Like all who are truly wise, the Anasazi built their houses on rocks. They built beneath high canyon walls, where the sheltering cliffs provide shade in the summer and capture southern light in the winter. They built watchtowers and places of refuge to guard their families, their sacred places, and the canyon valleys where the corn grew. On some walls they painted figures and made handprints, like signatures.
Though these ancestors of today's Pueblo Indians moved further south six centuries ago, the desert climate of the Four Corners area has preserved many of their dwellings. From their windows the vistas are wide and deep; the isolation of most sites guarantees the solitary visitor a silence like eternity.
Yet there are many voices here. Smoke-stained ceilings and cooking pits remember the grain, the hearth fires, and the songs. A threshold set by ancient hands stirs memories in the marrow of those who cross it. The stones do indeed tell stories to those who are privileged to visit and imagine.
Val Brinkerhoff, BYU associate professor of photography, has spent the last five years visiting Anasazi ruins and imagining them as only a photographer can. Intrigued by the Anasazi's architectural decisions and motivated by a desire to preserve their dwellings, in 1993 Brinkerhoff began taking documentary photographs of the cliffside towns. He was none too soon: many sites have been irreparably vandalized by careless tourists. In solo expeditions made interesting by encounters with tarantulas, bats, badgers, and a B-16 bomber (not to mention heat, heavy equipment, and a few precarious climbs), he has now photographed scores of the more than 5,000 known ruins in the Four Corners area where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. His project combines the latest in photographic and print technology with the most ancient of subjects.
Like Brinkerhoff, Susan Elizabeth Howe has spent countless hours enjoying the natural and human wonders of the Southwest--and turning them into art. A BYU associate professor of English, Howe is a Utah native and a nationally published poet. The poems selected here include meditations drawn from sandstone and juniper, stars and sunrises. For Howe, the ancient stones speak volumes: she has felt the pulse beneath painted handprints.
Few things more powerfully illustrate the essential sameness of humans than the mark of a hand. In all human cultures, the hand harvests food to sustain life and creates art to sustain the soul. With their hands the Anasazi cooked, warred, loved, and prayed in their stone towns. With your hands you now hold a sampling of some of Brinkerhoff's most eloquent prints and Howe's most stunning poetry. We hope the combination helps you feel kinship with the Anasazi and reverence for their places of peace.To read the Poems of Places of Peace, please click here.