August 11, 2023, eighteen women and one baby loaded up into two vans and made our way to what is now known as Chimney Rock, Colorado to bear witness to the major lunar standstill. Every 18.6 years the Moon extends its usual horizon trajectory, extending its path beyond the solar solstice points on the horizon, before contracting again. The Moon appears to “breathe” in its path. Chimney Rock is a naturally occurring rock configuration with two spires, and the Moon rises exactly between the two rock “chimneys” every 18.6 years, as seen from an ancestral kiva atop the mesa. For many of the Indigenous communities of this region, Chimney Rock is identified as a place of deep cultural significance. For Pueblo people especially, this space is an ancestral site, rooting our people’s identity and sky-knowledge heritage to this vast mountain region. For us it was a new step into a an old tradition.
Making our way from central New Mexico up into the borders of Colorado, the YAKANAL Mother Moon group arrived mid-day, and for many of the participants it was a first experience coming to this ancestral site. We gathered in the parking lot of the Chimney Rock National Monument, and Ron Sutfcliffe (our main partner in this project with deep knowledge of the Moon at this site) provided us with a presentation on the site and explained some of his work as a researcher of the Moon. Many of us made our way to the ancestral village hiking the trail up the ridge of the mountain to the lookout spot, where the Moon would eventually align within the spires. Routing the path up the mountain during the day was an important task to insure those of us who were able bodied could learn the trail and be able to mark off some of the dangerous spots for the elderly participants. After scouting the trail, the group reunited with the elders and we made our way to the town of Pagosa Springs to get dinner and some rest before the midnight hike to observe and experience the Moon rise at 3 am.
Groggily rolling out of bed and loading into the bus, we made way back to the ancestral site, arriving to a welcoming fire, coffee, and pastries. The night was cold, the sky was cloudy, but the fire and coffee were warm and inviting. A dark blanket covered the sky and rain began to fall at the time when the group knew that we had to start making our way up the trail. The closer to the top we got, the harder the rain fell. It was dark, cold and wet, and the cloudy blanket shielded the view of the Major Lunar Standstill moonrise. Collectively, the participants stood amid the gentle and consistent rain, honoring the Moon as it rose in the night sky, invisible to our eyes behind the clouds, but very present in our hearts. We acknowledged the presence of our ancestors and we felt their spirits were happy because of our kindred presence. For those of us who experienced this moment, it can only be described as powerful.
We made our way back to our sleeping quarters, and caught up on much needed rest after the long journey to Chimney Rock and experiencing the Major Lunar Standstill. The next day we got to rejuvenate and restore our bodies by spending a day in the hot mineral spring waters of Pagosa. Everyone, from the baby to the elders, got to relax and enjoy the natural springs. The group ended our last day by sharing a delicious meal together and “talking story” to recount our personal experiences and reflections with each other. This quality time spent getting to know one another, laugh together, share hardships, tears, joys and new awareness, created space for all the participants to envision what is needed within our lives and communities. Much was shared with one another and with YAKANAL. Leaving many ideas and goals to be brought into fruition.
We are grateful to our Partners & Donors for their generous support