Some cultures believe a man’s spirit exists in the soil of one’s ancestors. My grandmother’s ground furnished my own, with her muddled knowledge extended in part through Grandpa. But I never knew Mom’s parents, who had been born in other states. Here, though, apart from the Indians, we are all nomads. Many of us, spiritless nomads.


In this Census round I ponder multiple categories of Hispanics: Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban, other Spanish, Hispanic. Also, some of the other categories I keep encountering in the Valley: Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Asian Indian, Hawaiian, Guamanian, Samoan, Eskimo, Aleut, other (specify). Indian (Amer.) print tribe.

I have no idea what I am other than a homogenous WASP. English? German? Norwegian? Czech? Not a clue.

Kokopelli, for his part, is offended there are no distinctions between Hopi and Navajo, even if he’d checkmark both and a few more.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.


When you drive, details pile up.

Where mat-house villages once stood, Highway 21 now runs along a large irrigation canal. Because the roadway goes nearly straight, a few subtle curves become especially treacherous.

Illegal aliens buy cars but have no driver’s license or training. No insurance, either. There’s a headlamp out, few repairs, or brakes gone bad. Talk about trouble.

In the dark, a big white furry wing sweeps in front of my windshield. An owl. An omen, nearly colliding. It’s hard to say who’s more startled.

It might have told me the Pom Pom or feather religion, Washat, remains the most practiced old religion on the reservation.

Kokopelli was a member.

Twenty cars park in a hollow point toward what appears to be a white frame meetinghouse. Inside is a congregation of dove hunters.

There isn’t a cloud in the sky, only one jet contrail as crows circle some relentless screeching. As they flap up, slaughter moves out of the shadows and coyote pursue the only antelope in these parts, the ones on the Army reservation.

On the bright side, the State Fair is a three-hundred-pound pumpkin multiplied. Its doe-goats are judged by measuring and weighing their teats in a beauty pageant stripped to essentials.

Back home, her moodiness could be impossible.

Downtown, about nine at night, a wino-cowboy walks into the office. “Where’s the city desk?” He has no place to stay. “It’s a long story.” A quarter in his pocket, stub of a cigarette, and scabies — mites that are highly contagious. “I don’t want to spread them the way some bastard did to me.” So he went to the hospital from the Gospel Mission, received medicine (how’d he know to do all this?). Didn’t get back in. (“He refused to stay for the service,” they explained.) Angry, turns to ask: “Where does a stranger go for help in this town?”

How should I know? I’m just filling in for somebody else.

“Well, if anybody whizzes you,” the stranger says, “it was a matter of amphetamines. Maybe you heard about ‘The Duke’ in Traders? The trial dismissed on procedural grounds?”

He buried $67,000, but when he returned, the money was gone. So he says, far too articulate for the typical migrant.

Later, Kokopelli tells me that guy’s trouble.

Details pile up as I stay downtown at night and taste the psychic toll of economic theories in wasted, untapped talents. The stench stirs tears. Lonely men at counters stretch cups. Icy evenings of waitresses, cowboys, GIs, prostitutes drive from many towns, a migrant worker family whose car broke down, out-of-work loggers, midnight mechanics and nurses. Add to them an assortment of skinny wannabe rich bitches or real estate and insurance brokers. Clerks trying to live on earnings from clothing stores. A few lumpy bag ladies. Walk in, and all look up from their coffee with vacant eyes. It could be Dickens.

I see another hunger, but my own faith isn’t strong enough — I’d yield to despair.

Later, I sing to Kokopelli, “All of man’s good resolutions turn sang froid in the seasons of samsara.” Noticing his quizzed expression, I translate: “Our good intentions turn cold-blooded in the web of life’s illusions.”

It’s the spider again. Coyote’s cousin. Their damned net.

“Sometimes, Bozo, I wonder about you,” Kokopelli says, exhaling blue curlicues.

“There’s no Dedicated Laborious Quest, no magic without the strength of sitting or dancing.”

I dare not be entrapped in any desire to move freely through the vertical and horizontal dimensions of wherever I simply am. So far I’ve surveyed past and present. The future must wait. First, I need to map the emotional and sensual planes of this realm. Every dance has distinctive rhythms and expressions, as Kokopelli reminds me.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.


I’m invited to photograph an Indian funeral for a 109-year-old woman. It’s a traditional affair, with a Pendleton trapper’s blanket on a casket lowered by hand. Even so, young punks surround me: “Don’t you think you’re crazy,” they ask, implying?

I look around for Kokopelli, who might intercede on my behalf. He’s nowhere in sight.

Later, with a Styrofoam cross and dozens of American flags, the casket rides the back of a pickup, viewed by faces in Cool-Ray sunglasses — ancient traditions side-by-side with the cheapest, most honky-tonk trinkets of the New American Way.

I wasn’t permitted to enter the house, either.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.


On one of my solitary walks with Kokopelli, I admire the fullness of purple-tipped grasses along the canal bank. Some offer bunched, short seeds in clusters. Others have long-shafted seeds in plumes. Or oblong, spiked seeds suspended like bells. “There must be a thousand golden variations,” I tell him. Oats. Wheat. Barley. Bread and beer. Silk-enshrouded ears of corn for sweet butter. Fat tender steaks. Sour whiskey mash. Like some people I knew. The many named needles and strands of whips and brushes reach skyward, flaying the wind, inviting birds to flight.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.


Instead, I looked in another direction and discovered that the Yakama people once occupied 17,000 square miles and had three distinct language stocks. So, even back then one tongue was insufficient to articulate the vibrations of this place, even as an open desert. To try relating the qualities of a simple thing, a pane of hundred-year-old glass, perhaps; the interaction of clouds and sun, alkali and volcanic ash is far more complex. You start by learning the names of flora and fauna. Watch, listen, wait. I open a window and consider the current research, which places the first people here about 14,000 years before my arrival. These nomads made tools from bone and mineral. Hunted large and small game. Fished salmon. Collected river mussels. Gathered wild food plants. Given a guide and sufficient time, maybe I could learn to do these things. (Don’t look at me, Kokopelli shrugs. I’m not from around here.) Maybe I shouldn’t feel so strange about being here, either, even though such long perspective makes me feel incredibly insignificant. The Anglo civilization embodied here is only veneer concealing much deeper systems. The ancient climate was cooler and moister. The land was dotted by many lakes and small streams. Grasslands scattered with pine stands and willow flourished where there’s only sagebrush now. Food sources included bison, antelope, deer, foxes, muskrats, rabbits, ducks and geese (their eggs, too), and turtles.

I want to leap through time to join them, dressing the hides of their game, or making rattles and tools. These people used red and yellow pigments, and valued birds for their feathers as well as their flesh — cormorants, geese, condors, turkey vultures, and eagles all had clothing functions. Maybe I need some ceremonial garb. (Come, now! Kokopelli is hooting with laughter. He loves to taunt and mock me.) Tiny bone needles were used as far back as 10,000 years. I have enough trouble with steel needles today. So what do I make of their earliest burials, cremations that send the body back into spirit?

It’s obvious my own difficulties won’t end overnight.

This is a time of sparrows.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.


A wolf is powerful because it eats powerful food, Kokopelli warns me.

As for the girl-chasing man who’s always hungry, it’s “hair-pie,” he grins.

Although I’ve never hunted, I see points at which ancient traditions lurk within modern religious practices. Meditation, high among them, has roots in hunting and gathering. Then, too, there’s the role organized sportsmen have performed in restoring populations of wildlife, and you can learn much from hunters eminently adept at reading animals’ ways in the field. Keep an eye open.

Natures change slowly. The hunt on land and the water has barely begun.

There’s great game beyond food. Much of it, Kokopelli sings, runs through your brain.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.


True hunters in this country live on what they track, Kokopelli explains.

Articulating this precinct means drawing on three language stocks: Sahaptian, spoken by Klickitat, Yakama, Kittitas, Wanapam, Palus, Nez Pierce, Cayuse, and Umatilla; Salishan, by Wenatchi and Columbia; and Chinook, by Clackamas and Wishram.

Nine thousand years ago the climate resembled today’s. Around seven thousand years ago, Mount Mazama lost its head and Crater Lake emerged. Did the ash fall reduce the game? Kokopelli assumes so. About that time, Olivella shell beads show up in archeological sites, revealing coastal trade, in addition to a new kind of projectile point. About 6,500 years ago the roost became drier and warmer. Rivers ran significantly lower. Adz blades of nephrite and serpentine, about 4,500 years ago, permitted heavy woodworking and expose trade relations with what is now British Columbia. “That’s when I got this pipe,” Kokopelli says, allowing me to stroke the instrument. As winter temperatures became warmer, sizable winter villages gathered in river valleys for fuel, fresh drinking water, and greater protection from bitter winds. Such clustering required food storage capabilities and also permitted greater social and ceremonial activity, perhaps a result of more efficient food gathering. Most likely this involved salmon fishing, properly dried and preserved, caught in great numbers; fish traps and weirs were much more efficient than spears, lines, dip nets, or bows and arrows.

From this came pit houses, some of them earth-covered for insulation, others covered with mats and grass or brush. The mats swelled and froze in winter to keep wind and rain out; as spring temperatures rose, thawing provided ventilation. Such housing required well-drained soil, such as that of desert.

The tipi was introduced much later, from the Great Plains.

A-frame mat houses developed from the pit design. Their emergence especially reflected the introduction of horse culture, which added to trade possibilities and also brought saddles, bridles, quirts, dress, and ornamentation such as feathered headdresses, but above all else, ideas about tribal organization. Appaloosa were on the way. Whalebone clubs, as well as fishing nets and harpoons, were acquired through expanded trade networks.

Horses allowed more food to be brought back from summer sojourns in the mountains. Soon bowl-shaped mortars and elongated pestles were used to prepare food. “Let me tell you about real progress,” Kokopelli insists.

Each local group assumed stewardship over the economic resources of its locale. Leadership arose out of respect, not law. Ritual purification occurred in sweat houses. Three-day workouts weren’t uncommon. I wonder whether voters and candidates alike should do the same before Election Day. There is, after all, a kinship to hunting and fishing.

Kokopelli agrees.

The major run of king salmon and oil-rich sock-eye salmon comes in late May or early June, when most of the year’s food supply is caught. The best spot for dip netting is where rivers bear down through narrow channels or over low falls. Wooden platforms tied precariously to basaltic cliffs hang over whirlpools and eddies. Such stations are inherited and highly prized. Permission must be sought before fishing there.

Fish head pulverized in a mortar, then carefully packed in baskets and stored for winter, provides a highly concentrated protein food. Even a few ounces serves as a full meal.

Bears caught in a dead-fall were hunted mostly for claws and teeth — ceremonial ornaments.

Wapatoo was a type of wild potato, perhaps like camas.

Cooperative hunting and salmon harvests were common. Women’s berry picking parties, too, even though some tribes were basically river folk. Excepting the Wishram band, the Yakamas believed in individual rights. They differed from coastal tribes, which possessed slaves who might fall to a cannibal ceremony.

Much the way rabbit skins are cut in a spiral to produce long strips, I keep learning. Once you acknowledge the importance of certain foods in a given turf, you discern zone-specific energies. In ecologically aware feasting, hamburger and hot dogs are thoroughly inappropriate for many reasons. They have no authentic geographic home.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.