B.Waters Book Review

"Sheltering the Creative Spirit"

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Taos, New Mexico USA



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                                                  R. C. Gorman at Barbara's Book Signing, Photo by Virginia Dooley



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                                        Celebrating the Coyote: A Review  

                                                                   by Barbara Waters            

                My book Celebrating the Coyote is meant primarily to be a celebration of survival, a celebration of life -- our greatest gift.  And it celebrates some of those persons who have gracefully transformed the ups and downs of a lifetime into creative works of art.  Among others, they include my late husband Frank Waters; the Hispanic matriarch Maria of the Snows, who owned our Taos house nearly one hundred years ago; and a sheepherder next door named Salome, who hated all coyotes.  By “gracefully” I mean they landed  their feet like clever Coyote most often does in myth and fable, instead of lying around moaning and groaning about their ill-starred fates. 

                Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the holocaust, wrote in his autobiography that survivors of a test must tell their stories.  In telling my story I have added, “Survival is a celebration of mortality or immortality.  It is a celebration of the enduring coyote in our beloved coy-dog Trickster, in Frank, in myself, in all of us.” 

                In celebrating the coyote we are celebrating that volatile spirit which exceeds intellect or rationality.  Psychiatrist C. G. Jung called the trickster coyote our “shadow” side, our repressed secret side.  The more we recognize and acknowledge it, the more positively powerful it becomes, just as the legendary Trickster has gained stature as mankind has advanced. 

                Frank, an honorary member of the Hopi Coyote Clan, possessed a great deal of this volatile spirit.  And so it was not always easy to live with him.  Yet it has been much, much harder living without him since his death in 1995.  Although my grief over his death frames Celebrating the Coyote and gives it structure, it is by no means the main story. Instead, laughter and happiness consistently weave happenings, recollections, and observations into one bright tapestry. 

                A Book List reviewer comments, “Truly a celebration of their marriage and life together in a community of artists and writers, Barbara Waters’ writing is rich with southwestern lore, imbued with a deep appreciation of art and literature, and full of spiritual wisdom.”   

                John Nichols, who wrote the sensitive foreword and has my heartfelt thanks, calls it “a poetic, informed, and spellbinding elegy for a man and a marriage and for the wondrous complexity of all life."  

                Frank was meant to be the main figure in this tapestry.  I intended it as a tribute and as a promotion of his work.  To my amazement, MacMurray & Beck’s executive editor said this book was about me.  If this is true, buyers get five books for the price of one: an autobiographical memoir, a biography of sorts, a marriage manual, a positive grief process manual, and a how-to directive on renewing one’s depleted energy by absorbing helpful energy from friends, warm memories, animals, nature, and the departed.  The book is also a ceremony celebrating an exchange of energies with the universe.  Some may call this “New Age” thinking.  It is really the wisdom of the ages preserved by sages like Jung and Frank Waters.

                Basically, Celebrating the Coyote has a chronological order, interwoven with flashbacks.  Personal experience causes it to be divided under the surface into three parts.  My subject matter and I are fragmented -- grasping at any straw -- during the first third of the book, as happens during the grief process.  Inside and outside my whole world seems shattered to “Shards,” the name of the first chapter.  During the next third, certain energies -- such as happy memories -- work to pull me and the book’s content back into a semblance of order.  And in the final third, nature’s cosmic energies transfigure everything -- including me -- into a greater, integrated whole.  I learn that to encounter death is to wake up, to live more inwardly, to live more keenly.

                It should be heartening for other late bloomers to know that this first published book of mine came out last fall when I was 69.  It’s never too late.  The positive reaction at subsequent booksignings and readings made this long wait worthwhile, particularly since so much has been learned along the way through my schooling; teaching and business careers; psychotherapy practice; being a daughter, mother, friend, lover, wife, and widow; traveling; reading; writing; and just plain living a lot.  I suddenly realized that for me, too, this full life -- not my book -- is the true work of art.




                                                                                         From Book of the Hopi

John Nichols

There are seasons in this book, precious and difficult as winter in the high cold country of northern New Mexico.  In the springtime a late and sudden vitality rises while snow remains heavy in the mountains above the irrigated valleys.  Summer is complicated by water wars, the brutal death of new lambs, an abrupt and wonderful fecundity.  The lingering autumns can be too much of an ache to bear.  Always the natural world and its metaphors abide.

Barbara Waters' Celebrating the Coyote is about grieving and the great natural seasons of loving and being together.  It commemorates the wisdom and patience required to heal after a great loss on earth.  The memoir begins on the day Barbara's husband, Frank, died in June of 1995.  Early pages are rife with tears and the sorrow of parting with a beloved and famous man.  Then she moves back and forth through time, building the history of their delightful and complicated relationship.  Included is a straightforward memoir of life in Arroyo Seco, her adopted hometown north of Taos.  Barbara and Frank also took grand trips through Mexico and Latin America, but the most wonderful journey occurred in their passionate interactions with each other.

Along the way we encounter spirits, ghosts, and witches, hexed waterfalls, and much "ignorant superstition."  Some of the more resplendent figures in Taos mythology come alive again, most notably Dorothy Brett, Frieda Lawrence, and Mabel Dodge Luhan.  At the center is Frank Waters as Barbara perceived him, loved and admired him, cared for him on an equal footing that she fought hard to establish and maintain.  Living with Frank wasn't easy, but they shaped a marvelous adventure together.

Barbara speaks forcefully of the energy involved in healing, and for me her most simple observations contain her deepest insights about how to get on with survival: honor wood; never harm a rattlesnake; respect the mountains; watch trout in a stream; love the trees.

But this writer is a complex and introspective soul, and her courageous story proceeds along many different levels at once.  Humorous and homey one moment, she will extol Jung and Joseph Campbell in the next.  In the same breath we are likely to meet Crazy Horse and Fools Crow and a twelfth-century nun, Hildegard of Bingen, credited with being one of our planet's first great ecologists.  Every page is erudite, intelligent, humming with information and folklore.  When Barbara's son miraculously survives a massacre in Vietnam, there is a sense of awe and magic.  A woman is speaking her heart, her fascinating mind, and also her richly imaginative spirit.

Thank goodness there's plenty of titillating gossip for all us literary voyeurs and budding Frank Waters scholars.  And enough funky stories to jolt the chronicle back to a down-home flavor that perfectly balances its sojourns in more ethereal realms.  Frank comes alive as a great artist and also a fallible human being his wife called "Dr. No."  In one bubbling chapter, two of Frank's wives and a girlfriend sit down to lunch together and take off the emperor's clothes.  Yet always there's a veneration for the vagaries and accomplishments of the creative life. The narrative carries us from Machu Picchu to Mt. Fuji to beauty parlor mitote and an automobile engine fire that almost destroyed an original Fechin painting of Frank.  Barbara and her spouse are witty, cantankerous, playful, industrious, and imbued with fabulous curiosity.  Although Frank was a magnificent dancer he couldn't drive a car worth a damn.  At regular intervals Barbara's observations soar into heady intellectual realms, then bump to earth with neighborly squabbles over stolen water, murdered puppies, male chauvinism, and a mythical bottle of Scotch poured over her noted husband's head.

This is a poetic, informed, and spellbinding elegy for a man and a marriage, and for the wondrous complexity of all life.  It is brimming over with brightly hued and important details.  Barbara exults in panorama, describing not only the stimulating path that she and Frank followed arm-in-arm, but also how the universe moves through us all.

Her journey through grief and the past is full of insight and compassion.  "To encounter death," writes Barbara, "is to wake up, to live more inwardly, to live more keenly."  That's what this courageous book is all about, and it should be read with joy and gratitude for generations.

Taos, New Mexico
September, 1998


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