Wednesday, January 31, 2007

7,000 Cranes

During summer 2003, my extended family celebrated my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary in Washington, D.C. Since New York City was much closer to D.C. than our hometown near Kansas City was, my own family took a side trip to the Big Apple. We shopped along 5th Avenue, checked out the theater marquees that lit up Broadway, and viewed the entire city skyline from atop the Empire State Building.

One afternoon we decided to visit the World Trade Center site. Thanks to a city map, we knew when it was only a few blocks away. From the moment we caught a glimpse of the surrounding buildings, I felt a palpable sense of many spirits in this place. By the time we reached the site the air seemed heavy with their presence.

The placid hole where those magnificent buildings once stood belied the horror of 9/11. But remembrances left by family members and friends of those who died there left no doubt of the trauma suffered by so many. Amidst the countless handmade memorials, one particularly stood out for me.

Tucked in beside heartfelt notes of loss, lovingly framed photographs and miniature American flags were 7,000 brightly colored origami cranes. The accompanying inscription read:

“Students from Junior High Schools in Matsue, Japan made more than 7,000 paper cranes to symbolize their sadness over the events of fall. In Japan, Sebatsuru, or 1,000 cranes, is typically a symbol of healing, but in recent times has come to also represent a wish for world peace. These cranes represent over 7,000 individual wishes for this difficult yet attainable goal.”

Peace be with you.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

No Teddy Bears Allowed

Our tour guide at Taos Pueblo was a young woman with raven black hair, a soft voice and regal posture. She pointed to Rio Pueblo, a small stream that flows from the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, through the pueblo, and has served as a life blood for residents for upwards of 1,000 years.

The woman told us that individuals who inhabit these ancient adobe buildings – the focus of countless professional and amateur photographs – still live without electricity and running water as did their ancestors. Other residents of pueblo land, who live beyond the most famous and photographed structures, are not required to do so.

Finally, our tour guide stopped in a spot where we could clearly see the mountain range that formed a serene backdrop for the pueblo buildings that she called home. “No Teddy Bears are allowed at Taos Pueblo,” she said, “because of the land that Theodore Roosevelt stole from us.”

The Roosevelt administration designated the stolen land the Carson National Forest, in 1906. Far from a simple story of land grabbing by the United States, the taking of this mountainous area dealt a major blow to the psyche of Taos Pueblo. According to legend, Blue Lake, which is found within the 48,000 acres returned by President Nixon in 1970, is the spiritual source from which pueblo natives originated.

I thought of the Teddy Bears my daughters had left at home, before our vacation began, and realized I would never look at them the same way again.