This week was the launch of the second annual Read Around Sedona program, and as many of you already know, this year’s selection was my book, Cha’risa’s Gift. From the moment I first published Cha’risa’s story, I had hoped that the book would find its way to people who would find meaning in its words. I have just had the incredible experience of seeing this prayer come true.Everywhere I have shown up to talk, I have encountered people who have been deeply moved by the book. Many have written down Cha’risa’s words of wisdom to make them their own. Many have bought books to share with their children or dear friends. I have sold every book I had in my possession and have had to order more as the library keeps telling me there are continuing requests from patrons. I’ve also seen a steady stream of sales of the e-book and paperback on Amazon. Thanks to my library taking a leap of faith in me and my book, I have been given the opportunity to be front and center, talking to people, sharing my thoughts with them, and hearing first hand their reactions. I have heard suggestions for improvements and I have heard from people who really didn’t love the story, but by and large, what I have heard is that my book is doing what I had hoped it would do; it is touching hearts and minds and inspiring many readers with its message.
Many of you know that Cha’risa’s Gift first began to take shape in my mind when I moved from Boston to Sedona. The desert wasted no time working its magic on me. Every day, I’d walk with my dog, Lucy, and I would marvel at how the desert was always so alive and beautiful. I was charmed by wild flowers in the spring and amused by jack rabbits who would taunt Lucy into a merry chase. I was awed by sightings of majestic elk, graceful deer and soaring hawks. I held my breath as inquisitive hummingbirds flew so close I could feel the wind of their wings on my skin. The desert wasn’t just beautiful, sometimes it was dangerous too. It demanded that you stay in the moment and be vigilant. There were snakes that I often missed, but that Lucy would alert me to. There were coyotes who could organize as a pack and use their wiles to lure Lucy away from my side. The sky might be clear when we headed out, but could rapidly change, catching us up in sudden snow squalls, driving rain, or pelting hail. We experienced lightening striking so close to us that the smell of ozone was sharp in the air, and we could feel the earth shake beneath our feet. Every experience in the desert made me feel so viscerally alive that it opened my mind to new pathways of discovery. I became so attuned to the desert that I could literally hear the red rocks vibrating, singing a song that rang in my head, my heart, and my bones.
Walking these paths, I began to wonder about the ranchers and Native Americans who had all trod these paths before me. I understood that there was something universal and spiritual about this place and knew that all who walked these paths would have felt its influence. I drew upon my 20-year practice of Reiki and meditation to help me dig deep within myself for greater understanding. I also drew upon my library’s resources, and combed the web for clues to more research that might be out there. I interviewed old-timers still alive to tell the tales of Sedona’s early days. Through it all, I hoped to create characters and a story that would awaken in others what had been awoken in me.
This past week, I saw that I had accomplished what I set out to achieve. Of all the gifts that writing Cha’risa’s Gift has brought to my life, seeing people resonate so strongly with my words is by far the most satisfying. I felt the openness in their hearts when they asked me to sign their books, and when they embraced me warmly for a photo. I made new friends and strengthened bonds with old ones. I had new doors opened for me, new avenues for research, and offers of introductions to people who could prove invaluable as I continue my work on book two, Ahote’s Path. What can I say, other than thank you to this entire community for the wonderful and challenging conversations, for the enthusiasm and the open-hearted reception.
While I am thanking people, I have some people who deserve special mention. Carol Goldtooth very kindly helped by gifting me a large bag of her family’s hand gathered and painstakingly bundled green thread tea. She knew it was for my Meet the Author talk where I was hoping to serve Cha’risa’s special blend Hopi tea. She and her family offered the tea as a gift to support me in my efforts. The tea was a big hit at my talk. We served it with cookies, all homemade by some familiar faces at the Sedona Public Library who also deserve a big thank you: Kay Bork, Janice LaDuke, Anne Marie Mackler, and Cheryl Yeatts. Cheryl used the molasses cookie recipe from my book. I can personally attest that she nailed it. One bite and you suddenly understood why this was what Uncle Mike dreamed of all those years he was locked away in Cabanatuan prison camp.
Cheryl also deserves special mention because of the many invaluable ways she has supported me throughout this whole process. Many of you might remember that I’ve talked about Cheryl’s passion for connecting people with the best research resources possible. I owe her many thanks for that, but what I especially want to thank her for here is for nominating my book and for the way she championed it so enthusiastically. I believe it was her excitement that won the day. I would also like to thank the entire RAS committee. I am so very grateful Kay Bork, Anne Marie Mackler, Virginia Volkman, Cheryl Yeatts and Sophia Zarifis-Russell for being willing to take a chance on an unknown author. I also would like to thank Meghan McCarthy who ran a very well-done marketing campaign for RAS and really helped get the word out to the community. As a result, Cha’risa’s Gift has had the chance to spread its wings and my words have now traveled farther than I could ever have done on my own. I am deeply grateful for the honor of being this year’s Read Around Sedona featured author.
The last two people I want to thank here are the two who have been by my side in this project since the beginning. The first is my husband, Mark. He has offered me moral support, technical support, editing support, publishing support, and it turns out he gives Cheryl a run for her money in his ability to get hold of rare, hard-to-find research materials. In short, he has been my jack of all trades and I literally couldn’t have done it without him. Lastly, I want to thank my very talented daughter-in-law, Natalie. She is the artist who created the beautiful book cover for Cha’risa’s Gift. She is also the creator of my website and spends more time than she bargained for helping me maintain it. When Cha’risa’s Gift was chosen for Read Around Sedona, Natalie decided to commemorate the event by making a sketch of Cha’risa as she would have looked that first day coming down from the mesa, leaving her Hopi life behind her. It is hauntingly beautiful, and I have had a great many remarks about how very special this sketch is. Natalie printed out a first run of 15 copies, all signed and numbered, and we have been selling them to people who are attending the Read Around Sedona events. If there are any left at the end of Read Around Sedona, I will make them available to any of you who might be interested.
I am going to end this blog with a reflection on why, of all the tribes here in the four corners region, I chose to make Cha’risa a Hopi. As is often the case in my writing process, it was really a series of events that led me to this decision. It began with an offer from our landscaper to sell us some illustrations of Hopi Kachina dancers. The illustrations had all been drawn by Hopi elders in the late 1890’s creating a record of knowledge, much of which was lost soon after when the U.S. government removed Hopi children from their homes, enforcing their attendance at the Indian Boarding Schools. The drawings were done at the behest of an anthropologist named J. Walter Fewkes for a report he was making to the Smithsonian. Over the course of the years, someone had taken one of the copies of the Fewkes report, pulled out each colorfully decorated page of kachina images drawn by the elders, and then had them matted and framed. There were 15 frames in all, each containing four pages of drawings from the report. It needed a rather long wall to display them all side by side. Upon seeing the gallery space within our home, our landscaper exclaimed, “I have just the thing for you!”
That was where Cha’risa began. I stared at these images and wondered about the Hopi elders who had drawn them and about what these Kachina’s represented. I began to do research and discovered how the Hopi were likely the descendants of a very ancient race of cliff dwellers, sometimes referred to as Anasazi and sometimes as Sinagua. They were the first Americans; their arrival in this land going back some 12,000 years, or as one Hopi elder put it, “Before Christ, before Columbus.”
As I continued my research, I ran across some literature that spoke about how humbleness was a foundation of the Hopi way of life. That made me pause and wonder. While it is an admirable quality, why was humility one of the most important qualities within their culture? I thought about it a lot. In the end, it was my experiences looking out at the desert’s night sky that made the answer clear to me. In the scheme of the universe, we are truly infinitesimally small. No matter how far we come in our journey to know ourselves and understand the world around us, it is only the tiniest possibility of what we can know. Or put another way, for as long as we live, we will never come to the end of the ways in which we can learn and grow, love and know. For the first time, I came to understand how incredibly generous God, or the Great Spirit, is. How much might we miss out on if we believed we knew it all? And if the Great Spirit was so abundantly generous with us, shouldn’t we also do our best to embody this kind of generosity of spirit? Within that seed of thought Cha’risa was born, not a perfect being, certainly she battles her inner demons as we all do, but her inherent humility and generosity are what truly defines her in the end. I consider her an example of the best we might hope to be.