October 8, 1997

The weather, this day, was bad. After the thunderstorms of the night before, the winds were so high that the whole event closed the whole field down, so no one flew at all. Walt and Cathie were told the night before to just stay in bed in the morning, and we planned for that. Everyone wanted to go to Acoma, except Cathie and I. I was thinking of just staying at the house and meeting up with everyone at the zoo. But when John actually got up, Cathie decided to go with them.

I had no idea where the zoo was, and while I might have made it there on my own, I wasn't sure that the coordination would work out. Maybe, after all, it was the old RPG rule of 'Don't ever split up the party,' with the attendant postulate of 'it's always much harder to get back together than it seems when you split up'. So I decided not to split the party and went with everyone.

We all piled into the van and drove off.

First, though, instead of the bagel and coffee quick snatch, we all descended, en masse, on a little place called the Roadrunner Cafe, which had good espresso drinks and lots of neat breakfast items including something called A Roadrunner. The Roadrunner was a soft roll filled with a poached egg, white cheddar and strips of bacon. Yum. They also had an astonishingly rich and yummy pecan coffee cake, which I got with a mocha. That, combined with the 7:30 start time really had me alive and aware.

It was a fairly long drive, though mesa areas, and interesting formations. I watched the countryside and thought a lot. With the time that I had, I could think quite a lot about anything I wanted to. For a while I didn't know what, but the wastelands and the knowledge that we were going to the quintessential Sky City, much like the pueblo at the end of _The Prophecy_ kinda guided me towards thoughts about angels. That led fairly quickly to a story that I'd promised Genevieve Cogman with John Faber Smith and based on the In Nomine system. That was very good to do. By the time we got to Acoma, I had a good idea of the plot structure, and oddly enough, for a person that rarely writes endings well, this idea started with the ending.

It helped to have a quote from Sherri S. Tepper's _A Plague of Angels_ that dealt with the difference between the good that mortal men try to do and the awful godly good that angels do.

All of which slid surprisingly well into the material that was presented during the tour of Acoma.

There was a visitors' center and parking lot at the base of the mesa, where we bought tickets for the tour, which left every half an hour. We just barely missed the one before, and got to wander about the center for a while, looking at things, reading things, and learning a bit more about the arts and crafts of the place. There was one fascinating poster that had all the local native dyes and dyeing materials and mordents that they used for native blankets and weavings. There were also all the recipes for the natural dyes, that were really accurate as to preparation and materials. They also almost all used a large amount of alum as mordant. My.

The Acoma seem to put the most store, though, into their pottery, which they shape, coil, smooth, and then paint before firing. Only recently, with the advent of ceramics, have they started painting the whole vessel and then use a needle to scratch out patterns. The traditional tools are the flowers of the Yucca plant. The parking lot was filled with tribes folks selling their handmade items.

Eventually the tour bus came and we went up the mesa along a road that was built in the 50's for a movie. *chuckle* There had never been a road before, just a path that could be climbed and walked, to insure the defensability of the mesa, which had been necessary for their history, but hadn't saved them when the Spanish came from Mexico. Most of the history that the guide told was of the domination of the pueblo by the Spanish and by the Catholic powers of their past. Of a priest that with a bunch of solders managed to kill off hundreds of Acoma men and women to build their sanctuary, burying the dead within the foot of the 10-14 feet wide walls. Trading children for a bell in the tower, and generally getting stomped on by the Catholics for their own religious practices. In many ways, the stories were very biased, but that was because they were told by an Acoma.

They have a burial ground before the sanctuary. It's surrounded by a wall, which has bumps all along it, the solders for protecting their dead, and each bump has two eyes to see and a mouth to warn facing out from the burial ground. With all the protection, there's a hole in the south wall, which is for the spirits of the children that were sold down south. There was no hope that they could come back home physically, so it was hoped that their spirits could come back through the hole.

There are four pillars in the sanctuary, making up backdrop of the alter, and the four pillars are white and red for wind and fire reaching to heaven. The four pillars were cut a hundred miles away and not allowed to touch the ground on the entire journey back, by foot, and while they were carved into those pillars and set into the wall. They were done that way to insure their purity, as allotted by the Catholics and forced upon the Indians to actually implement.

A lot of the history is bloody, outrageous. To the point of the Pueblo Revolt, where all the pueblos rose up together and drove the Spanish back into Mexico. They hadn't been able to do that earlier, because each pueblo spoke it's own dialect, only neighboring pueblos actually able to communicate with each other. That is until the Spanish came and started teaching all the natives the Spanish tongue. That was how the revolt was coordinated and accomplished, through the shared tongue of the invaders, which is a right piece of justice.

All the architecture on the pueblo is adobe brick and the houses are crowded fairly tightly together because real estate on the small mesa is at a premium. Nearly all the folks actually live down on the ground, now, by a river, with electricity, running water, and the amenities of modern civilization, only about 30 people actually live on the mesa itself anymore. There is no power or running water up there, only four cisterns that are filled with and by rain water. And all along the mesa's edge is an incredible view of all the land below. Remember what I said about big sky? Now add another 1000 feet of elevation over it. Zow. The view of the gold, red, green plains and the few tall mesas that jutted up near Acoma was just gorgeous and as I walked closer to the edge, the wind blew through me again. That was keen.

We walked the foot path back down to the ground, and it was well worth doing. The steps were worn into the soft sandstone, big, slippery, with worn in handholds for the trickier parts. Actually being able to concentrate on the solidity of the ground under my feet and hands made it very easy for to walk down, though my right knee starting to wobble again didn't help much. One section was a slot between the mesa's cliff face and a standalone stalagmite so it was like a tiny slot canyon, all the warm colors of the stone there, reds, golds, browns, and tans in layers that ran in jagged parallels along the face of the walls. Points of the path were really tight, and overlooked by the mesa above, which made it eminently defensible. Just toss down rocks and it was impassable for someone that didn't want their head caved in.

Very neat.

Once down we piled back into the car, and it was noon, which was the original time for me to meet up with everyone at the zoo, and we were actually still an hour's drive from the zoo. So it was a very, very good thing that I hadn't split up the party. As it was, Cathie was able to contact Merry and we replanned to meet at the zoo at 1pm, which we did and someone gave us all their extra tickets when Richard and Merry hadn't quite shown up yet, but we did meet up with Lynn, Deb, and a couple others.

We wandered in, through the front area, to the beer and food gardens and found Charles, Linda, and Kevin already seated and drinking. Most of the afternoon was then spent eating, drinking, talking. At one point Deb, Lynn, John and I went to see the Polar Bear in his new exhibit, and went the long way. Finally we got there, and found the big bear asleep by the window, his nose between his enormous paws, twitching a bit with his dreams. He was huge. The new enclosure was gigantic and had four tiered water pools with a few water falls to slide down, as well as a big water slide. Deb said that it was much better than the old enclosure which was tiny.

John also indulged me greatly and got change for a dollar so that I could use a quarter to get fish food. It was also duck food, but there was a boil of koi in a pond there at the zoo, and it was really keen to just feed them again and watch them swarm all over each other get to the food. Whee...

There were two things that I realized as we were wandering about, the first of which was something that John realized as well. Ballooning is a very, very white activity. I was the only Asian I'd seen the whole day, and there were, perhaps, three blacks sprinkled through the mix. There were a number of Native Indians, but most of them were help for the BBQ rather than actually enjoying all the amenities.

What kinda surprised me, though, was the second realization. That all balloonists are a pretty friendly lot on the most part. They are different than the common lot, they've done something that few people do, fly on their own initiation, their own power in some ways, and at their own desire. It makes them different and aware of their difference. And all the people at the gathering had this same thing in common, which made for a point of sharing. It made a real difference, too, because everyone was friendly and eventhough a Chinese girl with blue hair was well outside their experience, they accepted it, I think, more readily than folks who weren't so overtly different.

That was the oddest thing and the coolest too, was feeling like I was accepted by these people. Eventhough I was different on the outside, what counted me the same was the experience that we'd all shared, something on the inside. It's a feeling that I've only really experienced with one other group, the Horde. I'm still different enough from most of the Synario engineering team to still sometimes wonder, and I know that most of the church still knows I'm different and most of them don't really see themselves as 'like' me in any way, and while I do share soccer with the soccer folks it's not an automatic reason to be liked or courteous, especially when one is on the opposite team. This felt very different and very good.

Eventually we wandered back and sat and talked and drank and ate some more. Most of Big Bird's crew had shown up in black T-shirts with tuxedos printed on the front of them in white, Walt and Cathie brought a bunch of plastic top hats, and our entire crew wore the hats all over the park, so we were pretty easy to spot. A number of people came by and commented on the hats and shirts. At one point Walt decided to pile as many top hats on top of my blue head as possible, creating quite a stir and a good photo opportunity for those there... *laughter* That was pretty funny, especially as lots of people stopped by to watch, and after the pictures and the toppling a guy laughed said, "That was good enough... here..." and dropped a pin into my hand. It was a pin of the TBS birthday cake balloon, which we hadn't had a chance to see fly, yet.

Special shapes. I don't think I've said much about special shapes, but there are number of hot air balloons that are shaped into particular shapes. There's Arabelle I and II who are the local diary's cow shaped balloons, there's an Air Touch Cellular balloon which is a cel phone being held by a blue hand. There's the Giant Purple People Eater, which has pointy nose and big eyes and claws. There the Old Mother Hubbard's Shoe, which has kids all over it and is sponsored by the local real estate company. There's a lab mother with two puppies. There's a golden Pagoda and a Clipper Ship. There's even a Sun and a Canadian Maple Leaf. There was Humpty Dumpty and his upside down brother, a local bank was represented by Miss Penny and Li'l Buck, a pink and blue piggy banks. There was a Jack o' Lantern and Snowman. An ark was built by some pastor, filled with various pairs of animals. The Energizer Bunny showed up, huge and pink with his drum. There were dozens more, all different, all great advertising because they were essentially flying floats representative of the company's main logos.

After the Bacardi and beer ran out at the party we all went home. I mostly just sat around and wrote and wrote and wrote because I had that story in my head and it had to come out because I couldn't think of anything else. Jan and Paul made dinner goat cheese, roasted peppers, roasted eggplant and basil leaves with roasted onions on French bread all blended together. Yum. They all then sat down and watched the last of our Wallace and Grommet tapes and the Pixar shorts tape. Then we all fell deeply asleep.

© 1997 by Liralen Li

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