Cota Nupah Makah
The upper, northern area of
Nevada, where I spent many of my teenage years, is
known as the high dry desert. This vast open desert
holds the beauty of deep purple haze which shrouds
the mountains and valleys in mystery. It is located
6000 feet above sea level where the air is clear and
clean. You can see for miles and miles. From this
high area you drop off onto the floor of the Great
Salt Lakes of Utah and the basin area where
prehistoric animals and reptiles once roamed a
mong the bubbling hot springs
flow is still seen in the old rock formations that
have produced ridges of round stones falling from
the mountains into the valleys. Tulle-filled
marshes, like an oasis, are reminders of the vast
lakes that once covered this land. Hot springs
still bubble in hidden coves near the mountain range
where it cuts across the skyline.
is nothing better to ease the body than a long sit
in one of the pools of silky mineral-rich hot water.
The feel of your skin when you are through soaking
is soft and smooth like velvet. I would often stop
on my long hot rides, just as the cool evening winds
started, for a relaxing soak in the hot springs.
Near my favorite hot spring was a natural stream
flowing from the Rudy Mountain, cold and clear, into
the Standing Rock Reservoir.
would run from the hot spring to the cold stream and
splash around in the icy water. I have gathered
many an armful of watercress for soup in these
streams where it grows waist high in the pure
water. The natural hot tubs of the desert are like
no others and cannot be replaced by a
chemical-filled one on the back deck.
Each spring we would clean out all of our old
things and pile them in a heap on the rim of the
canyon wall. This included our winter trash and the
tumble weeds from sagebrush that had gathered in the
auroras. It was our spring work to gather
blown-down trees and branches. We would tie them
into bunches and drag them behind our horses to a
huge pile we were building. This work served two
purposes: one was to prevent the hazard of a range
fire and the other was, if the brush was left in the
aurora, it could trap cattle as well as provide a
good hiding place for rattlesnakes.
On the eve of Easter Sunday we would pack our old
Ford truck with blankets and pots of food and head
out for the canyon. Sometimes Mom would make a huge
pot of stew from deer and root vegetables. We would
also have fried jack rabbit and wild prairie hens,
eating this from the pan with our fingers, and
wiping the grease on our skin to ward off
mosquitoes. Pan-fried potatoes were cooked on the
open fire and served with steaming cups of boiled
coffee. Traditional fry bread was served with wild
berry jam to finish the wonderful meal.
At exactly nine in the evening my father would
say a prayer and offer some food to the heap of
brush and trees and then, with a flint striker, he
would light the bonding fire. All along the canyon,
for miles, you could see the bonding fires from
other families starting to flare up. The fires were
very big but seemed so small that they looked like
fireflies flickering in the dark night.
We would stay at the fire all night, singing and
dancing. When we were tired, we rolled up in our
blankets and fell asleep listening to the coyotes
howling off in the distant hills. We did not
actually see our neighbors because they lived miles
away. Yet, on this one night, we could bond with
them even from a distance. The fires connected us
once again, as in the old days, into a single family
under the hoop of the star-filled sky.
Bonding fires go far back to the time when people
gathered in the spring for ceremony and the first
lodges or Inipi (some call them sweat lodges). This
was the time for renewal. All old winter fires were
silenced and cleaned from the fire pits. We would,
in those times, pack up whole camps and travel for
days to a central gathering place. During this time
of travel we lit no fires and ate only precooked
corn cakes, sometimes called journey cakes or ho
cakes, along with water, dried meat, and honey.
When we reached the gathering place we would set
up camp and once again reunite with our relations.
This was a time of many ceremonies and other rites
of passage for the young people. At the end of the
three day fasting and ceremony, the central council
fire was rekindled. After prayers and offerings
were made, a new bonding fire was started.
From this new fire we took embers home to relight
the council fire in our own villages. The central
village fire was prayed to and an offering made,
then ignited with the council fire ember. Each
family carried, to their personal lodges, an ember
to kindle their family hearth fire. From this one
fire we all gained our connection as one people.
This one ember and one light kept us united
still gather around the bonding fires in the
springtime along the canyon and renew, even at a
distance, their connection. I will place a small
fire here, so far away from my family, this Easter
eve in this distant land. I know all I have to do
is close my eyes and see the fires of our people
burning across the high dry desert plains. Once
again I connect with the old ones from a long time
back who now rest in the sky world. These old ones
have returned to the stars from which we all at one
time came. They send us the new ones who are
carrying the embers that will feed the bonding fires
for the future.
Nupah Makah (Two Worlds)
Copyright © 2009 by
Nupah Makah (Two Worlds) L. Cota All publication