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April 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

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readilearn, Norah Colvin, @NorahColvin

Of course the Land of Enchantment would have some oddities. That’s the state nickname for New Mexico, and I’m studying the terrain as we drive from Gallup to Albuquerque. The first trip, when we went seeking a transmission like pilgrims, it looked too unfamiliar and undefinable. My comparisons to rosy Mars and towering pillars of Zion left New Mexico wan and pale, like the corpse of someone I didn’t know. I sought familiarity.

“Is that pavement?” The Hub asks as he’s drives.

Funny, I was trying to discern the same odd plates of black as if a road construction company dumped broken pavement from a defunct highway. Mile after mile of these black piles, I finally answer. “It’s pahoehoe.”

That earns me a sideways glance from the Hub whom I often call the Puritan for his annoying habit of correcting my speech. I like to throw out words he doesn’t know to make him think. I doubt I’m saying it correctly, but he doesn’t know Hawaiian inflection. I’m well-read and articulate but mostly mispronounce the words I know. I just don’t know how to say them. The Hub is a grammatical Puritan, and he’s chewing on pahoehoe. He’s also smart and knows my obsessions, geology being one. “Lava?” he finally asks.

“Yep!”

Pahoehoe is one of my favorite geology words because it’s fun to say, and I don’t trip over it the way I do Quaternary, which is my favorite geological period. It’s when humans appeared as nomadic hunters and gatherers, when saber-tooth tigers were real and hunters could take down mammoths for a month’s worth of tribal meals and hide coats for all. It’s when volcanoes and glaciers were active. Pahoehoe is the form lava can take, having once been magma that oozed slowly across a place, creating nature’s own parking lots. You might say, the natural creation was thousands of years ahead of human technology to produce cars. Now we create our own pavement.

Evidence of my lava theory arrives as a roadside sign, announcing: Fire & Ice! It’s a turn-off to Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave. Where’s there’s an erupted volcano, there’s a chance for pahoehoe, hardened flat black lava. Bandera is one of the West’s best preserved eruptions and is about 10,000 years old, meaning it would coincide with ancient habitation of this region. The Hopi, Zuni, Pueblo and other Southwestern tribes claim to be descendants from the ancient ones, and yet all have different languages and cultures. The word Anasazi, often said to mean “ancient ones” actually means “ancient enemies” in Navajo. In the Land of Enchantment, there are many truths. Strange truths.

One truth about Bandera is that a collapsed lava tube maintains a 31 degree temperature, thus forming an ancient ice cave.

Another truth is that the resulting core might be an omphalos; a navel of the earth. Despite differing languages and clan cultures, the tribes of New Mexico say they climbed out of the earth’s navel and spread across the land (for creative takes on origin myths see Origin Stories). To the Pueblos, the journey continues, and some of the clan destinations included what we call “ruins” like Aztec Ruins National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Canyon World Heritage Center. All of these dwellings are said to not be abandoned, but occupied by the spirits of Pueblo ancestors. Many descendants explain that time is irrelevant and just yesterday they began their journey, climbing out of the earth’s navel.

Some sci-fi aficionados might liken this idea to portals in time and space. It’s so ingrained in native culture, that the kivas of the centers were built deep, round and accessible through the roof. When ceremonies were held, the people climbed down from the cedar roof with the reverence of entering the womb. Even today, the Hopi, Zuni and Pueblo clans regard these centers as sacred and spiritual. The Navajo say chindis (ghosts) populate these places. On the sandstone cliffs of Chaco Canyon, original inhabitants left behind painted hand prints. Imagine hovering your palm upon the print of your ancestor from 850 AD. Having visited Chaco Canyon with ravens eerily standing guard, I can believe in chindis easily. I can believe in the spirit-world of the Southwest. It doesn’t surprise me that Chaco closes at dusk.

The fact that Chaco Canyon is memorialized as sacred, introduces another truth and oddity: It is illegal to deposit the ashes of human remains at Chaco. My immediate thought was, who would do that? Evidently, “wildcat scattering” of cremated remains has become a thing, with reports of people spreading the phosphorous powder of deceased loved ones in public and scenic places from sports fields to Disneyland to scenic vistas. National Parks at the Grand Canyon and Yosemite offer scattering permits. Others, like Chaco Canyon, forbid it. Thinking on this unusual activity, I’m reminded how reluctant we are to discuss death and mortality. Yet, according to the Internet Cremation Society, over half of US deaths will result in cremation, and surprising (to me) it’s most popular in the western states.

Call me an old-fashioned story-teller who loves to read history in graveyards, but I had no idea.

My grandparents were each cremated, but it’s a vague awareness because they had funerals and were interred in the same cemetery where my great-grandparents were buried. I laughed, bittersweet, with my best friend when we were planning her funeral and she asked about being buried with the ashes of her beloved dog who died just months before she did. The answer was, slip “it” in when no one was looking! We did. The funeral home knew about it and simply looked the other way. Then there’s the story about Aunt Susie.

Aunt Susie was my cousin’s great aunt and when before she died, she asked that her ashes be scattered across the Sierras where she spent a lifetime hiking and fishing. It became a bizarre family burden as each person tasked with wildcat scattering Aunt Susie’s ashes died before completing the deed. Finally, after yet another family funeral, my cousin took charge of the ashes and told her dad that they would take care of it as they drove home from California to Nevada over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

At a scenic spot off the highway and over one of the creeks Aunt Susie might have fished (it’s unknown), my uncle pulled over, and an argument ensued. He agreed to drive the ashes, but he wanted nothing to do with opening the plastic bag and relieving its contents. Neither did my cousin. Finally, her 10-year old daughter volunteered. The girl carried the bag to a rise above the creek and began swinging it in a windmill fashion. In horror, my uncle asked, “What is she doing?”

Who teaches another how to scatter ashes? We don’t even speak of it, let alone pass down tips and etiquette. It’s not like, “Put your napkin in your lap,” or  “Say please and thank you.” No one says, “And whatever you do, don’t swing the bag over your head.”

My cousin’s daughter reached a point where physics kicked in, and the ashes indeed scattered, but also dumped over her head. She ran back to the car, face white with residue, eyes wide, sputtering, “Mom! I got Aunt Susie in my mouth!” It might be appropriate to note to the uninitiated that cremated ashes hold no health risk. No, the reason Chaco Canyon does not want unceremonious dumping, windmilling or burying of ashes with or without New Age crystals has nothing to do with health risk. It’s not even because it’s disconcerting to come across a questionable white pile on a public trail. It’s because Chaco Canyon is culturally sacred and memorialized to the Southwestern tribes.

The oddities don’t end here. (And if you, like me, are curious about the growing phenomenon of cremation and what to do with ashes, read Ashes Underfoot.)

In my quest to satisfy my curiosity over why Chaco Canyon would post such a sign as Don’t Scatter Ashes, I came across a 1998 article from The New Yorker by Douglas Preston, one of my favorite authors. But he discusses cannibalism among the Anasazi. Well, maybe that’s why the Navajo feared them as evil. And yet, it’s so unlikely. The Hopi and Pueblos have no stories of cannibalism. Often, the worst human atrocities are attributed to conquered or enslaved peoples as a way to justify their treatment. The leading archaeologist who put forth the theory has not consulted the tribes, and is at hostile odds with most colleagues in the niche field of Southwestern archaeology. Yet, in the Land of Enchantment, there are many truths. He has physical evidence of violence, dismembering and even pot polishing.

But why? One truth is that the Chaco culture achieved astonishing feats of engineering and art. Many scholars believed they lived a utopian lifestyle. A scientifically documented drought is believed to have ended the expansion of the culture. Yet, lingering Navajo stories of abandoned places holding chindis, of former enslavement seems at odds with the utopian and advanced civilization ideals. Even archaeologists have puzzled over why uncovered ruins from the era are often intact with valuables, as if people disappeared into thin air. Did they return to the navel of the earth? Did aliens transport them away? Was the culture good or evil?

What if we are asking the wrong questions? This is something important for you to think about as a writer. It’s vital that you ask questions others are not asking. If we all zip down the same paths, avoid the same uncomfortable topics and make assumptions everyone else believes, how will we ever write something new and different? When I began my research into Rock Creek I looked at all the theories and eventually asked enough questions, the questions other historians didn’t think to ask, and I came up with a new theory. For my historical writing, exploring women and others marginalized in history, the field is wide open.

The question the archaeologists don’t ask is that of human psychology. Preston explains how archaeologists cling to the concept of culture. The one archaeologist who pursued the cannibalism theory told Douglas in his article that the discipline needs to adopt a “Darwinian paradigm of evolutionary psychology.” He says archaeologists need a paradigm shift to “…understand the darker side of human nature in the archeological record.” This is where writers need to dare to go, too. I highly recommend reading Preston’s article, Cannibals of the Canyon. Not only is it one of the strangest looks at ancient culture in New Mexico, it’s excellent writing by one of my favorite Western authors. Read his bio and drool (or maybe that’s just me).

Back to the drive to Albuquerque. A second one is on the way. Progressive Insurance finally caught up with us in Gallup, although we managed the repairs on our own, it’s unlikely we’ll be reimbursed. But we all agreed that Camping World will be liable for a thorough inspection once we get to Kansas. The transmission wasn’t on the delivery truck today. Unless it vanishes like the Anasazi, it’s supposed to be ready for us to nab tomorrow. I’ll look at the drive with new eyes.

And don’t worry. I’m not going to expect anyone to write uncomfortable topics this week, unless you have belly-button issues and if you do, write it out.

April 20, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, feature an omphalos (geological or cultural), or extend to navel-gazing (used in meditation or to describe excessive self-contemplation). Go where this oddity leads you.

Respond by April 25, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published April 26). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

The Need to Know (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni sat on her haunches, studying the bone fragment. The school bus had left, but this piece found by a third-grader intrigued her.

“Is that one of my ancestors?” Michael had returned with Bubbie.

“Mmm, probably not, unless your ancestors ate each other.”

Michael snorted. “You bone-diggers. Navel-gazing at everything.”

Danni stood up and stretched, surprised to hear the pain in Michael’s tone. “I’m sorry. No offense intended. It’s a deer bone, likely, but has pot-polish from being boiled. It says something about what occurred here.”

“Let the place be sacred, Danni. You don’t have to know every detail.”

###

 


84 Comments

  1. […] April 20, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, feature an omphalos (geological or cultural), or extend to navel-gazing (used in meditation or to describe excessive self-contemplation). Go where this oddity leads you. […]

    Liked by 2 people

  2. floridaborne says:

    I was laughing at aunt Susie’s ashes. :–)

    He’re my contribution:

    https://rantingalong.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/99-word-prompt-omphalos/

    Liked by 5 people

  3. C. Jai Ferry says:

    Ah, the ashes! I have my own spreading-of-the-ashes story involving my mother’s ashes, a national landmark in a large populated city, two cousins under the age of 16, a curious police officer, and a small dog with a sudden desire to investigate what we were doing by rolling around on the ground. I really can’t go into too many specifics, though, without implicating myself and others. I plead the fifth! 😀

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Ha, ha! A dog would certainly be interested! I was surprised at the number of people who do this. I never really thought of the fun, adventures and mishaps that could occur with scattering ashes. I’m definitely rethinking my afterlife plans.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Annecdotist says:

    Fascinating story, Charli. I’ve seen similar terrain in Iceland and it’s pretty weird to come across it even when you expect it!
    As for scattering remains, it’s pretty popular here and have just read a novel which starts in such an incident (Blame, coming to my blog on 28th of this month). I have wondered about the geological impact on our small island.
    I wonder if other people will link last week’s prompt with this one. I have a short story about the prospect of a pierced navel
    http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2013/12/jessicas-navel-by-anne-goodwin.html
    a lot less dark than much of my writing, but a tad longer than ninety-nine words.
    Hope to come back next week with a shorter contribution. Meanwhile, enjoy your adventures.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. […] Written in response to Charli Mills 99 word flash fiction challenge with the theme of Navel. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  6. […] Response to Carrot Ranch flash fiction prompt: […]

    Liked by 1 person

  7. https://shiftnshake.wordpress.com

    Homage, by D. Avery

    That immobile travel trailer under the trees is a sanctuary. On columns of humble cinder blocks, it is traveled to, the destination of a pilgrim. Inside it is luxurious. There’s an excess of books, one comfortable bed, and small altars enshrined with shells and pebbles. Yet this trailer overlooks the actual temple.
    While the red-capped stewards drum rhythms on riddled trees, juncos sanctify the space with their spring rituals, alighting on a rounded glacial erratic before continuing their pilgrimage.
    This omphalos stone holds all the answers for the pilgrim, but there at the center, the questions have drifted away.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Dear Charli Mills;
    Navels?! I think you are trying to scare me off with these last two prompts. Nothing difficult is ever easy. Thank you again for the challenge.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. […] April 20 Flash Fiction ChallengeJerome never had seen belly dancers, at least not in person. When he imagined it he chose to rely on the one image burned into his mind, that of a beautiful Barbara Eden in her genie outfit. So one could imagine his excitement when he saw their would be belly dancing in this three hour dance recital. […]

    Liked by 2 people

  10. […] April 20: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

    Liked by 1 person

  11. jeanne229 says:

    You have almost outdone yourself here, Charli. But then I have thought that before. Fascinating post all around. I have taken that drive from Gallup to Albuquerque a couple of times, and while the terrain is less majestic than points south and west, it did enchant me with its subtle shifting hues of violet and yellow and its cloud dappled vistas and its … emptiness. Your observations are so rich. Made me think of Willa Cather’s Song of the Lark, which I read and reread as a teenager and which feature lyrical passages about the Southwest and the Anasazi. And the cremation issue! How very strange. I had no idea certain places required a permit. I figured the ashes would just meld with the environment, the way they must have for eons. As for me, it’s cremation or something called the Urban Death Project, a “new model of death care that honors both our loved ones and the planet earth. At the heart of this model is a new system called Recomposition that transforms bodies into soil so that we can grow new life after we die.” Oh and one last thought: I just visited my parents graves on Easter. Not sure about other Southwest cemeteries, but the ones I know here in Phoenix–while comforting in the way all ghostly neighborhoods are– are also sparse (patchy, parched Bermuda grass and few trees) or downright stark (baked earth and nary a tree or cactus). Sad…especially when compared with the old, gree, tombstone-populated graveyards one usually thinks of. Anyway, I feel my own parents ghosts around me wherever I go… Oh, and Preston’s “Darwinian paradigm of evolutionary psychology.” Yes, a critical consideration! The ancients did not think as we do….Tom has written significantly about that…. But I must end here. How I long for a face-to-face with you.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, thank you for reminding me of Willa Cather’s Song of the Lark! It is actually free to download on Kindle and Audible is only a few dollars. I’m definitely going to listen to it next drive. It’s been years! Oh, the emptiness, the clouds, the subtle shifts of color. I think that’s what made the lava field stand out. Cemeteries here are stark and the Navajo ones flutter with American flags and seem even starker with simple white crosses. To become soil is a great return of the body to the earth. I’m liking this idea of continue to adventure after death, sending out baggies of my ashes! But I also like the pioneer cemeteries with a plot in the West somewhere. Who knows? I had hoped to meet up with you at some point in Phoenix. How spontaneous are you? There’s a coffee shop called Persnikkity’s half way between Phoenix and Gallup in a town named after a poker game — Show Low, Az. You and Tom would enjoy Preston’s article, I think and I’d be interested in Tom’s writing on how the ancients thought.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Deborah Lee says:

      Totally just downloaded Song of the Lark. (It’s actually 99 cents, still a steal.)

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Ghawazee
    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    Dumbeks drummed a summons, and dancers stepped from hidden corners, bells tinkling with each movement. Tentative as deer approaching a clearing, the graceful women searched for authorities who declared dancing a crime. They hopped in time, their footfalls punctuating the rhythm. The beat quickened. Their skirts and veils eddied around lithe forms. They reached heaven-ward, exposing glimpses of navels whittled with exertion. Colorful tassels bounced from tribal belts, and tinny bells added to the magic of the dance.
    A whistle warns, and they scatter, but for the length of a song, they re-created their heritage and defied the regime.

    Liked by 5 people

  13. julespaige says:

    Charli,

    I enjoyed your informative post and your flash. Sometimes within faith answers are not necessary. Belief can be a powerful thing. I think I have always questioned – well pretty much everything – since my mother passed when I was very young. And then when others seem to go before their time so to speak. I combined your post with my daily today and have some information links at my post (the link should be the title).

    We ended up cutting our time in Kentucky short – that’s the way it goes. It was because hubby’s services weren’t needed – so we are safely home again.
    Anyway please enjoy this Elfje series with an added short sentence to get my ’99’.

    Holy Holes and Adoration of Ashes?

    Navels
    More than
    Just an orange
    For energy or even
    Contemplation

    Once
    I read
    A model had
    Hers surgically removed…for
    Vanity?

    Links
    Navels from
    Mother to babe
    Centers of life blood
    Flows

    I’ve
    Been to
    Maui – I saw
    Different kinds of hard
    Lava

    Pahoehoe
    Is sharp
    A’a is smooth
    We did not see
    ‘Lava’

    Not
    All ash
    Is the same…
    ‘Wildcat Scattering’…she did
    That…

    To
    My father
    At his request –
    In the Gulf he
    Went…

    An
    Uncle left
    His body to
    Science – his ashes were
    Returned

    (…what tradition will I follow?)

    ©JP/dh

    ‘Lava’ being Pillow or flowing lava.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Jules, glad you are home safely! Belief can be powerful, and yet so can questioning. You had a big loss so young. Who knows where life’s experiences will take us, what we will believe or reject, question or not want to know? But I think the living from point to point is richer with meaning. Is that our search, our navel-gazing as it were? Thank you for incorporating the pahoehoe into your verse, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Norah says:

    What a rich post, Charli. I’m pleased I’ve got your travels marked on a map so can watch your journey as it unfolds. You have included many jumping-off points for additional learning – some you have linked to, others I’ve had to find for myself. What fun it is to be learning about so many new (to me) things.
    I was interested to hear about the Pueblos consideration of time as irrelevant. I get some sense of that when I look into the past and try to see into the future. Events are only separated by labels of time measurement.
    I loved your discussion of cremation. I read somewhere that cremation is not an environmentally friendly way of disposing of a body. I would like something more eco-friendly for me. I’ve heard about options in TED talks but I don’t think any are available here yet. I’ll have to wait a while until they are!
    Loved your story about Aunt Susie; and wonder about the impact of so many cremations upon the ability of historians, such as yourself, to conduct research. There must be records of lives and deaths other than those on gravestones, but perhaps the hunting is not as interesting.
    Your whole discussion about Preston, Chaco Canyon, and cannibalism was fascinating. And yes, it’s an impressive bio. I wonder who he got to write it for him? 🙂 I like the way you built this theory into your flash. It’s a great little scene. I’m not sure if Michael is ready for Danni’s humour though.
    Of course I agree with you about the need for asking questions. It’s one of my favourite topics.
    I hope your piece arrives and you can be on your way soon. I need to mark more places on my map!
    Have I covered everything? Probably not. Your post is full of treasures. I’ll be back on Tuesday with my flash. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Norah says:

      Hi Charli, I’m back with my little bit of navel contemplation http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-TY I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for the challenge.

      Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Hi Norah! Good to have you sifting through the dirt to take away some found nuggets. You ask some questions I have, too — such as the environmental impact. Records can be lost to time, but I suppose the same can be said of grave markers, too. I would like to see into the future and catch a glimpse of how archaeologists interpret this age of ours. Thank you for catching the subtlety of Danni’s joking (and no, Michael’s not ready for that, but I think he’ll give her a broader sense of cultural awareness eventually and the book itself, I hope, will offer many truths and not just a simple ending). There’s certainly the objective truth, which journalism teaches us to seek in reporting. And science has theories to test with new evidence. Faith has the truth of belief, and culture the truth of one’s heritage. We all have perspective. So much to sift through and pursue the questions you love! Ha! That map of yours will be in a holding pattern, yet. New Mexico is not letting us go…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Norah says:

        It will not only be interesting how archaeologists view this era of ours, but also how historians view it. That is, if there are any archaeologists or historians in the future. Or any of us.
        With every piece of the Miracle’s puzzle I’m more eager to read. Like a jigsaw, some pieces are coming together for me, but it’s still in patches with lots of gaps.
        I appreciate the explanation you’ve given for different perspectives – so true.
        New Mexico loves you! What’s not to love? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Charli Mills says:

        Oh, Norah, I’m a bit over my crush on New Mexico! Unfair, but its been windy on top of waiting and I’m not as cheerful to be here. Thank you for putting together the jigsaw pieces. I try not to reveal too much of the full story and yet keep you interested. 🙂

        Like

  15. This was an interesting read, Charli. I am also aware of the increase in cremations and have seen sighs forbidding the scattering of ashes in other places. I don’t know for what reasons it is forbidden, it is unlikely to be for the reasons you cited in your article.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. […] week’s prompt over at Carrot Ranch is an odd one: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, […]

    Liked by 1 person

  17. […] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, feature an ompha… […]

    Liked by 1 person

  18. […] post was inspired by the April 20 Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch […]

    Liked by 1 person

  19. OK, here we go…jumping in this week to give it a try. Here’s my offering. http://www.themeaningofme.com/fruitful-blessings/

    Liked by 2 people

  20. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (04/20/2017): In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, feature an omphalos (geological or cultural), or extend to navel-gazing (used in meditation or to describe excessive self-contemplation). Go where this oddity leads you. […]

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Just under the line…hope this one fit the prompt…

    The End

    Vast ocean pounded a heavy drumbeat, intense wind carrying bright droplets up to the woman poised on cliff’s edge. A sheer of brine slowly covered her naked form.

    Her thin fingers brushed a whirl of ashy salt and skin from wasting limbs. With each sweep and release of her fingers, she became less and less, her curves releasing to the granite and scrubby wasteland that led to this spot.

    “Oh Angus,” she breathed. “You were my only god!”

    Weuigwefq cwnjqoie.

    The tomcat bumped her chin, and lay across the keyboard. “Too much drama, Navel Gazer…feed me NOW!” he growled.

    https://huldermn.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/the-end/

    Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Liz, you are always welcome to express what you find on your end of the prompt! And for every beginning, there’s an ending. Or a much needed intervention! He’s got a great name for his human. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  22. […] week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts a flash fiction challenge for the Rough Writers and Friends. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a […]

    Liked by 1 person

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