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Perfect Kiva     Pastel on paper by Akiko Hirano


Akiko Hirano & Tim Wong

Winter, 1249 AD.  A group of Anasazi elders gathered before dawn in an underground kiva in an alcove high on a cliff overlooking a red rock canyon. Their people had been struggling with years of severe drought. At the first light, they started a rising chant and passed around a bowl of corns. As the sun climbed over the canyon rim, a shaft of light penetrated the kiva opening, revealing a small niche on the opposite wall. The high-ranking elder held the corns with his cupped hands and placed them in the niche, chanting for rain that would not come. Not long after that ceremony, their people abandoned the canyon forever, leaving behind a perfect kiva silently holding their offerings and secrets.


Fall, 2019 AD.  She spent last night in a remote canyon in southern Utah, after walking for miles over slickrock and through dense bushes. She made camp under a juniper tree and collected water from a stagnant pool chock-full of dead leaves. A rising full moon flooded the canyon with quicksilver, bright enough for her to walk around without a flashlight. A cold front had blanketed the area, yet the canyon was surprisingly mild. The surrounding red rocks gave back heat from the sun absorbed during the day. She understood why the Anasazi chose to live in that canyon.

Dawn. She stands below a looming red cliff, peering through binoculars at a pair of wooden poles sticking out oddly from a large alcove. She scrambles up to the alcove, past remnants of a stone wall guarding its rim. Behind that sentry lie boulders large as dining tables, rows of basins worn smooth from grinding corns. Other boulders bear deep grooves from sharpening stone tools. Pottery shards litter the sandy ground, some plain, others painted with geometric patterns. Pictographs and red handprints decorate the arching back wall. Against that wall, a stone-and-mud dwelling with a rectangular doorway opens to a circular plaza. In the center of that circle, the two wooden poles that she saw from the canyon below protrude through a rectangular opening that leads underground.


Boulder with grinding basins  Photo  Tim Wong

She climbs down the ladder into a pitch-black chamber. After her eyes have adjusted to the darkness, she sees that she is standing on the dirt floor of a circular room with walls dug out from solid sandstone and a roof of wood and mud. A wide platform dug into the south wall was probably for ceremonial paraphernalia, now long turned into a packrat midden. A narrow shelf encircles the entire room at chest level. A ventilation shaft at ground level is clogged with dirt and debris, the air in the room is still and stale.


As she studies the roof, marveling at how pristine it has remained over the centuries, she is blinded by a sudden blast of sunlight. A blade of light shoots through the opening and cuts across the room, drawing her eyes to the far wall. Only then she notices the niche, a dark rectangular hole not much bigger than her palm. Still blinded by the light, she cannot see how deep the hole is nor what it holds. Gathering enough nerve, she reaches inside, feeling around, and pulls out a handful of dried up Anasazi corncobs. At that moment, she thinks she hears a faint chant, deep like a distant rumble. Then silence. She puts the corncobs back where they belong.


By the time she emerges from the kiva, the sky has clouded over.  She smells rain.


Reverberance     Photo by Tim Wong

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