Ortiz’s View of Nature

I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear that I’m an environmentalist to anyone who visits here regularly, so it should come as no surprise that I share Simon Ortiz’s Indian viewpoint that Nature is Sacred and that desecrating it is sacrilegious. Of course, I think I also share this with Transcendentalists like Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman, not to mention Taoists.

Living in an area where Asarco’s Copper Refinery spewed arsenic and lead into its surroundings to near toxic levels, it’s impossible not to identify with Ortiz’s condemnation of the Peabody Coal Company and Kennecott copper mine:

Long House Valley Poem

This valley is in northeastern Arizona
where one of the largest power centers
in this hemisphere is being built.

Sheep and woman.
The long brown and red land
looming unto the horizon.
Breathe in so deeply.

a canyon. “Hello” and “Goodbye,’
but always Hello
and smile.

The old rocks, millions of years old.

A Mohawk camper trailer
pulled behind a big white Cadillac.
the crusaders.

A cop car
flashing frenetic orange.
down. I can’t
even remember my license plate number.

And then, suddenly the Peabody Coal Company.
Black Mesa Mine.
Open pit.

Power line over the Mountain,
toward Phoenix, toward Denver,
toward Los Angeles, toward Las Vegas,
carrying our mother away.

A sign reads: Open Range.
Bulldozer smoke and dust rise
from the wounded Mountain


The old rocks, millions of years old.

Horses quietly grazing, quietly.
A skinny black one throws his head
at the sky, at the wind.

The Yei
and hogans and the People
and roadside flowers
and cornfields and the sage
and the valley peace,
they are almost gone.

As if it wasn’t enough that the peaceful valley been invaded by tourists with big white Cadillac pulling a “Mohawk” trailer and police pulling over Indians, the invaders build an open-pit coal mine alongside the Kennecott Copper Mine. It’s enough to make a skinny black horse throw “his head at the sky.” Is this the final destruction of the Pueblos who are already nearly gone?

I also share Ortiz’s love of the land, though it’s a very different piece of land. It’s Puget Sound that has always been home to me and will be for eternity once my ashes are spread. My family’s 100+ years here in Puget Sound seem insignificant compared to Ortiz’s family’s 800+ in Acoma, but it’s enough to convince me that we belong to the land as much as it belongs to us.

This Occurs to Me

It has something to do
with intuition and instinct.
a mixture of appreciating
how the physical quality
of dirt and stone exist,
how useful they are,
what you can do with them.
Working with fingers, hands,
the mystery—knowing
it is not a mystery
that you can’t possibly
know anything about—
that is yours.
Watching sparrows,
sheer cliff wall,
the effect of light and shadow,
line of stone mesa,
strata of sediment,
touching with foot and hand
the tamp of sand
against cliff wall;
noting the undershadow
of stone ledge.

All these, working in the mind,
the vision of weaving things
inwardly and outwardly
to fit together, weaving stone
together, my father tells me
how walls are built.

The Acoma pueblos have lived in the same place for more than 800 years. Their adobe homes are an architectural masterpiece and they are known for their exceptional pottery, both made of “dirt and stone,” both mirroring and made of the canyons and mesas where they live. Of course, they are also known for their fine weaving so it seems appropriate that Ortiz should tie them together in a poem that clearly reflects the title of this collection of poems.

Though the poem has specific images (i.e. “sparrows,” “sheer cliff wall,” “strata of sediment,” etc. the vision itself, as described in the last stanza, seems strangely undefined, perhaps because “love of place,” the feeling that a particular place is “Sacred,” can never be defined; it is infinite in the same way that any vision is infinite. Transcendent. And, ultimately, undefinable