Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sacred Willow

Weather: Warm afternoons continue to dry the mud; when temperatures drop at night, the moisture hovers above and keeps morning temperatures in the middle to high 20's; last precipitation 2/17/12; 10:08 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming: Black mustard coming into bloom along shoulders.

What’s still green: Juniper and other evergreens; stems on hybrid roses and young chamisa; leaves on grape hyacinth, alfilerillo, gypsum phacelia seedlings, snakeweed, anthemis, strap leaf aster; cheat grass.

What’s red: Cholla; branches on Russian olive, tamarix, sandbar willow, apples, apricots, spirea, wild roses and raspberry; leaves on coral bells, pinks, soapworts.

What’s blue or gray: Piñon; leaves on four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, stickleaf seedlings, beardtongues, golden hairy and purple asters.

What’s yellow-green/yellow-brown: Arborvitae; branches on weeping willow more intensely yellow.

What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: The use of willow for sacred objects made to ensure a bountiful food supply goes back thousands of years, to the time when corn wasn’t yet an important part of the diet.

By then, the large mammals hunted with Clovis points around 9500 bc had come and gone with the peripheral environment of the last glaciers. The bison hunted with Folsom points around 8000 bc had moved on when the climate continued drying. The people who remained in the southwest adapted by following annual crops of seeds and berries and eating rabbits.

Then, about 2000 bc, the rains returned. Big horned sheep were in the area stretching from Grand Canyon west through the Mojave to what is now China Lake Naval Weapons Center at the base of the Sierra Nevada. A new technology, Gypsum points, developed and foragers perfected coiled basketry.

With the animals came hunting rituals whose artifacts were found at Newberry Cave southeast of Barstow on the Mojave river in the 1950's. They included quartz crystals with pigments and adhesives still attached, feathers wrapped in sinew, sheep dung wrapped in sinew and some petroglyphs.

Most important were small figures made by forming strands of willow into animal shapes then wrapping them with the same piece of willow. They found 11 in tact and fragments of another 1,000 that dated to 1500 bc.

Such figurines have been found in at least 15 sites in the lower Colorado basin and have occasionally been made with skunk bush or cottonwood. The earliest were found at Stanton’s Cave in the Grand Canyon from 2000 bc where they were associated with deer. They persisted in the Canyon Lands at the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers where they evolved into social totems.

The petroglyph tradition persisted for another two thousand years in the nearby Coso Mountains. There drawings etched in volcanic rock show big horn sheep and animal-man figures. David Whitley argues the ones made a thousand years ago were done by Shoshoni shamans who traveled miles to seek contact with spirits of big horn who controlled rain. The details of the drawings came from their trances.

Alan Garfinkle suggests the ones made three thousand years ago, those contemporary with the willow figures, often show leaping or running sheep without hunters or depict long lines of animals emerging from crevices in the rocks. He believes they were done in communal spring rituals by people who believed animal spirits reemerged annually from the underworld. The glyphs were attempts to ensure a large population of edible animals.

Garfinkle notes many were more practically located near ambush sites, suggesting a more direct link to hunting magic. There are something like 35,000 glyphs scattered over 90 square miles.

Hunting techniques from 3000 years ago are difficult to understand when only stone points survive and petroglyphs show only the most symbolic interactions between man and animal. In more recent times, men in Wyoming first drove sheep into traps. There’s evidence they also used juniper bark nets to snare animals who could then be killed.

If such techniques were used earlier, wrapping an animal figure in the willow from which it would be formed would be more than a representation of a fixed moment. It’s creation would be a symbolic dramatization of the hunt itself.

Unlike the Coso petroglyphs which exist in open areas, the split twig figurines tend to be found in caves, many inaccessible today. Their location in a pluvial period may have been different, but there’s little indication Newberry was entered for any reason other than rituals. There’s little evidence of stratigraphy and no signs of occupation.

The use of willow may have been pragmatic: it was available, it was used for nets, it was pliable enough to form the figures. If the association of sheep with rain predates the cultural complex described by Whitley, the use of willow to capture the spirit of the sheep may have been meant more in a society more dependent on plants than animals for food.

Notes: All dates are general approximations.

Coulam, Nancy J. and Alan R. Schroedl. “Late Archaic Totemism in the Greater American Southwest,” American Antiquity 69:41-62:2004.

Crockett, Stephanie. “The Prehistoric Peoples of Jackson Hole,” in John Daugherty, A Place Called Jackson Hole, 1999.

Davis, C. Alan, RE Taylor, Gerald A. Smith. “New Radiocarbon Determinations from Newberry Cave,” Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 3:144-147:1981.

Garfinkel, Alan P. “Paradigm Shifts, Rock Art Theory, and the Coso Sheep Cult of Eastern California,” North American Archaeologist 27:203-244:2006.

Whitley, David S. A Guide to Rock Art Sites: Southern California and Southern Nevada, 1996.

Wulbrecht, Sally. “The Mountain Shoshones: Sheep Eaters,” Wind River Historical Center website.

1. Sandbar willow on ditch banks near Española, 13 January 2012.

2. Sandbar willow on banks of Santa Cruz river just before it merges with the Rio Grande, 29 December 2011.

3. Globe willow, 30 January 2012, just acquiring its winter color.

4. Weeping willow growing down the road, 27 January 2012, with winter yellow branches.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Willow Prayer Sticks

Weather: Some rain Tuesday, more muddy afternoons; 10:08 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming: Black mustard coming into bloom along shoulders.

What’s still green: Juniper and other evergreens; stems on hybrid roses and young chamisa; leaves on grape hyacinth, alfilerillo, gypsum phacelia seedlings, snakeweed, anthemis, strap leaf aster; cheat grass.

Men have been pruning their apples this week.

What’s red: Cholla; branches on Russian olive, tamarix, sandbar willow, apples, apricots, spirea, wild roses and raspberry; leaves on coral bells, pinks, soapworts.

What’s blue or gray: Piñon; leaves on four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, stickleaf seedlings, beardtongues, golden hairy and purple asters.

What’s yellow-green/yellow-brown: Arborvitae, branches on weeping willow.

What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium, Christmas cactus. A twig of sandbar willow I stuck in water has put out some roots and a leaf is beginning to open.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: Rain this week washed away what snow remained, but judging from my muddy drive, the water hasn’t gone far.

What a difference a year makes. The monsoons of 2010 left little water. We got some snow the usual time, just before the solstice, but it soon disappeared, to be replaced by zero temperatures last January with no cover to insulate plants.

Some flurries fell the first week of February, followed by below zero temperatures and a gas outage that left us with no heat for a week. Then nothing until May when more snow fell that killed what apple blossoms had managed to survive. The cherries and apricots hadn’t much tried to bloom.

By June we knew we were in serious drought. In past years, the pueblos would have been sending messengers to the rain spirits at Tsikomó mountain four days after the summer solstice. But last year, the Pacheco Fire that began June 18 had put restrictions on forest use. Then the Las Conchas fire broke out June 26 and crossed the headwaters of Santa Clara Creek (P’opii Khanu) on its way past what the Forest Service called Mount Chicoma on June 29.

In a normal year at San Juan, Alfonso Ortiz says the agricultural cycle begins on January 20, a month after the solstice, when the chief of the Winter moiety initiates To Lessen the Cold. This ends when, on the fourth day, he formally asks the chief of the Summer people to “seek life for all.”

On February 20, the Summer chief initiates Bringing the Buds to Life. March 20 marks Bringing the Leaves to Life and April 20 begins Bringing the Blossoms to Life. This work is so important, it must be postponed for four days if someone dies while it’s in progress. As Ortiz notes, since people do die, the work often is not completed until the beginning of June.

If no rain has come by the end of the retreat for Bringing the Blossoms to Life, “all of the Made People go on a ‘rain retreat’ to the mountain and hill shrines west of the village.” He doesn’t detail what occurs, but only says the purpose is “to pray, meditate, and make offerings to the spirits of the shrines and earth navels.” While there, they also “gather plant medicines for use in other rituals.”

After the Las Conchas fire burned through the headwaters of the creek, the Santa Clara governor, Walter Dasheno, called a press conference to express his dismay. But, when he had to explain why the fire was so serious, he would only say it destroyed “cultural sites, forest resources, plants and animals that the people of Santa Clara depend upon for their livelihood and culture” and that “he and other pueblo members were continuing to pray.”

William Boone Douglass grew impatient with the silence of local people regarding Tsikomó, and entered the sacred space in 1911. As he climbed the 11,400' mountain he moved beyond the timber line. The sacred spring was about 50' below the crust, which was bare, except for a group of four piñon.

When Ortiz climbed the mountain with two others from San Juan in 1964, they noticed the number of trees killed by lightening and the greater level of precipitation. He took that and the constant presence of rain clouds as signs the spirits were unusually active there. The lower part of the mountain is the source for both Santa Clara Creek and Rio Oso.

At the top, Douglass found a stone mound in the center of the crest. To the south was a stone enclosure (Kwan-po) with seven exits on the east side. These are the openings for the rain roads (awu-mu-wa-ya) used by the Taos, San Juan, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Jemez, Cochiti and Navajo.

In the center was a saucer like depression. To its west was a polished blackware vase which had held water and corn meal offerings. Behind the vase were rows of prayer sticks planted in the earth.

Prayer stick is a confusing term, because while the sacred objects to which it refers are similar in form - a stick or pair of sticks, with feathers and plant matter attached by cotton cording - they are used in most of the pueblos for overlapping and sometimes differing purposes.

Ruth Bunzel found among the Zuñi, their most important associations were with the two solstices, and that winter solstice activity was related to the kachinas. At Isleta, Elsie Clews Parsons says prayer sticks were used during the summer solstice only, and that the Tewa speaking pueblos only used them in times of drought. She notes there they were made by all the chiefs and taken to the top of Tsikomó.

Douglass identified 14 different types of prayer sticks in the space shared by three Tewa speaking pueblos, a Tiwa speaking, a Towa speaking, and Keres speaking one, along with an Athabascan group. Most were made from willow, but other materials were used. Parsons says willow was used for rain or water spirits and oak or pine for the war cult.

The most important reason willow is used is that it only grows near water. Frank Cushing went so far as to suggest the Zuñi believed willow brought forth water. The Hopi call their prayer sticks paho, meaning water wood.

In a binary world sharply divided between two moieties where harmony and community are valued, the prayer sticks may also have acted as symbolic bridges between two discrete worlds. Sometimes, two sticks are bound together, representing male and female or, Douglass was told, older and younger brothers.

Among the Zuñi, the fact willow has separate male and female flowers seems important. Bunzel heard a poem used for offering prayer sticks at the winter solstice that included the lines:

    From all the wooded places
    Breaking off the young straight shoots
    Of the male willow, female willow

Another used at a monthly offering of prayer sticks was

    Male willow,
    Female willow,
    Four times cutting the straight young shoots

And, during the chief’s summer retreat to bring rain, she heard

    Male willow, female willow.
    Four times breaking off the straight young shoots.

The other important characteristic of willow is color.

Most prayer sticks found at Tsikomó were made from wood with “smooth reddish bark” and painted green or yellow. The attached plants were either ones with yellow flowers (goldenrod and snakeweed) or green sedges. Ortiz says the colors associated with the Summer people are black, yellow and green, while the one associated with the Winter is red.

The willow is almost always described as red, but Parsons says in one pueblo “one moiety uses red willow, the other yellow willow.” Often, the wood is painted with green or black paint, the one color representing life, the other the underworld.

What isn’t mentioned, but must be observed, is the colors of willow embody elements of both summer and winter in a single branch. In one season, it’s clothed in green leaves. In January, its bare stems are not dormant, but every day become a more vivid red.

Baca, Joe. “Las Conchas Fire Burns More Than 6,000 acres of Santa Clara Pueblo Land – 6/30,” Santa Clara press release, 30 June 2011; words with potentially coded meanings are bolded.

Bunzel, Ruth L. Introduction to Zuñi Ceremonialism, 1932.

_____. Zuñi Ritual Poetry, 1932.

Cushing, Frank Hamilton. Zuni Breadstuff, 1920.

Douglass, William Boone. “Notes on the Shrines of the Tewa and Other Pueblo Indians of New Mexico,” International Congress of Americanists Proceedings 19:344-378:1915.

Los Alamos Monitor. “Santa Clara Pueblo Declares State of Emergency,” 30 June 2011; words with potentially coded meanings are bolded.

Ortiz, Alfonso. The Tewa World, 1969.

Parsons, Elise Clews. Pueblo Indian Religion, vol 1, 1939.

Photographs:1. Red willow near a public path that someone cut, 1/15/12.

2. Las Conchas fire from my back porch about 12 miles away, 7/4/11. I believe this is one of the canyons south of Tsikomó.

3. Goldenrod growing on a ditch bank, the water now frozen, 1/20/12. The local Solidago species doesn't bloom at the time of summer solstice, but everywhere I’ve seen it here it’s been growing near water.

4. Snakeweed in my drive, 1/21/12. Douglass identified the plant he found used as Gutierrezia eathania. I haven’t found any other reference to that name. The species that’s common here, Gutierrezia sarothrae, doesn't bloom at the time of summer solstice, but it retains some green leaves all winter.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Modern Willow Baskets

Weather: Afternoon thawing continues, but morning temperatures have dropped again; last snow 12/22/11; 9:59 hours of daylight today.

What’s still green: Juniper and other evergreens; stems on roses and young chamisa; leaves on sea pink, coral beardtongue, gypsum phacelia seedlings, snakeweed, strap leaf aster; cheat grass; crust active.

What’s red: Cholla; branches on Russian olive, tamarix, sandbar willow, apples, apricots, spirea and raspberry; leaves on coral bells, pinks, small-leaved soapwort.

What’s blue or gray: Piñon; leaves on four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, stickleaf seedlings, golden hairy and purple asters.

What’s yellow-green/yellow-brown: Arborvitae, branches on weeping willow.

What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, asparagus fern, zonal geranium, Christmas cactus peaked.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: Genuine tradition isn’t frozen into a single set of rules. There are general patterns which anthropologists use to define cultural periods, but within those groupings there’s room for individual variation and innovation.

At Chevlon along the Little Colorado in the 1300's, basket makers covered some of their wares with thick coats of paint. In the early twentieth century, Mary Lois Kissell says the Papago and Pima were still decorating their baskets with red and blue mineral paints.

However, the craftsmen at Chevlon also dyed some materials to weave in patterns. When aniline dyes became available in the late nineteenth century, Hopi women were quick to experiment with them. Many returned to vegetable dyes, partly because collectors preferred them and partly because isolation made it difficult to purchase materials.

When Helga Teiwes was interviewing basket makers in the 1990's, she talked to Vera Pooyouma, then estimated to be 104 years old. She first learned chemical dyes, changed to vegetable ones, and had returned to chemicals because they were easier at her age. The slightly younger Eva Hoyungowa, born in 1912, learned to use vegetable dyes from her father’s sister. Dora Tawahongva, born in 1930, was using both commercial and vegetable dyes at the time, while many others used only chemicals. All lived in Oraibi, the most traditional village on the Third Mesa.

Among the plants Teiwes saw women use for red dye were Navajo Tea and Hopi Tea. The preference seemed to depend on which was more abundant, with the first used more often by coiled basket makers on the Second Mesa and the second by wicker workers in Oraibi. Otis Mason identified additional dyes made from prairie sunflower seeds for dark blue, introduced safflower for yellow, and kaolin clay for white. Myrtle Zuck Hough told him Hopi also used their cooking beans to produce a black dye.

Dye introduces a second skill into basket making and a separate material harvesting cycle. When making items for the tourist trade, where speed is more valued by the artisan than effect, color can be introduced by using different natural materials: against the natural white of dried yucca leaves, modern Papago, the Tohono O’odham, use fading but still green yucca, brownish red banana yucca roots, and black devil’s claw pods.

Similarly, local craftsmen use variations in willow to introduce color into their work. Steven Trujillo, who settled in San Juan, learned to interweave “light and darker colored reeds, the later being older and slightly discolored when he harvests them. When first done, the baskets are white and light tan, but with age, the darker reeds turn almost ebony, giving a frank contrast to the pure white reeds.”

Carol Naranjo, who learned from Joe Val Gutierrez of Santa Clara, keeps the bark on the willow she uses, but introduces designs with small strips of pealed, white branches. She makes sure all her pieces are as close to the same color as possible. Carlos Herrera of Cochiti uses willows of different ages, sometimes using the older, nearly purple ones in horizontal bands, sometimes randomly in the vertical posts.

Greater variations in design are produced in the ways they finish off their baskets. Instead of making a simple rim, contemporary willow workers, who use bands of four for their warp, fold them in great arches to tuck them back several uprights away. The overlapping bands create the illusion of an open weave.

Naranjo indicates there also are small differences in the way people gather their materials. She cuts her willow sometime between October and May when sap levels are low. The best color is found now, in January.

She lets the branches sit for a few days so more sap can drain, then uses the willow quickly, while it’s still flexible. She can finish a small basket in a day. A larger one can take two to three days and is stored under a towel in the bathtub between work sessions.

She says others weave their baskets immediately. However, she says when the wood dries, as it will, it shrinks and the weave can get a bit loose.

In the late nineteenth century, Mary Lois Kissell says the Papago cut the willow for their coiled baskets in the spring, when new growth was emerging, then removed the bark immediately. In the past they had used boiling water to loosen it first. When they made a basket, they then soaked their willow, a few splints at a time.

One thing that drives innovation within tradition is a desire to master something seen but unfamiliar. Allie Seletstewa taught herself how to bend the warp to start the sides of a deep wicker basket by “experimenting with wet sand, water, and steam.”

When Trujillo was first learning how to make baskets, he said he was “down by the river gettin’ willows. And then, a crazy thing go on. Suddenly it’s like I asleep and dreamin’. I was awake, I know that, but somehow I was asleep at the same time. And I heard this voice - real clear - says to me, “Keep goin’, son. Keep on goin’’.”

“So I go home and get right into makin’ them baskets. Pretty soon I got it real good. Them baskets turnin’ out alright now, and been makin’ lots of baskets every since.”

Notes: The current Latin name for Hopi tea is Thelesperma megapotamicum, Navajo tea is Thelesperma subnudum, prairie sunflower is Helianthus petiolaris, and safflower is Carthamus tinctorius. Banana yucca root is Yucca baccata. Devil’s claw is Proboscidea parviflora. Other plants identified in post below.

Fewkes, Jesse Walter. Two Summers' Work in Pueblo Ruins, 1904, on Chevlon.

Fleming, Tim. “The Basketmaker,” The New Mexican, 19 July 1984, on Trujillo.

Kissell, Mary Lois. Basketry of the Papago and Pima, 1916.

Mason, Otis Tufton. Indian Basketry, volume 2, 1905, on Chevlon and the Hopi.

Naranjo, Carol. Comments made 4 January 2012 at her Santa Clara home.

Teiwes, Helga. Hopi Basket Weaving, 1996.

Red willow wicker basket by Carol Naranjo; willow was collected near Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey in Pecos.

Yucca and bear grass coiled basket by Rachel Pablu, Tohono O’odham.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Traditional Willow Baskets

Weather: Days alternate between thawing afternoons and freezing nights; the snow that melts turns to ice which turns slick under water; last snow 12/22/11; 9:52 hours of daylight today.

Snow still covers west and north facing beds, and eastern beds in the shadow of the fence. Those facing south or east are exposed to the drying sun and wind, as are open areas in the bunch grass. Ice is in the drip lines at night.

What’s still green: Juniper and other evergreens; rose stems; leaves on cheese mallow, sea pink, coral beardtongue, gypsum phacelia, snakeweed; cheat grass.

Big jump in prices for seeds in one catalog. Some prices much higher for bare root trees in another. No one left selling perennial plants at affordable prices by mail order.

What’s red: Cholla; branches on sandbar willow, apples, apricots, spirea and raspberry; leaves on coral bells, pinks, small-leaved soapwort.

What’s blue or gray: Piñon; leaves on four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, golden hairy and purple asters.

What’s yellow-green/yellow-brown: Arborvitae, branches on weeping willow.

What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, asparagus fern, zonal geranium, Christmas cactus.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: Weaving techniques exist separately from their form or plant material, and thus have adapted when changing requirements demanded new utensils. In parts of the west where fish were important, one set of shapes developed. Netting and cordage appeared elsewhere when people became dependent on rabbits.

The forms we associate with baskets evolved with a reliance on plants for food. The dietary transition occurred when glaciers had receded and the remaining lakes were drying. Large mammals had died or were migrating. The lacustrine environment supported trees like sandbar willow and sedges like tule.

The earliest burden baskets were made by weaving tule stems twisted into strands between fibers extracted from Indian hemp stalks. At Danger Cave in Utah in the 7000's bc, twined baskets were found with pickleweed chaff. The technology and form also appeared at Falcon Hill, Spirit Cave, and Hidden Cave in the same millenium in Nevada.

Within a thousand years, coiled baskets appeared that used willow as a weft, but eliminated the vertical posts that would have introduced spaces and rippled walls. The rows were held together by lashing them with strands of yucca.

A coiled basket has been found in Cowboy Cave in Utah from sometime in the early 6000's bc. Another made from sandbar willow was found in Hogup Cave, also in Utah, that dates to the late 5000's bc. Anthropologists think the technique developed a century or so earlier in Coahuila and moved north.

The use of yucca suggests a steadily drying environment. David Rhode and David Madsen found that while limber pine nuts existed in the strata from the 5000's bc in Danger Cave, the more arid piñon replaced them in the next higher layer, as they replaced them in the environment. They note that neither tree grew in the immediate vicinity of the cave, so the nuts found there had to have been gathered and transported.

With time people found ways to strengthen their baskets and compensate for variations in willow. They used two branches laid side by side or two with a split piece above. If a twig was too big, they dressed it down. If wood was too small, they padded with grass. They daubed the insides with mud to hold cooking water heated by hot stones. They caulked them inside and out with piñon gum to carry water.

When pottery was perfected after AD 500, it assumed many functions served by baskets. Then conditions dried even more, and places like Chaco Canyon were abandoned around 1200 for river plains.

Basket makers continued to work in the 500 room Chevlon on the Little Colorado in northeastern Arizona in the 1300's, but they substituted drought tolerant rubber rabbitbrush for willow. Walter Fewkes found the fragment of one wicker basket with small construction details identical to those used at Oraibi on the Hopi Third Mesa in the late nineteenth century.

Wicker work had been around for some time - Chevlon graves were lined with wicker matting. This apparently was simply an application of a familiar technique to a familiar, but different form.

The Spanish introduced new storage devices, like iron cooking pots, which altered usage patterns for both baskets and pottery, but they also introduced new foods with new handling requirements.

James Stevenson found an 8" high, globular wickerwork basket at Zuñi in the 1880's used to gather peaches. It was made from rubber rabbitbrush with a yucca rim. There were visible gaps between the rows and the walls were deeply corrugated by the stiffness of the composite. It was dismissed as crude, but fruit only needs a strong container, not a sealed or smooth walled one.

Many of the remaining basket functions disappeared when mass produced containers filtered west in the nineteenth century. Helga Teiwes says coiled basketry began to disappear among the Hopi around 1750, and willow was no longer used for the foundation after 1820. They once used skunkbush for their wickerwork, but now use dune broom for the warp and rabbitbrush for the weft.

By the 1880's, Stevenson’s wife Matilda noticed the Zuñi bought their baskets, preferably from the Apache, then from the Hopi. By 1916, Smithsonian researchers among the local Tewa speakers mentioned no local tradition, only used the past tense for the Hopi and Zuñi.

Basket making didn’t die out completely. Mary Lois Kissell heard the Papago continued to carry water baskets in the 1890's when they took their horses on long journeys. Steven Trujillo, who was born about 1899 and settled in San Juan, had an uncle who made baskets. Carol Naranjo, now in her 70's, remembers her grandmother had willow baskets hanging on the walls of her home in Old Laguna and always stored her freshly baked bread in a red willow basket.

Driven from the kitchen and store room, basket making, both coiled and wicker, survived for ceremonial uses. Basket dances existed in many pueblos. The Hopi used small plaques as symbolic emblems of kinship and community. Zuñi women avidly collected the finer pieces.

The trains that brought cheaper, more efficient containers also brought souvenir-seeking tourists. By 1915, the Papago were making coiled baskets for the curio trade. They no longer used willow for the coils; it was too valuable to waste on ephemera. Instead, they used bear grass. The Pima adopted cat tails. The Hopi were already using galleta grass.

They all still used sun bleached, dried yucca leaves. However, at White Dog Cave in Arizona, where early corn and primitive pottery were found from sometime between 480 and 175 bc, the finest baskets had eight coils to an inch with twelve yucca stitches per inch. Most were five coils to an inch and nine to eleven stitches. The coiled plaque I bought this week, made by Rachel Pablu, uses three coils to an inch with five stitches.

Tourists who drove between Santa Fé and Taos expected collectible pottery, not baskets, and so pottery making was revived for them. When Steven Trujillo wanted to learn basket making in the early 1950's in San Juan he could find no teachers. His uncle was dead; his aunts knew nothing.

Trujillo passed on his wicker ware skills to Joe Val Gutierrez of Santa Clara, who taught Naranjo, who has since taught others. While she’s sold her share, she’s also given her baskets to people in the pueblo. General weaving techniques may not have changed for thousands of years, but hers now serve a new function, providing continuity with those past generations.

Notes: The current Latin name for pickleweed is Allenrolfea occidentalis. Tule is Schoenoplectus acutus and Indian hemp is Apocynum cannabinum. Limber pine is Pinus flexilis while piñon is Pinus monophylla. Rubber rabbitbrush is a subspecies of Ericameria nauseosa, skunkbush is Rhus trilobata, and dunebroom Parryella filifolia. Bear grass is Nolina microcarpa , the Pima cat tails are Thypha latifolia, and the Hopi galleta is Pleuraphis jamesii. The yucca leaf is usually from Yucca elata. Sandbar willow is Salix exigua, but the Zuñi used Salix irrotata, the Pima Salix nigra, and the Hopi Salix laseolepis.

Fleming, Tim. “The Basketmaker,” The New Mexican, 19 July 1984, on Trujillo.

Fewkes, Jesse Walter. Two Summers' Work in Pueblo Ruins, 1904, on Chevlon.

Guernsey, Samuel James and Alfred Vincent Kidder. Basket-maker Caves of Northeastern Arizona, Report on the Explorations, 1916-17, 1921, on White Dog cave.

Kissell, Mary Lois. Basketry of the Papago and Pima, 1916.

Mahoney, Jane. “Winding willow,” The Albuquerque Journal, 18 April 2004, on Naranjo.

Mason, Otis Tufton. Indian Basketry, volume 2, 1905, describes baskets collected by Fewkes and James Stevenson.

Rhode, David and David B. Madsen. “Pine Nut Use in the Early Holocene and Beyond: The Danger Cave Archaeobotanical Record,” Journal of Archaeological Science 25:1199-1210:1998.

Robbins, William Wilfred, John Peabody Harrington and Barbara Friere-Marreco, Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916.

Stevenson, Martha Coxe. The Zuni Indians, 1904, reprinted by The Rio Grande Press, Inc., 1985.

Teiwes, Helga. Hopi Basket Weaving, 1996, on Mexican history of coiled baskets.

1. Sandbar willow with some remaining catkins growing along the Rio Grande in Española, 29 December 2011.

2. Coiled basket made by Rachel Pablu, Tohono O’odham; the detail showing the stitching technique and grass is from a joint on the back, not the front.

3. Red willow wicker basket made by Carol Naranjo.

4. Sandbar willow with some persisting leaves, 29 December 2011.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Sandbar Willow

Weather: Snow has slowly been disappearing on warm afternoons, but persists in northern and western shadows; last snow 12/22/11; 9:47 hours of daylight today.

What’s still green: Juniper and other evergreens; rose stems; leaves on hollyhock, cheese mallow, vinca, sea pink, coral beardtongue, gypsum phacelia, snakeweed, strap-leaf aster; cheat grass.

What’s red: Cholla; branches on sandbar willow, apples, apricots, spirea and raspberry; leaves on coral bells, pinks, small-leaved soapwort.

What’s blue or gray: Piñon; leaves on four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, pinks, golden hairy and purple asters.

What’s yellow-green/yellow-brown: Arborvitae, branches on weeping willow.

What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, asparagus fern, zonal geranium, Christmas cactus.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: There should be a guide book called New Mexico at 70 Miles an Hour. In the modern world of expressways and fences, there simply are things one can never see up close.

For years I’ve driven by a patch of brilliant red stems that stretch south from the Griego Bridge in Española interweaving different hued swaths that looked, from a distance, like they’re growing on a sandbar separated from the left bank by a narrow rivulet. By May they’re covered in green, quite indistinguishable from whatever else grows down there.

A couple weeks ago, when I was driving toward Taos, I saw something similar growing between the road and the river. It was early Sunday morning, so I could pull onto a shoulder broadened for customers to a winery that would have been busy at that hour in summer. Traffic was light enough to cross the road safely. The skiers were already on the slopes. The horn maddened drivers weren’t out yet.

As soon as I touched the thin, round branches I knew they were willow. It may have been decades since I’d touched a willow, but there’s something about the pliability and surface the fingers remember.

That’s when I wanted the guidebook that would answer the question - what is the short willow that grows along the Rio Grande with brilliant red stems in winter. Instead, Elmer Wooton and Paul Standley let me know twenty Salix species grow in New Mexico. Two are described as “common shrubby,” one more as “common,” one more as “shrubby,” and two as black. None are red.

The Tewa speakers of Hano knew better. They told Barbara Friere-Marreco another shrub was “like the ordinary willow, jay, but the bark is green, not red.”

Three of Wooton and Standley’s willows occur in the lower Sonoran Piñon-Jupiter belt, but only one, sandbar willow, is found in this part of the state. However, their identification key was no help in winter for a deciduous tree:

- Leaves several times as long as broad, linear to elongate-lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate; capsules glabrous (or weakly villous).
- Scales pale yellow, deciduous
- Stamens 2, hairy below; leaves more or less canescent, linear, remotely denticulate, or sometimes entire; capsules more or less hairy.
- Capsules 5 to 7mm. long, glabrate; leaves 5 to10 cm long.
- Leaves canescent, entire, or sometimes denticulate; capsules smaller, 5mm long, on a short pedicel or sessile.
- Capsules sessile.

Their comment that “Indians and Mexicans use the stripped branches in basketry” was more helpful only because it suggested something about tensile traits I already suspected.

When I went on line to confirm the local plant was Salix exigua, I found others who were more interested in distinguishing different types of willows than with identifying the one that was too common to notice. I appreciated their detailed photographs because they showed me things I’ll never see in person. But, they didn’t make me any more confident I know what’s happening on the river.

The short trees must once have been more accessible. Local Tewa speakers told John Harrington they recognized the flowers existed in catkins. They had separate terms for the willow grains (buds) and the ensuing loose down of a bird (the detached fluff). They even had a separate term for the male flowers.

Similarly, Spanish speakers knew the plant, called it jarita. They told Leonora Curtin they chewed the leaves when their gums became infected. Perhaps ruefully, Rubén Cobos recalled jara de la hoja redonda was “used for whipping mischievous children.”

Neither Harrington nor his botanist, Wilfred Robbins, bothered to find out what species they were discussing. They simply associated the Tewa words with the two shrubs Wooton and Standley called “common shrubby,” one of which had been described as growing in the transition zone near Pecos. Curtin seemed to think jarita and jara de la hoja redonda were different varieties, while Cobos was sure his was sandbar willow.

Assuming the local tree is Salix exigua, I wonder why something described as common should be so difficult to find in an accessible location.

Part of the reason may be the species can be heavily browsed by domestic stock which once would have been kept near the homesteads in the village which edges the river. At least three shaggy head of cattle are in a clover field near the river in the village right now.

Once eaten, willow can resprout from its roots. Single plants spread into dense copses of erect, thin, young branches, each with a fine netting of twigs. The shrubs I see in the river may all be one plant. However, its ability to regenerate after heavy grazing, especially in the fall is limited, especially if the ground is trampled at the time.

If it once grew heavily along both sides of the river south of town, it may be have been exterminated on the populated side, leaving it on remote islets and distant shores. For once gone, it doesn’t often reappear from wind blown or water carried seeds. The seeds have no dormancy. They must settle on wet land within a week and usually germinate within 24 hours. Then they have to survive the first season near a river swollen by monsoons.

Basket makers don’t care about the scientific name - they call it red willow or Rio Grande willow or river willow. They’re more interested in a subgroup of the trees, those with uniformly-sized branches. Many of those growing near Española have young branches that are still too short or too thin for baskets. The growth at the top of the taller trees tends to be curly, rather than straight.

Inaccessibility has been a problem for Carol Naranjo, a basketmaker who recently moved to Santa Clara. She gathers her reeds in winter when the trees are dormant. The desirable ones tend to be on private land protected by dogs or on federal land protected by prohibitions against cutting.

The late Steven Trujillo had fewer problems because he could find reeds “all the same size” along the banks of the river within San Juan pueblo where he lived. His problem was vandalism: a group of boys deliberately burned the willows in the area where he collected his raw material.

Actually, if you want to get to something badly enough you can. This week I discovered people had cut the fence on far side of the river so I could get down to it. On the other side I watched a man who had found a place to park his car so he could walk his dog. The next morning, I followed his example and discovered the view is better standing on the bridge.

Anderson, Michelle. “Salix exigua,” 2002, United States Forest Service, Fire Effects Information System.

Cobos, Rubén. A Dictionary of New Mexico and Southern Colorado Spanish, 1983.

Curtin, L. S. M. Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande, 1947, republished 1997, with revisions by Michael Moore.

Fleming, Tim. “The Basketmaker,” The New Mexican, 19 July 1984, on Trujillo.

Robbins, William Wilfred, John Peabody Harrington, and Barbara Friere-Marreco. Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916.

Southwest Art. “A Basket Maker Pursues a Dying Art Form ,” 1 July 2002, on Naranjo.

Wooton, Elmer O. and Paul C. Standley. Flora of New Mexico, 1915, reprinted by J. Cramer, 1972.

Photographs:1. Red sandbar willow, cat tails and cottonwoods from opposite bank, 28 December 2011.

2. Red sandbar willow from the bridge, 28 December 2011.

3. Sandbar willow on the point with other grasses and trees of fall from the bridge, 28 October 2011.

4. Red sandbar willow with bits of snow from the bridge, 28 December 2011.

5. Red sandbar willow from the bridge, 28 December 2011.

6. Red sandbar willow behind cattails from below the bridge, 29 December 2011.