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Winter Solstice Reminds a Hopi Artist of the Cycle of Life

A memorial participant, from the event in 2009, adds to a prayer tree, festooned with gifts of remembrance made by Shoshone children. Mourners have decorated the tree for more than 20 years. (Photos courtesy Patty Timbimboo-Madsen)

Ramson Lomatewama

My name is Ramson Lomatewama and I’m a member of the Hopi tribe. I’m also a glass artist and writer, although I started my career as a middle-school teacher. But that’s only one half of my life. The other half is immersed in my culture. And I consider myself very fortunate to be able to live in two worlds.

I'd been on the road for the past two weeks, keeping watch on the passing moon phase as it began to embrace the winter solstice, the sign of a new beginning. We call this moon “Kyaamuya.” It is a sacred time, full of mystery and power that is not to be reckoned with. Our cultural belief tells us not to cut our hair during this time; nor are we to dig holes, be loud and raucous, or go out after dark. It is also a quiet time; the time for telling stories… and learning from them.

My latest adventure is a story of sorts. I should preface this by telling you that I’ve been blowing glass for over sixteen years. I built my own glassblowing venture from the ground up, and in the summer of 2008, my apprentice and I built a portable glass blowing studio on an old boat trailer. It wasn’t very pretty, but that didn’t matter—it worked. Since then, Jessica (my wife and partner) and I have traveled throughout the southwest and beyond, demonstrating glass art while building the awareness that Native American art isn’t limited to just “traditional art forms.”

The weekend before Christmas took me to the Amerind Museum, nestled in the rocky alcoves of the Texas Canyon, midway between Benson and Wilcox in extreme southeastern Arizona. I had gone there to demonstrate glassblowing and teach a couple of short-term classes. The hour was late when I pulled the trailer into the parking area and unhooked it from the truck. The moon hadn’t come out yet, but I knew that it would appear after I had gone to bed. I got up about 4 o’clock on Saturday morning, craving a cup of coffee as I fired up the furnace to melt the glass. The clouds were thin, the air swirling and whipping about. Things didn’t look good. Demos were cancelled because of the wind. Sunday gave us rain. No demos.

Disheartened, I began packing up on Monday morning. The plan was to get to Phoenix for our younger grandson’s eighth birthday party. Although the weekend didn’t turn out as I had planned, I knew there would be other opportunities. That’s what is so great about the winter solstice! It gives me renewed faith that there is a new cycle forthcoming. There would be other opportunities.

So there I was, rolling down I-10 toward Benson with Leonard Cohen’s raspy voice reminding that “…there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in…,” when I heard the sound of my worst nightmare. I looked in the rearview mirror just in time to see the trailer break free of the truck and go rolling down the freeway like a runaway horse. And as you know, it always happens in slow-motion. After it was all said and done, a good part of my life was a tangled rubble of angle iron and plywood. The trailer was a total loss.

Adversity is a big player in the cycle. It comes unannounced, without warning, and at any time. Like I said, I consider myself very fortunate. My culture, in its unique way, constantly reminds me that misfortune happens, and how I act upon it is a measure of my faith and belief in the cycle. Life goes on; it’s as simple as that. If we can remind ourselves that cycles exist in all things and occur in all places, and that there WILL be cracks along the way, we can learn. After all, that’s how the light gets in.