Tributes P5

"Sheltering the Creative Spirit"

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Taos, New Mexico USA



Vine Deloria, Jr.
         Biography, if done properly, reduces the distance between the great acts and actors of history -- and between us, the readers, and these acts and actors -- so that we come to see incarnate in a person's life the tempers and sequence of an age.  Frank Waters, the premier writer of the American West, has combined biography and history to sketch an incarnational history of the past five hundred years.  Drawing on many sources and reconstructing scenes and conversations, Waters offers portraits of brave Indian leaders who personify the dispossession of the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere.  He does not glorify these men so much as he reminds us of the pain, isolation, nobility, and ultimately the futility of fighting against men, machines, and the passage of time.

        Reading these tragic stories, the question arises: Could it have been different during the past five centuries?  Couldn't there have been some more humane way to bring European civilization and religion to the remote reaches of our planet?  Expressions of regret over the past can include a multitude of insights for us to reflect upon.  However, human beings will probably continue to disposses and abuse each other until we reach a cosmic consciousness and take our place in the larger universe.  We will need to reach deep inside ourselves if we are to achieve this status -- and here Frank Waters is an important thinker, and this book becomes a critical signpost on our road to species maturity.

        We have no sense of nobility, gentility, or integrity today; and unfortunately, we have no models in the personal lives of our citizens from which to take our cues.  These Indian leaders, however -- Tecumseh, Mangas Coloradas, and the rest -- had a sense of personal worth, of a mission to be accomplished, and of a relationship with the life forces of the greater cosmos in a measure that we have not seen since.  Fighting overwhelming odds, suffering the loneliness of knowing the situation was hopeless, and maintaining their sense of person were achievements few of us can conceive and none of us can match.

        Frank Waters sketches the impossible dream of our existence in this book: How can we maintain a sense of personal dignity and refuse to surrender to the inevitable forces of change that can at any minute engulf us in meaningless catastrophes?  Imagine the inner feelings of these Indian leaders who, not fearing death, at the same time lived their lives until the very end, and thereby ensured that their lives counted in the midst of utterly senseless change.  We must likewise be true to ourselves, to what we know of ourselves, and to those principles we admire.  In that way, we force history to move around us, and do not allow it to move over us.

        Frank has saved his best and deepest book -- Brave Are My People -- for the last part of his writing career, and for this we should thank him.  Whatever we have learned from everything else that he has written, we find it coalesced here in these simple portraits of men who looked destiny in the face and changed forever what it had in mind.  I personally would like nothing more than to walk into Frank's chapters with a weapon and stand at the side of these noble men as they breathe their last -- a second with a real person is better than a long life with people who cannot take a chance and live their dreams and ideals.  In the end, of course, the character of Frank Waters that we have all admired for so long is found in these chapters, and his kinship with the men who made the past five centuries of American history is affirmed.  Thanks, Frank.



  Bill Edelen, Frank and Barbara, 1990


      "Frank Waters, Man of the Earth and Spirit"

                                                         by Bill Edelen

Frank Waters was nominated in 1987 for the Nobel prize in Literature.  My heart overflowed with joy as I read that announcement.          

This 81-year-old spiritual genius has been one of my role models for more years than I can remember.  As a student, scholar and practitioner of the spirituality and cosmology of the Native American Indian he has no peers.  The Frank Waters bibliography of fiction, non-fiction, biography and short fiction is staggering in its anthropological and religious dimensions.  It is not too much to say that he is one of the true Renaissance men of this century.         

Many years ago he settled into his little adobe home in Arroyo Seco outside of Taos, N.M.  It has been from that spiritual grounding, that piece of sacred earth, that he has roamed outward from the Maya of the Yucatan to the three mesas of the Hopi to become one of the pre-eminent Indian mythologists of our time.          

How did he choose Arroyo Seco as his home?  I will let him tell you from his Mountain Dialogues:          

"How did I happen to choose this slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for my home?  It is 8,000 feet high.  The rutted dirt road is almost impassable several months of the year, deep in snow during the winter, and in sticky adobe all spring.  My house was a deserted adobe whose roof was falling in and whose foundations needed bolstering.  Something about it claimed me.  Every place on earth bespeaks its own rhythm of life. Every locality has its own spirit.  There is no accounting for the mysterious magnetism that draws and holds us to that one locality we know as our heart's home, whose karmic propensities or simple vibratory quality may coincide with our own.  Living here for so long, I still do not have a phonograph, a recording machine or a TV set.  Not until only a few years ago did I put in a telephone."          

I referred to Frank Waters as a spiritual genius.  How does he treat the opening hours, the first light, of each new day?  From his exquisite chapter on "Silence" are these opening words: "It is my habit to observe a time of meditative silence each morning when the sun first tips the rimrock of the mountain range behind my adobe.  The place is always the same.  A rise in the waist high sagebrush, flanked by a clump of huge gnarled junipers.  I did not choose this spot.  It simply drew me years ago by some curious magnetism, until I have worn a barely discernible trail to it through sage and chamisa, around clumps of pinion and cedar, and across dry arroyos.  Here I sniff the early morning breeze like an old coyote, to assure myself I am in the center flow of its invisible, magnetic currents.  To the sun, and to the two oppositely polarized peaks, El Cuchillo and the Sacred Mountain, I offer my morning prayers . . . and then I give myself to . . . silence."           

I can assure you that you will not leave any of the writings of Frank Waters without having your spiritual cup filled to overflowing.  I would suggest the autobiographical Mountain Dialogues and the classic novels The Man Who Killed the Deer and People of the Valley.  For definitive works in mythology and religion read: Masked Gods: Navajo and Pueblo Ceremonialism and Pumpkin Seed Point: Being Within the Hopi.          

Frank Waters was the first white man to receive the revelations of the Hopi's historical and religious world view.  The 32 Hopi elders told him the meaning of their religious rituals during the three years that he lived with them.  The Book of Hopi is the finest work, known to me, about Hopi history and mythology.  If your interest is in the Mesoamerican cultures, you will not be able to put down his Mexico Mystique, The Coming Sixth World of Consciousness.          

You will find that this man is of the earth, the sacred land of which he is so much a part.  His words are like the land, solid, significant, of great substance, never flashy, noisy, superficial or artificial as is so much contemporary literature.          

Frank Waters well deserves the Nobel Prize in literature as he celebrates his 81st golden year.  I commend him to you.

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