly labeled the lie: “Freedom!” she cried out.
“Love and belonging,” another student suggested, noting that the male driver was accompanied by a beautiful woman and rosy-cheeked children.
A Hopi student raised his hand. Frowning, his anger grew as he spoke. His point, eloquently delivered, was that “crossing our sacred grounds with that noisy thing” did not mean love or belonging. He said that, to be more truthful, the gas-guzzler should be driving past the retreating glacier that its greenhouse gasses were melting.
I found these media literacy sessions as deliciously subversive as the chatter in Stan’s fields. Thanks to citizen pressure, the very nation that produced more global-warming gasses than any other was arming a million New Mexico students with the intellectual tools to reject consumerism.
Autumn arrived. On one of my last days working on Stan’s garlic farm (see previous blog!), before the tractor was oiled and tools stored for the winter, a half dozen of us harvested a fall crop of squash and basil for the farmers market. Stan and Rosemary cut basil on either side of me. I could hear the brook whenever the gentle wind stalled; the sky was a powder-puff blue, the mesas a ridiculous paste of orange, and I felt whole and alive, cutting wrinkly basil leaves, placing them in my wooden crate, the lively smell.
Stan seemed elsewhere, “Kind of Blue” on the breeze, perhaps already in his next novel. Clip-clip went his shears. How many basil sprigs had he chopped in his thirty years of farming? Clip. The breeze picked up and I couldn’t hear the brook, just the swaying trees above, and the smell of chemise and sage mixed with the basil. Stan stood up to his full, lanky height and ran an earth-covered set of long fingers through his beard, looking out into the direction of the wind as if for a sign. Then he sighed, almost imperceptibly and went back to clipping.
In Stan’s fields an idea germinated in me that would much later coalesce into a kind of general principle: be in Empire, but not of it. As the years went on, even as a Yankee pragmatism kept me cinched to Empire, I’d try to follow this, walking up to the edge of radicalism. I wouldn’t jump over, but the heat of the flaming edge, in Dixon, in Chiapas, Mexico, in Bolivia, in Liberia, and especially on the banks of No Name Creek, kept alive the embers of noncooperation, a healthy maladjustment to ecocide.
The long workday ended. Stan went to the till to fish out my wages. Wages that I could certainly use with my low teacher salary and high Santa Fe rent. But wages I couldn’t accept for the community of this fall day. “Stan, I won’t take your money for this work,” I said, in twenty-four-year-old earnestness. “There’s nothing I would have rather been doing today.”
Stan looked at me from his heights, his blue eyes suddenly animated, and he pat me on the shoulder and invited me to a late lunch of foods from his farm. I’d later realize that this, more than anything else, is what Stanley Crawford cultivated at El Bosque: an awakened, generous human spirit and, therefore, a new earth.