The Romance of the Village of Solución : A Serialized Novel August 8, 2013

               This novel was begun and  written in 2001-2002. I have returned to it for rewrites and substantial revisions between other projects. Now I am in what I would consider to be a final edit process…before submitting it. Meanwhile, as I edit each chapter, I’ll post them as blog posts. I’m hoping I have some readers and welcome comments through messages on Facebook.

 The Romance of the Village of  Solución 

       Tales Collected by Henrietta Pouissiere

As edited by

Fiona Elizabeth Kelly and Gertrude Pouissiere


LLyn De Danaan

August 2013

How will it miss me, this lashing?

It even descends upon the earth.


Nez Perce song.




1598 Colonization by Spanish in Nuevo México period

1601 Three-quarters of colonists retreat from harsh conditions

1680 Popè’s vision/the Pueblo Revolt. Those who would become among the “Watchers” later, still in their human form, revolt and drive the remaining colonists out of their territory

1693 Colonists return and spread out over the territory of “The Watchers”

1700 Twin sisters born in small isolated ranchero. One dies shortly after birth

1720 Solución is founded by remaining twin sister

1760 Twin sister, the village founder, dies

1800 Little priest comes to the village

1864 Juanita is born in Solución

1864 Sophia is born in Solución

1878 Elsie is born in New York

1879 Carlisle Indian School founded

1880 Railroad comes to Southwest

1884 Ramona is born in Solución

1884 Juanita is married

1883 The Apache Chato’s famous attack near Lordsburg

1885 Juanita has a baby: midwife present is Sophia who is studying Elizabeth Blackwell’s work

1886 Hermes is born in Solución

1886 Geronimo’s band surrenders. Band is sent to prison in Florida

1889 Flu epidemic

1889 Juanita’s husband and baby die in flu epidemic. Sophia treats victims

1892 Geronimo people moved from Florida to Ft.Sill Oklahoma, still incarcerated

1896 Boas begins teaching at Columbia. Elsie enrolls and meets Boas

1898 Epiphany is born. Mother Ramona is 14

1899 Consuelo is born and comes to live with Juanita

1899 Mary is born

1905 Geronimo visits Carlisle and speaks there on his way to Roosevelt’s inaugural

1910 Mexican Revolution. Ramona joins up for adventure

1913 Dawson mine disaster

1913 Apaches released from Ft. Sill Nearly 200 stay in Oklahoma including Ida and Mildred, age three

1915 The great garlic fiasco

1915 The altar falls on Consuelo and blinds her

1916 Consuelo gets married

1916 Pancho Villa invades New Mexico and Consuelo’s husband dies

1917 Rosalie is born

1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Albert Fuller elected Senator.    Sophia is busy healing. 24% of neighboring Indians die

1918 World War I ends; veterans return

1928 Mildred returns from Haskell

1933 Samba introduced to the United States and Rosalie learns to dance it

1937 Pureza is born

1940 Rosalie and Mary meet

1942 Boas dies

1953 The great Thumper Industries fiasco

1960 Rose is born (Sophia is nearly 96 years old and dies the same year). Juanita is over a hundred and dies shortly after. Consuelo is 60.Hermes is 74

1962 Pureza works in the bingo hall

1963 Pureza moves in with the postman

1967 Tet Offensive

1970 Hermes dies

1980 Consuelo dies

1999 The Fire



Dramatis Personae


Consuelo: Juanita’s beautiful daughter blinded by a falling altar; a writer

Cradle: The living thing made by HK in which Consuelo slept and grew

Crow: Editor, kibitzer; Mildred and the anthropologist’s watch bird and guiding spirit

Elsie: Quirky anthropologist from upper class New York family; HK’s companion for many years first half of twentieth century

Epiphany: Ramona’s daughter and Sophia’s granddaughter

Hermes: Sophia’s son and Ramona’s brother. A mathematician

HK: Joyful, talented third gender weaver, woodworker, and general craftsperson

Little priest: The founder of the village Church

Mary: HK’s sister; flyer and later companion to Rosalie

Matilda “Toad”: A hierophant who suffered from echolalia; keeper of the Church

Pureza: Rosalie’s daughter and Consuelo’s granddaughter. Hard luck girl

Ramona: Sophia’s daughter and Herman’s sister

Rosalie: Samba Dancing Butler’s Raisin pin-up turned wing walker; daughter of Consuelo and companion to Mary

Rose: Pureza’s daughter; expert weaver whose life is destined to transcend the village’s dedication to bad luck and suffering

Sister Twin: The founder of the village; source of original suffering

Sophia: The village midwife and healer

Henrietta Poussiere: The anthropologist narrator of the story. Born about 1928. Watchers: The lingering spirits of the original inhabitants of the area bent on bedeviling the people of Solución, though clearly not the source of all their troubles




Table of Contents


The Fire: Henrietta Poussiere’s Journal 1989

Solución: Henrietta Poussiere’s Journal August 1989

How They Came to Be Here

The Anthropologist as Hero Part I    

Origin Stories 

The Little Priest    

The Ghosts Come    

The Anthropologist as Hero Part II September 27, 1999    

September 28, 1999    

September 29, 1999    

October 2, 1999    

October 30,1999    

Part II    

Juanita is Born: circa 1864    

November 4, 1999    

Juanita Finds a Husband: 1887    

November 12, 1999    

Death is a frequent visitor:1889    

November 15, 1999    

Consuelo Arrives 1899    

November 23, 1999    

November 25, 1999    

Consuelo: 1900    

The Anthropologist as Hero Part IV    

Elsie is Introduced: 1894-1900    

A Beautiful Moment:1900    

Bad Dogs    

The Cradle is Planned    

The Cradle is Installed    

Little Hermes    

The Painted Chair    

December 5, 1999    

December 6, 1999    


Sophia’s Work    

The Significance of the Leaky Roof: 1915 A.D    

The Altar    

The Patient    

Matilda: 1916    

Consuelo’s Odd Marriage    



December 15, 1999: The Night of the Geminids    

Rosalie gets out of Dodge: 1940 A.D.    

Part III    


Financial Schemes    

The Death of Wisdom: 1960 A.D.    

Pureza Moves On    

An Attitude Will Get You Somewhere    

December 23, 1999    

Mildred Begins, August 14    

We Have to Talk: August 14, 1999    

The Watchers’ Story    

December 24, 1999    

The Cleansing: August 16    

Rose’s Dreams    

August 17, 1999    

The Witness    

Rose’s Surprise    

December 25    




Those of you who have followed my work will remember Henrietta Poussiere. I first knew of her when preparing for my work in Moa Nui. I read several articles she had written about the island. I was curious enough to look into her training and life history. She had been born in the United States of French immigrant parents. She left New York City, where her family had settled, in her early twenties. She then studied in London with some of the more famous British anthropologists. That was during the 1920s. Her mentors sent her to the South Pacific to complete her training by doing extended fieldwork. She was there, apparently, between 1928 and the outbreak of World War II.  She received her Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, but her work was never published as a complete ethnography. A few monographs appeared, most of them on aesthetics and kinship. She moved back to the United States and published, in 1944, a longish piece on menstruation, birth, and menopause. It was the first of its kind. She had somehow, as I have written elsewhere, elicited the most exacting details of the cultural practices that dealt with women’s bodies.

I wrote, in Big Adventure on Moa Nui, of the field method she perfected, taught, and published called “Intentional Global Ignorance” (IGI). It was a unique methodology that was adopted by many cultural anthropologists in the late 1940s. The method required that the anthropologist in the field intentionally behave in a contrary manor to everything they were being told. They were also to mispronounce all words they were learning. Informants, exasperated with these stupid, misbehaving anthropologists, screamed corrections at them. This, Poussiere claimed, was the ultimate check on accuracy of field notes. I also learned that Poussiere’s papers were deposited at in an archives in an obscure Midwestern American university in McArthur, Ohio where she had ultimately received tenure and emerita status.

There were rumors that Poussiere had born a child while in Moa Nui. But these were apparently just rumors. She continued to work through the 1950s and beyond, but I could find little about her career after the few things she published on farm labor camps and just a few not very compelling articles about a small village in New Mexico which she apparently over a several year period before she died.

Then, after my adventure in Moa Nui, one of my companions, Gertrude, revealed that Henrietta had been her grandmother. Gertrude had been raised by surrogate parents after the death of her mother. She had always wondered about Henrietta and had only heard stories of derision about the gullible woman who had lived among them for several years and written down all the outrageous stories they’d made up for her.

After the exchange of several emails, I agreed to see what else I could find out about Henrietta and made a trip to McArthur State University where she had spent her final years as a professor and where her papers were stored.

Ah, the malice of little things.[1] But then, there was such meaning there in Henrietta’s desk. The seemingly insignificant and inglorious items people leave behind are the stuff our a true researcher’s dream. Here were the facts of her daily life, unclaimed by anyone. Each coin, dog-eared stamp, stained photograph, bunch of keys to unknown doors, held the secret of her touch. I had searched in vain for something connected with her in a personal way. I wanted to find notes or diaries or pictures of her time in Moa Nui. I thought it would such a gift for Lorretta to have something of her mother’s. I was finally led to a basement warehouse where her last university moved the belongings of faculty who had died or retired and left things behind. A custodian in green uniform took a key from the bundle that hung at his waist. Mr. Fisher, his name was. K. Fisher his nametag said. He held the key in his right hand and grabbed the massive lock that secured the door to a large wire cage. He turned the lock and lead me through a labyrinth of boxes and old furniture, some stacked up well above our heads. “Here it is, “ he said.” “Poser,” he pronounced her name. “Professor Poser,” he repeated. “Wow this has been down here a long time. Let me make sure the drawers are not locked.” “No problem. Most of them never lock their desk drawers.” “Okay?”  “Yes, thanks.”

“I’ll leave you to it. You can use the phone by the elevator to call me when you are ready to leave.”

I thanked him and took my laptop and camera out of my rolling brief case. I pulled up a chair from a nearby stack and sat down. I was about to meet Henrietta. There was a large flat thin drawer right under the desktop. On the left, there were two larger drawers designed to hold hanging files. On the right, there were two more of these. I pull them out, one at a time. They are dark, deep, and cavernous. I wonder what mysteries they will hold or reveal.

I started methodically.  I began to inventory the desk’s contents on my laptop and then photograph each item I found with a few word description.

Top desk drawer:

A jumble of rubber bands, pencils that needed to be sharpened, three dry markers, yellow, The caps were off all of them. Several bent paper clips. The pencils have clear teeth marks on them.

Several emery boards, all with emery worn away. A nail clipper. A bottle, half empty, of clear nail polish.

There were several memoranda in a file folder. I perused them. Nothing substantial that I could see. Two of them ask that office keys be returned and that if they are not, fines will be levied against Henrietta’s account, i.e. the cost of the keys will be withheld from her last paycheck. One announces that Henrietta has an overdue parking ticket.

There was a copy of Margaret Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa. It is not autographed. It is a cheap, paperback edition. It’s pages are yellowed and dog-eared. Occasionally, there are penned notations or exclamations marks in the margins. “Really!!!” or “Oh, please!!!” or “WHAT!!!?”

Left top file drawer. The hanging file dividers are all moved to the back of the drawer, unused. Henrietta has simply placed a large stack of student papers in this drawer. I went through the stack. They are unmarked and obviously unreturned to their authors. They are from several classes. Two classes are anthropology 101 and the topics of the paper vary from “The status of the incest taboo in Southern California suburban communities” to “How they learn to cook: an examination of the culinary codes in Basque American sheep herding camps.”

Left bottom file drawer. This was a surprise. There was a large photo album. It contained many photographs Henrietta herself had taken in Moa Nui during her sojourn there. Among them were pictures of the baby Loretta. This was a real find. Henrietta had handed the camera over to someone a few times because Loretta is pictured in Henrietta’s arms. The pages of the album are a black, heavy paper. The pictures are attached with little corners. Henrietta had carefully labeled each photograph with names and dates in white ink.

Right top file drawer. This was full of film canisters. They were taped shut and labeled. Some were from Moa Nui. Others were labeled, Solución. I knew she’d done work in the Southwest and had published some papers based on that work. But I’d never seen any photographs or films from there.

Right bottom file drawer. A still bright Mexican shawl was on top of what seemed to be a pile of papers and letters. I didn’t take time to read the papers and letters at first, but lifted them all out on to the desktop. At the bottom of the drawer was a tooled leather case with the name Solución on it. It was bound around a manuscript and tied with three wide leather thongs. I put it on the desktop and untied the thongs. I folded the leather cover back. The typed manuscript read, “Romance of the Village of Solución” by Henrietta Poussiere. It had never been published and never seen or read by anyone so far as I knew. It is this manuscript, in its edited but nearly complete form, which you have before you.


 Once I had Henrietta’s notes in hand, I needed to know more about their author. It would take some imaginative leaps but also some facts to get into the mindset of this elusive woman.

Sometimes while reading Solución, I can almost picture her in that remote New Mexican village she studied for so many years. I see her sitting in the afternoon sun, watching people work while she writes in her journal.

I imagine her as water floods one field and then the next. Old men clean the sluices, open and shut gates, and direct the gentle streamlets and trickles into long straight rows of determined beans. Henrietta sits at the western end of one field. She is silhouetted before a nearly setting sun. The afterglow would last at least an hour for the horizon was much below the range of low hills just beyond the fields. The anthropologist has an open three-ring notebook on her lap and a pen in her right hand. She is writing quickly, glancing up now and then at the men and the plants and the tools in their hands. Sometimes she calls out a question. Though the water sloshing through the sluices makes noise, she can be heard and the men shout back to her. She writes, writes some more, and then calls out another question until it too dark to continue.

The air, as the sun finally sets, becomes immediately chilly. Henrietta, wearing jodhpurs, a grey sweater that zips  up around her neck and has a number of moth holes around the collar, pulls a bright woven shawl from a basket near her and wraps it around her shoulders. She walks in the direction of the village and the small house she uses during her summers of residency. It is time to eat some beans and a tortilla or two, turn the lights on, and then type up the notes she’s taken that day.

At least this is how I imagine Henrietta at work. I turned to others who knew her….to get closer to who she was…..I asked several of her old colleagues to write something for this introduction. Some responded:


“We were exploring Bryce Canyon that July. Henrietta had a canvas backpack on a bamboo frame, a slouch hat made of old felt, and a well-worn pair of leather hiking boots. She also carried a walking stick she’d made from a light limb of peeled madrona. She’d run a woven red cord through a hole she’d drilled near the handle. She wore big floppy, khaki shorts, the kind a British colonial office might have worn in Kenya. But she didn’t wear white knee socks. Just some ankle high woolen ones that skimmed the top of her boots. We’d had a grand time trekking through parts of the canyons that had seldom been visited by whites. We came upon tall walls covered with pictographs and spent time sketching them and wondering about their meaning. We came upon the remains of ancient campfires and found abundant caches of projectile points and pottery shards. We left these as we found them and walked on, deeper into the colorful sandstone formations and far beyond roads. Of course we had compasses and our water jugs and equipment for camping out under the stars. Though the nights would be clear, they were also frigid. So we carried long pants and sweaters and hefty bedrolls.

What we weren’t prepared for was a flash flood. It began to rain one evening. We found a good rock overhang and scrambled underneath for protection. We hadn’t been ready to stop for the night, but decided it was prudent to do so. It was both a smart and not so smart thing to do. It rained all night, so we were dry and would have had difficulty finding a better place to spend those long dark hours. It was still raining the next morning. We began stoking the embers of our fire and were happy we had scrambled out last evening to find and stash dry wood before it had all become soaked. Just as the new wood caught and flames leapt up out of the old coals, we heard a rumble, as if a train were headed in our direction. There was no mistaking what it was.

We looked at each other and yelled, “Run.” Henrietta ran around the west side of the overhang and came face on to a sheer rock face. But there was a crack in it…just wide enough for a human body to slip inside. The crack went all the way to the top. One could, if lucky, leverage one’s body into the chimney and perhaps use the pressure of one’s back and feet against each side of the opening to slowly climb. Henrietta went first and began, snail like, to move up. The rumbling was closer now. Up and up we crawled, dripping sweat and wondering what would happen if the water caught up with us now. We just reached the top of the mesa as the water rushed through the gorge below and obliterated all signs of our previous campsite.

I’ll never forget Henrietta’s unflinching courage as she led us both out of danger. She didn’t ask, she didn’t ponder, she didn’t hesitate. She simply ran in the most logical direction and assessed the wisdom of using the opening that was before us or running on into the unknown.”

Francis Odermeyer, colleague and author of Shaman Wanna Be’s: the dangers of being old white women with too much money and A multibeaded life: the great appropriation of ethnic art by middle class white dabblers.

“Henrietta had a certain flashiness about her. We met up at the AAA meetings once a year. I could spot her across the room, usually in the lobby of whatever hotel was hosting the gathering. She wore big floppy hats and she was so tall that her head could be seen bobbing about above the gaggle of other anthropologists. Though she usually dressed simply, even boyishly, she went “ethnic” for the meetings. Sometimes her earrings were as long as her neck and she had two or three favorite necklaces made of hammered metal disks strung with large vermillion trade beads and polished amber nuggets the size of walnuts. I can’t think but that these contributed to the neck and back problems she had later in life.

We arranged to share a room, of course. Once a year we lived it up. We had champagne delivered to the room and bought ourselves a large bouquet of white hydrangeas, orchids, and star gazer and calla lilies. Because the meetings were always in different cities, we called ahead to make sure the hotel florist had the flowers we wanted.

We never failed to have a marvelous week. Aside from the time we spent enjoying each other, we split our sides laughing about the idiocy of some of our colleagues‘ theoretical positions. We went through the program with a pen and circled our favorite paper titles. These were not papers we thought particularly deep or of theoretical import, but those we thought might be most entertaining. “Mortuary Practices of Early West Virginian Miners” seemed a sure bet. We wanted to see this Catherine LeGrand who was presenting. We planned our lunch around a panel on “Anthropometry of the Highland Clearance Scots in Cape Breton.” We had heard that the principal investigator on the project, Gretchen Krause, was terrified to touch other human beings and had accepted the assignment under duress.

We could afford to play at the meetings. My career was made. Henrietta’s was on the trash heap but she had tenure. Our universities paid all of our expenses. We had no names to make and none to uphold.”

Sasha Lashton, colleague and author of numerous papers on the eighteenth century Appalachian cult of cattle mutilation and Black Shadows: Nighttime Visitations to Maiden Ladies in the Ozarks and the Progress of the Soul.


“I was in love with her. We had been graduate students together. But I was a reckless fellow and she was strong willed. We had some good times, but it came to nothing. We remained friends all of our lives. I found her wherever she was. Once we had a week in the Aegean where she was studying with some potters on the island of Sifnos. I flew in to Athens on my way back from China and chartered a sailboat. She was surprised and delighted. Another time, I made a visit while she was working in Moa Nui. Sometimes I think I made a mistake not pursuing her. Life would have been very different. But she had her romances. I met most of the others. We’d go for a beer together and compare ideas for new projects and, eventually, we worried about old age catching up with us. She was a good advisor to my wife. I wish I’d taken more of her advice.”

Jeremy Swifton, colleague, professor emeritus, University of Chicago, and author of The Buck Stops Here: Conquest Tales of Iroquois Huntresses and Last One Home’s a Loser: The Grand Chase Game of the South Hampton Commuter Crowd among others.

Still, in spite of these vivid recollections of her, Henrietta will remain a mystery. We must simply count ourselves fortunate to have this manuscript found at the bottom of her desk drawer, and perhaps the more fortunate for not having its author’s acquaintance. No bias based upon her personality can creep into our reading of the work.

No part of it has been previously published. It contains many texts gathered and consolidated from interviews with more than 100 informants. The work will stand as a major contribution to our knowledge of the history of the Southwestern United States. Indeed, there is little with which to compare it.

The collection has several notable features.

First, it is based solely upon first hand observations and stories collected from those whose families had lived the tales they recounted.

Second, it answers many questions we’ve had about the strategies for survival invented by early Spanish settlers in the Southwest.

Third, it is a rich data source on parenting and childrearing practices in Southwestern villages prior to modern historic times.

Fourth, it contains an occasional note by Poussiere on the profession of anthropology and her own self doubts. These revelations are unique for anthropologists of her generation. We seldom know much of the personal life or ethical struggles they faced. Clearly Poussiere planned to publish this book and wanted it to be a kind of apology for all she had failed to publish before and all the mistakes she had made along the way.

No doubt, others will have their own interpretations. I can imagine an entire session at the American Anthropology meetings being devoted to Poussiere. Some will demonize, others will drink deeply of from their own academic swill. I will not attend.

The original tapes and field notes on which this collection of stories is based have not yet been located. There were handfuls of other typewritten, uynpublished papers found in Poussiere’s desk, but nothing of original journals or notebooks.  This is unfortunate because Poussiere undoubtedly made numerous changes to her consultants’ English and telling of tales as she prepared the manuscript for future publication. She may even have translated stories in the manuscript from their original Spanish herself. But whatever, it is a loss not to have the tapes and notes for the story teller’s voice and cadence are lost to us. Thus nuances and shades of meaning are also lost.

Of course, there will be those who say that Pouissiere had no informants and that she simply spun all of these tales from the whole cloth, or even a single thread, of her fertile mind. This would account for the absence of notes and tapes. I remain open to this possibility.

We do have a few sketchy but verifiable facts about Poussiere’s life. Henrietta Poussiere was the first daughter born to Paul-Henri and Marie Elise Poussiere. Her birth was registered on November 23rd, 1907 in New York City. Her father and mother had a successful bakery and catered many lush parties. She attended public school and took classes at the Art Students League, including summer classes at Woodstock. She graduated from New York City College summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. She was a member of the women’s field hockey team and was known among fellow students for her extravagant hats and striking knickers. She received her doctoral degree from London School of Economics. As we know, she went to Moa Nui for her fieldwork and stayed there several years.  She completed her degree work in London and then moved back to the United States. The mystery of her sojourn in Moa Nui haunted her job search. She was suspect and could only find a tenure track job at McArthur University, and that because of her friendship with Jerzy Hoffenmyer, a dean there and a supporter of her Intentional Global Ignorance method.

In her last years, while in the Southwest, she lived with a companion named Mildred, a member of the Chirichuahua Apache band who had moved to New Mexico from Oklahoma sometime in the early 1940s. Mildred occasionally makes an appearance in Henrietta’s personal journal. What do we know about Mildred? A few sketch details. She was born in 1911 in Oklahoma. She was sent to Haskell Indian School in 1917. In 1928, Mildred returned from Haskell and apprenticed with her Aunt Ida, though precisely what Aunt Ida taught her is unclear. Mildred entered the Spartan School of Aeronautics in 1929 then moved to New Mexico to be with her Aunt Ida in 1942, some 14 years after Mildred had made the move. Ida survived until 1953.



The Fire

June 1989

Henrietta Poussiere’s Journal


The winds spread the fire faster. They shifted a half hour or so after the blaze was noticed. At first it seemed they would blow the flames back toward the Sangre de Cristos peaks to the east. Then, around one in the morning, under a smoky moon, a barely visible nearly quarter slice of light high overhead, a sudden gust began pushing the winds back toward the village. The dark clouds above the skyline turned blood red.

A few partying youth had been hunched down in an arroyo just beyond the plaza and the plaza walls. They had with them, crunched deep within a portable Styrofoam cooler full of ice, a case of Dos Equis. Someone had brought a few joints.

It was they, this current generation of Solución’s best, who noticed the odd glow on the horizon just over the next hill. It was at first just a bright patch. Maybe it was just the lightening in the mountains. It was common this time of year and often danced like a wild goat, streaking from peak to peak or taking the shape of brilliant stick men. But then the light spread out flat, hovering just above the first ridge below the higher peaks. It formed a great line, a broad vivid brush stroke, a curtain of smoke and flame. It moved rapidly, like a phalanx of spirit soldiers and marched closer and closer. The gems of moisture on the amber glass of their beers reflected the coming wrath. The cold sweat on the bottles seemed to harden in their hands.

The youths recognized, even in their self-induced blur, the danger that was upon them. They ran feverishly, scarcely daring to breath in the increasingly thick air, stumbling over one another, to the church. They climbed to the roof on a rickety wooden ladder laid against its northern wall, found the frayed rope, and rang the bell again and again. It was a sullen, unsteady peal, the peal of rank amateurs. But they did the job. Unshaven, rumpled people, their parents and grandparents and aunties and uncles, came unsteadily out of their houses. They immediately smelled the dense air, felt their eyes stinging, and noticed the now smoke-obscured stars above. They were in nightshirts or well used dresses. They were pulling on trousers or fumbling with buttons. They were unsteady, unsure of what was happening. The youngsters screamed at them something about fire. “Get up, get out. We gotta go now. It’s coming fast.” Drunk, perhaps. High, probably, the few who were almost awake thought. But the majority of the people were too stunned or sleepy to react at all. They walked stiffly, as if in a dream, as directed, out through the crumbling walls of the village to the place from which the partying kids had spotted the blaze. When they got there, they too saw the flames on the horizon and the smoky moon and they smelled the pine and sage in the air. They watched as the wind seemed for a moment to carry it all away from them. They almost believed that they were saved. That’s when the gust came and turned the flames back on them. No doubt, the fire would be on them in an hour or so at the pace it was traveling. People ran now, gathering their goods, throwing things that were important to them, TVs and VCRs and coffee makers and quilts and electric toothbrushes, into their cars and trucks. They cut ropes that held horses and donkeys so that these desert hardened animals who had come to expect nothing but the worst might run and care for themselves. They whistled shrilly to their dogs who leaped up, surprised, from deep sleeps, and pushed and bunched against each other as they crowded into back seats. They carried cats wrapped in towels, coddled in their arms. “Hurry, hurry,” they called to each other, to drowsy children, to tottering grandmothers. They yanked still sleeping youngsters and mewling babies from cribs and cots and stuffed them in between themselves in the front seats of their vehicles. “It’s all right,” they told them and themselves. “It’ll be all right.”

By the time they had finished loading all they could, they could feel the heat of the gathering inferno, they could smell the fire in their dry nostrils, and they could see bits of furious red sage embers swirling over their heads like fireflies in the night. Within forty-five minutes or so after the first alarm, the people were gone. Solución was deserted. Within an hour, it was consumed.



“Europeans who invaded Indian country in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries came with intimate memories of their own homelands and they too saw the landscape as a spiritual as well as a physical space. When they drew maps of it, planted crosses on it, and built churches on sites held sacred by Indian peoples, they attempted to give it new meaning and transform it from a wilderness where they feared Satan’s influence held sway to an ordered place where God was present, Christ was worshiped, and ‘civilization’ could grow. Struggles for the West were—and still are—not just about who should own and occupy the land but also about what the land should mean, the kind of lives that should be lived there, and ultimately, the kind of stories it would hold.”


One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark.

Colin G. Calloway

University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln; and London, 2003



August 1989

Henrietta Poussiere’s Journal


This summer again we are suffering from a drought. The people down here say that most summers. This year it is true. Dusky magpies in a swirl of dust circle the forlorn, dry, scorched fields. We watch carefully where we fling our cigarette butts. We hope that nothing sparks or backfires. Anything could start another brushfire with whatever is left that could burn. The people, as I said, are mostly gone or leaving since the fire, but they wish to contend with nothing more. Enough.

Winds sweep up discarded plastic grocery bags and they hang lifeless, stabbed and fastened tight against yards of barbed wire. Acres of empty land are surrounded by these angry fences and their limp banderas. On breezy, moonlit nights the bags look for all the world like miniature ghosts thrashing against the hold of some unseen opponent.

These same winds in the past were often strong enough to pick up sheets of corrugated tin right off the roofs of houses. Up into the air they flew, magic, wavy, dull but, nevertheless, dangerous projectiles. They were propelled across roads and footpaths and over chicken houses and eroding adobe walls. They stayed where they landed. They lay stiffly and rusting in arroyos or near abandoned gas pumps. They stayed there. They will stay, now, forever. Who would pick them up and why? Who would wonder of them or own them? They will never disintegrate of their own accord, unlike the houses that will return to dust with time. We always watched our necks in windstorms lest the roof parts lift themselves up and fly again, too near us. We fear even more, now, the lightening in the mountains and the long rows of dark clouds moving from the west.

There is a white puff, a fluff with a streak of white behind it, high in the sky overhead, almost at zenith and I at nadir. It is, I see now, the trail of a spinning rocket making its way north from White Sands. Behind me are the Sangre de Cristo Mountains turning their blood red and pink in the setting sun. Before me in the distance is the high, broad butte that hosted Los Alamos and its smoke and brimstone history. It went up in flames with all the rest, the consequences of its arrogance I think. Gone are its almost apologetic museum, its smug genome exhibits, its tennis courts, and its liberal churches that regularly mocked God with their flocks’ self-righteous justifications for taking over his work. You know, my friend Mildred was here when Robert Oppenheimer and the rest started their work down here. I hadn’t started my annual treks to visit yet.


“I saw them. Nineteen forty-three I think it was. Just a year or so after I got here,” Mildred told me. “It seems a bit funny now to read in some of the new books that Oppenheimer was told to be careful and ‘refrain from driving an automobile for any appreciable distance (above a few miles) and from being without suitable protection on any lonely road, such as the road from Los Alamos to Santa Fe.’” Mildred laughed. “If I saw him with his guard and chauffer going down the highway, you can be sure the watchers saw him. It’s for sure he wouldn’t have been on that road with or without a guard if the government people had known about the watchers.”

Los Alamos was just further proof that this little universe has long been marked, doomed, and surrounded by warring destinies. Or was it only one destiny that appeared to be many? Were these scientists and ancient Puebloans and Anglos and Spanish all really on the same path? Are they still?

Near the gravel driveway across the road from where I’m sitting and writing, just a few feet away, is an elaborate cross gaily decorated with red plastic roses. The roses are a little singed now, their petals fused. I asked about it.

“Oh,” one of the village women said, “Somebody was shot crossing the street. They never caught the guy. Some drug deal gone bad we figured.” She was too casual for my taste, as if this were an everyday occurrence. But it was nearly an everyday occurrence during these past few years.

“Was anyone apprehended?” “No. They never caught the guy that done it. He left a girlfriend and a little baby. Too bad.”

A mile down the road was the church dedicated to Niño de Atocha, the little boy who brought food to hungry prisoners and finds lost children. The church walls were hung with relics of human suffering: the children who weren’t found, the prisoners who didn’t get fed. Something was always dreary and dead there. A little further was the central plaza of Solución with its small church and elegant chapel dedicated to the village’s first priest And there, surrounding the plaza, were the homes of all the people who were descendent of the same family into which the matron twin, the founder of the village Solución was born.

People are seldom around now. Those whose houses are still standing come back to pack whatever they’ve left behind. But they don’t stay. They won’t stay. But still, something lurks beyond the chicken wire and heavy locked gates on these almost abandoned houses. Even the remaining hungry dog guardians seem to know it. They seem more fearful than fierce. Is the whole of the remaining township poisoned? Did the ancient ones pollute the water supply, put arsenic in the earth, and cast a spell of gloom and hate? Are they still in the caves and underground streams laughing and pulling crops from their roots down to drown and decay in the caverns? Are the sacred streams and the healing earth dressed in battle fatigues? No, I think not. Not since the fire. I know they have moved on too. I know they are at rest now. No, what I feel in what is left of the village is some internalized curse. We all became so accustomed to bad times here that we came to expect them, even thrive on them. No, the watchers are at peace. But not the people of Solución or those who used to inhabit Solución. They attract struggle and imbalance. They embrace defeat like a lover. They delude themselves with the notion that life is all about luck and destiny. They don’t know, still, what their carelessness brought on them. They cling to a fictional past in which they were happy. I hear it in snippets of conversation as I stroll around the ruins. People are picking through the remnants, lying to themselves and each other. However, I know the history of this village.

I’m certain you have heard about Solución if you’ve ever been in this region. You’ve probably seen the billboards if you’ve ever driven between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. A few years ago while I was still spending summers here some of the villagers rented two or three of them to promote Solución as a tourist destination. The company they hired to design and paste the messages to the boards was chosen because it offered the cheapest product. In consequence, the signs are peeling in several places. The inks must have been substandard because the colors have faded considerably. The messages and designs were produced by the villagers are strangely anachronistic for their models for advertisement were derived from the occasional medicine show that had visited the village in the earlier part of the century. These shows featured jugglers and ventriloquists. But the main thrust of the entertainment was to sell patent medicines. So the billboards the villagers put up on the highway smacked of the worst kind of old fashioned hucksterism: “Tuberculosis? Bronchitis? Whatever ails you, We’ve got the Cure. Come to Solución for all your needs!” Declared one. Another urged motorists to “Drop in to Solución: Your Best Bet for Weavings Your Pocket Book Can Afford. Over 400 Years of Quality Next Exit”, another read. Another suggested that “Miracles” were “A Dime a Dozen” and that the “Healing Dirt” could be had “by the bagfuls” for a song. One offered “Reel Estate Real Cheap”. Yep, “Reel Estate.” Still, they attracted some people now and then to come and take a look if only because their promises were so peculiar. It may have been the few ads placed in magazines more than the billboards that brought people in. Their tone was a little less carnival barkerish and featured photographs of the landscape. Plus someone had edited them before publishing.

The villagers did little to accommodate the visitors when they responded to the advertisements. Two or three of the old families installed pop machines outside their doors. Some of them put out their own signs to attract visitors to their shops. Most of them were shabbily made and not very inviting. Some were handwritten with indelible inks on pieces of cardboard and nailed to trees. A very few of the families acquired some second hand glass cases and stocked them with cheap silver and imitation turquoise jewelry from Korea or Taiwan or Hong Kong. They usually had a few baskets and a number of pots on consignment from some of the Pueblo women.

They came, these occasional tourists, usually from the East coast, to buy chili powder or ristras and find out what was here that might cure something. Curatives were and are a seeming obsession of middle class white North Americans. They came in their fancy rented Jeeps to look at the rugs for which Solución had actually gained a fair reputation in the past. Some of those rugs, woven in later times, bore quite abstract Mondrianish designs. I didn’t care much for them. Some of them appeared to be “traditional,” whatever that means. The local stock was liberally amplified by the box loads of rugs that arrived via UPS from Japan and central Mexico. These moved faster because they could be sold more cheaply. They seemed a deal by comparison with the real handmade products. So they moved. I frankly didn’t see a rug worth buying after about 1955. Not until Rose started weaving and using the old vegetable dyes and carding her own wool. But she stayed up in the mountains during the day and didn’t participate in this tourist trade. Her work went to the arts fairs in the cities or was done on commission. She was damn good.

The tourists were easily pleased, however. They didn’t know the difference between the Japanese knock offs and the genuine article. These were people taken in by the romance of things, “traditional.” We anthropologists helped to create a market by relentlessly publishing on local and regional cultures back in the day. We celebrated pottery and carving and noted its demise. And those who read us longed to own the very special, the last, the one of a kind of a soon to be gone people.

Of course, no one in the village could actually make a transaction with a Visa card. They were, however, “happy to take cash or checks,” they said. The checks, too often, turned out to be no good.

When the tourists returned home, if asked about Solución, they often commented on the “nice staff.” These were the villagers turned shop keepers who carefully watched and catered to them. These staff were, of course, the descendants of the trek who have long since given up the craft but retained the trade. They showed their purchases and made up stories about how and from whom they got them. They were always said to have been, a “real bargain.” They didn’t remember much of anything else about the village.

I’ll be happy to get back to the canyon and Mildred after this long day of remembering, and writing, and rambling amidst the ruins of Solución. Mind you, I need to be around the village to jog my memory. But it is hard to breathe here, hard to walk, and difficult to think about how awful the past few years here were.

Do I seem dispassionate about the demise of Solución? Detached? Are my descriptions of the village sometimes cruel or sarcastic? I do get carried away sometimes. I will at some point seem to be judgmental, I am certain of that. I think Crow sees me that way. She’d tell you herself if she could. Once upon a time, I really did love the people. I had many friends here over the years. There are many I miss terribly.

Yet, it was a strange village. Telling my story, my version of what happened in Solución is not going to be easy. I’ve kept it back for so many years. I worry what I have to say probably won’t seem likely to people who live in the sensible world of phenomena. Some of you, my readers, for I do expect these stories to be read, will flat out not accept what I have to say about Solución. Some of you will think the stories are silly or so fantastic or unbelievable as to be a waste of your time. What, you will ask, is the relevance of all this nonsense to your life? Nevertheless, it is relevant, this story.  As scientists learn more about our physical universe they realize that more is possible than anyone ever suspected. That’s what you must keep in mind. There is dark matter and dark energy everywhere. It is possible to go backwards and forwards; it is possible to enter as one thing and exit as another.  String theory suggests that there may be up to eleven dimensions. Quantum mechanics suggests that God might throw dice, in spite of what Einstein had to say about it. Anyone might run into Einstein himself at any random crap game in any random casino. Sometimes I think that’s why Mildred took up Texas Hold’em. You never know who’s going to be at the table. We’ve only just begun to understand it all. Well, I think Mildred’s Aunt Ida might have gotten it a long time ago from what I have heard about her. Yes, what I know from my life of work here leads me to believe that what the physicists are just discovering has long been known to the watchers out in the canyons and people like Ida.

Next: How They Came to be Here


[1] Stephan A. Hoeller discussing Jung’s Redbook