Scott Thybony Interviews Craig Childs, Author of House of Rain

Childs talks about prehistoric migrations in the Southwest, the abandonment of Chaco Canyon, Chaco as an ancient Las Vegas, Grand Canyon and a sense of time, on writing, children and hope, and his next book. He also describes swimming a flash flood.

See also: Flash flood: Antelope Canyon, Arizona in the Episodes section.

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The Eye of a Raven

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Hopi:  Medicine Woman

Tom Bailey and I find Theodora Homewytewa and her husband Michael Sockyma waiting for us at the Hopi Cultural Center.  We head into the restaurant for breakfast where the menu informs us we have arrived at “The center of the universe.” 


When I point this out, Mike makes a correction.  “This isn’t the center,” he says.  “The center is over there by Sand Point.”


“Where’s that?” I ask.


“I can’t tell you,” he answers with a twinkle in his eye.  So we sit studying menus at the center of it all, which today happens to be a restaurant on Second Mesa. 


So far Theodora has said little, taking time to read the situation.  She's a medicine woman, and Tom wants to learn more about her life.  He's gathering material for a novel, and asks about her experiences growing up in the pueblo of Kykotsmovi. 


From an early age, Theodora tells us, she has had a knack for finding things.  The other children stopped playing hide-and-seek with her because she always knew where they were hiding without having to look.  That was the first hint she was different.  The ability to find things became a burden as more and more people placed demands on her.  Anytime someone lost their car keys they would ask for help.  And she soon discovered she could find lost people.


Tom pays attention to the cadences of her speech as she continues.  “People have a taste,” she explains, trying to describe the process.  “We have a certain trace.  It’s like going into the soul.  I see that.  It’s not only me but the birds, the animals, and insects – I see what they see.  The ravens will show you where the man is.  I see through its eye.” 

 

 

Sam Antonio, New Mexico

Battlefields: World War II: Philippines/Manchuria

When I arrive, Sam Antonio is sitting out front in a chair shaded by a trellis of Virginia creeper.  We shake hands lightly, and the 88-year old Acoma Indian says he’s been waiting for me.  He leads me inside, preferring to talk in the kitchen where he feels more comfortable.  This makes sense for a man who faced starvation during three years in a Japanese slave labor camp.  When liberated at the end of World War II, he weighed 87 pounds.

His mother, Maria Saracino, taught Sam to pray to the growing light at dawn, a practice he continues.  She also showed him how to keep a pebble in his mouth to take the edge off thirst, a trick he later found useful in the Philippines.  He tells me she was a shaman, a healer.  As a young girl she was caught by a heavy thunderstorm when out herding cows, and her bare feet got cold on the hail-covered ground.  Taking shelter in a tree, she was struck by a bolt of lightning.  Someone found her unconscious and took her to the pueblo where other Acoma, who had previously been struck by lightning, saved her life.  They told her she had to become a medicine woman and initiated her into their healing society.  “She had the power,” Sam says.  “I’m not going to brag, but she had the power.”


And she knew war was coming.  One day she called her four sons together and told them they would all survive the war.  “What war?” they asked.  She gave a blessing to each of them as they left for the army.  One was badly wounded at Normandy, another nearly froze to death in the Aleutians, but all four brothers returned home.


For the next two hours Sam relates his story without breaking stride.  After four months of desperate fighting in the jungles of Bataan, Sam escaped to the island fortress of Corregidor.  When it fell he spent the next three years in captivity at the infamous Cabanatuan prison camp and Mukden, a concentration camp in Manchuria.  Of the 1,800 soldiers in his regiment only 1,000 returned home.  Within a year a quarter of the remaining men died from disease and suicide. 


No words can carry the suffering he endured.  Months of desperate fighting followed by starvation and senseless beatings, the forced marches and the sun treatment, the bone-deep thirst and exposure to 50-below weather, the sheer exhaustion and the Hell Ships, the filth and stench, the lethal and enervating diseases, the germ warfare experiments, the escape attempts and punishments, the beheadings and random murders, and the countless acts of degradation designed to break the human spirit.  All that and more, but no bitterness.
The Acoma Indian survived the greatest military defeat in United States history and found himself abandoned for years by his own government.  But he harbors no sense of betrayal and no hatred of his captors.  His war years were a succession of terrible ordeals, any one of which would have broken most.  He witnessed many who simply gave up the will to live. 

Corregidor, May 9, 1942.  After enduring a bombardment lasting 27 days, Sam was ordered to surrender.  “Boy, I felt bad when they was taking our flag down, and they was putting the Jap flag up.  It was most emotional,” he adds.  “The tears were coming.  They was stepping on our flag – ahhh . . .”

That afternoon the prisoners were ordered to assemble.  As they lined up, Japanese soldiers came along confiscating all valuables – rings, money, watches.  “The guys have Japanese coin or souvenir,” he says, “they pull them out and take them somewhere and shoot ‘em.  They figured that you’d killed a Jap.  I had a coin.  I threw it on the ground and bury it with my foot.”


A Japanese private was working his way along the line, searching everybody.  Sam stuck his billfold in his shirt pocket thinking the soldier might not find it.  Inside it was a photo of his mother, the only possession he cared about.  When the guard went for it, Sam pushed his hand away. 


“Boy, he got mad and just tore my shirt.  He opened it and took my money and threw it down – just threw it down.”  For a moment, Sam’s eyes fill with tears as he remembers the incident.  He wanted to pick it up, but the other prisoners warned him not to.  The soldier was looking for an excuse to kill him.  “The only thing I wanted was my mother’s picture.  That was the reason I wanted to get it back.”  Sam pauses for a moment, letting the memory play out.

I ask Sam if he dreamed of home and seeing his mother again during his years in Manchuria.  His answer surprised me.  “It seems I just forgot.  I’m just thinking about what’s going to happen tomorrow.  I never thought about home no more.  Just thinking, ‘How am I going to get out, when am I going to be free?’”

After arriving in the states he made a slow journey back to Acoma, taking a bus west from Albuquerque on the last leg.  His mother knew the bus schedule and every day checked the bus stop with her binoculars.  She watched as a man in uniform stepped off.  “That’s a soldier!’ she told the others and began running down to the road.  Half way through the malpais rock she met her son. 


“I was so happy,” Sam remembers.  “Boy, was I happy.”


His family never had much, and when Sam came home he found rustlers had stolen his mother’s cattle while her sons were away at war.  He laughs quietly to himself when he recalls all the unexpected turns a life can take.
 
Article:  Thybony, Scott.  “Pvt. Sam Antonio, Acoma,” Sojourns  winter/spring 2007.
Available through:  Grand Canyon Association  www.grandcanyon.org

 

John Running, Arizona


Navajo: Eagle Woman Rock

Photographer John Running became friends with a Navajo woman who lived alone near Eagle Woman Rock.  The courts had awarded the land to the Hopi, and Hopi rangers periodically inspected her hogan.  But she refused to leave.  Because of her tenacity, the Navajo neighbors called her, Annie Oakley.


“The first time I saw her,” John said, “it was strange.  We were heading toward her camp.  There was a truck going along with a trail of dust behind it.  But there was something odd, because the dust was coming out of the front, not the back.  It was Annie Oakley, and she was driving to get some place, hauling water or something.  The transmission had gone out, and all she had was reverse.  So she’s going down the road backwards with a trail of dust streaming out the front of her truck.” 


She told John she was in the process of converting her truck from automatic transmission to standard and was waiting for parts.  Her only mechanical training came from looking at the pictures in auto manuals.  When she talked about replacing the rings, she called them “bracelets.” 

 

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