Roads on Her Face #25: Ghosts, Premonitions and Sipapus

It was something about the immense longing in my soul, something to do with the constant waking dreams and the time for deep thoughts that brought them on. The quiet time, without nagging cell phones and the interminable media flow we’re subjected to in these modern, better times. Dreams and premonitions would come filled with people I thought I knew, and places I was sure I’d seen. Sometimes they would be places that I wouldn’t know until much later in life. I dreamed the little white house we settled in in New Mexico, many years before we ever saw it. I saw a quiet town with friendly mountain people, and lo, it came to pass. I dreamed of an airplane circling for hours above a busy airport unable to put its wheels down, then saw it the next day on the news. I dreamed a vivid movie-length dream that I can still remember each piece of, of running through a brilliant fantasy land and finally diving over cliffs into the ocean to swim out to a tropical island. The dream had a soundtrack, and each piece of sand or plant was vivid in details.

Hours spent in silence in the desert create the weighty hush of a cathedral. The longer you sit making no noise the harder it is to break the quiet. If Dad was hung over we were forbidden to make noise. If you didn’t want to be found you didn’t make noise. If you were tired of the closeness of the people around you, you walked out into the mesquite and then you didn’t make noise.

Once I fell asleep behind a creosote bush in a place I liked to visit to get away. The campsite was somewhere in the California desert, a place we knew and always stayed for a while when we were passing by. I could wedge myself between two bushes and the branches would sway over me, creating a perfect hiding spot. The sand was finely ground and soft as a pillow. Gradually I fell asleep. I woke to a sound. I kept my eyes shut tightly, feeling as if even the movement of opening them would draw attention. I heard soft padding in the sand, and then panting like a dog. I froze. It must be a coyote! I wasn’t scared of them, but they were unpredictable and what if it had rabies? The sound paused, as if the creature had sensed something. I opened my eyes as quietly as I could. Nothing. I slid slowly out from my hiding place, making no sounds. (Desert kids learn this skill). Nothing. The smooth sand held no trace of pawprints besides my own. A dog ghost, then.

The most recent dream I remember feeling like a premonition or a message was a few years ago, before I started living such a grounded “default” life, as burners term it. This life full of reality and 9 to 5 and boring people, stock happiness with everything I need and little I want. I try not to feel ungrateful, to tell myself this is what everyone wants. It’s hard to convince that little desert rat gypsy soul who lives inside me.

I was walking in the desert as the sun went down. The light reflected from cliffs with a warm golden glow, the shadows lengthening toward me. I stooped and picked up a few rocks, rolling them in my palm as I often do when hiking. I felt their roughness, watched the dust drift down from them. People say when you’re dreaming to look for details, to pick up a leaf and try to see its veins, to look at your hand and see if the lines are there. Dreams supposedly can’t hold this level of detail, and you will know you are dreaming. Every detail I looked for was there, this time.

I kept walking and over a rise spotted the ruins of a hogan among the boulders. It was the same color as the desert around it, and hard to see. When I walked down the hill and found the low-risen door on the other side, I bent and went inside. On a rock looking up at the hole in the roof was an old Native man, a feather in his hair. He work blue jeans and work boots and a barely-there mysterious smile.

“Look,” he said. “They’re everywhere.” He reached out his hand and stuck it through the solid rock wall of the ruin. His arm disappeared up to the elbow, then he was gone. I believed, in an instant, and stuck my head through the wall to follow him. I glimpsed a world of all grey with diffuse light and an empty plain before I started awake in wonder. I looked up the word the next morning. “Sipapu” is a Hopi or Navajo word for a small hole Pueblo people would build in the floor of their kivas, to symbolize the portal their ancestors entered this world through, from the destroyed underworld.

I told my mom this story, and she scoffed. She said we’d both read the word in a Tony Hillerman novel when I was a kid. I am still looking for sipapus.


Author: AR

Writer, photographer, traveler, general life-liver.

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