Sunday, November 21, 2010


Leslie Marmon Silko

Leslie Marmon Silko is a native New Mexican (Albuquerque birth, 5 March 1948) but has lived a good deal of her adult life in an around the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona.

The majority of her stunning and still-life memoir
The Turquoise Ledge centers around her daily walks and hikes on the arroyo, keeping her eyes out for turquoise and sharing with her readers an open commentary on desert life love — whether sheltering turquoise or myriad pages simply on the description and relationship the author has with rattlesnakes about her premises or inside her house. There are companion parrots, a pet mouse, and desert rats, too.

1/4 Laguna Pueblo and otherwise Anglo-American and Mexican-American heritage, Silko, like any natural storyteller (and she is genuine) draws most of her heart and instinct from the years as a youngster when she was educated by her grandmother and aunts in traditional stories and the old ways. There is nothing like the storyteller who draws from the well of childhood.

This influence soaks through every page of this personal memoir, so one becomes accustomed to what I call an Indian drag...the methodical and no-big-deal celebration as a living witness. Less on human life and more on what is living about and with us, shaken right down to reptile life, insects, slant of sunlight, dusty emptiness. Pages and pages and pages. The walkabout of the day. Precious few non-Indian writers can do this sort of magic quite as well; maybe Jaime de Angulo comes best to mind.

The majesty of the Silko patience and wisdom is that without describing much of herself — each day as one reads from this new book — one looks forward to spending more time with the author, who does give of herself through her surroundings.

from Chapter 35

On my walk this early October morning, two horsemen startled me. I didn't realize I walked in such a deep meditative state as I was down the trail to the big arroyo. I really had trouble coming back down to Earth. "Oh, you startled me!" I said. Horses are so large I should have heard them or seen them sooner than I did. The riders seemed a little intoxicated by the power the horses gave them. I was reminded of a phrase in my new novella: the Spaniards in the New World had "the advantages of gunpowder, horses and dogs." I was glad I carried my ultralight five shot .38 revolver that day.

Encounters with wild beings aren't as jarring probably because I am watching for the wild creatures but not expecting humans, like the two horsemen.

Later I met with them in the hikers' parking lot; I'd managed to walk the same distance in the same amount of time as the horses.

I often think of Geronimo and his ragged band of women and children in their final years of resisting the U.S. troops. Five thousand of them had pursued forty or fifty Apaches, mostly women and children. The troops rode horses, while the Apaches traveled on foot. In the steep rocky terrain the horses were ineffective; they went lame and slowed the troops; if the Apaches got a horse they promptly butchered it and dried the meat. Travel on foot was the fastest way over the steep rocky trails of Sonora and Chihuahua.

Another turquoise rock washed out of the dirt in the back yard. The off-white limestone is about two inches by one half inch with odd deposits of turquoise in the moon-shaped indentations. "The end is broken off creating" —my notes are incomplete; I wonder if I can find this rock and complete the sentence. I turn to my collection of turquoise rocks. No labels, no containers. Just handfuls of turquoise pebbles and rock fragments mixed with dust and paper clips on my desktop. Nothing.

Then to the other tables that I've covered with turquoise rocks; and from the description I wrote, I only had to pick up one other piece of rock before I spied the correct one. It is almost arrowhead-shaped with the point broken off. The off-white limestone appears pockmarked and in the tear-drop indentations in the limestone small spots of turquoise in calcite and metal salts are attached.

So I would end the unfinished sentence like this: "a resemblance to a broken arrow tip." The white limestone also has turquoise on the other side in a sort of cheesy-crust texture but with no eye-catchers like the pockmarks or moon craters with turquoise spots.

The turquoise is quite hard to scratch with a fingernail and is not chalky. My note continues: "The limestone is some of the whitest I've found to contain turquoise." Again comes the question—did it occur in the layers of whitish caliche on this hilltop or was it found elsewhere and brought up here by humans? Like the old trade beads I used to find in the back yard, like the other pieces of turquoise I had found in planters and clay pots and around the house while my broken foot healed.