Hadley & Peter Arnold
Stone Shrine at a Northern New Mexican Pueblo Ruin, 2007
23 ¾” x 49 ¾”
Peter, Hadley, Josie Arnold
Josie and I went to northwest New Mexico to find and photograph remnants of a pre-Columbian irrigation community. We were standing looking the other way at a vast earthen dam. When we turned and faced north, Josie saw the stone shrine, a modern shrine made by local Navajos. We noticed that there were pottery shards, arrowheads, and fragments of stone tools covering the ground. We were standing on an ancient settlement, at the edge of its plaza.
We were in New Mexico and I was taking pictures of this little pile of stones.
I feel at home there.
Once, camping, Josie + I were filtering water. The topic of access to clean water in other parts of the world came up, followed by an explanation of the terms industrialized nation, developing nation, and third world. After a long pause came more questions. Josie noted that there are good things (clean water, good books, etc.) in the industrialized world, and also some bad (pollution, as she said, too many cars, and too much stuff). She said that the third world has suffering, but also has some things we don't have anymore (horses, as she noted, and making things). There was another long pause, and she asked if there was such a thing as the Fourth World. I told her I did not know. There was another long pause. She said maybe the Fourth World is the world we are supposed to be making.
When we contemplate the landscape of the future, it is often with children in mind. But the unspeakable future, for a parent, is not an unlivable landscape, however much we may decry it. For a parent, the unspeakable future is landscape absent of child.
500 miles south of this high desert pueblo site, outside of Santa Rosa, Arizona, deep in Tohono O’odham nation, there is a place called the Children’s Shrine. A hole in the earth opened and poured water onto the flat, dry Sonoran of the Tohono O’odham ancestors. Not good water, soaking rain or cool spring, but dangerous, flooding, drowning water, water without end. The people tried to stop it by stuffing the hole with sacrifices: first a bird, which did not work. Then a badger, to no effect. Then a sea turtle. Still the water came. The people held council and agreed, with great sadness, to sacrifice that which was most dear to them. When girls and boys were stuffed into the hole, the flooding stopped. The hole was capped. Today, the site is dry and quiet. Stones, ocotillo and gifts—toys, cards, stuffed animals—mark it as sacred, a site both horrifying and persistently living.
The built environment is the trace of long conversations across generations. We enjoy exploring those traces with our daughter, especially on the scoured face of deserts, high and low. We don’t like to picture a landscape absent of Josie, but these two photos ask us to; they confront us with her absence. On this site, both ancient and modern, in these two photos, she appears in, and disappears into, an unfolding history of humans, a history we know to be at times both horrifying and persistent.
She says she feels at home here, and we are glad for her company.