More about Elsie: Romance of the Village of Solución December 4, 2013

I love this part of the story. Mainly because I love New Mexico. I put on my Lynch Hat Works (Lubbock Texas) pinch front hat and some turquoise  to get into the mood for this rewrite.

A Beautiful Moment: 1900


Well, enough of the digression. Back to our story. The one about Juanita and the dogs and the baby. You remember?

Juanita eased the mare toward the small house. She approached from the east and drew the horse up short near the doorway. “Easy girl,” she said and slid from Paulette’s back until her bare feet just touched the ground. She was so gentle in this movement, so serene and smooth, that Consuelo did not wake even for a moment. The Pyrenees came dashing over a hill and down a gentle slope just a little ways behind her. They came close and pressed against Juanita’s legs and skirts and looked into her eyes and up toward the place where the baby lay sleeping at her breast.

“Quiet now, everybody,” she said. “The baby is resting still.” The Pyrenees, respectful always of Consuelo and on the whole obedient to Juanita, began to sniff the ground. From just beyond the house, a curious, third, alert dog standing near a clump of unshorn sheep looked up. It was her job, that vigilant dog, to tend the flock. She was always ready to take action if she perceived a threat to her charges. And so, though she inspected the newcomers from a distance, she remained wary and did not leave her post. There were sporadic “baas” from the slightly troubled assembly of bovidae.

The Pyrenees put their noses into the air and caught the scent of the other four footed ones. But they did not move toward the sheep. The sheep dog’s shoulders relaxed a bit. The Pyrenees haughtily lifted legs and peed around the sages and the stands of grasses near the door of the house. The sheep dog was not distracted by this arrogant move. She stood her ground. A large grey cat stretched blankly from a window box that sprouted hardy petunias. She looked at horse and dogs and woman and stretched again. She made a soft sound like singing or a creaking limb against a house. She settled back into the box, a red petunia just under her pink and black nose.

The house was round, or nearly round it had so many planes and angles. It approached a circle but was not one. It had a low roof, a slumped, cone-shaped roof that could almost be called a dome.

A little smoke came from an opening in the center of the roof and a rough beige blanket trimmed with deer hooves hung at the single doorway through which one entered the house. The house was plastered with adobe and bits of straw showed through the mud bricks here and there. At edges of windows and doors, parts of posts, the wooden framework of the structure, stuck out like bleached, skinless bones. The house smelled of ash and pinion and earth.

The sheep, still a bit anxious about Paulette and the dogs, and eyeing them between toothy tears at grasses, hung close together. The sheep dog, more careful with his charges since the arrival of the strangers, collected them and drove them quietly, slowly a bit further from the house as they continued to graze.

Just near the house was a small corral made of peeled posts. In the corral were six beautifully marked horses. One was so black as nearly to be blue, and one was almost a twin to Paulette. Another was a pinto, brown and white and lively as he ripped at mangers full of hay and grass. Two other horses raced around the perimeter of the corral and nipped at each others’ back hooves. One was a dusty white. Over the railings hung tangles of bridles, shiny, tooled saddles, and brightly patterned saddle blankets.

There was a sheltered area, a ramada, near the house. It was a shaded place made of more peeled post vigas criss-crossed with barkless saplings and some brush. Over the crossbeams of the shelter’s roof were draped bundles of grasses, weeds, and herbs. On the ground below the drying herbs were tin wash tubs and large clay jars of dye. The vats of dye, perhaps ten or twelve held liquids the color of blue, red, yellow, green, and mahogany. There were several vats of the deepest walnut brown dye. Deep inside the tubs and jars, and submerged within the liquid dyes, were yards of yarn spun from the sheep’s wool, twisted and twirled in great swimming colors like a snag of eels in a rainbow sea.

The air smelled wet and fresh beside the house and near and under the shelter. There was a scent of lemon balm and China tea. There was a hint of vanilla bean and mustard plant.

Juanita, now on her feet and taking in all the smells and sights, lead Paulette to a corral post and tied her there. “That’s a good girl,” she said and pulled an apple from somewhere in her gown with which to feed the horse. Paulette took it gratefully. Juanita left her there but took the baby into her arms. She saw the dogs were happy exploring the cat and the petunias. She walked slowly round the house circling to the south and then the west. She held Consuelo close to her so that the baby would not feel any missteps as she walked on this unfamiliar earth. She found HK at the north.

HK[1] and Elsie were arranged on a beautiful, large, red and black blanket upon which sat a sizable wicker picnic basket and a thermos of tea. Between Elsie and HK were a plate of finger sandwiches and a bowl of thinly sliced oranges. In a rattan container was a bottle of some fine wine. Perhaps it was champagne. The pair was sitting artfully, one across from the other, lounging on the blanket, and chatting merrily. Elsie was wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat with a bandana tied around the crown. HK was adorned with silver and turquoise and wore a shirt of the deepest blue open to the heart. A red woven band was tight around his forehead and circled to the back of his head. It did not hang loose there but was tied firmly at the base of his neck below a thick, black, elaborate bun of hair.

As the two talked, their lips were moist and showed the whiteness of perfect teeth. Their lips and teeth caught the sunlight sometimes so that their words came as if from tiny luminous vessels. There was something in this scene that took Juanita’s breath away.

“Tell me just once more,” Elsie was saying, “What do you use to make that brightest blue color in the wool?” She used the end of a pencil to point to, but not touch, a place on the rug he was weaving. HK’s body was turned slightly to the side so that his right shoulder faced Elsie. His loom was just in front of him. “You see the variations in the blue?” he fluttered his hand over the area. “You see how it gives a mottled effect?” He spoke softly to her and then took up his weaving again, easily, skillfully, deliberately and with most graceful movements of his fingers and wrists. Elsie’s notebook was in her lap. As he spoke, she picked up the book and wrote. “I like the variegation. I think it adds interest to my pattern,” he told the anthropologist. The two of them were so absorbed with one another and their work and their pretty posturing that they had not heeded, or perhaps even heard, the arrival of the horse Paulette and her gentle companions. Neither had they noticed the arrival of the Pyrenees. They had not noticed the cautious movement of the sheep dog nor of the sheep themselves. Even so, they were not surprised to see Juanita appear from behind the house. Though they saw her, they both continued their posturing and their work. Juanita stood a respectful distance.

HK and Elsie had been both smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, but HK had put his out as he began weaving again after taking some food. Just now, his hands did not stop moving and tossing shuttles from left to right and back again between the rows of yarn stretched taut on his loom. Elsie’s notebook was half-filled with notes from her observations so far that day. And just now, her pencil moved quickly on a page.

“I want to tell you a story now,” HK said without a pause in his work. “I want to tell you the story of the first women and the men and what happened when they had a big fight with each other and tried living apart, on opposite sides of a river.” He told her that story and then added some tales about the origin of pottery and mica chips and stars and prairie hens. Her pencil could not move fast enough and she asked him sometimes to stop speaking just for a moment until she caught up.

Consuelo slept on and missed the whole scene. Juanita still stood quietly, leaning against the house in the shade, and watched and listened while the stories unfolded. She was fascinated by HK and always had been. But this woman who was sitting on the big blanket writing so energetically was new. She found her just as fascinating. She had never seen a woman smoke, for example. She watched the woman suspend her note taking momentarily to roll and light a fresh cigarette. She watched as the smoke drifted out of her mouth. She watched the smoke as it was drawn up into her well-formed nostrils. She wondered who this woman was.

Yet, as always, she was fascinated by how HK’s hands moved on the loom and the magical way in which a delicate pattern emerged from the bits and pieces of colored yarn. She looked back at the woman

They were equally beautiful, these two, and knew they were. Juanita came closer and approached the blanket. She knelt down and sat there on it in one graceful movement. The baby, wrapped tight against Juanita, sighed a deep sigh that made the earth below her tremble. All was well that day and for a moment it seemed again that everything might be all right.



Bad Dogs


It cannot be said, I am sorry to report, that the Pyrenees were the most disciplined of dogs. They did respect the sheep and sheepdog, yes. They did that. They were loyal, almost to a fault, to Juanita. Generally, they stayed close to her legs and pressed in, leaning, from either side so that it was sometimes hard for her to walk. When she did walk, the three bodies moved as one with a peculiar, halting gait. This was true on almost all occasions when they were together.  When the dogs were not leaning against Juanita’s legs, they were often leaning against the legs of Paulette. This being close always seemed to settle the dogs into a kind of stupor. Thus they seemed to be quite unexcitable and reliably calm creatures.

However, gentle and restrained though they generally were, this day taxed the will and ability of the dogs to behave properly. It had had been full of adventure. The dogs had been quite stimulated by the journey. The pair had been running for many miles through the mountains. They had been nipping at snakes with their big, pink mouths and following gopher scent with their big black noses and bravely, though carefully, lifting legs on dozens of cacti. The potential hazards of this is surely apparent.

Yes, this had been a fine, challenging day for dogs accustomed to lying or standing about near the horse Paulette or their beloved Juanita. The dogs seldom had such an outing as this.

What is more, the dogs found out early in the journey that the sometimes forgetful and self-absorbed Juanita had not managed to remember to pack snacks for them, though she had brought sweet apricots, a peach, and tortilla bits for Consuelo.

The dogs played about near the cat for some time, trying to arouse it to some kind of action. Soon they were satisfied that the cat was one of the lethargic, unruffable types and hence unmoved by them. Thus they were disappointed. Moreover, they were hungry. Their stomachs began to growl so loudly that each was astonished and puzzled. They looked out toward the sheep dog, then each peered at each other suspiciously, each thinking perhaps he had offended the other in someway.

In search of food or action, they went over to the corral and looked the various horses up and down. The horses ignored the dogs. No, they thought, this would not do for fun. Then they  came around from the front of the house and made towards the place where they knew they would find Juanita. They came still with their compelling memories of snakes and awareness of hunger. They stood for a moment beside Juanita. But then they saw the sandwiches on the blanket. Dogs sometimes lose themselves. Dogs sometimes allow the baser instincts to get the better of them. These dogs on this day did behave abominably.

The dogs forgot all ideas of formal introductions and permissions. They pounced upon the picnic and the scene that I’ve described for you was instantly in chaos with dogs and sandwiches and teas and shuttles all flying here and there. “Yeouwwww,” Elsie screamed laughing. “Stop, No, Bad,” Juanita yelled hopelessly. She tried to grab the fur on their backs in order to restrain them. She actually jumped on the back of one and wrestled with him for a moment. He rolled onto his back, feet kicking at the air. But still, his long tongue was able to snag another sandwich. “Grab the bottle,” Elsie said. “Don’t let the wine get on the blanket.” “Your notebook,” HK said between chuckles. “The dogs will spoil it.”

But the dogs were not interested in the wine or the notebook. It was the sandwiches that they prized. Furthermore, the dogs did neither slowly chew nor savor the finger sandwiches, but simply swallowed whole. They seemed, moreover, to laugh together at their naughtiness, showing their big white, grinning teeth and long pink tongues. It was as if all their restraint gave way that day.

Their tails wagged vigorously, slapping hard at the face of Elsie who clutched the wine bottle and her notebooks against her breasts laughing. “Who are you? Who are you? Who has sent you to make our day so grand?” she said to the animals from between clenched teeth that still firmly gripped the cigarette she had been smoking. She expected nothing more from dogs than this and she loved surprises.

The weaver had not moved from where he sat, but he had taken the precaution of retrieving some yarn he planned to use from near the spot on the blanket where the dogs were clumsily grabbing at the food. The dogs looked up at him then, one with the crust of a sandwich dangling from his mouth. HK looked back at them. A half smile moved onto his lips. He spoke a word or two, but these words were soft, just barely audible.

We must imagine what this word or two might have been because no one who was there recorded this utterance. Juanita didn’t hear it. Even Elsie, whose notes I have studied carefully, seems to have lost herself at this moment and wrote nothing about it afterwards. She was, as I said, laughing and maybe her pencil had fallen to the ground and she could not write even when quite recovered because her notebook had closed and she had lost her place in it.

Whatever he said, the dogs apparently heard it. They moved away from the blanket and toward the shade of the little ramada where the dye vats were kept. As they crept there, they feigned shame, all the while casting occasional, sidelong self-satisfied looks at one another.

They stretched out and were quickly sound asleep.

Elsie set about examining her notebook, checking for any spills or tears.  She was a good anthropologist and knew that notes came first. There were always more sandwiches, but notes had to be preserved above all.

Juanita was, of course, embarrassed. “Juanita,” HK said. “Come here, sit with us, and don’t let those silly dogs disturb you.” “Juanita?” Elsie said, not having been introduced. She took the cigarette from her mouth and crushed the lighted end between her thumb and forefinger then tossed it into a little tin can by her side. “Juanita. I’m Elsie. Come on. How about a glass of wine. Come on.” Elsie felt shy, but joined them then. “Here,” Elsie said. “Don’t think about it again.” Then she spotted the baby. She put her own glass down along with her notebook and pencils and tobacco. “May I hold her?”

Juanita, you will remember, had gotten up that morning with the idea of doing something about Consuelo’s lack of things and her desire to sleep in her own home. What Juanita had in mind to do was have a cradle built. She dreamed that she would fill this cradle with exquisite blankets and lace covered pillows. She dreamed that she would give this child what she needed.

HK was not only the best weaver in the world. He also made finely woven clothing to order. He collected herbs and knew about them. But most of all, given Juanita’s interests, HK worked wood. He was known as the finest wood worker in the territory. He was known for the beautiful bedsteads he had carved from ponderosa, the lovely tables he’d made from large single slabs of burl, and the fine picture frames he’d fashioned from dry chollo.

Juanita sat comfortably sipping her wine while Elsie played with Consuelo who was now awake and waving her arms about and grinning up at the lovely, unknown face of the woman who held her. Juanita, calmer now, recalled her mission to herself. Everything was again quiet. The blanket was cool for they had set the loom and the picnic to the north of the house. The shade had fallen there most all of the day. So everyone was cool and happy to be in the company of one another.

Elsie, carrying Consuelo and talking sweetly to her all the time, went into the house for a moment and returned with cakes and another thermos of tea. A few sandwiches had escaped the attention of the dogs, and were still quite suitable for human consumption. Juanita began to eat. The bad dogs remained lying respectfully a little ways from humans. They seemed almost to be sweet dogs now, pressed against each other in the shade and sleeping quite soundly. Meanwhile, Consuelo made gentle sounds of breathing and giggling, liking very much to be in Elsie’s care.




[1] HK might be more accurately be called him-her because that is how, you see, Elsie called him. But this makes the telling of the story a bit tedious. Do recall that HK was one who had characteristics of both male and female in manner and dress. He was a lovely person and gender was a rather beside the point idea so far as he was concerned.

Elsie also always referred to him as HK in her notes and in this I will follow her lead and use initials only. Among some anthropologists, this using initials in lieu of an informant’s name seems to have been a convention in the early days. Frederika de Laguna did the same, and Gunther in the Northwest, and others. And so I call him HK.


About Llyn De Danaan

LLyn De Danaan is an anthropologist and author. She writes fiction and nonfiction. Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman's Life on Oyster Bay was published by the University of Nebraska Press. She is currently a speaker for Humanities Washington.
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