Gyre of hawks

Sitting on the tailgate

Yesterday, I drove to the Field, a distance of 72 miles west of Fort Worth. When I arrived at 10:00 a.m., the temperature was 52 degrees and the sky remained cloudy while I shredded dead grass from the winter. Vetch grew three, four feet up the dead stalks.

When I finished shredding, I sat on the tailgate of my old 2003 Ford F-250 to rest.

In the pecan orchard of the Old Bryant Place, south of the Field, four hawks sat in the branches, talking to one another. I understood their talk as either squabbling or courtship–perhaps something else. Soon, three of the hawks took flight and circled the middle of the field. One of them, while I was shredding an hour earlier, had alighted on the ground to kill a vole, but had failed to do so.

Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to Western Birds, personal field guide of Jack Matthews

I think the hawks red-tailed hawks by type, but I had neither my Peterson nor binoculars to accurately type. They continued their gyre ever upward, circling higher about the center of the field. Soon the three hawks were joined by a fourth in their climb.

Two of the hawks began to dive on one another. I thought I saw them touch claws, but I am not sure. Was it play, a tussle for territory (in the air?), or something else? They continued their gyre until they were specks in the sky and I lost sight of their soaring above the field.

I dismounted from the tailgate, locked the horse trailer, and pitched the tractor seat forward so it would not hold water if it rained.

From Pueblo emergence narratives, we humans live in the Fourth World, three worlds being below us, stacked like disks upon the other. In the Third World, all living things, even the stones, talked to one another, but upon emerging from the Third World, that capacity was lost.

Yet, so, it is believed and demonstrated that the language to communicate with living things remains intact. When I saw, sitting on my tailgate, the gyre of soaring hawks I conjugated meaning from what I saw, and what I heard–a kind of Fourth World language I continue to enroll in, day by day….

Jack Matthews’ first novel, “Death at La Osa,” is under review for the 2020 Tony Hillerman Award for the Best First Novel of mystery set in the Southwest.

Writing and anthropology

He attended Oberlin College, mistakenly majoring in English, too late discovering anthropology, the proper major for a writer. ~ Alan Furst, on himself

The bird houses of Mabel Dodge Luhan in the photo gallery above are courtesy of J. Keefe, photographer extraordinary.

In writing my novels set in northern New Mexico, the Furst quote above is relevant. The detail and color in my books came from my anthropological perspective of the world: universal categories across all cultures, recognition of all cultures having a moral comprehension of the universe, and the importance of human food production.

Then, of course, the conflict of cultures. Settler-conquest attitudes abounding in the world.

Within cultures, there are voices of wisdom and voices of greed and follow-the-little-green-frogskins attitude.

Academically I was trained as an archaeologist and I was self-educated. I taught physical and cultural anthropology at Amarillo College, Native American history at UT-Arlington, and Anthropology and Religion at TCU. My fieldwork occurred under the Department of Anthropology at Texas Tech University. Fifteen of us in the field school learned the basic principles of archaeology at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. By the time the field school ended, only five of us wanted to continue in archaeology due to heat, deer flies, and the shovel. One of our classmates was hospitalized. She recovered.

When I taught anthropology at Amarillo College, I conducted two field trips a year, most of them to New Mexico.

Ghost Ranch, photograph by Tom Glover

The arc of Bustamente changed and he was buried in the San Francisco del Monte Catholic Church’s graveyard for he was faithful in his own way and the young boy that stood beside him that day and earnestly said he would try did climb the pole on a Feast Day in light snow flurries and prayed and shivered and held on for life and cut down food and when he slid down the pole to his kiva brothers they bore him on their shoulders and paraded him all around the admiring and cheering crowd of tourists snow-looks-likes Black Eyes Puebloans and the boy now man thought of the day his Grandfather looked down upon him and asked him to try as he was borne around the plaza on the shoulders of his brothers he saw a vision of unending files of Grandfathers and Grandmothers and the People looking at him going back in time and into an uncertain Puebloan future.

~ Jack Matthews, Death at La Osa

Death at La Osa has been submitted to St. Martin’s Press for the Tony Hillerman Award for Best First Novel of mystery set in the Southwest. They are to announce the winner or winners around May 1, 2020.